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Why are Bihar's Muslims frightened?

By Mohammad Sajjad
Last updated on: July 21, 2017 12:11 IST

Cracks in the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar is frittering away the ground gained in social justice and contributing to increasing polarisation in the state, says Mohammad Sajjad.


IMAGE: Demonstrations after a spate of murders in Bihar in 2015.
The state seems to be slipping towards bad governance and losing its middle space to retrogressive forces.
Intra-coalition squabbling could be the most plausible factor behind it.
Photograph: PTI Photo

As news started leaking that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar might break away from Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal to form a government with the Bharatiya Janata Party once again -- or head for mid-term polls in alliance with the BJP -- one could notice the tremendous fear among the Muslims in the state.

The news comes when a series of anti-Muslim lynching in the adjacent states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh as well as in Haryana and Rajasthan, all BJP-ruled, are taking place.

It comes at a time when an NDTV programme coordinator, Atharuddin Munne Bharti, a resident of Karneji Pakri in Vaishali district, escaped similar wrath only by chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' at the diktat of the Bajrang Dal in Muzaffarpur, when he was on the way to Samastipur, with his family.

Of late, Bihar seems to be slipping, once again, towards bad governance. The society here is losing its middle space to retrogressive forces.

Intra-coalition squabbling could be the most plausible factor behind it.

Nitish Kumar's experience with the 'coalition of extremes' between 2005 and 2013, when he was with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, and the decimation of his Janata Dal-United and Lalu's RJD in the 2014 general election gave way to the Mahagathbandhan for the 2015 assembly elections.

Nitish had built up his constituency with the Ati Pichhrha, and Mahadalits, as well as good governance.

The Mahagathbandhan came into being on the promise of sustaining social justice and equitable development as well as good governance.

Nitish sought to strengthen his women's constituency by prohibiting alcohol, and by legislating and enforcing stringent laws.

Meanwhile, Lalu consolidated and perpetuated his dynasty with two sons in the Nitish cabinet, and news reports about Lalu manoeuvring to replace Nitish with his son Tejashwi kept coming in.

The smaller constituent of the Mahagathbandhan, the Congress, is hardly any force on the ground.

Both the Congress and the RJD also face ire for perpetuating dynasty.

Yadav hegemony, deteriorating law and order, intra-coalition cracks and possibly Nitish's growing insecurity or his prime ministerial ambitions, all seem to be giving way to saffronisation of the social fabric of Bihar.

It is the tool the BJP is hoping to use to jump to power.

This social transformation may enable the BJP to dispense with Nitish, and even the Yadav votes may go over to the BJP through leaders like Nand Kishor Yadav, and Rajendra Singh, the leader of the Opposition, who belongs to an Ati Pichhrha group.

The saffron forces are also able to consolidate the middle classes and the youth who have smartphones with Internet, creating a virtual brotherhood (if not a blood brotherhood) that cuts across castes.

This generation, because of almost two decades of Mandal empowerment, does not have the memories of the atrocities of the upper castes against the backward castes, and looks upon the BJP with hope.

Overall, this communalised segment harbours hatred against Muslims, thus helping with the Hindu consolidation that is so convenient for the BJP.

This is why the cracks in the Mahagathbandhan frighten Bihar's Muslims.

Lalu and Nitish

IMAGE: The faces of Bihar's Mahagathbandhan -- the RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav (left) and the JD-U's Nitish Kumar.
Photograph: PTI Photo


Bihar's political history suggests that in the colonial period, the communal-separatist forces of both persuasions were much weaker, except during 1938 and 1947, when both competed with each other.

During the post-Independence period of Congress hegemony in Bihar, Oppositional politics was occupied by the Socialists and leftists.

The Lalu era (1990 to 1997) implemented firm handling of communal riots, but it was as much a failure in dispensing criminal justice as his predecessors.

And Lalu kept losing his support base to the NDA (better commented upon by Arvind N Das in 'Para Democracy in Bihar,' Economic and Political Weeekly, November 21, 1998).

Lalu's social mutiny against the upper castes, combined with gross and wilful negligence of governance and development, alienated the middle classes and provided fodder for the gradual rise of right-wing majoritarian politics.

From the late 1990s onwards (during the Rabri Devi era of 1997 to 2005), one could see rapid proliferation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh schools across rural Bihar.

This was the time when a large number of teachers serving in government schools had retired.

The government took a very long time to recruit teachers and vacancies could not be filled in adequately.

Meanwhile, the work culture in the schools started disappearing. This gave way to private schools -- the so-called English medium, also erroneously and misleadingly called as 'convent' schools in popular parlance.

This was the time when the RSS schools (Shishu Mandirs) sprang up on a large scale and came to be seen as comparatively better quality schools in comparison to the now deteriorated government schools.

Besides, these schools also provided a modicum of (under)employment to some of the rural youth who had earned some educational qualifications.

With the spurt in the number of Shishu Mandirs, Sunday drills of the RSS shakhas started being held in every nook and cranny of Bihar. They went on to become formidable BJP cadres for electoral purposes.

It should be noted that the introduction of more facilities in government schools -- mid-day meals, distribution of cycles, uniforms -- checked the spread of RSS schools.

This might not have gone unnoticed by the RSS think-tank, and could have been one of the reasons, though unarticulated, why the JD-U-BJP alliance became uneasy and finally broke down in 2013.

Communalisation of Bihar society is emerging as a menacing reality, reports from the ground tell us.

Movements like Shiv Charcha have recently gained popularity across rural Bihar.

Shiv Charcha brings together Hindu women of different castes for a series of charcha for two to three days.

It is believed that through a sustained push of Shiv Charcha, Hindu women of subaltern groups are getting saffronised.

What is needed at the moment is to comprehend the growing and unprecedented communalisation of the social spaces in Bihar.

Professor Mohammad Sajjad is with the Centre of Advanced Study in History of Aligarh Muslim University and has published two books -- Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (Routledge, 2014), and, Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857 (Primus, 2014).

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Mohammad Sajjad