The Bihar meeting 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 truth that voters joined candidates in braving the coronavirus disease pandemic.
In their socially distanced booths, their sanitised electronic voting machines (EVMs) were much more likely to offer the voters a younger candidate, promising to rid them of the baggage of old Bihar. It’s a claim that every one 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 got provided a majority of their tickets to young candidates.
For the record, in Wednesday’s polling, 52% of the candidates were less than 40 years old, according to an analysis done by the Organization for Democratic Reforms. The absence of three veteran leaders who have dominated Bihar politics for the final three decades reaffirms this insight. Lalu Prasad, the patriarch of RJD, is in a Ranchi prison serving out a corruption sentence; Sharad Yadav has been suffering from ill-health and Ram Vilas Paswan died recently. Their heirs appear to have not just taken over the reins but have also taken over the a story this time. Such a lot in order that Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked the 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav what used to be happening.
“ In his poster of ‘New Bihar’, a photo of his parents, who ruled the state for 7.5 years every, is lacking. Why are you so ashamed of your parents’ photo,’’ Prasad said at an election assembly 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 all over his son’s massively attended rallies. But while Prasad says it’s to divert attention from the fodder scam case, which landed him in prison, RJD has a different take.
“You can’t 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 as opposed to who. The BJP wants to minimize 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 could also be changing the rules of the game in Bihar. Long before he opted out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, he used to be probably the most vocal allies, asking the BJP for greater consultation on government decisions, for great accountability. And now despite the fact that the LJP won only two meeting constituencies in 2015, his attacks against chief minister Nitish Kumar have the BJP on a fixed 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’s a definite generational shift,’’ said the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)’s Dipankar (full name). “In comparison 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 eternally preparing a new generation of leaders,’’ said the BJP’s Santosh Pathak. “Take Nityanand Rai and Mangal Pandey, for example, who are handling the state elections.’’
In a similar way, the JD (U) says that 65% of its candidates are less than 50 years old. While no party has provided tickets to more than 10% women, JD (U) boasts approximately one of its key candidates delivering a baby on the crusade trail. “Sushumlata Kushwaha is just 31 years old,’’ said party leader Ajay Alok . “She’s just one of our many candidates who don’t have any circle of relatives in politics. The LJP and RJD aren’t young leadership but ones propped up by dynasty.’’
The dynastic ties are true of all parties. If 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 whether that amid old legacy politics, a new generation is emerging.
“A comparison of the particular age profile of candidates in 2010, 2015 and the first two phases of 2020, does not show any remarkable variation. Subsequently 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 last phase but I think there’s a lowering of age.’’ Either way, the insight stays and in politics, insight can regularly have a greater have an effect on than reality.