Bihar Elections: Fault Lines Of Caste And Religion Prevail Over Secularism In India
The Bihar state Assembly elections are over, and despite all the opinion poll predictions and the huge rallies of Tejashwi Yadav in which he emphasised on massive unemployment in Bihar and Biharis migrating to other states in search of jobs, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) won a clear majority. This makes it evident that in Bihar, as also in most other Indian states, voters are not concerned when they go to vote about issues such as poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, healthcare, rising prices or corruption etc. but only caste and religion.
The NDA had solid support of the upper caste Hindus in Bihar (about 16%) and even of a large section of the non Yadav OBCs (Other Backward Classes). The total OBCs are about 52% of the population in Bihar, but Yadavs, who supported the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) are only about 12%. The non Yadav OBCs have a grievance that under a Yadav Chief Minister, the plum postings of officials such as collectors, police station officers (darogas) etc. usually go to Yadavs, while non Yadav OBCs are often ignored. Also, Owais’s AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen which won 5 seats, and made a dent in others) split the Muslim vote which would have ordinarily all gone to RJD, thus benefiting the NDA.
My prediction is that in forthcoming West Bengal elections too (likely to be held in April-May 2021), the BJP will win a majority. In West Bengal, caste is not of much importance, but in recent years religion has become important. The state was earlier a bastion of secularism, with both the major parties, the Congress and the CPM (Communist Party of India) being secular, but in recent years the state has become largely polarised on religious lines.
The blame of this must go largely to the Chief Minister Mamata Banerji. Since over 27% of the population of the state is Muslim, Mamata thought that she must secure this vote bank, and for this purpose took steps which greatly offended the 70.5% Hindu population in West Bengal.
She took three key controversial measures: (1) In April 2012 she announced a grant of Rs 2500 per month to every imam and Rs 1500 to every muezzin in mosques (and there are thousands of them in West Bengal). This order was struck down by the Calcutta High Court as being discriminatory. (2) In October 2016 she passed an order prohibiting Durga puja idol immersion after 4 p.m. on 12th October, since the next day was Muharram on October 13th. This too was annulled by the High Court, with strictures against the state govt. (3) She took out rallies against NRC and CAA in Calcutta which annoyed Hindus, who thought these laws are necessary to prevent inflow of Bangladeshi Muslims into West Bengal.
All these steps created an impression among Bengali Hindus that Mamata only cares for Muslims, and ignores Hindus, although Hindus constitute over 70% of the state population.
The result has been that Bengali Hindus, who were earlier secular, are today largely polarised, and will vote in favour of BJP. This becomes evident from the fact that whereas in the 2016 West Bengal state election, the BJP had won only 3 out of the 294 seats, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections it got 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal. This, coupled with the fact that Owaisi will again split the Muslim votes (as he succeeded in doing in Bihar) indicates that the BJP will win the forthcoming state election in West Bengal.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.