Generational shift in Bihar’s political arena?
The Bihar assembly election carries with it the notion of a generational political shift in Bihar. When the first batch of the 71.8 million voters kicked off the polling process on Wednesday, the unprecedented nature of the election wasn’t just limited to the fact that voters joined candidates in braving the coronavirus disease pandemic.
In their socially distanced booths, their sanitised electronic voting machines (EVMs) were more likely to offer the voters a younger candidate, promising to rid them of the baggage of old Bihar. It’s a claim that all parties made-- from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP), which are more obviously being run by younger leaders this time, to even Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that say they have given a majority of their tickets to young candidates.
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For the record, in Wednesday’s polling, 52% of the candidates were less than 40 years old, according to an analysis done by the Association for Democratic Reforms. The absence of three veteran leaders who have dominated Bihar politics for the last three decades reaffirms this perception. Lalu Prasad, the patriarch of RJD, is in a Ranchi jail serving out a corruption sentence; Sharad Yadav has been suffering from ill-health and Ram Vilas Paswan died recently. Their heirs seem to have not just taken over the reins but have also taken over the narrative this time. So much so that Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked the 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav what was happening.
`` In his poster of ‘New Bihar’, a photo of his parents, who ruled the state for 7.5 years each, is missing. Why are you so ashamed of your parents’ photo,’’ Prasad said at an election meeting in Purnia.
Prasad wasn’t off the mark. Lalu Prasad’s image is nowhere to be found on the many social media platforms nor does he feature much in the posters during his son’s massively attended rallies. But while Prasad says it’s to divert attention from the fodder scam case, which landed him in jail, RJD has a different take.
“You cannot think of RJD without Lalu Yadav,’’ said their Rajya Sabha MP and election strategist Manoj Jha. “But we went with people’s sentiments that threw up Tejashwi as an answer to Nitish Kumar versus who. The BJP wants to reduce it to a presidential election but they don’t understand the language of the people.’’
According to Jha, the language of this election lies not in the absence or presence of leaders like Lalu Prasad. It’s in the image of migrants, “citizens of all castes, crossing all boundaries. Tejashwi is for the first time in Bihar talking of economic justice.’’
It’s not just Tejashwi, but 37-year-old Chirag Paswan is also changing the rules of the game in Bihar. Long before he opted out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, he was one of the most vocal allies, asking the BJP for greater consultation on government decisions, for great accountability. And now even though the LJP won only two assembly constituencies in 2015, his attacks against chief minister Nitish Kumar have the BJP on a constant clarification spree.
“The media focussed on the LJP tickets to those with BJP links but a majority of our tickets are to those between 25- 35,’’ said Ashraf Ali of the LJP.
“45% of our candidates are first time candidates,’’ said Jha of the RJD’s nominees. “From a contractual worker in Raniganj, Araria to a Presidential award winner in Parihar, Sitamarhi.’’
“There is a definite generational shift,’’ said the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)’s Dipankar. “Compared to the LJP and the RJD, the BJP and the JD (U) look anachronistic.’’
It’s a charge the BJP and the JD (U) dismiss. “The BJP is forever preparing a new generation of leaders,’’ said the BJP’s Santosh Pathak. “Take Nityanand Rai and Mangal Pandey, for instance, who are handling the state elections.’’
Similarly, the JD (U) says that 65% of its candidates are less than 50 years old. While no party has given tickets to more than 10% women, JD (U) boasts about one of its key candidates delivering a baby on the campaign trail. “Sushumlata Kushwaha is just 31 years old,’’ said party leader Ajay Alok . “She’s just one of our many candidates who have no family in politics. The LJP and RJD are not young leadership but ones propped up by dynasty.’’
The dynastic ties are true of all parties. Whether it is Sharad Yadav’s daughter Subhashini fighting on a Congress ticket or former chief minister Jagannath Mishra’s son Nitish Mishra fighting on BJP’s. What’s key is if that amid old legacy politics, a new generation is emerging.
“A comparison of the actual age profile of candidates in 2010, 2015 and the first two phases of 2020, does not show any significant variation. Therefore the so-called generational change in Bihar is only perceptual or impressionistic and not real,’’ said Jagdeep Chokher of ADR.
His colleague in the state unit Rajiv Kumar disagrees. “We don’t have the full figures yet as we are still studying the final phase but I think there is a lowering of age.’’ Either way, the perception stays and in politics, perception can often have a greater impact than reality.