The Buddha Smiled: Lessons from Bihar’s Victory

N. Sukumar and Shailaja Menon

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned" ~ The Buddha

In May 2014, the pervasive idea was that Moditva has triumphed and before long the Gujarat Model would usher in Ram Rajya. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team seemed invincible so much so that senior experienced BJP leaders were coerced into political sanyaas. The Congress was forced into political oblivion and virtually there was no opposition to the electoral success of the BJP. Hence, it was a golden opportunity for the 'vikas purush' Modi to capitalize on the people's aspirations.

jai sri ram

However, out of the woodwork crawled out all the obnoxious elements which comprise the Sangh Parivar, led by the paterfamilias, the RSS, to derail the development agenda of the BJP government. In the process, all the worst fears of the ordinary citizens, reviled as 'left/secular/congresswala' etc came to be true. The first salvo was the 'ramzadon/haramzadon' comment and the attempts to communalize the society in the run up to the Delhi elections. A routine assembly election was transformed into a referendum on the Modi government by the BJP. Despite the politically and socially vitiating campaign, the denizens of Delhi voted for a change. All the abusive language against minorities and the attacks on churches only convinced the common people that communal elements should be booted out.

The Sangh Parivar loves history with a capital 'H' so much so that they want to rewrite it. Lest they forget, history is a hard taskmaster and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Instead of some soul searching, the BJP and its acolytes went hammer and tongs to stamp out any kind of diversity. The scientific community was dazed at the utterances emanating from the BJP leaders which made a mockery of knowledge. From books to films to the social media, cultural icons, the politics of banning took an ugly turn when the Hindutva forces attacked the kitchen of a citizen claiming that he cooked beef. The rule of law was very neatly subverted. For the police, maintaining peace or protecting the life and property of a citizen was less valuable than sending the food/meat for a forensic test. This is not surprising when the BJP allies publicly discussed about revoking the citizenship of Muslims. For the party in power, the cow is more desirable than human beings. Any lumpen can call up the police and complain about suspicious food (beef) and the police would respond with alacrity. The fracas at the Kerala Bhavan in Delhi ridiculed the police and a horrified civil society realized the ghosts that they had unleashed.

All these attacks on individual liberty were blamed on the fringe groups while Prime Minister Modi happily wooed the international investors. In his numerous foreign visits, his proclamations of 'Swachh Bharat' and 'Digital India', he performed the role of a salesman rather than a statesman to rein in his perplexed party. For a person, who is so active on social media, it took the comment of the President on tolerance, for the Prime Minister to react. He has disowned his constitutional duty to the country, forgotten that he is a prime minister for every Indian and not only for the Hindutva and the corporate groups. To go back to history, Modi is the same person who was asked by none less than the grand old man of the BJP, A.B. Vajpayee, to perform his 'rajdharma' at the height of the Gujarat riots in 2002. No wonder, the Shiv Sena held up the mirror to Modi, "The world knows Narendra Modi due to Godhra and Ahmedabad and we respect him for the same reason. If the same Narendra Modi has called the controversy surrounding Ghulam Ali and (former Pakistan minister) Khurshid Kasuri unfortunate, then it is indeed unfortunate for all of us"1.

The past few months have witnessed a slanging match between the Congress and the BJP, each accusing the other of everything under the sun. One would talk of Godhra and the other would retaliate by mentioning Delhi 1984, as if by counting all those who perished in the riots is a matter of pride. Any kind of protest was laughed at and scorned by the ruling party. The FTII students went on strike, authors/filmmakers, sociologists, historians, scientists, the strike of the army veterans for one rank and one pension, the Occupy UGC movement; in short all those who protested were reviled. One Modi supporter called the writers who returned their awards as 'forgotten old fossils'2. Such derogatory statements on writers who have consistently argued for an egalitarian ethos and who represent diverse literary traditions of the country seems very petty and against the morals of journalism. For the government, it's a 'manufactured revolt'3 arguing that the protestors did not react similarly at past infringements. Such nitpicking and speaking with a forked tongue, does not dilute the fact that under the current dispensation, all kinds of violent elements have run amok and undermined the very foundations of the republic.

