By Prabhat Kishore
For over three decades, the political power in Bihar has revolved around two personalities Nitish Kumar, a technocrat and Laloo Prasad, a law graduate. Both ruled the State directly or indirectly for about 15-15 years, each leading the regional parties with the support of national ally BJP and Congress respectively. Before the pre-Mandal era, the two leaders worked unitedly & were termed as “Hira-Moti” by their well-wishers, and “Ranga-Billa” by rivals. Laloo Prasad was elected as an MP in his first attempt in 1977, but Nitish lost two consecutive elections and reached the Vidhan Sabha in his third attempt in 1985. After the demise of Karpoori Thakur, Ex-CM & leader of the opposition, Nitish Kumar was instrumental in Laloo’s projection as leader of the legislature party; although legislatures had advised him to project himself for the post, but he denied. He was also influential in Laloo’s election as CM, when the Janata Dal came to power in the 1990 Vidhan Sabha election.
When the Mandal commission report was implemented by V.P. Singh government in 1990, aggressive anti-reservation protests were held by the upper caste lobby under the leadership & patronship of Congress as well as BJP leaders. To counter the anti-reservation protests, pro-reservation campaigns were launched by the backward and SC communities. The outspoken Laloo spearheaded the pro-reservation campaigns and backward community of all castes rallied behind him. Soft-spoken Nitish lagged behind in this movement. The challenge of outnumbered backwards weakened the opposition. After becoming the centre of power, Laloo started ignoring not only Nitish, but also other non-Yadav leaders. He sidelined Nitish’s suggestions regarding development works and the situation became unbearable for Nitish. Laloo proclaimed “MY” equation as against earlier “All BC”.
The month long campaign & massive rally of the anguished Kurmi Samaj on certain social issues on 12th February 1994 at Patna and Lav-Kush (Kurmi-Koiri) Sammelans in the same year was an indication of resentment among the non-Yadav backwards. Nitish realised that his time for a challenge has come. The split in the Janata Dal took place in 1994 under the leadership of veteran socialist George Fernandes along with Nitish Kumar, Abdul Gafoor & others and the Samata Party was formed. In 1997, Laloo Prasad parted away from the Janata Dal to form his own outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Dal. In 2003, the Samata Party was merged into the Janata Dal (U) to expand its base. Laloo Prasad (7 years 130 days) and his wife Rabri Devi (4 years 360 days) ruled the State since 1990 to 2005 minus the rule of Nitish Kumar for 7 days and President Rule for 31 days; whereas Nitish Kumar ruled since 2005 uptill now, minus the rule of Jitan Ram Manjhi for 278 days.
In Bihar, the two personalities have their own merits & demerits. In the pre-Mandal era, the Backward classes were not united cohesively and the majority of small artisan & landless castes were not vocal. In 1979, Karpoori Thakur, the CM had to resign under the pressure from the fundamentalist lobby, when he implemented reservation in state services & educational institutions for the backward classes. Laloo was fully aware of the fact. He not only demoralized the upper caste political & social lobby but their bureaucrats too and united backwards to fight for their cause. When the BJP tried to destablise him after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, he broke a fraction of its MLAs and a repeat of the 1979 like situation flopped.
In his first 5-year tenure, he experimented some innovative schemes like Charwaha Vidyalaya for working children, Construction of houses for the poor, cleanliness programme in slum areas, Rainbasera for poor rickshaw-pullers & labourers in urban areas. After the bifurcation of Bihar, he re-shaped the 50% reservation to various socially depressed groups in a scientific manner. Under Congress regime, institutions were named & official functions were held to honor upper caste leaders only. Laloo started these activities for Backward & Dalit leaders, too. Unlike the Chief Ministers of the Congress, he occasionally visited the areas of the depressed classes & intermingle with them. These activities were just a miracle for the people who had seen the earlier CMs as a ruler & not as a leader and this established Laloo as a mass leader.
In second & third tenure of Laloo Prasad or his wife Rabri Devi, minimal works took place in roads/bridges and power generation. The graph of Crime high up and rape, murder & kidnapping become a daily routine. Corruption were deeply rooted in government department & board-nigams. After 15 years of power, only social awareness with hollow promises was not enough and people should have roads, schools, hospitals, electricity and other development works. On social forum, he cornered himself from the non-Yadav backwards. He could not develop a think tank, which could advise him for the planned constructive & social works. The involvement of Laloo and other ministers’ in fodder, coal-tar and other scams tarnished his image. His Party was turned into a family coterie. His mass-base gradually deteriorated and he was eventually ousted from power in 2005.
