For eight long years, Bihar under Nitish Kumar was all about repair and resurgence. Stories of ‘sushasan’ and development—sometimes exaggerated—routinely came out of a state still recovering from years of misrule.
His parting ways with the BJP to oppose Narendra Modi's surge in 2013 meant that the buried narrative of ‘jungle raaj’ was to be revived soon. In the 2014 national elections, a perceived Modi wave decimated Nitish’s JD (U) and Lalu’s RJD in Bihar. Soon they came together, and won a high-stake state battle six months ago. All this while, every high-profile crime in the state has naturally made the political rhetoric of jungle raaj shriller.
To understand the jungle raaj phenomenon and the state’s changing socio-political realities, one must look back. Nitish and Lalu came out of the JP movement of the 1970s. When Lalu became CM in 1990, Nitish was by his side. He left Lalu to protest Yadavs' domination in government schemes. Lalu quelled protests triggered by the Centre’s move to grant reservation to OBCs, while Nitish’s party fought national elections in alliance with the BJP.
In a sharply divided society, vast chunks of population felt liberated and emerged victorious. New breeds of netas on both sides rose by breaking law—and patronising those who broke law—for political consolidation. A nexus of criminals, politicians, officials and businesses took control, ushering in an era of caste crimes, kidnappings, extortion, corruption and a complete infrastructure collapse.
So has Bihar really slipped into a similar state of lawlessness? Numbers cannot capture fear, but let’s examine some of them to see if there is a trend.
* Serious crimes rose marginally between 2014 and 2015, shows National Crime Record Bureau data.
* More crimes took place in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and centrally-controlled Delhi during this period.
* In the last six months of 2015, when RJD had replaced BJP in Nitish’s government, the number in fact fell compared to the same period the previous year.
* But the first six months of the new government does see a 20% increase in crime cases.
It is in this context that the killing of a young student by a ruling party legislator’s son in Gaya should be a wake-up call. The crime aided by a police bodyguard and committed simply because a politician’s son—drunk on power—could not overtake a car points to a culture of political impunity. And now the killing of a journalist.
Other cases also show an increasing absence of fear of law among the powerful. Since Nitish took charge, there have been two political killings. An RJD MLA was accused of raping a minor, but police could not touch him for a month.
Nitish must arrest the slide, and tackle the rogues within. Prohibition is good in many senses. But why expect too much out of it? Like AAP’s odd-even road rationing scheme has not cleaned up Delhi’s foul air, prohibition alone cannot contain crime.
Nitish grew at the expense of Lalu. Moving with the tide, he completed long-delayed bridges, re-laid roads, revived health centres, appointed teachers, and contained criminal gangs. He did well because he wanted to do well. It was also because the state’s social realities had changed. One must not forget that voters backed his leadership even when he embraced Lalu after a decade of bitter rivalry to stall the BJP.
Nitish might be a nucleus around which an anti-Modi grouping may take shape. He has given a call for a ‘Sangh-mukt’ Bharat. But with general elections three years away, it's time to work towards an ‘apradh-mukt’ Bihar. Lalu should be shrewd enough to know that the longevity of the mantle he passed on to his sons depends on how Bihar fares.