Bihar elections have become interesting. This is not because Tejasvi´s mahagathbandhan is in a strong position to defeat Nitish Kumar led NDA. This is because this election is different from previous elections. This time suddenly the issues that have been side-lined by mainstream politics have become main issues. After long, politics has changed from sloganeering to politics of issues and ideology. Except for BJP and JDU, all parties have understood that only after breaking the web of caste can Bihar come out of poverty. Once caste mobilisation is broken, that can bring about a new politics in Bihar and this has the power to influence the whole country.
Manmohan Singh’s pro-corporate policies were pushed aggressively in the Modi government. The real face of the government was exposed during the Covid19 crisis when lakhs of migrant workers from Mumbai and big cities started on foot their journey back home and both state and central government did not care about them. Not just that, the centre did not provide enough financial help to the states to fight the covid crisis, instead, it kept people distracted by gimmicks like banging plates, lighting diyas etc.
During the terror of pandemic, the government resorted to event management like flower showers on corona warriors while maintaining its grace on private hospitals and pharmaceutical companies which made a killing during the pandemic. The economic relief package of 20lakh crore that was announced to fight the covid induced economic crisis also turned out to be fake. The government fooled by reciting the budget expenses as the relief package.
Even during the corona pandemic, the government has continued with its plans to allow multinational companies to loot natural resources, privatisation of Railways and PSUs and amendments to labour laws that gave some degree of protection to the workers. The government has amended laws related to agriculture to pave the way for industrial farming and agribusiness in the hands of corporate companies.
Human rights repression and silencing of opposition through investigative agencies has also exposed the dictatorial face of Modi government. At such a time, Bihar elections have brought a great opportunity for the opposition to raise people’s issues and there is no doubt that opposition has risen to this responsibility. Left parties have always been raising these issues, but parties like RJD and congress have been rather weak in this matter.
Congress which has always been hesitant in raising these issues is also seen to voice these issues. Mahagathbandhan’s promise of 10 lakh government jobs has given a new direction to the politics. This promise of government jobs has brought the private Vs government sector fundamental argument to the forefront. This discussion has broken the common consensus of non-left parties towards the economic policies of the World Bank and IMF.
Whether it is Congress, BJP, SP or BSP, all mainstream political parties have come to believe that privatisation is the only way to development. These development policies have made them practically part of corporates. Now they don’t have to be discreet about the decision of the sale of coal blocks, airports and seaports. They can do anything in the name of economic reforms. It’s evident that these reforms are a better source of money for these parties.
Except for left parties, all parties enjoy these corporate blessings. Government i.e. ruling party can give free cylinder and money in Jan Dhan account to the poor but not jobs. They want an army of loyal poor in return for these doles. That is why Modi govt. could not give any job to the Migrant workers in MGNREGA but only provided ration to some. The much-maligned government sector will also get the hope of recovery with the promise of Govt jobs.
This announcement has come at a time when education and health have become fodder to the private sector. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is talking about improving hospitals and government schools, but he could not give it a concrete shape. The promise of govt jobs would translate into an improvement of hospitals, schools and colleges because most jobs are in the health and education sector.
Equal pay for Equal work and end of contract employment and permanent jobs are issues that one would hear only in the slogans of labour organisations and left parties in the last 30 years. Labour unions have been raising the issue of old pension schemes but no government is ready to give into it. Mahagathbandhan has made it an election issue. All these issues are a direct challenge to the pro-corporate economic policies. Such kind of announcements is seen after many years.
This is important in Bihar’s context because Bihar does not have industries and only the government can provide employment to the organised sector. Investment in health and education sector will also stop the outflow of money from the state. There is not only the workforce which is migrating out of the state but money as well of the state.
BJP’s election manifesto reflects its compulsion to stick to pro-corporate policies. There is no promise of government jobs. There is the promise of opening of IT hub and five lakh jobs through it. Similarly, there is a promise of 10 lakh lobs through Agriculture based industries. Both the promises are part of BJP’s resolve of operating economy through private hands.
The struggle against the corporate economy and government-controlled financial system is being fought by Left parties, Congress and RJD in their own way. If Left is directly opposing Modi govt policies, Congress is calling it a puppet of Adani and Ambani. But the election story is given its final stroke by the words of Tejasvi Yadav when he says- Bihar now needs economic justice. This is the next step in social justice. This is his attempt to move the social justice politics of Bihar to a new phase. He says in each rally that his government will work beyond caste and religion. He has also shown this in the ticket distribution.
Modi-Amit Shah and Nitish Kumar are trying their best to limit elections to religion and caste equations. Pro corporate policies cannot sustain without social divisions. This is being done through VIP (Vikassheel Insaan Party) and HAM ( Hindustan Awami Morcha of Jiten Ram Manjhi) parties. This is also the reason that BJP is supporting Chirag Paswan covertly. BJp and Nitish Kumar have already done the election arithmetic with the caste equations of upper caste and OBCs. BJP is trying for division on religious lines as well.
It is to be seen whether the voters will get divided due to caste and religion and support the pro-corporate govt model or support policies that favour the government sector.
The article was first published in janchowk.com. Its is translated into english by Swati Shukla.
The writer is a senior journalist and is living currently in Delhi.