( Why the Bihar election matters)
By Sanjay Jha
In tony Malabar hill, almost a decade back, a prosperous industrialist from a leading business community moderately inebriated on some Johnny Walker Black Label looked me in the eye as I differed with some of his hard-line ideological views on the minority sections of India, and said indignantly —-You know what? You Biharis are just fit to be drivers. And cooks. And security guards. And extras in the film industry.
Being a Bihari in Mumbai is an interesting experience, never a bland moment . Till a few years ago, in the upper-crust chatterati variety , the usual refrain was, Just why doesn’t Bihar ( and Uttar Pradesh) simply be segregated from the rest of India? It was usually ventilated with abundant disdain as everyone guffawed over the state’s imaginary amputation over some Dom Perignon . Most did not possess the political education to understand that between them at one time, before the state’s bifurcation, 139 seats in Parliament belonged to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ( 25% of Lok Sabha) . That its formidable electoral base often determined the national government whose annual budgets would impact their stockmarket fortunes and Swiss holidays. Of late though that acerbic dismissive tone has been replaced by a more circumspect appraisal. I wonder why.
As Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena’s hate campaign against North Indians ( primarily Biharis) gathered momentum, there was a large silent chorus that either quietly acquiesced with that terrible cult breeding animosity or were pusillanimous enough to surrender to it’s fear psychosis. Either way, the Bihari was the butt of jokes, and was conveniently branded a “ loser” in a hostile unfriendly land. He suffered in silence.
The poor UP taxi-driver and the Bihari servant is such a vulnerable on- call soft target in this bustling metropolis. But as I told several bewildered people , what will you do if you have a Prime Minister from Uttar Pradesh, as you have had for several decades? No answers, excepting that it was pure mass arithmetic determining outcomes. How about the fact that our bureaucracy , foreign and police services are extensively manned by IAS-IPS officers from Bihar ? Typically, a nonplussed expression that sniggered with –So what? It is not just in written examinations for railway clerks that the unemployed North Indian really makes their mark, do they ? Deafening silence. Yawn. Either ways, most people have perennially considered Bihar a basket case.
I grew up in Pune, a traditional Maharashtrian locality of Model Colony. There was a wonderful serenity to being there in the Pensioner’s paradise city in the 1970s , and just understanding and soaking in the subtle nuances of our different cultures. Like food, for instance. The Biharis cook in large quantities and innumerable varieties , serve in royal proportions and put aaloo in practically everything. Usually by the end the entire plate, avalanche of utensils and the kitchen are a veritable mess. Wastefulness and ostentation is a sign of prosperity. By contrast, the local Pune families were highly frugal, innately unpretentious, had modest helpings, and relished their delectable assortment of pickles and chutneys . They were also noticeably neat and clean. But we grew up assimilating into the local society , neighborhood and culture, and feeling more at home amidst Deccan Gymkhana’s numerous rice-plate restaurants and Fergusson College than Patna Market . The atmosphere encouraged unrestrained confluence of diverse peoples. Ah, once upon a time in Pune!
Maharashtra’s perceptible decline ( particularly from the early 1990s) can be seen from the woeful standards of its political leadership in the last few decades. There was a time once when veteran YB Chavan and Mohan Dharia were its national representatives, men of immense stature , personal values and professional dignity. Now, it is a Narayan Rane. Most ruling state personalities and opposition members pale into complete insignificance when compared to the land that produced stalwarts ( despite their differing ideologies) such as Lokmanya Tilak, Veer Savarkar , Babasaheb Ambedkar, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and of course, the mighty inimitable warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji himself.
Mumbai, its showcase commercial capital is a manifestation of urban nightmare at its screeching best, and has been systematically looted by the politician-builder-land mafia nexus. I remember once we used to have animated, acrimonious debates on our favorite topic , Delhi or Mumbai; now its ceased completely despite Delhi’s continuing palace intrigue culture. Once we vociferously defended Mumbai’s tolerant cosmopolitan society and how mini-skirted women and young people could walk safely about after the midnight hour. Now it appears to be a distant memory in a faded newspaper cut-out.
As Bihar goes to elections, it provides a great platform for the people of the state to vote for governance, growth and positive change . In a great number of ways, Bihar is a microcosm of India. ; bounteous natural resources, rising growth rates, humongous economic potential, widespread corruption, large pockets of poverty, social and economic inequalities, weak infrastructure, large talent pool looking for employment and lastly, woefully seeking an inspiring political leadership.
The party that successfully appeals to the long repressed, thoroughly abused and frequently treated with contemptuous indifference —the Bihari pride, its asmita , and inspires the common folk into realising their potential beyond caste-religious dynamics deserves to win. I look forward to the day when manual labor, skilled workers and the knowledge brigade from Mumbai take the train from CST to former Pataliputra.
That “extra” that my semi-loaded friend mentioned with vintage haughtiness many moons ago has become several years later, a reality in the form of Chulbul Pandey. A box-office sensation. Yes it is thanks to a secular Bollywood looking for a new caricature every Friday that has made the notorious “villains” from UP and Bihar the hot favorites, and such a refreshing departure from cardboard characters with a nasty streak. Like Pandey and his Dabaang. Played ironically by an actor from a Muslim community. Celebrated with long queues even in South Mumbai’s Inox theatre. And my gold rimmed hot -tempered BMW-driving host with a sea facing house probably paid 300 bucks for a ticket. The Bihari –UP bad cop , in fact, has become the new superhero.
Funny, but I feel that just like that fellow Chulbul Pandey even I am having the last laugh.