Secular Democracy, February 1971
Bihar goes to the poll in the first week of March to elect its 55 representatives to Lok Sabha. There are two rival political constellations in the State in the making: one headed by the Indira Congress and the other by the Syndicate Congress.
The Indira Congress-led combination consists of the CPI, the PSP, the Horo faction of the Jharkhand Party and Hindustani Shoshit Dal. The last two are splinter groups devoted to militant tribalism.
While the Horo faction has secured a formidable base in the Christian missionaries dominated parts of the tribal belt of Chotanagpur, the Hindustani Shoshit Dal of Jagdeo Prasad has carved out some pockets of influence in areas having a preponderance of militant backward castes.
The other rival combination includes the partners of the ruling Samyukta Vidhayak Dal comprising the SSP, the Syndicate Congress, the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Mandal group of the Shoshit Dal, the Bagun Sumbrai faction of the Jharkhand Party, the Janta Party and the BKD. Although the SSP heads the SVD, the pivotal role is being played by the Syndicate in the context of the Lok Sabha poll.
At the time of dissolution of the Lok Sabha, the party position in respect of Bihar was: Congress (R) 24, Syndicate 8, CPI 5, SSP 5, Shoshit Dal 2, Janta Party 2, Jharkhand 2, PSP 1, Jan Sangh 1, BKD, Proutist Block 1, Independent 1.
In 1967, there were in all 315 candidates, including 104 Independents for the 53 Lok Sabha seats in the State.
The party-wise breakup of the contested and annexed seats and the percentage of votes polled was:
1967 Lok Sabha result (Bihar)
|Jana Sangh||48||1||11.14 %|
The strength of the united Congress which had won 34 out of the 53 seats came down to 32 after the resignation of Mr. Shashi Ranjan from the party to form the Proutist Block of India and the death of Mr. Jaipal Singh, father of the Jharkhand movement in the State.
Similarly, the tally of the SSP slumped from seven to five after Mr B.P. Mandal and Mr Sheopujan Shastri parted company with the party to form the Shoshit Dal.
Problem of Instability
Bihar is a typical case of the problem of political instability arising due to the end of one-party dominance. In terms of popular votes and representation in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, the undivided Congress had been on the decline since 1957.
However, it is certain that the Congress will take a larger share of the State’s seats than any other party. It may well do better than the undivided party in an election delinked from that for the Assembly. A point to note is that the undivided party did consistently better in the Lok Sabha polling.
But it would be a mistake to overlook the sharper challenge it faces as a result of the line-up of its sworn enemies like the Syndicate Congress, the SSP, the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra, the BKD and the Janta Party after the installation of the present SVD Ministry headed by Mr Karpoori Thakur.
If these parties succeed in forging a united poll front, they will certainly give a formidable fight to the Congress this time.
Party wise, the principle challenge to the Congress is from its erstwhile colleagues now in the Syndicate. The big bosses — Mr K.B. Sahay. Mr Mahesh Prasad Sinha and Mr Satyendra Narayan Sinha — who were refused the party ticket during the 1969 mid-term poll, nurse a grudge against the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, for turning them. into political outcasts.
But the strictures of the Aiyar Commission which enquired into corruption charges against them is a handicap they will find difficult to overcome.
The second biggest party in Bihar is the SSP, a partner in the four-party front. The party did well in 1967: it took 17.62 per cent of votes and seven seats. Its strong holds were Darbhanga, Munger and Saran districts.
But in the mid-term poll it suffered a setback; it lost not only 16 seats but its vote was reduced from 17.62 per cent to 13.31. This setback came in spite of the PSP and the Lok Tantrik Congress. Organisationally, it is now in an even worse state than in 1969
Among the other parties, the CPI has been steadily building up in the State as is evident from voting per centages: 5.2 in 1957, 6.38 in 1962. 9.35 in 1967 and 10.10 in 1969. It has sizeable pockets of influence in Munger, Gaya, Saran and Champaran.
The PSP following is mainly in Purnea, Champaran and Gaya districts. The party recently suffered a setback because of the defection of a group which has considerable following in the Darbhanga district.
The Jana Sangh
The Jana Sangh has been increasing its share of popular votes over the years. Its rise has been more noticeable in the towns and tribal areas. In the towns traders form its backbone while in the tribal areas it has largest made Hindu Adivasis a stick to beat Christian Adivasis with.
In the Ranchi district, which has the largest concentration of the tribal people, the Jana Sangh was able to secure seven out of 15 Assembly seats in the Midterm poll; yet it recently lost to the Jharkhand Candidate, N. E. Horo, in the bye-election to the Lok Sabha from the Khunti constituency although it held three out of six Assembly seats falling within that Lok Sabha constituency.
