A series of reports from Bihar, published by Newsclick, have unequivocally shown that the recent communal violence in nine districts of the state was engineered through a massive inflow of weapons, propaganda material, vehicles and manpower in sensitive areas in order to turn the Ram Navami festival into a bloodbath. State machinery was found sitting on its hands while armed processions shouting provocative slogans forced their way into minority localities. This led to altercations and then widespread arson, looting and casualties. Local organisations, formed and named for the festival became vehicles for this incendiary pogrom.
All this is now public knowledge. But the question is: is this just the general drive of the Sangh parivar to spread communal poison and militarise Hindu society or is there some more immediate objective? Both seems to be the answer.
One immediate objective for the BJP is to rewrite the political equations in the state. The nine districts where the most recent round of communal violence took place, seven are those where minority population is between 7% and 12% of the district’s total population. These districts are: Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad, Kaimur, Samastipur, Munger and Nalanda.
The BJP appears to be targeting these seven districts because a it is easier to target the minority population and spread terror, without having to face severe retaliation. And the gains – or so the BJP hopes – will emerge in the form of a consolidation of majoritarian votes behind itself. It’s a Cambridge Analytica-Trump type of diabolical strategy but with a likelihood of grave consequences for society.
These seven districts also have another commonality. Barring Nalanda, the other six were handsomely won by the BJP or its ally the LJP (of Ram Vilas Paswan) in the 2014 elections. Nalanda would have been won too but the LJP lost it by a whisker, getting 33.9% votes compared to the JD (U)’s 34.9%. In the remaining two districts, Bhagalpur and Siwan, where minority population is about 18% each, BJP won in Siwan but lost in Bhagalpur. Bhagalpur’s loss was particularly galling because the margin of its defeat was a mere 9000 votes or about 1% of the votes cast.
But here is the rub: in the 2015 elections, with Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Congress in alliance, BJP and its allies got wiped out in these districts. Of the 49 Assembly constituencies falling in these nine districts, BJP managed to win just 12 with the alliance winning 46 seats and one going to CPI(ML) which too was opposed to BJP. This was of course partly due to the sheer arithmetic of electoral equations: RJD with JD(U) was a formidable force. But it also denoted the fragility of BJP’s victory in 2014.
With 2019 general elections approaching, the BJP is trying to rework and reverse this equation. It has already made a dent by winning over JD(U) to its side. But that is insufficient because JD(U)’s betrayal of its anti-BJP mandate will be unacceptable to its base. It is increasingly a weakened force. BJP is trying to strike it on its own. And, the only way it can do so is hope that its solitary weapon – communal polarization leading to consolidation of Hindu votes behind it – will work next year.
All the piety, all the religious zeal, all the talk of Hindu identity and worship of Lord Rama is nothing but the deadly calculus of retaining political power. It is all the more necessary because Modi’s rule has been such an utter disaster with unkept promises, failing economy, rising joblessness, unchecked corruption etc. that Indians are ready to throw the ruling BJP out.
So, the question now becomes this: how will the people of Bihar face up to this challenge? Will they fall into the trap being set by the Sangh Parivar or will they reject it lock stock and barrel. Coming weeks will give the answer.