Bihar win was the easy part

There’s not too much to gloat. The journey ahead remains as challenging as it has been in the last 25 years.

IN hindsight, Bihar was a straight fight between India’s native secular instincts and NRI-fuelled Hindutva communalism. Full marks to the rustic winners although they were savvy enough to cite Barack Obama’s chiding of Narendra Modi as a factor in their victory. While we debate the reasons for the two-thirds verdict in their favour, the duo has successfully stalled the chariot of Hindutva fascism for now.

It’s a jolt for the Madison Square fanatics too. Remember, however, that it doesn’t take long for obsessed zealots to regroup. After what seemed like Arvind Kejriwal’s knockout blow earlier this year, they were back to their monkey tricks in no time at all. Mohammed Akhlaq’s lynching was one of the more widely reported outrages among several. You can’t be too watchful.

Lalu Yadav is a battle-scarred, single-minded tormentor of Hindutva. He was chief minister of Bihar when Lal Kishan Advani set out on his Ayodhya journey a couple of years before he got the Babri mosque razed. It was Advani’s birthday when Lalu locked him up in Bihar. It was Advani’s birthday when Lalu defeated Narendra Modi in Bihar. Of course, he has suff¬ered grievously for showing a glimpse of his rural guts.

Nitish Kumar’s break-up with the Bharatiya Janata Party was equally ideological. He parted company over the BJP’s choice of Modi as prime ministerial candidate. In this way, he is a natural partner of Lalu though they fell out for transiently selfish reasons. They share a DNA as representatives of peasants whose lives were uprooted by Lord Cornwallis and later by his Indian successors. “I am considered a loudmouth, which I am. Nitish is very gentle,” Lalu admitted humorously after taking a two-thirds majority in Sunday’s vote count over the BJP.

There’s not too much to gloat though. The journey ahead remains as challenging as it has been in the last 25 years. After Ayodhya, Mumbai, Godhra, Muzaffarnagar, the killing of leading rationalists and the lynching of a suspected beefeater, among other outrages, the mobs have turned their sights on the liberal intelligentsia. The expected finger-pointing within the Hindutva cluster over Bihar can be worrying for others. BJP president Amit Shah could be the fall guy. What if he is upgraded as home minister as we hear could be the case?

The journey for India’s secular groups remains fraught with right-wing challenges, but it remains exposed also to potential self-goals. As the results came from Bihar, the Left Front was rejoicing at its terrific performance in Kerala’s local body elections. Such outcomes are usually good pointers to trends in the assembly polls due shortly.

An old and nagging confusion comes in the form of the left’s ally in one state turning into a foe in the other. This situation is probably unique to the left. Lalu and Nitish were former comrades who became estranged. In their rivalry they lost Bihar to BJP in the parliamentary polls. Now as allies they have proved to be a formidable shield against Hindutva fanaticism. That doesn’t apply to others.

“The results of the local body elections are a verdict against corruption and communal tendencies,” said politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan after his Communist Party of India-Marxist surged ahead of the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala’s local polls.

There was a reality check, however. “BJP which dreamed that it could make advancement in the state … through communal polarisation has failed miserably,” said Vijayan. But, he added, “they have made some electoral gains in some pockets in the state. This shows the necessity of rallying the masses under the slogan of secularism”.

Lalu and Nitish stopped the BJP in its tracks in Bihar. The Congress and the left parties were on the same page there against Hindutva.

Since the Left Front remains in a direct contest with the Congress in Kerala, the picture is very different from Bihar’s. Both secular parties will have to perform unimaginable political calisthenics to fight each other while keeping the door shut on the BJP. The picture gets even murkier in West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been the main quarry of the Left Front and vice versa. But Mamata, like the left, has also kept the BJP at bay under her watch.

To make it more complicated, Mamata is an offshoot of the Congress party, something that most Indian political formations are. There is a view that the Left Front and Congress could join hands to take on Mamata in future electoral contests. If they don’t come together in West Bengal, however, it would then naturally remain a three-cornered fight among the secular forces, with Mamata, Congress and the left splitting up the votes thereby helping the BJP.

Another possibility exists, however, which is different from Bihar’s. It is the people’s intelligence. Unlike the lurking risks from Hindutva elsewhere, the Arvind Kejriwal model could produce clear, heart-warming results. He took on everyone. He fought the BJP for its communalism and the Congress over its corruption, and left it to the people to produce a resounding verdict. Delhi gave Congress zero seats in the assembly and a niggardly three to BJP. The rest were handed to Kejriwal.

Uttar Pradesh is perhaps the most worrying state. It faces elections in about a year from now. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and Dalit leader Mayawati are arch-rivals. They both lead secular parties. Both have flirted with the BJP though Mayawati would probably want to forget that chapter. It is Mulayam Singh who is seen as playing the BJP’s card of pitting Hindus against Muslims.

That is why for all its brilliant victory and promise of hope the Bihar win was the easy part. 

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