Do you remember a slogan from the days of Rajiv Gandhi that we would mimic and, even, deride? It was ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’. Last Sunday the good people of Bihar proved it was spot on. In a deep and significant sense the election result proves the greatness of Indian democracy and the wisdom of its people. Bihar has made India proud.
To my mind the key lesson from Bihar is simple, straightforward and obvious. In fact, I’d say it’s undeniable. India is a secular country because its 80% Hindu majority is secular. If they were not our Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi brethren — and you can include the Adivasis as well — would not survive in this country with separate religious traditions which they are relatively and, usually, free to practise. This is why I believe my point is simple, straightforward, obvious and undeniable.
Now, just think of the effort the BJP made to polarise Bihar along religious lines. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly suggested that the JD(U)-RJD combine planned to “steal” reservations from the OBCs, Dalits and Mahadalits to give to an unnamed religious community. Everyone knew he had the Muslims in mind. The BJP president, Amit Shah, claimed that a victory for the JD(U)-RJD combine would result in celebrations in Pakistan. Not only was he portraying a vote for Nitish and Lalu as unpatriotic but the allusion to Pakistan was another attempt at communalisation.
The good people of Bihar heard them and ignored them. In fact, the result shows they did more than simply not take these claims seriously. They dismissed them with contempt.
However, the effort to polarise Bihar along religious lines happened in many other subtle and even emotive ways. The beef and meat bans, the comments about the Dadri lynching, the attack on Shah Rukh Khan and the thoughtless — if not ridiculous — counter campaign that the protest against intolerance was giving India a bad name are other examples. If Bihar had been susceptible to religious divisions there were multiple fissures and cracks the state could have fallen through. Heroically, it resisted every single one of them.
Of course, not for a moment do I deny the state voted along lines of caste cleavage. Indeed, they were probably reinforced. But caste is part of the historic fabric of India and many argue its intricate and complex network keeps the country united. That, admittedly, sounds perverse but many believe it’s true.
Religion is different. Partition may have been the great example of how it can sunder India but we’ve had many others. Ghar-wapsi, love-jihad, beef-eating and the regrettable political rhetoric of some BJP leaders were blatant attempts to rekindle religion as a barrier that divides India. And it’s easy to do.
So my conclusion is simple but stark and it concerns Messrs Modi and Shah. India won because their strategy was defeated. Let me give the two gentlemen the benefit of the doubt many of you would deny. I’m prepared to accept they didn’t ‘intend’ to divide India. They were only, foolishly, playing with fire because they thought it could produce the flame of fortune they sought. It was a terrible mistake.
If they accept they were in error I, at least, will forgive them. After all, they will continue as our rulers for three years and more and India needs them to deliver. But, remember, their capacity to do so depends on whether they accept their mistake and learn from it.
The views expressed are personal.