In less than a week Bihar embarks upon electing its Vidhan Sabha legislators who will be the custodians of the state’s fate for the next five years. The Yadavs, with their 14% share in the electorate, are the most coveted constituency for any political party or alliance. Together with the Muslims, it is claimed; they can again write the horoscope of Bihar. Politicians and pundits all emphasize the intrinsic socio-political strength of this caste that belongs to the Other Backward Caste (OBCs) category.
Although caste is considered a bad word, it is always a mark of first identification in the Bihari society or, for that matter, anywhere in India. Every aspect of life, mainly politics, administration and justice, revolve around the caste system. Therefore, it is very desirable in a democratic culture to have a dialogue on the status of a caste. Here, the Yadavs have been singled out, but it could apply to any social group/formation in Bihar.
During my young college days in Darbhanga in the 70’s, I had once worked actively for Ram Sevak Yadav, a socialist leader drafted from UP by the combined opposition to contest a fierce election for a Lok Sabha seat against Lalit Narayan Mishra, the former Railway Minister under Indira Gandhi. We had great sympathy for the Yadavs because we felt they were being suppressed politically by the upper caste leaders, their numerical strength was not recognized. We had confidence one day the Yadavs would get due representation in politics and administration.
When Karpoori Thakur was calling shots in the “backward politics” of Bihar, we had heard complaints from the Yadavs to the effect that Karpoori was promoting his selfish politics in the name of the backwards of which the Yadavs were the main constituent. In other words, Karpoori Thakur was also not giving the Yadavs their due.
As the history rolled on, Bihar had the JP-led anti-corruption student movement, imposition of national Emergency, youth awakening against and finally defeat of the corrupt moribund government of the Congress. Lalu Yadav, an accidental product of the movement became the Chief Minister of Bihar. We again hoped that a Yadav socialist student leader would give an administration to Bihar that should be radically different from the earlier Congress governments led mainly by the forward castes. Lalu did show dynamism in the beginning, stopped L. K. Advani’s rath yatra and tightened the bureaucracy. But very soon he, the coterie around him and his administration, got mired in corruption and nepotism. He adopted all anti-democratic measures and compromises for power. The people of Bihar received what they voted for and after suffering fifteen long years of Lalu-Rabri administration, they finally rejected him and his family.
Now the crucial question for the Yadavs in Bihar was whether to continue to accept Lalu as their leader. In any other democratic society around the world, such a politician would have been left out by the wayside long time ago. But, sadly, after having been convicted by the court and rejected by the people, he still claims to be the leader of the caste and hangs around. He justifies his stint in jail, relates himself to bhagwan Krishna saying that the latter was born in a pious place like a jail. Surprisingly, this finds resonance with some credulous Yadavs who are made to think that Lalu was their only leader capable of doing great for them and who is a victim of conspiracy hatched by the forward castes. Lalu’s conviction or sentencing was, therefore, not a big deal.
Came 2013-15, because of a series of missteps and political miscalculations on the part of Nitish Kumar, Lalu was revived almost from his political crematorium. Nitish, who had taken the heroic lead role in dislodging the Lalu-Rabri Raj, persuaded himself to bow at the feet of Lalu, ceded to him around 40 assembly seats where the JD(U) had its sitting MLAs, and got in the shadows of Sonia-Rahul-led Congress. Nitish forgot that just for standing up to Lalu and because of the first-term performance of the NDA government led by him, he had secured an honored place in the history of Bihar.
As a sly self-centered politician, Lalu took full advantage of this opportunity and fielded his candidates against 100 seats offered on a platter. He is back to his old game of forcing the people of the state, particularly the Yadavs, to get behind his stewardship largely because of his claim to the leadership of his caste.
If I were a Yadav, I would have asked myself - Is our caste so weak as not to throw up from ourselves a competent popular substitute for Lalu? The Yadavs posed so much trust in Lalu; did he trust the Yadavs of Bihar? Remember, he brought Sharad Yadav from MP to plant in the politics of Bihar. He did not trust any Yadav leader to replace him when he was going into judicial detention and was being forced to quit the CM’s post. He foisted his wife, Rabri, and preferred a split in the party. He treated the MLAs and MLCs of his faction as his personal attendants apart from fleecing them monetarily.
As a Yadav, my single most important complaint would be that Lalu didn’t encourage or promote competent, honest, hardworking and deserving Yadavs (and, there are plenty of them both in India and abroad!) and stuffed the personnel around himself with corrupt and criminal elements. His two brothers-in-law were the shining examples. Or, perhaps, the Yadav community didn’t demand of their leaders that the best among the Yadavs be promoted.
My concern is why only the Yadavs of criminal image come up and willy nilly gain acceptance by the wider Yadav community? Recently, for example, in Patna Municipal Corporation election, an extortionist gangster candidate, Ritlal Yadav, was elected while himself sitting in the prison. He was the general secretary of Lalu’s party during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but was denied the party nomination because of Lalu’s poll pact with Nitish. He filed his nomination as an independent and won. This contest indicated that a candidate with patently criminal record could be elected only with the backing of his caste regardless of party affiliation. Why did the Yadavs vote for such a candidate even if he did belong to their caste? Was this not like bringing bad reputation to one’s own caste?
In the Kosi region of Saharsa-Supaul-Madhepura where the Yadavs are overwhelming in number, the rising star now is Pappu Yadav, a protégé of Lalu until recently. Pappu left Lalu since the latter embraced Sharad Yadav from the JD(U), Pappu’s nemesis. Despite his acquittal in the murder case, Pappu is a known bully (the bahubali). He is notoriously infamous for his crime and extortion; he openly declared that if the Biharis were treated unfairly in the northeastern states, the train passengers to Nagaland and Manipur could forcibly be held hostage in Bihar. He wants to be a law unto himself and wishes us to forget the Biharis live all over India and abroad. Pappu Yadav has reportedly been joined by the Mulayam Yadav’s Samajwadi Party from UP and the two tossed out brothers-in-law of Lalu. Do they think by stacking up the gangsterism of the Yadavs, they would win the hearts and minds of the people, the election and then take their community and the State to new heights? On the contrary, devoid of ideological agenda, infights within the Yadavs galore.
I am sure the vast majority of the Yadavs is not the supporter of the criminal politicians from among them and wouldn’t endorse their violently unlawful methods. Like other people, they are helpless in the face of the bullying tactics of these leaders who assert they are doing politics for the promotion of their caste. The representation of the caste seems to have been stolen by the wrong people.
All said, a silver lining has also been building up in the political behavior of the Yadavs. Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi was defeated at the 2005 assembly poll. She was fielded from two constituencies in 2010, both lost; and in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, she lost from Saran. If the Yadavs had voted en bloc for her, she would likely have won. Nowhere a former CM had been meted out such a political treatment. Lalu’s method of introducing his daughter in politics also failed in 2014 election from Pataliputra. He had made his daughter a physician before through a highly crooked and manipulative method. In 2014 election, many Yadavs did not pay attention to the appeals made to their caste sentiments.
There are now great expectations from the new generation of the Yadavs who constitute the core group of the first-time voters in Bihar. Their votes would make the difference. They must look at their caste landscape and politics differently than the generation before them. They would seize upon the leadership of their caste because the danger is when Lalu’s generation fades, it should not be taken over either by his very incompetent dynasty or by the likes of Pappu, Subhash and Sadhu Yadav.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). He has authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.