Rakesh Chaubey *

The dreaded landmines and the Naxalite diktat for boycotting elections in the areas of their influence are the twin specters of violence that haunt most of the people engaged in upholding 'democracy' through the process of electioneering. For this, the Naxalites have been held guilty by all and sundry for undermining the election process. Their crime appears more glaring if one also considers elections as perhaps the only democratic tool available to the subalterns to remind the state of their miserable condition. There are few issues, however, that need serious reflection before we arrive at any hurried conclusion in this regard.

The first one concerns the very process of political mobilizations, particularly crucial to the extraordinary event of election. A closer look at the social base of major political formations engaged in political mobilization in Bihar in the last decade or so suggests that, despite the apparent sloganeering around the theme of development, they are actually rallying around and engaged in mobilizing people on multifarious points of conflicts in the society. Far from the oft-repeated assertion that this simply implies rallying around the caste, such points of conflicts are actually in most of the instances a convergence of caste and class. As most of the participants in elections would vouchsafe, the tussle instead of being between development and non-development, essentially centers on the competition brought to the fore in the wake of mobilization around caste and religious identities - central to this process being the upper caste-class urge to continue their dominance and the lower caste-class challenge to contest that hegemony.

Admittedly, the waning influence of the politics of religious mobilization, at least in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and the growing divide not only between the upper and the backward castes but also among the agro-capitalist section of the middle castes and other backward and lower castes have confounded the social conflict scenario. This competition is not exclusive to the state of Bihar and in varying degrees; it has engulfed the entire Hindi belt. However, greater political empowerment of the backward and other lower caste-classes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and emergence of political outfits exclusively devoted to upholding the interests of social justice groups have made this competition more intense in these two states.

Although political mobilizations during the recently concluded assembly elections in Bihar, by different political outfits defies any neat compartmentalization of caste-class groupings in different political parties, however, at least till recently, it was a matter of common knowledge which political party represented what caste-class interests. In the immediate aftermath of the mandalisation of politics, most of the backward and lower castes converged around the then Janata Dal; the upper castes, on the other hand, rallied around the BJP. Threat to the upper caste domination that hitherto had been considered natural, sent a wave of reaction among them. This combined with an arousal of religious sentiments around the issue of Ramjanambhoomi, provided the immediate context for swelling in the ranks of BJP. This in a way also initiated a process of complete decimation of the Congress Party in both Bihar and UP.

The bourgeois aspirations of the middle caste middle peasantry, however, soon started making dents in the backward caste consolidation. In UP, this resulted in a clear fragmentation between SP and BSP, with both flirting alternatively with BJP to checkmate each other. In Bihar, however, the traditionally weak presence of middle class in general and within the backward castes in particular, prevented an early fragmentation of the coalition of the middle castes, the lower backwards and the dalits. Fissures in the ranks of this coalition appeared later, when the relatively smaller in number but richer section of the backwards, parted ways with Laloo Prasad. It was this section of the backward castes which moved closer to the BJP and also provided platform to several forward caste leaders who by then had realized that, in the changed electoral arithmetic, it would be difficult for them to win elections unless they have allies from among the numerically superior groups of the backward castes. Cracks in the backward caste unity, initiated a process of opportunistic alliances bereft of any ideological content or stable social base. Creation of a backward caste political platform independent of Laloo Prasad did succeed in luring a substantial section of the lower backwards and the dalits; nevertheless, the latent class contradiction meant that a bulk of them still remained supporters of Laloo Prasad. It was this section of the socially and economically deprived section of the population that has proved to be the bulwark of Laloo Prasad's support base over the years.

In the last few years, however, the gradual desertion of Laloo Prasad's political platform by this social segment is the result of confinement of privileges, flowing mainly from rent seeking, within the most dominant and apparent supporters of Laloo Prasad - the section of the Yadavs who have been close to the corridors of power. The issue here is not whether such privileges or the number of people gaining out of it is substantial or not, at the heart of this lays a process whereby a class of people emerged, who resemble the lumpen section of the upwardly mobile people but remain rooted in the semi-feudal context of their erstwhile existence. It is this group of people, rather than any rival political or social formation, that is engaged in systematically dismantling the ideological base of the class-caste solidarity so assiduously built in the socio-economic context of Bihar, in which Laloo Prasad had played a pivotal role. Politics, instead of even remotely appearing to balance the class-contradictions in the society, has now become a virtual battlefield for contending aspirations. In the melee, the little hope that the subalterns had started nurturing in the last decade or so got aborted. The consequent subversion of subaltern resurgence has resulted in a gradual disenchantment among the lower caste-class people, many of who still support Laloo Prasad, in the absence of any credible alternative. Further, it is also marginalizing the other socially relevant group of the Muslims, who till now have been firmly behind him.

Whether Laloo Prasad is able to treat this as deviation and is able to bounce back by reverting to his roots, only future can tell us. But one thing is for sure - the subaltern, like on several other occasions in Indian history, have again been duped. In such a political scenario, with no political outfit appearing to champion the cause of the lower castes-classes, one wonders what are the options left with them. And this takes us to the phenomenon of political indifference, which is the most obvious and easily available tool. This is well reflected in rather low voting percentage during the last assembly elections. The voting percentage, as reported by various agencies during the elections, was as low as nearly 45 percent. This is a dramatic fall from the high of 67 percent recorded during the 1995 assembly elections when Laloo Prasad was at his peak. Even if one were to partially agree with the critics that voting percentage has always been low in Bihar and the occasional high percentages are more a reflection on Laloo Prasad's election management skills, one still needs to explain a sharp drop of no less than 22 percentage points. This dramatic fall in the voter's turnout, it appears, is reflective of the growing political apathy among the masses.

