A day after the results of Bihar Assembly polls, a much-flustered intellectual declared: “Elections are no longer the most happening things in our democracy.” He continued his rant in columns that he wrote, explaining that Bihar’s election has been emptied of political significance. A few weeks later, this anti-democracy activist resurfaced in our living rooms, through our television sets. This time, he was supposedly the face of 60 crore Indians who depend on farming. Half of India’s population, who have apparently outsourced their political agency to him. Someone who is a psephologist, a political “scientist” or something meaningless of that sort.
As 2020 comes to an end, think about what we are watching on our television screens. A supposed “farmers” protest with approximately 10,000 people, almost all of them from one region, with a supposed mandate from half of India’s 1.2 billion population.
What are we not talking about? We have already forgotten about Bihar. The voice of this one anti-democracy activist is being heard louder than 10 crore voters of that state. Why? Surely something is rotten about our media and political class.
If we look back, the NDA’s victory in Bihar elections was the most remarkable event in Indian politics this year. Not just the win, but how they achieved it. The BJP had everything going against it. Fifteen years of anti-incumbency. A pandemic and a recession that was conveniently blamed on the ruling government by the opposition. If problems of migrant workers were going to hurt the BJP, they would hurt most of all in Bihar.
The ecosystem tried its best. They started out by demanding that the Jungle Raj of Lalu Yadav should be written off from India’s collective memory. And that Lalu Yadav’s son, who has inherited the RJD from his father, should be allowed to start from a clean slate. Some sycophants went as far as to write scholarly articles claiming that RJD’s fifteen years were not jungle raj at all. According to their “studies,” Bihar under Lalu was actually the best-governed state in Northern India! Even Tejashwi Yadav himself did not make such a bold claim. Instead, he tried to play down his father’s legacy. But the “scholars” would not let him. More loyal than the king, of course.
The ecosystem nearly got their wish. But then, something happened. As the election progressed, word began to spread that the party of jungle raj was coming back. Women voters came out in droves. By Phase-III, female voter turnout exceeded male turnout by an astounding 11%. The NDA swept this phase and shut the RJD out of power.
The yuvraj of jungle raj will have to wait. At least for now.
There was no leader behind this mobilization. This was grassroots action by women of India’s poorest state. This was democracy at its finest. There had been articles in major newspapers mocking the women of Bihar. They had dismissed the women of Bihar as too illiterate and poor to have minds of their own. But the women of Bihar showed that a lack of gender studies degrees is not the same thing as a lack of intelligence. The women of Bihar stood up, took their fate into their own hands and decided who should form the government. This should have been feminism at its finest if there was ever such a thing.
This amazing political mobilization should have been the talk of the town. But no! Instead, they have given the floor to a handful of professional protesters because the latter make more noise. On the day of the Bihar results, one of these professionals had the temerity to say that the state has delivered only an outcome, not a mandate! One anti-democracy activist gets to speak over the women of all of Bihar. The shame! And the irony of calling this “liberalism.”
Have you ever thought about why we have elections? Because if we didn’t, only the powerful and well-connected would rule. Only those who make the most noise would be heard. We have elections so that even the weakest person in India can express themselves freely and without fear. And that is why the shiny NGO types are badmouthing elections. Because they don’t want everyone to be heard.
And yet, as the year comes to a close, we are obsessing about the talking points of professional protesters. We are playing into their hands. Why? Why are handing over our media space and mind space to anti-democracy activists?
The female voter of Bihar is person of the year. Let us give her the respect she has earned.