Bihar Emerges as a Template to Counter Hindutva Narrative

The role played by Nitish Kumar in uniting 28 parties against the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan government's decision to conduct a caste survey have sent the saffron party on the backfoot.

Bihar is not among the five states that will elect new assemblies in November, but it has emerged as a template to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s politics of polarisation.

First, chief minister Nitish Kumar was the anchor for the 28 parties that are part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). Then, his government released the caste survey report which showed the numerical preponderance of the other backward classes (OBCs) that the Congress has adopted as its main plank against the BJP in the states headed to an assembly election.

Now, the Bihar government is scheduled to showcase its success in providing jobs at an event in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on November 2. Nitish, his deputy Tejashwi Yadav, Bihar education minister Chandra Shekhar and other ministers will give appointment letters to 1.2 lakh teachers recruited through the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC)’s examinations. This comes in the background of Prime Minister Narendra Modi failing miserably on his promise to generate 1.5 crore jobs every year before his election in 2014.

Even as media channels frequently report about fissures in the state’s Mahagathbandhan government, the parties have displayed solid unity.

On October 26, the Congress invited the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Prasad Yadav as the chief guest for the 136th birth anniversary of Bihar’s first chief minister, Shri Krishna Sinha, at Sadaqat Ashram – the grand old party’s iconic office at Patna. The symbolism at the event was evident: Lalu Yadav continues to be a central cog in opposing Hindutva. Through the event, the Congress showed that it respected him as a champion of social justice and secularism.

On his part, Lalu revealed that Sonia Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders sent Akhilesh Singh, president of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee, to the Rajya Sabha on his advice. Scotching the reports of fissures, Lalu announced that the INDIA bloc constituents would organise “Bhajpa hatao, Desh bachaao” (Remove BJP from power; save the country) rally at the Gandhi Maidan to bring the curtain down on the era of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and. The senior Congress leaders requested Lalu to “lead” the battle against the divisive forces in the 2024 elections.

Photo: By arrangement

Ambedkar and Lohia

Union home minister Amit Shah, the spearhead of the BJP’s campaign machine, has raised issues like the lynching of a Hindu youth, the Palestine-Israel conflict, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and Mughals in rallies in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Congress, which is the BJP’s main rival in these states, is countering Shah by promising the caste survey and proportionate representation to OBCs and other marginalised sections.

Bihar has offered a politically befitting narrative, based on solid performance and groundwork, to counter Hindutva in the election-bound states. For the first time since Narendra Modi ascended to power in 2014, the BJP is struggling to counter the strategy that Nitish Kumar has built with the backing of Lalu, Tejashwi, and allies like the Congress and Left parties.

As murmurs spread that Nitish will go back to the saffron camp again, the CM said, “I don’t care at all what they (BJP leaders) say. I am doing my work. It’s for everyone to see the work we have done in building infrastructure, empowering the women and the marginalised sections and providing employment in Bihar.”

The BJP, devoid of its own icons in the freedom struggle and the making of India, tried to co-opt the legacies of Ram Manohar Lohia and B.R. Ambedkar. But Nitish, after parting ways with the BJP, has worked assiduously to retrieve them.

“Lohia and Ambedkar fought for an appropriate share in political structure and governance for backward sections and Dalits respectively. Gandhiji’s, Lohia’s and Ambedkar’s philosophies are central to our (RJD and Janata Dal United’s) deeds and operations, whereas the BJP tried to co-opt Lohia and Ambedkar to garner votes,” the RJD national spokesperson and MP Manoj Jha said.

Recently, Prime Minister Modi met and praised a sadhu, Rambhadracharya, and exhorted the people to adhere to his ideals. But the RJD’s net-savvy cadres made a slogan by the sadhu, “Mare Mulayam Kanshi Ram, prem se bolo Jai Shri Ram” (Mulayam and Kanshi Ram are dead, shout Jai Shriram with more gusto now)” viral and exposed his “nexus” with Hindutva politics.

Bihar: Land of Revolution

The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, describing Bihar as a “land of ushering in political changes”, had proposed Patna as the venue of the opposition parties’ first conclave on June 23. It was not just rhetoric. Bihar has played a pivotal role in several movements. The Jayaprakash Narayan-led Bihar movement, which paved the way for the formation of the first non-Congress government at the Centre in 1977, began in Bihar.

The Naxalite movement that originated in the Naxalbari region of Bengal in the late 1960s had a prolonged impact in Bihar. The CPI ML-Liberation – a strong Left party at the grassroots level in Bihar – is the product of the Naxalite movement and part of the Mahagathbandhan government in the state.

Bihar also played a major role in what is dubbed the “First War of Independence” in 1857, with Veer Kuer Singh challenging the mighty British military. Apparently, the state seems to be playing a key role in countering Hindutva politics at the national level.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator, and independent researcher in folklore.