Bihar: Navigating change and stagnation

Despite infrastructural advancements and improvements in law and order, fundamental challenges like unemployment and migration persist in the State. 

Published : Apr 16, 2024 16:10 IST - 4 MINS READ

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar speaks at a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha election, in Aurangabad on Saturday, April 13, 2024. 

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar speaks at a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha election, in Aurangabad on Saturday, April 13, 2024.  | Photo Credit: PTI

As one travels across the length and breadth of Bihar, the cradle of socialist politics, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” resonates more than ever before. The 40 Lok Sabha seats in the State go to the polls across seven phases starting with four seats on April 19.

The State capital Patna’s landscape is now dotted with flashy hotels and new flyovers (174 flyover tenders were floated in Bihar in 2024 alone). There is also the Loknayak Ganga Path, the “Marine Drive” of the city, an ambitious infrastructure project that aims to rid Patna of nightmarish traffic congestion while promoting aqua tourism.

Also Read | ‘NDA is stronger in Bihar now’: Chirag Paswan

It is a change from the bad roads of two decades and there has also been a marked improvement in law and order since 2005 when Nitish Kumar took over, ending Lalu raj. But the contrast ends there.

Unemployment and migration

Massive unemployment continues to be a major problem and the migration of labour to cities continues unabated even as education languishes. Everyday issues are missing from the election campaign and political leaders have fallen back on hard-boiled caste calculations and rhetoric with rhyme but no reason.

The loud praise for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that one previously heard from his supporters is somewhat muted this time, especially after his latest bout of party hopping. The NDA is hoping to repeat its 2019 performance, when it won 39 seats, while the RJD-led grand alliance is banking on its 2020 Assembly election performance, in which the RJD emerged as the single largest party but missed the chance to come to power.

Campaigning in Nawada on April 7 as part of the first phase of the election—when Gaya, Aurangabad, Nawada, and Jamui vote on April 19—Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar urged older voters to remind young voters of Lalu Prasad’s “jungle raj” of the 1990s.

Jungle raj reminders

While Modi and other BJP leaders gave the Ram Mandir reminders to the audience, Nitish, sharing the dais with Modi, hysterically appealed to voters to not forget what he had done for them (including Muslims). Employment has become a major talking point, with both Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD and Nitish claiming credit for the recent recruitment of teachers.

Former Bihar Chief Minister and Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi is the NDA candidate in Gaya and is pitted against the sitting Bodh Gaya MLA Kumar Sarvjeet, son of former MP Rajesh Kumar.

Shantu Lal, an RSS worker belonging to the EBC (Extremely Backward Caste) community, said that Manjhi could hope to win only if Modi expressed regret for the BJP taking party workers for granted. Similarly, Lalji Prasad, a senior JD(U) functionary from the Vaishya community, said that NDA leaders take the community’s support for granted and opposition parties have shunned it.

In Belaganj, which falls under the Gaya constituency and is represented by RJD MLA Surendra Yadav, two young men, Rahul Kumar and Jasraj Yadav, lament the lack of jobs. Rahul, a graduate, runs a paan shop. But Manjhi, who made controversial comments about Ram and Brahmins, was praying at a Ram temple in Belaganj and apologising to Brahmins.

In Aurangabad, the BJP has parked its hopes on sitting MP Sushil Kumar Singh, while the RJD is fielding Abhay Kushwaha.

In Nawada, the BJP candidate is Vivek Thakur, son of party veteran and former MP Dr C.P. Thakur. He is pitted against the RJD’s Shravan Kumar. Rebel RJD leader Vinod Yadav could spell trouble for the RJD while the entry of Bhojpuri singer Gunjan Singh, who had hoped for the BJP ticket, could make the contest interesting.

In Jamui, the NDA candidate is from Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), and it is fielding Ram Vilas Paswan’s son-in-law Arun Bharti, while the RJD is fielding Archana Ravidas.

Campaign slugfest

While Modi has slammed the RJD and the Congress over parivaarvaad or dynasty politics, two BJP candidates and one each from the NDA’s allies in the first phase come from political families, a fact the RJD has been highlighting.

Also Read | ‘There is a groundswell of support for the RJD’: Tejashwi Yadav

Chirag Paswan believes the discourse in Bihar is gradually moving away from caste even as Nitish Kumar and Rahul Gandhi make a strong pitch around the caste census. However, both alliances have been formed keeping caste considerations in mind. The 2022 Bihar caste survey pegs the EBC count at 36 per cent of the total population, many of whom now vote for the BJP. The numerically small castes will matter in the electoral battle in Bihar.

The BJP has put up a big picture of EBC leader Karpoori Thakur outside its office in Patna, in which it prominently mentions the Bharat Ratna given to him, while the JD(U) office has a Karpoori Bhavan. RJD leader Jagadanand Singh also frequently mentions Karpoori Thakur. Fifty years after he briefly ruled the State, Karpoori Thakur seems to have become the rallying point in this election.

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