Offering an alternative narrative

The victory of the Mahagathbandhan signals the beginning of a new political paradigm

The dust and din of the Bihar Assembly elections is gradually subsiding. The prolonged, fatiguing, high-decibel and acrimonious five-phase electoral mahaparva has led to a decisive victory of the Mahagathbandhan consisting of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. A new government led by Nitish Kumar has been sworn in.
Electoral victories of this magnitude often breed euphoria.

But they must also be a moment of humility and, even more importantly, of introspection. Is the success of the Mahagathbandhan a random, one-off phenomenon? Or, does it connote some larger inferences whose impact will not be confined merely to Bihar? In a vibrant democracy of the size of India, elections come and go, but some resonate far beyond their immediate results. Does the Bihar election fall in this category and, if so, why?

To my mind, the victory of the Mahagathbandhan signals the beginning of a new political paradigm in opposition to the narrative of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. This new paradigm has certain definitive elements. First and foremost, the emphasis is, and must remain resolutely on good governance. The people of India are impatient for change which is responsive to their aspirations and are not willing to wait indefinitely for this to happen.

They value the importance of good governance and, fortunately, in Mr Kumar they have seen someone who is known precisely for that. In nine years of his rule, Bihar has seen transformative change that has been hailed both nationally and internationally. His administrative competence, eye for detail, meticulous planning and ceaseless monitoring of the governance apparatus, in all its aspects, has earned for him the sobriquet of “sushasan babu”.

He has now promised the people of Bihar that he will, apart from other priorities, particularly devote himself to the implementation of his “saat nischay” or seven-point programme. This programme, that is part of the Mahagathbandhan’s common programme, will focus on tangible deliverables to the youth and to women, and on bringing electricity, piped water and roads (including pucca roads and naalis in villages) to all human habitations within a definable time-frame for which precise budgetary allocations were announced before the elections. There is every reason for the people of Bihar to believe that he will deliver.

The second element of this alternative paradigm places pivotal importance on social justice. Economic development, as a result of good governance, means little unless its dividends also reach the poorest of the poor, the marginalised, and those belonging to the dalit, the mahadalit, extremely backward and backward classes. The importance of ensuring growth with justice cannot be overstated in a country like India. In spite of decades of development, vast numbers of our people still live below the poverty line or hover precariously around it. Any model of economic development that does not include them as beneficiaries would be patently inequitable, undemocratic and elitist.

The challenge here is to take the quest of social justice beyond merely a slogan. Almost every political party talks about the need to work for the poor but does not incorporate this priority as part of its structured planning. In the case of the BJP, the model is blatantly elitist. An important part of the administrative planning of Mr Kumar was to consciously mould planning and policy towards the goal of social justice.

As a result, the good governance he delivered actually reached the downtrodden and touched the lives of ordinary people in significant ways. Only this explains that, in spite of being the chief minister for almost a decade, there was no discernible anti-incumbency against him. On the contrary, the poor saw in him a person who has actually worked for them. Significantly, it is often not fully realised how substantially Lalu Prasad Yadav is also seen by the poor and backward as a symbol of social empowerment. That remains a key factor in the huge support he continues to enjoy among the poor and marginalised.

The third element of this alternative political narrative is religious and social harmony which embraces all the people of India. In fact, it would not be wrong to say, that given India’s plural and composite culture, good governance and religious and social harmony are two sides of the same coin.

This was emphasised by a person no less than the Mahatma, and carried forward with ideological passion by Jawaharlal Nehru. Neither good governance, nor economic growth can happen in a country endemically prone to fracturing on lines of communal or sectarian hatred and violence. Peace, stability, harmony, goodwill, respect and amity between peoples of all religions and creeds are a sine qua non for India.

Collectively, this alternative political paradigm presents an effective and humane face to governance, and in many ways, is in direct opposition to the Narendra Modi model of governance. The significance of the Bihar elections is that it has facilitated the emergence of this new paradigm. The challenge of the future is to garner support for it. This cannot happen overnight, nor should it. Political processes take time to reach fruition, and must be allowed a constructive gestation period, where each step is taken with maturity.

Several key state elections are slated for the future, and the BJP’s strength will be tested against the relevance of this counter narrative. Certainly, the strength of Opposition unity will be a key factor. It is clear by now that when the Opposition is divided the BJP gains, especially since it blatantly uses the instruments of communal polarisation, as was seen also in Bihar. In Bihar, the level of unity and maturity displayed by the leaders of the alliance partners of the Mahagathbandhan, leading to the near seamless transference of votes between their respective workers, was a key factor in the BJP’s decisive defeat. That too is a lesson for all non-BJP parties stemming from the Bihar election.

Author-diplomat Pavan K. Varma is a Rajya Sabha member representing the JD(U)

( Source : deccan chronicle )
Next Story