After years of long struggle, when Nitish Kumar came to power in November 2005, he focused himself on law & order and infrastructure sector. Fast track courts were set up for speedy trial of criminals, resulting in political heavyweight criminals Prabhunath, Anand Mohan, Shahabuddin (all Ex MPs) and many others behind bars. Being a technocrat himself, he re-oriented all the infrastructure works and chalked out its time bound implementation & completion. Roads, bridges, school/college/hospital/police station/Panchayat buildings etc. were constructed in every nook and corner of the state. The production & distribution of electricity increased. Cycle/Dress/sanitary napkin/stipend/student credit card and other educational schemes have resulted in a decrease in the drop out ratio. Technical and Medical institutions have been opened in backward regions. Drinking water to every household & metallization of drains & streets is in progress. The provision of 35% reservation for Women in recruitment, reservation in Panchayats for SC/ST/EBC community and reservation in judicial services has changed the gender as well as socio-political scenario. He organized yatras at regular intervals to make himself aware of the ground reality of the schemes & public opinion about it.
Along with good governance, Nitish Kumar put his hand on social issues also, which are of no importance to politicians. He made laws and started intensive campaign for public awareness against social evils like dowry system, child marriage & alkohalism. There is often hue & cry by the opposition and mafias over the ban on alkohalism, but in fact it has led to a reduction in domestic violence against women. Eradicating such evils is not only the duty of the government but also of the society. Plantation for environmental conservation has been his ambitious agenda at the government as well as Party level. After 15 years, if one compares the ground reality, it itself tells the success story of the changed Bihar.
A generation has changed in the span of three decades. They havve not faced the anarchy & havoc situations as their parents or grandparents. The bench mark of the current generation is not the same as it was 20-30 year ago. After the bifurcation of Bihar, all the mineral & coal-fields as well as factories move to Jharkhand. Revenue collection is at stake, as the southern part of the State is draught-affected and the northern part is flood-affected. The Central government did not provide any special assistance after its bifurcation to cope up the situation. There is problem of unemployment like in other states. With no major factory in the State, there is limited scope in the government service sector. Educated youth do not want to work in farm sector, private sector or in the field of self-employment, but all want government job. Whatever limited resources the State had, Nitish worked day & night to accelerate the development works. But the dark face of democracy is that, caste-oriented society donot keep in mind development works in elections and ultimately votes are being casted on the caste lines.
A lot of work has been done under Nitish-regime, but a lot of work is still to be done. The racist fundamental forces in the administration, which are grabbing the interests of the depressed class, should be controlled. Small-scale and agro-based industries will have to be encouraged. The rivers of north and south areas needs to be interconnected. The ambitious 7-Nischay programme have to be intensified and properly monitored. Education, health, transport sectors need more attention. Defunct sugar factories should be revived.
Since three dacades, upper caste lobby has been away from Chief Ministership. Despite having only 13-14% of the population, they ruled the State for over 40 years; so naturally they are feeling in exile. In the so-called Modi wave, their dream is to install CM of their own homogenate group on the pattern of UP, HP, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand Assam & other BJP-ruled states. Like Laloo, Nitish are also pricking in their eyes. BJP, a Party dominated by the upper castes, have supported Nitish only to keep hard backward-minded Laloo away from power. As soon as the BJP found Laloo weak, it grabbed the influential seats of JDU tilting the balance in its side. Its core upper caste voters are openly working against the ally JDU. Liquor-Mafia, criminal gangs as well as TRP thirsty electronic media all together have blown everything to dethrone Nitish.
Whatever be the ifs and buts of the two personalities, both of them have served the State in their own ways. It was Laloo Prasad who rolled & crushed the fundamentalist forces and strengthen political pitch for the depressed masses; which also helped Nitish to bat & ball smoothly. Nitish paid attentions to the poorest of the poor and kept himself away from caste & family based politics. One, the lawyer, is the symbol of social justice & resurgence; the other, the technocrat, is the synonym of development and good governance. Laloo and Nitish are strengths and weaknesses for themselves; but in the power politics of Bihar as well as India, both are relevant.
(Author is a technocrat & academician. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] )