2.12.10

Bihar's Mythic Development: No Looking "Backwards"

Bihar's Mythic Development

No Looking "Backwards"
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, December 1, 2010


India, once considered a natural democracy, now needs shaky excuses to be so sanctified. Bihar, one of the most backward states in the country, has elected Nitish Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal (United), to power in a ‘stunning victory’. The bellicosity of commentators to be flagholders for such a myth has to be read to be believed.

It is amazing that this glorification is for his second term. Everyone knows that ruling parties have an edge to bulldoze their agendas. Such agendas may include pushing all the real issues under the carpet.

Bihar’s backwardness had little to do with the existence of scheduled castes and more to do with the manner in which they were treated. In Nitish Kumar’s utopian state, caste has got sidelined. This is not cause for celebration but concern. We are talking about a large segment of society being covertly discriminated against by two deceptive options – co-opting and debarring. The larger political spectrum that is being hailed has, in fact, narrowed it to the pyramidal apogee by selective probity.

One report came up with a rather dodgy analysis: “The Bihar results will have rippling effects in other areas where negative agendas of caste and communal forces do not allow people-driven agenda of development.”

Caste and communal forces are about people and do not spring from the bottom but the top; they have been traditional vote-banks thus far. They remain so, but in a non-conservative fashion by being covered beneath the veil of poverty. It is a real issue. However, the trick here is not to deal with poverty but make it a palpable saleable idea. Water, food, education, healthcare, electricity, roads are necessities that are sold as comforts. There is a reason for it; it is to set the ground for the development agencies to send in their quotations. The people of Bihar are not going to say “let there be light” and have shining bulbs nor will dry taps start running by the mere expedient of thirst; roads won’t be tarred for bare feet. All these require raw material, infrastructure and money. The poor obviously do not have money. Therefore, the rich come into the picture.

The rich in Bihar belong to the feudal class or criminal gangs. Both have tremendous political clout if they are not already in politics. It is pertinent to point out that both these categories are extremely caste conscious. The landlords use labour belonging to the lower castes and consolidate their position based on such bondage. Crime, too, relies on caste equations to settle scores. Therefore, the current development will need to not only factor in such disparities but also rely on them. Since over 80 per cent of the population is Hindu, communal politics can be reined in by sheer force. It ought to surprise no one that Nitish Kumar has been an ally of the right-wing parties.

During this election, he skirted Gujarat’s Narendra Modi’s involvement in electoral matters. This was seen as keeping away from a controversial figure. On the contrary, Bihar has cunningly emulated the Modi formula; the snub to Modi could have been a tactic or an ego trip. Either way, he is the role model here. The difference being that Bihar has been considered a backward region, Gujarat is not. But the economic saviours have worked along similar lines by co-opting those they have scant regard for. In Modi’s Gujarat the Muslims have stood by him despite the horrific establishment-engineered riots and killings of 2002; Nitish’s Bihar has used the abused members of society to the same effect by showing them glittering streets and whitewashed ideas.

The female voter turnout has been much-lauded without seeing the larger picture. This is not about empowerment or a woman’s natural understanding of development. Bihar, for all its progress, still has a large number of migrants to other cities. The question to ask is this: if the growth rate is 2.5 per cent more than the national rate of growth, then why have these sons of the soil not returned?

Iconoclasm has the ability to camouflage all con jobs. It is a rather sad statement that the original patented hero of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, is seen as a beleaguered has-been today. Despite his not-so-clean record and his scams that were out in the open for all to see, he had made Bihar into a brand of sorts. It was not mere rural hubris. If his was a one-man show, then no one really knows of any prominent people in Nitish Kumar’s cabinet. Lalu made no attempt to hide the caste of his candidates; at the national level this is an important element if the reservations policy is to be made use of by adhering to authenticity rather than fakery.