Meekly turning their back on the political process is quite in consonance with the traditional mode of subaltern retaliation and has been aptly christened as the 'weapon of the weak'. However, even if passive resistance has been the sine-quo-non of the subalterns, it does not rule out the possibility of simultaneous retaliation through sporadic and occasional violence. This is more likely when there is a tradition of an organized ideology in their midst working in this direction. The role of Naxalism, in the politics in general and during the elections in particular, has been full of ambivalences. While at one level, they have been charged with threatening with violence, on the other, there have also been reports of tacit support extended to RJD and in some cases to its allies by them. This has led to a spate of charges against the uptill now ruling party in Bihar that they have been in close connivance with the Naxalites and have even encouraged them.

Before we outline, how Naxalism has become a source of succour for the poor and the marginalized in the midst of constricting formal political space for them it would be apt here to dilate a little on the reported connivance between Naxalites and the ruling party in Bihar in the last decade. What is worth mentioning here is that while charges of close cooperation between the ruling coalition in Bihar and the Naxalites have been made such charges of cooperation with the ruling party have been practically absent in the case of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, other states where the Naxalites have been active. It is not difficult to explain this difference in the political behaviour of Naxalites in Bihar with those in the other states. For this, however, one would have to go beyond the rhetoric of political parties and look at their social base. As mentioned earlier, if support of the lower class - caste has been crucial in sustaining the politics of Laloo Prasad for well over a decade, it has been the subaltern's support that has seen Naxalism in Bihar through several vicissitudes for more than three decades now. Commonality in the social base of RJD and the Naxalism means that the support from this social class for Laloo Prasad, in the elections would flow, even when the leadership of the radical outfits calls for boycotting the elections. Fully realizing this social reality, the Naxalites proved to be better political managers in retaining their cadre by extending their limited though important support to Laloo Prasad during the crucial times of elections. By doing so, they also avoided depletion in their rank much in the way the various left parties in Bihar have lost their support base with the rise of Laloo. The reactions to the Naxalite activities by the mainstream political leaders in Bihar are revelatory in this regard. While the then Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar, had openly criticized the Naxalites in the wake of Rajdhani Express derailment near Gaya, Laloo Prasad was cautious in his reaction and refused to believe it to be their handiwork.

In the midst of charges about the limitations of 'uncivil' political ideology spread by the Naxalites and their continued emphasis on violence for achieving their political goals, we really need to go beyond the clichés and stereotypes to find out whether they have always been engaged in anti-mainstream democratic practices or are there contrary instances of their activities which, far from subverting democracy, has actually carried it deeper in the mindset of the rural poor, albeit the meaning of democracy could be different, conflicting with the cognitive world of the urban middle class and the rural rich. This takes us to the issue of the impact of Naxalism in the rural areas of South Bihar, the traditional hub of their activities.

Scores of villages, spread across south Bihar, had returned a dalit Mukhiya, during the last Panchayat elections. This despite the fact that, due to the inept handling of the state government, reservations for the single post offices, were not operative in Bihar. As a result, most of these rural notables have acquired their offices through direct elections. Their number, though negligible (slightly below 2 percent of the total number of Mukhiyas), is a significant step towards de-facto dalit empowerment and a great victory for democratic system, as it has shaped in Bihar over the last three decades. The rural notables emerging through the democratic process of direct competition are authentic leaders of their society, unlike the innumerable examples of proxy dalit leaders in the adjoining states of the Hindi heartland who mostly owe their existence to the state endowment. The role of the Naxalite movement in Bihar has been particularly crucial in this regard, by socially and politically empowering the marginalized sections of the society. Their presence has helped greatly in smothering the dominance mentality of the upper castes and freed the subaltern consciousness from the sense of subjugation to the extent of emboldening them to make their own free and independent political choices. Violence in this case, whether one likes or hates it, has been a positive contributor in the deepening of democracy.

* Fellow, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna, E-mail : chaubeyrakesh@yahoo.com



I have been monitoring the articles on Ranbir Sena -Maoist conflict.All these articles project Ranbir sena as villain and Maoist as Victim. Why?

In past Maoist has killed more people. Can somebody, for the sake of exploring who commits more crime, report the number of people killed by Maoist and people killed by Ranvir Sena? Maoist ransack crops, stops farmers from plough their fields, prevent labourer to go to field. They not only refuse to work in the fields but also not allow people from other region to work in the fields. If somebody dare to work they and their families are killed. The same very people who oppose so called oppression of downtrodden - does extorntions and collects 'HUFTA'. Collecting 'RANGDARI' from government employee is source of income. What is going on?

And despite all these they are portrayed as victims. Even most of the article coming after Jehanabad jail break is more about revenge.. Nobody talks about the heinous crime they have have just committed- they broke the jail, freed people who has killed others, killed who oppose them. They have no regard to Indian constitution.

May I demand senses from the media... When there will be a demand to bring those who break the laws to the books?

If law of the land does not ensure safety of citizen and society keep ignoring high handedness of a section of society just because injustice were done against them centuries back .. Organization like ranvir sena is bound to come and revenge killing is bound to happen.

The very reason Maoist claims to be its basis - grabbing wealth of wealthy and distributing in landless is flawed. With the same logic all properties of Tatas, Birlas, Murthies, Singhanias, Mallyas should be distributed....

Come on guys show me wealth in Bihar. More than 50% of Bihar lives below poverty line - even with sarcastic cut off of above poverty line as those who earns enough to get two meals a day. Those who has little land left .. Maoist has decided not to live them in peace.

Indian constitution gives right of property to its citizens and land owners of Bihar can not be an exception.

Avinash kumar

Lake forest California