Bihar Elections: Laloo meets his Waterloo

Laloo Prasad Yadav stands apart.His name, along with that of Abdul Ghafoor and Bindeyyeshwari Prasad Mandal, stands out among the long list of Pandeys, Sinhas, Thakurs, Rais, Mishra’s and Jhas that populate the list of Bihar’s Chief Ministers. While Ghafoor and Mandal reigned for less than 2 years each (less than 1 year for Mandal), Laloo has enjoyed a long stay specially if one includes his wife Rabri Devi’s 6 year as CM as well.

A few points were made by Laloo’s long reign and his stunning defeat yesterday.

The most important is the fact that a non- upper caste leader reigned for so long. Laloo represented the assertion of the middle/ backward castes, that overlapped with the agrarian middle class. Like many a rising class, he represented (or seemed to represent) the interests of the other oppressed castes/classes as well- including the Dalits and Muslims. It is significant that unlike Uttar Pradesh, Bihar never saw the emergence of the Bahujan Smaj Party as a significant political party, even in the current election the BSP has increased its strength from 2 to merely 4 MLA seats. Bihar’s LJP is not UP’s BSP either.

Mahesh Rangarajan sums up the changing alignment well:

Evidently, there is a social churning with the first phase of Mandal having run its course. The bloc of Dalits, OBCs and minorities splintered.But it did so in a way that made a new coalition of extremes possible. The extremely backward classes or EBCs — one in three voters in Bihar — were earlier with Lalu Prasad. Groups like Kewats, Dhobis and Nishads opted this time for Nitish Kumar, displacing the Yadavs from the seat of power.

Laloo represented many contradictory things- a combination of real politik and an intuitive grasp of caste composition in the state based on Rammanohar Lohia’s home- grown ‘socialist’ politics that was pivoted on caste, Bihari sub- nationalism and a comical but highly charismatic presence.

Meanwhile, administration collapsed in the face of lower caste assertion that now challenged upper caste violence. Bihar had always been a politically volatile state since the 1920s through JP’s 1975 movement, an array of Naxalite outfits confronted the upper caste’s Ranvir Sena in the countryside.

Over the years, the Congress (that gave the state’s 18 previous Chief Ministers) and the CPI (that in pre- 1975 days boasted of 55 MLAs) have been marginalized.

Laloo nevertheless won the support of the secular forces when he arrested Lal Krishna Advani during his infamous ‘Rath (DCM Toyota) Yatra’. Despite his failings in actualizing distributive justice, he continued to get their support except in the run up to the current elections when the CPI and the CPI (ML) hooked their wagons to the LJP.

The limits of Laloo’s politics were evident in other ways too as Kancha Ilaiah noted when Laloo’s party the RJP started distributing lathis, and not, say, books, to oppose the VHP’s trishul distribution.

Nitish Kumar, himself a product of the Lohiate politics, has a marked continuity with Laloo and shares more with him than with his current political bedmate, the BJP. Where, and whether, he makes the break remains to be seen.

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bhupinder singh

reader, mainly and an occasional blogger

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