Editorial

Positive campaign

| Updated on November 10, 2020 Published on November 10, 2020

Election officials at a counting centre in Patna   -  PTI

The focus on issues of development and jobs reflects a change in caste-ridden Bihar

Even as the Bihar election results hang in the balance with the BJP and the RJD alternating between taking the pole position and counting of votes progressing at a slow pace, a silver lining in the first post-Covid-19 election is the campaign that remained positive and development-oriented throughout. The focus both on the part of the ruling coalition as well as the opposition was on issues of growth, management of the pandemic and unemployment in the State. Bihar has been the laboratory of caste-based identity politics even before the Mandal Commission triggered a nationwide debate on OBC reservation. In a closely fought election, what was clear was that political economy had trumped bitter identity politics in Bihar. The wheel seemed to have come a full circle in the three decades during which Nitish Kumar trounced the towering Lalu Prasad Yadav’s aggressive social justice appeal with his own brand of social engineering (with ally BJP) and promise of governmental action and stability. Lalu’s son Tejaswi Yadav emerged as Nitish Kumar’s main challenger but he too seemed to have shifted from his father’s politics of positive discrimination towards a campaign based on unemployment and healthcare. Meanwhile, the impact of the Prime Minister’s campaign in bolstering the BJP’s fortunes also stands out as a highlight. This is despite the backlash arising out of ‘reverse migration’, which foregrounded the unemployment question.

The socialists, especially Lalu Prasad, focussed on ensuring a sense of dignity to the OBCs. Yet, Bihar witnessed its worst slide on all indices of social development and growth even in comparison to the rest of the BIMARU States. The State’s income as a proportion of the overall per capita in the country steadily declined from 54.7 per cent in 1960-61 to almost half at 27.4 per cent during the financial year 1997-98 during Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi’s tenure as Chief Minister. Nitish Kumar’s three terms stemmed this decline. By 2019-20, Bihar’s per capita income as a proportion of the country’s income had risen to 34.6 per cent.

According to a paper by academic Harry Blair of Yale University, between 2005-06 and 2014-15 under Nitish Kumar’s tenure, the gross state domestic product per capita in constant prices rose by an average 8.99 per cent and the per capita state expenditure on social services grew from 37.5 per cent of the all-India figure in 2004-05 to 51.6 per cent in 2015-16 facilitating an increase in school enrolment and lowering dismal indices of infant mortality rate from 61 per thousand live births in 2005 to 42 by 2013. It is heartening therefore that the challenger to Nitish, RJD’s rising star Tejaswi Yadav, too has garnered votes on the promise of 10 lakh jobs while Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for the “next stage of connectivity and development” in Bihar. In these polarising times, this is positive politics indeed.

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Published on November 10, 2020
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