It is also an irony that while Bihar under Lalu Prasad was the only state to prevent the rath yatra of L. K. Advani from passing through in what was to turn out to be the worst communal divide after Partition is now dependent on the BJP. Long before talk about development, Lalu had the courage to appoint backward caste priests and shankaracharyas. These were quite possibly gimmicks, but for a country that still has such an aversion towards Dalits this was a strong statement.

Development must include political vigilance and progressive inclusive thinking. The end of the road is not roads.

15 comments:

  1. FV,
    The word is Planned obselence..Caste sold when it sold , it will surely sell again...we keep changing our poisons ...Caste doesnt sell when kidnappings happen irrespective of caste and 18 hour power outage happens without discrimimation , but after Nitish fixes it , we will be at it again.....ex CM in the menatime will marry off all 10 children and hubby will buy a dairy in denmark using his "hard earned" savings...and the same folks will vote from him again..sab maaya hai ...
    sab maya hai ,
    sab dhaltee phirtee chaya hai
    iss ishq mein hum nay jo khooya jo paya hai
    jo tum nay kaha hai, faiz nay jo farmaya hai
    sab maya hai

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  2. Have you been to Bihar? Just wondering.

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  3. Farzana,

    I think you take Lalu at face value --- the 15 years he ruled, all the "low caste" Biharis were living in squalor (but with a lot of caste dignity, you say) while Lalu was living it up like some sort of thieving feudal lord, which is exactly how he behaved. Unfortunately for Bihar and India, Lalu was more show than substance, and looks like he fooled a lot of people. The man used to be a low-level thug surrounded by his lackeys, including a "court jester" to keep Lalu amused. In order to play caste politics, Lalu wants a caste census and was willing to "work with" the "higher castes" towards that front just a few months ago.

    Destroying casteism in not just an exercise in amateur iconoclasm, but it is far more important. It is the destruction of an ancient and useless social concept that divides rather than unite the nation, and it must die in order for these caste memes to become irrelevant down the line....as it will, if people have the money and the time to think and act for themselves.

    Yesterday's "upper caste" can be seen cleaning toilets and yesterday's "lower caste" can be seen running companies, and this is happening today, and can be replicated in the rest of India by just providing economic opportunities and affirmative action, with merit as the only decider to hold a position.

    This is known to work better than a some govt. sponsored socialist/bureaucratic idiocy that ends up setting up these ideas in stone for centuries from now....it could happen, you know.

    Al

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  4. Manish:

    I think certain aspects affect some people more than others, esp when there are no inbuilt safeguards.

    Al:

    I did not take Lalu at face value but accepted his being the face of Bihar. He was corrupt and so is Nitish Kumar and there will be others...

    It would be wonderful if economic opportunity became a leveller, but such theoretical optimism does not translate into reality often. There are times when a few examples are flashed as having crossed the barrier, broken the glass ceiling, but these are teasers. We cannot ignore the large mass and they will not get opportunities because economic well-being has to come along with a change in mindset.

    What you call a "useless concept" is reality staring us in the face. It divides but then those divisions are sought by the elite. They do not have to move to cities and change their names to appear high-caste. The proving of merit has become an issue because the lower castes were being brought into the mainstream.

    The overhaul is a long distance away, I am afraid.

    - - -

    Jai:

    No. Why? Just wondering...

    PS: Look at the new blogpost. I do know what you and some others are always getting at. It is an easy way out instead of refutation, no?

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  5. "It would be wonderful if economic opportunity became a leveller, but such theoretical optimism does not translate into reality often."

    FV, you seem to think that India actually has a system currently to provide equal opportunity with respect to availing economic opportunity, so it is not my optimism that is theoretical...it is the fallacy of pretending there is equal economic opportunity in India today...there isn't, because India is a state that practices crony capitalism that does not provide equal opportunities for every one. The powerful elite have already subverted the system to ensure that no one but them gets first dibs.


    "There are times when a few examples are flashed as having crossed the barrier, broken the glass ceiling, but these are teasers. We cannot ignore the large mass and they will not get opportunities because economic well-being has to come along with a change in mindset."

