India Uncut

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bihar – waiting for "its new big idea"

For all those who thought they had figured Bihar out, Ashok Malik is around to shatter some myths. For example, he tells us in "Gonzo goes to Bihar":
For the past decade, there’s been a trying sameness to writings from and on Bihar. The “lower caste” vote for Laloo because, thanks to him, they can “now look the upper caste in the eye”. Ancient inequity is cited. This year’s pet villain was Lord Cornwallis, whose Permanent Settlement of 1793 was pointed out as Bihar’s original sin. Land reforms are droned on about, even if no one’s sure if Bihar has any surplus left to distribute.

This is a 1970s era socialist tearjerker — gonzo journalism meets social justice narrative. It is drawing room theory, not borne out on the ground. Caste in Bihar has ceased to remain hierarchical. Individual prejudice remains and will remain; yet, as political communities, all castes are equal — equally squalid, equally violent, equally disreputable perhaps, but still equal.

This is what happened in UP by the mid-1990s and has been reached in Bihar too. It explains why Paswan, a Dalit leader, is reported to have the most mafiosi. It shows in upper caste Bhumihars voting for a backward, ultra-left CPI(ML) candidate in Paliganj. It tells you why some Yadavs are breaking away from Laloo and doing deals elsewhere.

Social justice/OBC assertion was an evocative slogan and a big idea in 1990. Laloo both represented and captured the mood. Today the process has moved on. Post-social justice Bihar awaits its new big idea.

There's much more, from one of India's finest journalists. Read the full thing.
amit varma, 8:38 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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