Bihar, and many parts of West Bengal, close to Bihar, have been engulfed in organised bouts of communal tension and violence.
Prof Mohammad Sajjad
SECULARISTS and liberals are, for instance, silent against the misogyny of the Muslim clergy. This is what has been corroding their credibility over decades, giving rise to the menace of majoritarianism.
Bihar, and many parts of West Bengal, close to Bihar, have been engulfed in organised bouts of communal tension and violence. Religious processions (Ramnavmi and Chaiti Durga; in late January it was Saraswati Puja) have been the occasion. Carrying illegal weapons, entering into Muslim mohallas, shouting incendiary slogans, ransacking Masjids and Madrasas (at Rosera, in Samastipur) have been the modus operandi, beginning with March 17, 2018, from Bhagalpur. The extent of the provocations can be gauged from the fact that chief minister, Nitish Kumar has not been able to prevent these patterns and provocations, even in Silao (Nalanda), his home district. Tragically, the opposition (RJD), despite its huge cadre-base, appears to be hardly doing much, proactively, to confront the menace.
There are patterns discernible in the recent violent communal onslaught in Bihar . The geography of the violence suggests that those places are more prone to such violence, where: (i) either the BJP’s allies are likely to stake their claims for Lok Sabha seats in 2019, or (ii) the incumbent BJP parliamentarians are feeling insecure due to the widespread discontent of certain caste groups, which may desert BJP in 2019:
(a) Munger (where Lalan Singh, a close aide of Nitish is supposed to be important leader); (b) Rosera (Samastipur), which was once represented by Ramvilas Paswan, has got sizeable Kurmi, Koeri and Dalit population; besides, the town of Rosera has got significant presence of Muslim traders; the Mosque targeted has got very tall, imposing tower; and incumbent MLA of Samastipur is a Muslim, Akhtarul Islam Shaheen, of RJD; (c) Jamui (currently represented by LJP’s Chiragh Paswan); Sheikhpura town, an assembly segment of the Jamui Lok Sabha seat witnessed violence on 28 March (d) Aurangabad (was represented by JDU in 2009; its nominee Sushil Kumar Singh, was re-elected in 2014 on BJP symbol ); violence broke on March 25; (e) Silao ( in Nalanda, native district of Nitish); (f) Bhagalpur (which has been Ashwini Chaubey’s preferred choice to contest from; Bhagalpur violence broke out on March 17, after Ashwini’s son, Arijit Shashwat led a mob, and even mocked at the FIR lodged against him); (g) Siwan (from where JDU would like to contest; violence broke out on March 24); (h) earlier, in late January, violence broke out in: (a) Marwan (Muzaffarpur), of Vaishali Lok Sabha seat, which is currently represented by LJP; (b) Aba Bakrpur, Mahuwa, of Hajipur Lok Sabha seat, represented by Ramvilas Paswan; (c) Dhaka (Champaran), of Motihari Lok Sabha seat, which is represented by the Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, and who has to feel the irate of farm distress; (d) Gaya’s incumbent BJP MP, Hari Manjhi, is feeling insecurity after Jitan Manjhi has gone over to the RJD; (e) Nawada, represented by BJP’s Giriraj Singh, who keeps issuing polarising statements.
Nawada witnessed violence on March 30, (and also in April 2017, where even JDU MLC Salman Raghib’s house was ransacked). Nawada was, till 2014, supposed to be a safely winnable seat for JDU, and has also got intra-Yadav rivalries. JDU’s Kaushal Yadav (his wife, Purnima Yadav is Congress MLA from Gobindpur, Nawada) and RJD’s Rajballabh Yadav compete with each other.
The victory of SP-BSP alliance in the by-polls of Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats seem to have added to the desperation of the BJP. With more intensified communal polarisations, the BJP appears to be trying to torpedo the emerging alliances of the backwards and dalits. That might explain renewed spurt and virulence in communal skirmishes since late March.
The BJP’s rising desperation has also to do with the fact that the smaller allies representing specific subordinated castes in parts of provinces (e.g., Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP, and other such allies of BJP in UP), have not been able to strengthen their base, despite being in alliance with the ruling BJP. Immediately after the by-poll results, some of the allies including Ramvilas Paswan, vented their acute discomfiture with the BJP. All this dissent is being sought to be made ineffective by consolidating Hindus, behind the BJP, through intensified communal polarisations.
