In the late 1960’s when I was appearing for the Pre-University Exam at Chandradhari Mithila College (Darbhanga), in the corner of a sprawling hall, Kameshwar Bhavan, was also another examinee, Ghanshyam Jha, son of Radhanandan Jha, an influential Congress politician at that time who later became speaker of the Bihar Legislative Assembly.
While the exam was conducted strictly for others, Ghanshyam was aided in cheating profusely by a lab assistant, Nilambar Chaudhary, who also rose in the Congress circle to become a Member of the Legislative Council. Ghanshyam, a distant friend, got admitted to Darbhanga Medical College, and with the push of his father’s influence at every stage, became a doctor. A thoroughly incompetent product of the corrupt and fractured education system, Ghanshyam couldn’t get into medical practice. However, his father always arranged administrative positions for him in the government health department.
Years on, when Lalu got to the helm of Bihar politics, reports circulated that he was very close to Radhanandan Jha and sought political counsel from him. A cunning observer of the ways how upper caste politicians promoted their undeserving offsprings, Lalu maneuvered to get his daughter Misa Bharti admitted to MGM Medical College, Jamshedpur reportedly against a quota reserved for Tata Iron and Steel Company. Later, Misa’s name at the top of successful MBBS candidates left no one in doubt that she owed her position to her father and a host of dishonest obliging members of the academia.
The fact that Misa didn’t go any further in medical profession confirmed that just a powerful father’s push wasn’t enough. Lalu found a favorable parliamentary constituency for her in 2014 to contest by removing a sitting MP of his party. But, the MP, Lalu’s caste man and a former confidante - lieutenant, defected to the BJP and retained his seat. Misa would have won in the absence of a Modi wave. She received more than three hundred thousand votes.
Lalu had earlier trounced all his upper caste predecessors and tasted blood in dynasty politics when he foisted his illiterate wife Rabri as the CM of Bihar in 1997 at the cost of vertical split in his Janata Dal Party. In 2000, Bihari voters had put their stamp of approval on Lalu’s politics.
Following a combined campaign of the JD(U) and the BJP for almost a decade, the star of Lalu had looked to be setting when suddenly Nitish’s political surrender resurrected him. In 2015 assembly election, an emboldened Lalu gave fifty per cent tickets to candidates belonging to his own caste including his two sons. Victory of 80 of his candidates gave him absolute power to dictate terms on Nitish and lord over his party. Political parasites as they were, no party member had the guts to raise the issues of seniority, qualification or experience and welcomed the coronation of Lalu’s sons. Rabri and Misa now could go to the Rajya Sabha any time.
History will record that Nitish Kumar who didn’t stomach his Chief Ministerial colleague from Gujarat being anointed for Prime Ministership, accepted a high school dropout and the junior-most first-time MLA ascend to his deputy’s position. Who did Lalu and Nitish bring honor and glory to: themselves or to their castes or to their parties or to the state of Bihar they are so proud of?
The protagonists of OBC reservations also seem to be speechless as twenty five percent of the ministry and legislative membership have gone to the Yadavs. They also point out that both Lalu and Nitish have consistently made sure that no healthy democratic norms or competent second tier leadership emerged in their parties. They reflect a mirror image of their Congress ally.
Further, in the election campaign of 2015, the history of Lalu’s corruption, his five year pending jail sentence seemed to be a non-issue for the voters. No one seemed to be concerned if he had paid 2.5 million rupees fine imposed on him by the court and from where. Barred from contesting election, a politician anywhere around the democratic world would have voluntarily withdrawn. Any attempt at reappearance in public life would have been resented. The court stricture also meant suspension of the citizens’ privileges, the voters should have concluded. On the contrary, the world witnessed the spectacle of a Chief Minister entering into a political deal with such a felon; and the voters approved of it.
Lalu’s rhetoric on the “backward vs forward” fight also resonated with his voters. Despite chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi’s instruction that any casteist (or communal) remarks were a violation of the EC guidelines, all parties in the game indulged in identity politics. However, Lalu’s counsel to the Yadavs to “stay awake and united” in the face of the RSS “full of Brahmins” had greater audience. The anti-Muslim positioning of the BJP had already driven the Muslims into the open arms of Lalu.
In more than half a century of Bihar politics since the 60’s, we have a pretty good sense of how far along have we come and how much do we have to travel. The majority opinion has to be respected in a democracy. However, history is also replete with examples where citizens have regretted their votes. Education in citizens’ awareness has to be relentless.
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.