2015, Bihar 2020, Book Excerpts, The Brothers Bihari

I often get collared for criticising Bihar, but I do that only because of my investment in Bihar and Biharis

Or, why the “Naya Bihar” story still awaits the courtesies of its people

Excerpt Three from The Brothers Bihari in the run-up to Elections 2020

Someday soon these men will slip out of these pages and become greater or lesser. There are no last words on lives; they end in ellipses, often suffixed with a question mark. The protagonists of this volume are a work in progress; when the last word has been written, a trail would already have leapt off it. There will be more to tell. Part of the charm and challenge of this pursuit has been the chase itself.

Laloo and Nitish together make a seamless continuum of the narrative of contemporary Bihar. Two of its great sons, who embossed the state with their imprint on either side of the millennium. One made a story of hope wantonly betrayed, the other ventured its unlikely kindling in the mire of collective cynicism and resignation. They make a strange diptych, Laloo and Nitish, a fracture of the same bone, separated by radical contrasts yet locked on the hinges by an uneasy sameness. For far too many reasons, understanding Laloo is critical to understanding Nitish, and very often the opposite is equally true. One significant change they have together wrought on Bihar is that, like in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, upper-caste dominance of politics has become a thing of the past. In the twenty-five years since Laloo came to power in 1990, the transfer of power hegemony from the minority upper castes to backward and Dalit representatives has become complete; that process is in irreversible stability.

When I wrote The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar in 2000, Nitish Kumar was barely necessary to the narrative; he made sundry appearances, very often roaming the footnotes. By the time the book was revised and reincarnated in 2006 as Subaltern Saheb: Bihar and the Making of Laloo Yadav, Nitish occupied the better part of two new chapters. In 2006, Laloo was gone, swept aside by a dam-burst of unfulfilled aspirations; Nitish had begun to step ahead, squeezing Laloo out to the footnotes of the new Bihar story.

But should we call it that yet—The New Bihar Story? A part of me hesitates. A part of me celebrates. I am attached to the Bihar story because I was born a Bihari and proudly remain one. I am part of the ineffable construct of what it must mean to be Bihari. I can begin to exult in small things—a length of pucca road, a stable hour of electricity, a school that has students and teachers in it, a health centre that isn’t padlocked. But the cheer always comes stained with concern. How far will the new road penetrate into the dark and flung corners of Bihar? How durable is any of this?

Continue reading “I often get collared for criticising Bihar, but I do that only because of my investment in Bihar and Biharis”
2015, Bihar 2020, Journalism, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar2020 from Bihar2015: The Artful Dodger called Mukesh Sahni

When I first met him, this young man had merely dipped a toe into electoral waters. It appears he liked what he sensed and had the resources to indulge his fancies. Here’s Sahni, “Son of Mallah”, who now heads Bihar’s VIP, and has extracted 11 assembly seats from the BJP. A throwback piece from the 2015 campaign.

This is the story of the negotiator of this election. He belongs to no political party, has zero political lineage and next to no grooming in rough and tumble. But he has bargained artfully with Bihar’s big adversaries – the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan – switched loyalties with aplomb and extracted more purchase and notice than might be expected of a 34-year-old Bollywood set decorator.

Mukesh Sahni, “Son of Mallah”

Meet Mukesh Sahni, also known as “Son of Mallah”, consummate “apolitical” politicker, a man pursued alike by Nitish Kumar and Amit Shah, a man who shuttled tantalisingly between both before agreeing to be seduced by the latter. “I am no politician,” he says, “All I had were votes, I went for the one who gave me and my community the better deal. Did I do any wrong?” Money? And how much? “None,” he counters, “Not a pie, I am not for sale, I am here to secure the best for my Mallah (boatmen) brothers. I have made money, and I am aware what happens once you’ve sold yourself.”

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Bihar 2020, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Polls2020: The Method in Bihar’s Madness

Or, why the state’s election battlefield makes you wonder who’s fighting who

Those familiar with the serial adventures of Asterix of Gaul would perhaps best be able to visualise the emerging contours of battleground Bihar. Multiple armies converging upon each other in raucous streams with no cognition of ally and adversary, heft or hollowness, as if animated solely by the prospect of an anarchic enactment.

What looked like a humdrum contest between two alliances until last week has overnight been transformed into a shambolic melee that has so blurred the battle-lines that it is tough to tell who’s fighting who. Bihar is headed towards an onomatopoeic crescendo ringing with comic-grade sonics — Piff! Paff! Bong! Aaaargh!!

Raring mid-battlestrip is the exaggeration called Chirag Paswan, a political rookie handed reins of the LJP by his ailing father, the veteran Ram Vilas Paswan, who passed away in a Delhi hospital on Thursday evening. 

The young Paswan is clearly punching impossibly above his weight or his party’s. The LJP’s Assembly numbers have been steadily tumbling; from an all-time high of 29, they plummeted to two in the 243-member house in 2015. On such a match-box presence, Chirag has unveiled ambitions of erecting a mansion — the LJP will contest 143 seats, in abject violation of reason and of accepted coalition norms.

But to focus on Chirag’s implausible leap of political pretence — probably buoyed in some measure now by sympathy sentiment — is to lose sight of the launch pad that has shot him towards distances way beyond his horsepower. Chirag’s sudden voracity of appetite and his violations of NDA entente are a thing of the BJP’s encouragement.

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Bihar 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar 2020: Nitish Kumar Vs. Narendra Modi Redux?

Is this going to be a de facto battle between the state’s ruling allies? Read on, and never exclude a twist in this tale

A sour irony is descending upon Nitish Kumar, aiming for a record fourth straight term as Bihar chief minister — his main ally, the BJP, is emerging as main opposition to his ambition.

As the Assembly polls near, the BJP appears less and less a coalition partner, more and more a challenger trying to manoeuvre itself into the driver’s seat and dictate power post-election at the expense of Nitish’s Janata Dal United (JDU).

Sunday’s decision by Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) to reject Nitish as leader of the NDA in Bihar is a proxy ploy by the BJP not only to erode the chief minister of agency as unchallenged alliance leader, but also to chip away at his tally in the new Assembly to a degree that he is left emaciated.

Officially, the BJP still maintains Nitish will be the face of the NDA’s campaign, but it is apparent the chief minister is a placard the BJP is preparing to maim, even discard. Irrespective of the party’s official position, the LJP’s anti-Nitish overture isn’t without the BJP leadership’s endorsement; it is more likely a concerted move.

Chirag Paswan, put in charge of negotiations by his ailing father, met BJP president J.P. Nadda last week in the presence of home minister Amit Shah, the de facto party boss.

Long reined-in, the BJP’s renewed aspiration to pilot power in Bihar has been fed in no mean way by the limp RJD-led gathbandhan. Drubbed in two successive Lok Sabha elections and minus the stage and backroom abilities of Lalu Prasad, the gathbandhan (the Congress and the Left parties are part of it) holds out little promise of making a fight of it.

Continue reading “Bihar 2020: Nitish Kumar Vs. Narendra Modi Redux?”