It’s been the most peaceful election yet in a state known to poll between cremations. Bihar may well make up the shortfall over the remaining phases, but for now, the news is astonishingly good. Savour it.
The first two phases of elections for 15th Lok Sabha were conducted without the death of a single civilian. The body count would have been in a high two-digit number by now, ordinarily.
<b1>“There is fear of law among people at large,” said Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist, adding, “To get away with murder was literally possible in Bihar earlier, but not any longer.”
Under a special drive since 2006, 31254 people have been convicted in Bihar of various crimes. Eighty-six people have been awarded death sentence and 6293 life sentences. In January and February 2009 alone, 2555 people were convicted in Bihar.
The six people who died in the two phases were all Naxal-related, and not a single one in violence related to booth capturing and clashes between political parties or caste groups.
“The dip in violence began from 2004 and 2005 assembly elections when each single booth in Bihar was manned by central paramilitary forces. The difference this time is that these forces were practically non-existent and most booths were guarded by state home guards,” said a senior police officer who did not want to be identified. Nineteen people had died during the 2004 elections and 27 in the 2005 assembly elections.
These two elections put Bihar on the right track, making peaceful elections a way of life now. “There are 8000 villages in Bihar and on an average four people per village have been convicted. The message spreads that there is a cost attached to violating the law of the land,” said Siwanand Tiwari, MP and spokesperson of the ruling Janata Dal (United).
“No political party expects supporters to capture booths any longer,” said a Congress worker in Bhagalpur. And he had no reason for saying charitable things about the government of a rival party.
But it’s not as if Bihar has become completely immune to caste and affluence. Critics of the present dispensation point out that the poor and lower castes are easily convicted while criminal syndicates close to the JD (U) still flourish.
Some lower caste men accused in the 1992 Bara massacre of 35 higher caste Bhumihars were given death sentences recently. While upper-caste men involved in dozens of massacres of lower castes have not been brought to justice yet.
"Nitish may look far better compared to the earlier regime of RJD, but it’s far from being free and fair,” said a senior government official who did not want to be named.