It is extremely disturbing that under the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, political discourse has reached its nadir. The official thinking is that the people are dumb and lack the capacity for critical thought. To illustrate, the RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat observed that "A husband and wife are involved in a contract under which the husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs. I will keep you safe. So, the husband follows the contract terms. Till the time, the wife follows the contract, the husband stays with her, if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her"4 . For Bhagwat and his ilk that derive their legitimacy from the Manudharma Shastra rather than the Indian Constitution, such sentiments are part of their DNA.

The sudden emergence of Hardik Patel into political limelight in Modiland took everyone by surprise. He re-ignited the debate on reservations just around the Bihar elections. Again, Bhagwat intervened and argued that one needs to review the issue of reservations. For a deeply hierarchical society any chink in the armor of caste has to be firmly rebutted. Gradually, dalits and OBCs have carved out a political space for themselves which is an anathema to the other castes. The BJP discourse of caste is couched in the language of 'merit' and when other parties discuss caste, it is creating a schism. In the Bihar campaign, Modi used caste as capital, "These leaders are making a devious plan. They are conspiring to take away 5 per cent reservation of dalits, mahadalits, backwards and extremely backwards and give it to a particular community. I come from an extremely backward class and understand the pain of having been born to a poor woman. I will not allow this to happen. I pledge to protect the rights of dalits, mahadalits and backwards"5. It is a testimony of the political sagacity of Biharis that they rejected Modi's attempt at polarization.

In a bitterly contested election centered around communal and caste mobilization, the Prime Minister himself addressed 30 rallies, the BJP and its allies invested money and muscle power, the sheer wastage of public money in the name of logistics; the ordinary denizen of Bihar is befuddled. The chief agenda of development is derailed at the altar of various nomenclatures- OBCs, Dalits, Mahadalits, quotas and only when the dust of elections have settled down; hopefully, the real issues of governance in Bihar will be addressed.

It is not for the first time that the land of the Buddha contested the communal rhetoric. In 1990, Advani's rath yatra was stopped by Laalu Prasad Yadav and in 2015; the Laalu-Nitish alliance has put a check on the arrogance of the Modi-Amit Shah team. The Prime Minister reinvented himself as a Santa Claus to shower largesse on the electorate of Bihar. 'Sabka Saath-Sabka Vikas' was jettisoned for a patron-client relationship. When Modi repeatedly won in Gujarat, it was a victory for development but in Bihar, it's invariably caste. "Bihar happens when Hindus vote for caste and Muslims vote for religion"6. This straitjacketing of people reflects a pernicious mindset which considers ordinary human beings as devoid of rationality. Such repeated attacks on the Bihari mindscape are an affront to their dignity and self pride. The BJP should request their parivar members to think judiciously and not commit a self goal, as after all silence is golden. For all the political opportunists, cutting across caste and ideologies must realize a fact that only tolerance and secularism will ensure individual dignity and help create a democratic society. The other political parties- the Congress, Left and Socialist, BSP and groups representing minorities should take heed from Bihar and collaborate to strengthen the secular fabric of the country.



[1]. Sanjay Raut,, accessed 9/11/2015, 11.23 pm

[2]. Tavleen Singh, Literary politics? Writers weren't disturbed by past riots because Modi wasn't PM - See more at:, accessed 8/11/2015, 10.35 pm

[3]. Arun Jaitley, Writers returning awards a 'manufactured revolt' 8/11/2015, 10.46 pm

[4]. Mohan Bhagwat, Marriage is like contract between husband & wife,, accessed 8/11/2015, 10.59 pm

[5]. Narendra Modi, "Modi alleges grand alliance plot to take away 5 % SC, ST, OBC quotas",, accessed 8/11/2015, 11.33 pm

[6]. Aditya Nath ™ ‏@Shanknaad Nov 8,, accessed 9/11/2015, 11.54 pm



Prof. N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at Delhi University.(This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

Dr. Shailaja Menon teaches History at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

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