Within this overall scenario, it seems almost inevitable that Nitish will be increasingly cornered and even threatened with political oblivion. Even if were to merge with the BJP, he may not retain his visibility at the top any longer. It is also widely rumoured that, on April 14, the birth anniversary of Dalit icon, B. R. Ambedkar, Nitish and Ramvilas Paswan are likely to make certain ‘important announcements’ at a public meeting. On the other hand, Upendra Kushwaha has been making over gestures to the RJD. Thus, the BJP’s allies have begun to air their grievances, in the open, in public. Meanwhile, Bihar keeps sliding on all fronts, and indicators, a decline for which Nitish cannot absolve himself of a share of the blame.
Despite Nitish’s very long political affiliation with the hate-mongers, despite the Godhra train carnage (Sabarmati Coach, S-6 burning and mass arson)and the subsequent massacres of 2002 in Gujarat, Nitish, the then Minister for Railways, had chosen to continue in his alliance with the ruling BJP. Hs current stance vis a vis communal polarisation should not, therefore surprise anyone; his abject failute and absence of political will in reigning in hoodlums with an allegience to Hindutva. Why then the surprise among many?
Remember: (i) Nitish governed Bihar during 2005-13, in alliance with the BJP, when the BJP was not in power at the Centre. Then, he was the dominant ally, keeping the Hindutva agenda at bay, with various other exercises of social coalitions, viz., Ati Pichhra, Mahadalit, Pasmanda, and Women empowerment. (ii) The Indian electorate has, arguably, strange ways! Are we too generous in giving a benefit of doubt to their leaders—political, as well as religious?
Nitish pulled out of the Mahagathbandhan in July 2017 for reasons best known only to him. Speculations suggest that: (a) Nitish re-aligned with the BJP to avoid his discomfitures to be inflicted upon him in the Srijan scam case, and other such cases of corruption and crime, pending, or to be brought up by a vindictive centre. (b) Nitish was not comfortable with ever-growing demands of the Yadavas and that by the next elections, Tejaswi could anyway have tried to replace him, given the fact that his core support-base, Yadavas (12%), are numerically far ahead of the Kurmis (4%), to which Nitish belongs; and given the fact that Muslims (17%) have always trusted Lalu, over Nitish. This makes the RJD’s base far more durable. Nitish did test this competitive base in the 2014 elections and found that Muslims could not trust him; (c) If a news-report in ndtv.com (Manish Kumar, December 4, 2017) is to be believed, Lalu and his Man Friday, Prem Gupta, approached Arun Jaitley, the Union Finance Minister, pleading for some reprieve in corruption investigations with the assurance of a quid pro quo. Lalu would kick out Nitish within 24 hours of this assurance. This news was, it is rumoured, leaked out to Nitish, and he brought an end to the Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan.
Be that as it may, it did not require great intelligence to guess and foresee that Nitish’s realignment with the BJP in 2017 was not going to keep him as a dominant partner within NDA, unlike what he really had been during 2005-2013. His credibility and trustworthiness among the electorate, as well as among the allies, on both sides of the divide, have dipped miserably low because of opportunistic hopping.
Nitish’s Failures were Predictable
It has been anticipated for a while that the aggressively ascendant Saffron outfits will outsmart and marginalise him. The spurt in the communal clashes in Bihar after June 2013 (when Nitish pulled out of the NDA), and its further resurgence since July 2017, when Nitish re-joined the NDA, after the BJP formed government in Uttar Pradesh in March 2017, despite acute distress caused by demonetisation, and the mushrooming proliferation of various saffron outfits, including the Hindu Yuva Vahini,
((spreading from its headquarters in Gorakhpur (U.P.) to the adjacent Saran (Bihar)), has also been on predictable lines, at least for Bihar watchers.
For all these reasons, Nitish is now a helpless junior ally of the Hindutva juggernaut. He cannot even think of reigning in saffron hoodlums raging, marauding and killing –spreading hate and venom– in the mohallas of Bihar. He cannot even do what Mamata Banerjee is seen to be doingdoing. Her police is at least seen directly confronting the marauders. Though, Purulia, Asansol-Raniganj, Kakinada, and other parts of West Bengal are under communal flames. Asansol-Raniganj, has got sizeable presence of Hindi speaking population, and is represented by Babul Supriyo, a minister in the Union cabinet of Narendra Modi who has played a sickening role in stoking the violence.
Senior bureaucrats confide that Nitish’s higher bureaucracy are alreadt cozying up with the dominant political partner for more remunerative central assignments. They are therefore no longer cooperating with him in maintaining law and order or in preventing the armed processions shouting provocative slogans by forcefully entering Muslim mohallas. R C P Sinha, Nitish’s link with bureaucracy, is said to have become completely ineffective now.
True, he did succeed in penalising the rioters of Bhagalpur massacre 1989-90. But, now even if he would wish to rein in (one has genuine doubts if he would really wish to) saffron cadres on the rampage. His ally, now a dominant one, cannot allow him to do so.
