Beyond Pataliputra: How Bihar Verdict Saved The Idea Of India

10/11/2015 10:45 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
CHAMPARAN, INDIA - OCTOBER 26: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi salutes the party workers during an election rally amid the ongoing Bihar Assembly polls at Areraj on October 26, 2015 of East Champaran, India. Bihar will hold five-phase elections between October 12 and November 5 to elect the 243-member assembly. Counting of votes will take place on November 8. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The crescendo of the Bihar election verdict that gave the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Grand Alliance a stunning victory, and the BJP a raspberry, will certainly reverberate far beyond the boundaries of Pataliputra. In a bitterly contested election, besides the electoral spoils, many wondered whether the Idea of India was itself under public referendum or facing a sober burial.

The "Idea of India" according to a supercilious BJP is just for urban elite consumption, prompting Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to cursorily, almost contemptuously, dismiss the intellectuals returning their awards as a "manufactured revolt" -- not a passionate outburst of seared souls seeking unbridled expression, but a precision cookie-cutter production of fictitious anguish from the assembly-line. It is a worrying assessment. Zubin Mehta, Narayan Murthy, Raghuram Rajan, the President of India himself joined the rising chorus of eminent historians, writers, artistes, film-makers, scientists, intellectuals and social activists in raising the red flag. Film actor Shah Rukh Khan, of course, was summarily dispatched to Pakistan by the rising brigade of pseudo-nationalists, protesting protests against intolerance. To some it remained nothing more than the exasperating chatterati claptrap reserved for Lutyens Delhi. But unknown to all, someone else was perhaps eavesdropping into that animated conversation - someone from Champaran and Chhapra. On 8 November, their voices of protest were heard emphatically loud.

"Despite flagrant cow-beef communal polarisation, the insinuation of treacherousness by introducing the convenient nemesis Pakistan into the election campaign, quintessential Hinduism triumphed."

Despite flagrant cow-beef communal polarisation, the insinuation of treacherousness by introducing the convenient nemesis Pakistan into the election campaign, quintessential Hinduism triumphed. A historical religion that imbibes inherent tolerance, mutual respect, universal love and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam ( the world is one family) overwhelmed the regimented control of this great religion by a regressive body called the RSS, the self-superimposed guardian of its pristine principles. Hindu Rashtra contradicts the secular foundations of our pluralistic, multi-religious, heterogeneous society, besides being anti-constitutional. The people of Bihar rejected the RSS-BJP's fissiparous designs, contumaciously. Human sensibilities perhaps after a point cannot sustain the insufferable toxicity.

The caste/community spreadsheet makes for intriguing reading in Bihar and the big cheese of political parties obsess about that complex math. But Modi was defeated despite his 35 grand rallies telecast LIVE and discussed interminably; despite his OBC or EBC caste status being regularly flaunted. His senior Cabinet ministers virtually camped in Bihar; the Maurya hotel in Patna witnessed frenzied political addas. The famous BJP war-room was busy number-crunching, synchronizing helicopter movements and crafting sound-bites for the horde of waiting camera-men. But it is apparent that the discerning voter deep down worried about his neighbour's welfare. Bihar would not let a Dadri happen; no diabolical experimentation of salami tactics in a state that had steadfastly withstood sectarianism. I was brought up partially by a Muslim man in a traditional Brahmin household that practiced Hindu rituals with religious perfection in a very conservative Bihar in the 1960s. We never understood discrimination based on godly preferences. I still don't.

bihar november 8

The Brothers Bihari, once cheek by jowl and now reunited, hung in together, despite a massive propaganda blitzkrieg against them, the supposed electoral genius of Amit Shah masterminding a cunning stratagem, and free-flowing cash, which had prompted BJP MP RK Singh to allege that the BJP was auctioning MLA tickets to the highest bidders.

The argument that regularly castigated only the "lunatic right-wing fringe element" and that provided for a protective cushion for Modi in TV debates is now a flaccid, failed defence; the principal performers of vitriolic vehemence are now BJP MPs themselves -- read Mahesh Sharma, Giriraj Singh, Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti etc. They are horrendous hotheads, endorsed by Modi himself. They are mainstream. India's Prime Minister was unambiguously playing in-the-face divisive games when he made misleading allusions to a "certain community" benefitting from a reservations transfer by the Mahagathbandhan. The famous Hindutva mask has finally worn off; Modi's archetypal strategy is to sound chuffed using sombre terms of communal coalescence at sporadic intervals, and then blissfully ignore the floodgates of inflammatory hate that commences after a brief hiatus from his close cronies. Of course, don't forget the nasty outpourings from curmudgeonly trolls on social media, called "Modi Toadies" by Salman Rushdie. This will not work anymore.

"Finally, a humble, simple, uncomplicated voter looking for the bare essentials, for a decent human existence, who had never heard of this esoteric thing called the Idea of India, ended up saving it."

Frankly, the straws in the wind were visible as early as August 2014, when just three months after the Modi landslide in May, the RJD-JD(U)-Congress won in six of the 10 assembly seats in a bye-election. So, 172 seats in 2014, 58 now, that's a 66% erosion. Not just of votes, but credibility.

Even the youthful aspirational India that is supposed to be Modi's target group (he spins the development spiel and promises jobs, ingeniously disguising the subterranean agenda of Hindutva) comprising of 180 lakh young below the age of 30, fathomed BJP's belligerent polarisation strategy. They know that Bihar still has a long way to go - and that a fractured society will put them in an irreversible rear gear. The Bihari vs. Bahari template worked, if just to remind Modi that India is extraordinarily diverse. You can't superimpose economic growth models of one disputed prosperous state into that of another. It shows a condescending disposition. Ultimately, despite the huge expenditures the party incurred, there was little chemistry with the voter.

Finally, a humble, simple, uncomplicated voter looking for the bare essentials, for a decent human existence, who had never heard of this esoteric thing called the Idea of India, ended up saving it. No iPhone or Twitter account, no award to return or even full knowledge about his fundamental rights. The poor, frankly, don't just vote; they have a veto in India's future.

On the eve of the election counting day, I was a wee bit nervous after one exit poll gave the NDA a commanding win; it made my own calculations look rather bizarre. I called a veteran political analyst of Bihar, seeking desperately some comforting reassurance: "So what's your final take?" All he said was, "Sleep well!"

Last night, I am sure Mohammad Akhlaq, MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, UR Anantamurthy and Narendra Dabholkar, somewhere up there would have slept well too. India is fine. India will be fine.

The author is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. The views are his own.

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