Dances with destinies Two Indias at war in Bihar

Nikesh Sinha

Indian democracy dances every five years. Sometimes, this dance is based on macabre events, at other times it thirsts for revenge. Out of each dance a new order emerges as a reaffirmation of democracy itself. There are moments in time when this dance pauses and steps out of its own skin to have a long look at itself, casting an eye which is critical yet understanding. Chapra is one such pause. This pause has all the elements of a larger than life movie. On the one side is Laloo Prasad, a king of the masses, an unquestioned messiah who single-handedly has brought about a social revolution that has changed Bihar, the eastern state of India, completely. Ranged against him is a suave, debonair, high-flying, Bhojpuri speaking Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Prima facie, this is a very uneven contest given the geography of the fight.

Chapra has been Laloo’s first constituency. In 1977 Laloo became an MP for the first time from here. This is a land where caste matters. This is a land where loyalties are written into the DNA of the voter. Here roads do not exist. Electricity is a luxury. Water is not piped into houses. All that voters have got is “swar” (voice). This voice was seen to be stifled by upper caste people and the liberation from the generational hierarchies of caste is truly exhilarating.

Rudy is a Rajput. Rajputs are upper caste. Laloo Prasad is not. Given all this, this dance seems a mini nightmare for Rudy. Or so it would seem. This is why sometimes this dance pauses to reflect upon what it is doing and if there is any other way of doing all this. Rudy himself does not show any signs that such labours should surely unleash upon him. He coordinates his campaign with manic intensity, shooting crisp orders to various people, in staccato bursts. He knows the weight he carries but he does not acknowledge it. Perhaps he does not need this distraction or more probably he cannot afford this distraction. Laloo is an absent figure in the constituency whose shadow falls on Chapra all the way from Patna. This shadow itself is so powerful that people are unsure about how their vote should be cast. They have seen the dance in its various avatars for a long time. This is where the dance takes on a strange form which is neither classical nor modern. It resembles the tandav nritya of Lord Shiva. This is a dance of destruction and chaos, this is a dance of death. Rudy realises this. At one level, his entire appeal to the voters is just this, of this being a chance to move away from the tandav nritya into a dance form that does create and not destroy. But this is a land of guns and explosives which is well suited to the dance of death. Roads, electricity and water can be brushed aside as non-issues. Pride is more important for people. Democracy is a weapon that can be used as an instrument of change to correct historical deprivation. Laloo knows this.

Rudy believes that his losing to Laloo is not such an earth shattering event but his winning against Laloo would mark a halt to the tandav that Bihar enacts every five years.15 years are enough in the history of a state to take stock and change. Unfortunately, this dance is mathematical too and the numbers add up in a funny manner. Caste adds up with religion and all of it is squared up with a docile administration and key gaps in the security apparatus. The mathematics of chaos is not an easily understood subject except by those who suffer from it. They cling to windows of cars with flags flying and only ask for the insurance of a chance to vote. This is an insurance that no one is willing to take out. Meanwhile, rumour mills say that en masse religious bloc voting may not happen this time. The mathematical equation just got more complex.

For a spectator of this dance, there are two Indias at war here. One India bothers about its people’s social aspirations more than its developmental aspirations. The other India looks at development as the key factor for political power. This India also believes that social aspirations are best addressed outside the power equations that are traditional. Both Indias allegedly speak for the people. Both Indias have agendas that come out of differing experiences from the same soil. An observer is perplexed by the seeming assurance that each India exhibits about its absolute rightness in all such matters. What it does understand and at one level appreciates is that the space available allows for a very vast swathe of opinions and campaigns to exist. Even in its criminalisation, somewhere a la Tantalus, the prospect of change is very near. It is visible and is reachable. The changing of the old order that must yield place to new is fraught with possibilities. Each possibility renews the dance, changes its form, transforms its rhythm and patterns. Each possibility creates a new dance. Chapra is one such possibility. This is why it is a place where the dance pauses to give time to reflect, to search for new answers, for better answers, for truths closer to the heart. This is a small place in a forgotten land in a state that most believe must fall off India’s map for India to become better. This is an important pause albeit not the only one. There are many such pauses in the dance this year. Each such pause is a watershed in itself as the nation struggles to put together a coherent dance that may be emulated in the future. Indian democracy needs these pauses so that the dance every five years is a better one.