Saturday, October 23, 2010

Historic election in the ‘caste lab’ of India

( Writer is Delhi based journalist and IIMC alumnus)
When Bihar went to poll last time, its tele-density was less than 10 percent and cable news penetration was limited to urban areas. Internet was distant thing then, as it is still languishing in the files of the Govt. But it is the first time it is going to poll in the shadow of mobile revolution and some sort of private TV news. Bihar’s literacy rate was less than 55% and hardly one-third of its women went to school ever. But the situation has changed now with the improvement in all these sectors and this poll is important in that context. It is not the same poll which used to happen since independence. So, judging the poll in stereotype manner will be confusing and unbalanced.
Caste is still a big factor in Bihar but caste is defining itself in newer ways and trying to adjust with the changing realities of time. Caste aspiration is now linked to better governance and a kind of Bihari sub-nationality is emerging, yet not seen with a force.
State has seen the huge migration in past decades, perhaps unparallel in the history. Neither government nor, poll Pundits have any data or analysis not it. In last five years, more than 50 lakhs children are back to school. There is a feel good factor sweeping across the state. On that count, if we consider, it will be a fovour for Nitish Kumar, but Bihar is not as simple as it looks.
Some upper castes are dissatisfied with the ruling party as they feel that they did not get ample representation in the ticket distribution or they did not eat up the cream. Some are voting on single line agenda of identity, some on secularism. But overall, election is being contested on positive note and development seems to replace caste agenda, at least on public forum.
Perhaps, this is the first election which will be so connected with new technology reaching to common people. Bihar has not experienced much the taste of coalition Govt or fractured mandate as its history shows. But this time Congress is trying to make this game triangular. Will it really be able to do that? Or will people vote decisively for a single alliance? Will have to see.

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