What a difference a decade makes. The five years from 2005 to 2010 were surely golden years for Bihar. Five years of stepping out from darkness into the light. The system of forced labor (called begaar) had been ended. In fact, one of the first orders of Nitish Kumar as CM was that all the crops that had been cultivated through begaar system should be harvested and the proceeds distributed among the poor villages.
Yes, forced labor used to be a “system” in India as late as 2005. That is how dark things were during Jungle Raj. And kidnapping used to be an industry. Over the next five years, the kidnapping industry collapsed. The so called “rangdari tax” (protection money) extracted from handful of businessmen came to an end.
Roads were built. The schools were reopened. Yes, reopened. The schools had been only on paper for years. Every now and then, the locals came to demand their rights under the midday meal scheme. Then, a bit of the rice sent by the government would be distributed. The villagers were happy with whatever they could get. A bit of rice was enough. They never thought of demanding an education for their kids. And so, the BJP JDU government had to “reopen” the schools.
Along with schools, the health centers had to be reopened. They had been closed for so long that few actually remembered their original purpose. People assumed that they had always been ruins and the horrible stench of stray dogs was the only thing there.
These badlands had been ruled by Lalu Yadav for 15 years. And even more terrifyingly, by Rabri Devi’s two brothers: Sadhu Yadav and Subhash Yadav. Actually, it was not so much Lalu who was feared. It was his brothers-in-law.
When there were elections, every other village would be surrounded by goons. Then the booths would be captured. There was no question of going out to vote.
This was Jungle Raj. The elites in Delhi thought there was something charming, rustic and ultimately hilarious about it. That Lalu was a harmless comedian. And even those who should know better seemed like they were in on the joke. If you want to see Ravish Kumar at his bootlicking best, here is Ravish’s report from 2004 on the great popularity of Lalu Yadav dolls in the toy market.
Yes, this is the journalism of Ravish Kumar discussing “real issues” in the UPA era. Reporting on the popularity of Lalu Yadav dolls instead of the darkness of Jungle Raj.
The reopening and restoration of Bihar was one of the astonishing successes of India in the 21st century. The transformation was so far reaching that even Ravish Kumar could not have denied it.
Naturally, the pundits would not let the BJP take this credit.
In 2010, the big Lutyens pundits shook their heads and concluded : Nitish Kumar is winning for sure. But the BJP isn’t winning. The BJP deserves no credit. The BJP is “communal” and a burden on Nitish Kumar. The discussions went something like this: Nitish Kumar is contesting 141 seats. In a wave election, he might win 120 seats on his own and form the government with no need for BJP. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Then, the pundits could snatch all the credit for the transformation of Bihar from BJP and give it to Nitish.
It was not to be. The people of Bihar voted for BJP in astounding numbers, giving them 91/102 seats contested. When the results came out, the pundits mourned. You can’t take this away from BJP.
How things change….
It’s 2020. The topic is just the opposite. Now everyone agrees that Nitish by himself is pretty much over. And if he has any hope of winning, it is because of BJP support. In 2010, the BJP seemed forlorn and pathetic, repeatedly begging for assurances from Nitish Kumar that he would still keep them on board. In 2020, it is BJP assuring Nitish Kumar that he will remain CM. Nitish broke his promise. He did it in the worst possible manner. In 2013, not only did he break ties with BJP, he did not have the decency to allow the BJP ministers to resign. He sacked them.
People in politics always live for the moment, but they have long memories. Let’s see if BJP keeps its promise.
I know there is a lot of chatter about Tejaswi Yadav, his crowds and whether he could really win. I am not sure about Nitish’s chances and I’ve disliked Nitish Kumar since 2013, but I am skeptical about this whole Tejaswi buzz. Most of all, I remember something very similar from 2010. Back then, it was prince Rahul Gandhi who was making waves.
After sweeping Bihar by winning 4 out of 243 seats, Rahul went on to sweep Uttar Pradesh in 2012… I don’t remember the exact total in UP, but I think it was around 25 seats out of 404. I am sure some chamcha would have praised him for an improved strike rate in UP over Bihar. That’s how media was back then.
The thing with Nitish Kumar is that despite everything else, the BJP+JDU combination is something that works. It’s been average recently, perhaps even below average, but it doesn’t fall apart. And in the past, of course, it has been stellar, even life changing for one of India’s most populous states.
I find it doubtful that Bihar would leave behind something so comfortable for a Tejaswi government. The man had been Deputy CM for all of 2 years. He wouldn’t leave his official bungalow at the end of it. In fact, he fought an absurd legal battle to keep it, until the Supreme Court bundled him out in 2019. That’s Tejaswi. Same old RJD classic. Will people really want to go back to that?