Death of a nonagenarian former Member of the Lok Sabha from Vaishali, Mrs. Kishori Sinha, occurred in Patna on 19 December 2016. As all Biharis are bound to be touched by the biography of this illustrious widow of a past Chief Minister of Bihar, Satyendra Narain Sinha, it should afford us an opportunity to be introspective about the status of women, and the prospect of leadership among them in Bihar.
Born in 1925, Kishori Sinha came from a distinguished feudal family of the upper Rajput caste; insisted on her education up to the University college level; was inspired by her father, a freedom-fighter and a member of the Constitution drafting Constituent Assembly of independent India; and was married into the family of Anugrah Narain Sinha, the first Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar under Sri Krishna Singh.
The spirit of freedom movement, social services, politics and protocols of mingling with the upper echelons of the society must have come naturally to her. However, despite her own credentials, she was launched into politics as an electoral-political candidate largely as the spouse of a powerful politician. In a feudal patriarchal society, where democracy and principled party system had not taken roots, one couldn’t have expected anything better.
Since the Independence, the feudal-patriarchal order in the Bihari society persisted and mirrored in the political party structures; and therefore, the deteriorating party system in Bihar (and also in India) could never be stemmed or reversed.
In 1977, the Janata Party had come into existence and in power as a result of the anti-Emergency and anti-Congress movement under the ideological leadership of JP. After a short life of the Janata government, in the run up to the 1980 election to the Lok Sabha, the newly formed Janata Party should have given organizationally a far better impression than the Indira’s Congress. That was the expectation of millions of people (especially young students like us) who had gone through the experience of the JP movement.
Unfortunately, the Janata Party demonstrated that it wasn’t any different from the Congress. As Satyendra Sinha was a powerful politician from Bihar, and he had his own caste-man, Chandrashekhar, as the national president of the Janata Party, he was successful in securing party nominations for himself and his wife in 1980. Kishori Sinha represented Vaishali in the Lok Sabha in 1980 and 1984.
Thus, the culture of "nepotism, inheritance and entitlement" that Nehru-Indira tradition had introduced in the Congress seeped through the other mainstream parties as well, and the leading personalities on the national scene didn’t do anything to discourage that trend. A glimpse of the same malady was noticed as recently as in the 2015 Bihar Vidhan Sabha election when a number of stalwarts of the BJP manipulated to secure party nomination for their wives, sons or other relatives. That many of them were roundly defeated speaks of the maturity of the voters or the political campaign!
The next generation of leaders in Bihar represented by Lalu Yadav in the 1990’s seized on that culture of "nepotism, inheritance and entitlement" with vengeance and improved upon the performance of the Congress predecessors many times over.
Ironically a product of the JP movement, Lalu Yadav foisted his wife, Rabri Devi, as the Chief Minister of Bihar while he was headed for judicial detention. He threw contemptuously through the windows all decency, protocol, or basic rules of the game, invited a vertical split in the Bihar unit of the Janata Party to keep his surrogate (most trusted, his wife) at the top so that he could wield the levers of power by remote control.
Now, notice the cascading effect the perpetuation of this culture had in Bihar. In the case of women, rather than evolving an organic way to encourage leadership among women, they were made a tool in the hands of their male partners to be used anywhere.
The contemporary political landscape of Bihar is full of cases where known criminal male politicians who couldn’t be nominated for a public office, their wives were floated as candidates. The party patriarchs like Nitish, Lalu or Sushil in the state have no compunction at all in issuing party tickets, or backing them up with their resources.
Even at the levels of village panchayats or district councils where seats are reserved for women, bullying politicians with criminal background, set up their wives as candidates and dominate the play while the ladies stay in shadows. Most of them join in the criminal acts of their husbands.
So, consider how far Bihar has travelled in its socio-political journey, particularly in terms of the status of women, from the times of Kishori Sinha, Rabri Devi to the present. Tarkeshwari Sinha was once a roaring elected parliamentarian from Bihar; Misa Yadav was recently nominated by her father to a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Before that Lalu ensured Misa Yadav undeservedly topped the list of her MBBS peers.
Satyendra and Kishori Sinha put their son through the rigors of a sound education system and away from politics to begin with helped him become an IPS officer via all India competition. They also gifted their inherited land for the establishment of a college. Lalu and Rabri Yadav, on the other hand, couldn’t inspire their two sons to complete even their high school, but shamelessly maneuvered to put them at the top of the Bihar administration. And far from gifting their own land, encouraged their caste members to usurp the lands of others.
In the end, Kishori Sinha, and not Rabri Devi, will be the role model for the women of Bihar.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and 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.