It is difficult for the Sangh to explain its defeat except in terms of Christian and Hindu Adivasis. But actually, it shows in which direction the wind is blowing.
According to political observers, the Sangh is not going to make any headway in the forthcoming elections. There are many causes for this.
Firstly, it is a divided house. There are two factions associated with Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Balraj Madhok. Bihar, which is regarded as the stronghold of Mr Vajpayee, has also a good section of Mr Madhok’s supporters — mostly RSS workers — who are likely to oppose their own partymen in the coming election.
In the recent past a meeting of the Jana Sangh workers from all over the State was held at Patna to form a parallel party in the Assembly.
Besides this, some of Mr Madhok’s supporters are likely to fight the election against the wishes of their party. One such case is that of Pt. Suresh Dutt Sharma who has announced his candidature from the Patna Parliamentary constituency.
Pt. Sharma was an important leader of the State Jana Sangh. Actually, he was one of its founder leaders in the state. A RSS-devotee for over 30 years, Mr Sharma was once the Secretary of the Bihar Jana Sangh. He was expelled from the party due to his pro-Madhok leanings.
The Jana Sangh, which is also thinking to set up a candidate from Patna, will have to face a rough weather as a large number of Sanghis will go over to canvass for Mr Sharma.
Another hurdle for the Jana Sangh is its stand on Privy Purses and the strategy adopted by it at the time of Bank Nationalisation, which has identified the party with the vested interests. It has tarnished the image of the Sangh both outside the party among the masses and inside the party.
Then, the 4-party alliance, whose member the Jana Sangh is, is not going to help it in any way. The SSP workers are openly boycotting the Sangh work. In many places they have declared that far be the canvassing for the Sangh, they are not going even to vote for it because of its “communal character”. Some Syndicate workers who still believe in the concept of ‘secularism’ are also finding it difficult to adjust with a communal party like the Sangh.
Since the Lok Sabha poll is going to be held separately for the first time in the State, it will be an uphill task for the Jana Sangh candidates to mobilise workers to look after 700 booths in each of 40 constituencies, where they intend to fight, in the absence of the running mates for the Assembly.
So far as its contesting a large number of seats (40) is concerned it is enough to remember that in the 1967 General Election it had fielded as many as 48 candidates to the Lok Sabha, of whom 35 lost their deposits and one got elected.
However, it may have some advantages due to the emergence of Muslim League on the poll scene which may lead to a retrogressive polarization. So far as the League itself is concerned, it is hardly going to win any seat in the state.
Muslims forming 12 percent of the State’s population are especially important in the Purnea, Champaran and Darbhanga districts. Muslim politics is ridden with factions.
Dozens of parties, all claiming to be the ‘true’ representatives of Muslims, have come in the field with no future in store for themselves except helping the Sangh to get a few more votes.
This time it seems highly likely that the Muslim votes will go chiefly to the Congress. Mr Khalil Ahmed, leader of the newly-formed Awami Tanzim has assured the support of his community to “progressive and secular forces”, making it plain, however, that the four-party front did not fit this description.
Muslims are, however, in no case, going to vote for the four-party front due to the presence of Jana Sangh in it.
If the Congress does not repeat its past mistake of setting up wrong candidates and forms a firm alliance with the CPI and the PSP, it can successfully beat the four-party front in Bihar in the coming elections.
The recent bye elections to the Bihar Assembly are a pointer. In Mairwa the Congress lost its seat to the Jana Sangh by setting up unsuitable candidates and ignoring the CPI and the PSP, while in Govindpur a little-known woman defeated a Syndicate stalwart by a huge margin only because the Congress was prevented from setting up a candidate.
While the Jana Sangh and the Janta Party had extended full support to the Syndicate candidate, the CPI and the PSP mobilized all their resources for the independent woman candidate.
There are several other constituencies in which the Congress, the CPI and the PSP will need each other’ help. An alliance among these parties will be for a mutual gain.
Although such an alliance is yet to be achieved, the chances for it are far greater than for the Syndicate-Swatantra-Sangh-SSP alliance.
The Swatantra party does not count in Bihar. Talks for adjustment of seats among the four-party poll front partners have virtually broken down and there is little chance of their forming an alliance unless the Syndicate and the SSP are prepared to be swallowed by the Sangh, which appear to contest 40 seats, Ieaving only 13 to be shared by the Syndicate, the Swatantra and the SSP.