    I disagree that examples are few -- my buddies who went to school because of a SC/ST quota and their own intelligence has propelled them to the top in India. There are so many examples thanks to progressive policies of the past before the whole caste quota issue blew up in or faces and took a very wrong turn. Now, for a bribe, I can become "backward" or SC or ST, and that is exactly what people do if they find themselves at a disadvantage because of their caste.

    "What you call a "useless concept" is reality staring us in the face. It divides but then those divisions are sought by the elite."

    While that may be true, it is more important to move in a direction where such divisions naturally subside, and this means removing labels. If you think there is a way to increase the caste divide now, and then fix it up later, please explain. I do not see how that is possible.

    " They do not have to move to cities and change their names to appear high-caste. The proving of merit has become an issue because the lower castes were being brought into the mainstream. "

    Actually, the reverse happens more often for certain, and it makes sense why it is that way --- there is no economic advantage to be "forward caste" today, while there is in not being one, and that is sufficient motivation to downgrade caste wise instead of upgrade to a higher caste.

    -Al

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  6. I agree with the idea of Caste over-sold for a while by Yadav muscle-men but I am willing to bet that it will make a comeback.

    If 3000 years of history has taught us anything about India, it is that Castes are as eternal as India itself.

    Even Muslims, Catholics and Sikhs have castes, for God's sake !

    hitesh

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  7. Oh I asked that not to pin you down but was quite amused by your lazy analysis that you hide behind some verbal jugglery. Witness this sample:
    "This is not cause for celebration but concern. We are talking about a large segment of society being covertly discriminated against by two deceptive options – co-opting and debarring. The larger political spectrum that is being hailed has, in fact, narrowed it to the pyramidal apogee by selective probity."

    Again, I urge you to visit the state sometime. After all, when some of us criticize Pakistan, don't we hear the argument that "you cannot so and so because you have never been there."

    Also, sometime before you had published a photograph of a Muslim woman holding her son dressed up as Krishna. You went on to write a whole column raving and ranting about god knows what. If you had verified your sources, you would have known that the kid was participating in a "fancy dress" competition. If tomorrow Muslims get less uptight about depiction of Prophet, trust me a whole mohalla would be ready to depict that.

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  8. I respect u for ur opinion, however strange it may be. Don't u think u sud not level charges of Nitish being corrupt w/o any evidence???

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  9. "FV, you seem to think that India actually has a system currently to provide equal opportunity with respect to availing economic opportunity, so it is not my optimism that is theoretical...it is the fallacy of pretending there is equal economic opportunity in India today...there isn't, because India is a state that practices crony capitalism that does not provide equal opportunities for every one. The powerful elite have already subverted the system to ensure that no one but them gets first dibs."

    I pretty much agree here...

    "I disagree that examples are few -- my buddies who went to school because of a SC/ST quota and their own intelligence has propelled them to the top in India. There are so many examples thanks to progressive policies of the past before the whole caste quota issue blew up in or faces and took a very wrong turn. Now, for a bribe, I can become "backward" or SC or ST, and that is exactly what people do if they find themselves at a disadvantage because of their caste."

    and still will continue with the matrimony ads of "suitable brahmin/bania gal/boy etc." even after using that SC/ST certificate obtained through bribe. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

    "While that may be true, it is more important to move in a direction where such divisions naturally subside, and this means removing labels. If you think there is a way to increase the caste divide now, and then fix it up later, please explain. I do not see how that is possible."

    Just like when Gandhi was thrown out of the train; of immediate importance was to throw the British out of India and then worry about contradictions within India. I believe in current situation, it is important to fight the brown babus fanning the caste and communal bigotry before we can approach the issues of social harmony in India.

    "Actually, the reverse happens more often for certain, and it makes sense why it is that way --- there is no economic advantage to be "forward caste" today, while there is in not being one, and that is sufficient motivation to downgrade caste wise instead of upgrade to a higher caste."