Why? Because, in power at centre, they have failed miserably in delivering lots of promises they had made in 2014. The expose of corruption, more specifically the Banking scandals, accentuating farm distress, atrocities against Dalits, marginalisation of the regional allies, mostly backward groups, rising unemployment, all have to be covered up through communal polarizations. The card of Hindutva, as an electoral saviour of the incumbent regime, is being played out in utter desperation.
It appears that the victory of SP-BSP alliance in the by-elections of two Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh, viz., Gorakhpur and Phulpur, has further extenuated the anxiety in the saffron camp. Particularly because the bastion of the UP chief minister, has been wrested away by a subaltern community of fishermen (Nishads/Mallahs). This specific community has been organizing itself and asserting politically in parts of eastern UP and northern Bihar. The Mallahs (the Hindu fishermen, including the allied/similar sub-castes like Gangotas and Kevats—the boatmen—those earning their livelihoods by river water) are now emerging as the “Dominant Castes” in these parts.
The rise of Mallah in the Muzaffarpur (Bihar) Lok Sabha seat since the 1990s almost sealed the prospect of a Bhumihar getting elected from there. Bhagalpur (Bihar) Lok Sabha seat is represented by RJD, who belongs to Gangota community. A similar fear of Rajput dominance has emerged from Gorakhpur. The Nishads have also staked their claims on the Gorakhnath Math of Yogi Aditynath.
Remember, both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had long spells of Backward and Dalit rule since 1989-90, against which, the spell of Hindutva, sort of crashed, despite aggressive mobilisations in the name of the Ram Janma Bhumi in the 1980s and early 1990s. Thus, the ideological bulwark of ‘social justice’, kept Hindutva on hold.
Had these two states been a Congress stronghold after 1989-90, they ran the risk of falling prey to Hindutva, just as they did in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and also in Rajasthan. Even Maharashtra and Gujarat, Congress rule did not offer any ideological counterpoint to the Hindutva. Besides, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have relatively lesser proportion of Muslim population. These provinces therefore, arguably, offer relatively less incentives to Hindutva mobilisation, presently, as decade-long activities in these states by proponents and allies appear to have reached saturation point.
Both in Bihar and UP, Muslims have a sizeable presence number and a corresponding public profile. These states have, therefore always offered fertile ground for this kind of polarising agenda. Especially now when the supremoes of the Backward and Dalit political parties have assumed the shape and form of single caste monopolies. Rather than furthering social justice as a plank, the politics has offered a meteoric rise to the political and economic fortunes of the supremos and their kins.
As against this, ascendant Hindutva is now offering some sort of political career “open to talent”. For such aspirational youth, communal activities are exercises in political CV building. Jobless youth are therefore joining in for money, piece of action, and for climbing the political ladder. Under friendly regimes, there is a renewed push to consolidate and expand to new grounds. This further explains why there is a sudden spurt in communal tension and violence in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Needs for a More Proactive Opposition
The Opposition is not mobilising its cadres to confront the hoodlums head on. The RJD cadres do not seem to pursue a politics of direct, on-the-street intervention, nor is it attempting judicial battles, in each case of rioting, to rein in the Hindutva hoodlums. Secondly, Tejaswi appears not to be sincere about propping up leaders from non-Yadav OBCs, and Dalits, who had deserted the RJD primarily because of Yadav hegemony.
Secularists and liberals are, for instance, are silent against the misogyny of the Muslim clergy. They are not able to ask even the Muslim clergy not to bring out huge processions in several towns on a misogynist issue. They erred in 1986, when they upturned the justice dispensed to Shah Bano (1916-92) through Parliamentary legislation, giving rise to a majoritarian reaction. They are repeating that mistake again. Yet many of the liberal-left intelligentsia, and “Muslim-friendly” regional formations, are hardly speaking out against them sternly, giving some sort of credence to the Hindutva canard of ‘Muslim appeasement.’ This is what has been corroding their credibility over decades, giving rise to the menace of majoritarianism.
Point is simple. Caste and gender based regressivism/conservatism and communalism have got a cause-effect relationship. The need of the hour is to frankly accept past mistakes, to regain the people’s trust. Only then will the secular progressive forces will be able to convince the common electorate of the failures of the incumbent regime on all fronts, especially to the dangers of communal hatred, poison and venom. A mere opportunistic stitching of coalitions will not convince the electorates that such an arrangement will really be able to sustain itself and deliver on economy and employment.
(Professor Mohammad Sajjad is with Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, and is author of Muslim Politics in Bihar: This write-up was published in sabrangindia.in. He tweets @sajjadhist)