    Do you have numbers to back up this claim?? esp in places like Bihar??

    Europeans got their royalties, Muslims got their Mullahs and we got our Upper Castes; they all will survive until forces of history destroys them and not a day sooner.

    -hitesh

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  10. "nd still will continue with the matrimony ads of "suitable brahmin/bania gal/boy etc." even after using that SC/ST certificate obtained through bribe. Talk about having your cake and eating it too."

    You expect them to be dishonest in one aspect and honest in another aspect of their interaction with society? If they are going to lie about their real caste for the purpose of caste benefits from the government, why would they tell the truth about their lie while placing matrimonial ads. By definition, a dishonest person tries to get the best for himself/herself in all circumstances by telling lies and the truth appropriately, to derive maximum benefit.

    Al

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  11. hitesh:
    "Do you have numbers to back up this claim?? esp in places like Bihar??"

    Do not know about Bihar, but it is true in Tamilnadu and Karnataka.

    Pray tell why do you think there would be "published numbers to back up this claim" on this front? You think people will tell the truth to the person doing such an opinion poll:

    "Are you dishonest?" Yes/No

    Please only answer yes or no


    What do you think are the chances of getting any useful information from such a census? So the question is what made you ask me such as stupid question.

    There is no need for "published stats to back up my claim" -- All I have to do to prove I am right, is bribe someone to make myself as a different caste person -- are you going to claim this cannot be done in India today? Are you willing to put money where your mouth is?

    Al

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  12. Won't be able to respond for sometimes. Just a few quick ones:

    Jai:

    No one insists that people have to visit Pakistan to write about it, unless someone specifically comes up with nought.

    PS: Before asking me to verify my sources, I wish you would READ what I wrote: I mentioned the child was dressed for Janmashthami celebrations at school. Geez. Do read the latest post...

    Venugopal Naidu:

    Ask the CBI. They have cases against him, including taking monies form the state treasury meant for 'development', misleading during a natural calamity to get funds for himself/his party.


    Hitesh:

    The 'caste' system (sects are there but different and as divisive) in other communities is not intrinsic, but adapted. We really are one!

    Al:

    Hope you and Hitesh have a good discussion...aargh!

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  13. From a report in today's papers:

    A man in Bihar was so happy at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s return to power for the second time that he chopped off a finger as an offering to god – for the second time in five years.

    Anil Sharma, a resident of Ghoshi in Jehanabad district, cut off his finger at a temple. “I chopped off a finger and offered it to god as I had vowed I would do so if Nitish Kumar returned to power for a second term,” said Sharma.

    He had done the same when Nitish Kumar came to power in November 2005.

    Sharma said that he was impressed by the CM’s development plank and his pro-people work in the last five years.


    Sure. Now this guy won’t get decent employment. Or he just might…right into the lion’s den. Is this development?

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  14. "A man in Bihar was so happy at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s return to power for the second time that he chopped off a finger as an offering to god"

    Are we going to judge a State's performance based on antics of a few nutcases? That logic sounds familiar, no?

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  15. FV,

    So u r someone who label anyone corrupt on the basis of charges labeled against him.NO problem again it's ur opinion who m i to challenge it,thanks for sparing me the shock by not calling him murderer as he has also been charged for the same, but let me tell u about development of Bihar as u don't think it's necessary for u to visit thr and then write something about it.I am not complaining that u sud not write or form opinion by reading news coming from Bihar. I am a regular visitor to state,right from early 90's to last 2009.In my opinion if u will go thr u will surely say thrs in no development as definition of same differs for different ppl. For me and u it may be something else but for ppl of bihar merely good and well maintained road which they are witnessing after decades is 'development'.We may not acknowledge newly built mall or renovated theater in patna as development as for us it is normal,but for them it is 'development'.The list is endless...i hope u will understand my point.One more thing, one should one question IQ of general voters,they always choose wats best for them,even if it's about choosing between bad and worse.

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