Tuesday 10 November 2015

Parochial is good, Communal is not... and Bihar chose the Former!

Written by Anil Singh

In a TV debate, post Bihar Assembly elections verdict; Vinod Sharma, the Political Editor of Hindustan Times, made a very good observation. He said, in the Bihar Polls, he for the first time saw the rise of parochialism.

What does parochialism mean?

A limited or narrow outlook, especially focused on a local area; narrow-mindedness. In a democratic election, one can see it as voting on the ground of localism, provincialism, regionalism etc.

In a choice between parochial and communal, Bihar chose parochial... and as a consequence BJP led alliance saw itself reduced to 58 seats... with BJP getting just 53.

The defeat can't become palatable even by bringing vote share to the picture. With the vote share of nearly 46 per cent, Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance emerged winner against NDA's nearly 34 per cent. That when BJP on its own contested 157 seats.

Thus, irrespective of BJP led alliance's attempts to bring communal dimension in the garb (in Hindi Choga) of development and promises to the polls, the end result of Bihar Polls was : Caste brought upon by Lalu Prasad; and localism or regionalism  brought upon by Nitish Kumar's development, eventually won.

When it comes to a democratic election Parochial is always a much better option than Communal

That too when the country is as diverse as India.

Why I think so?

Because the very basis of democracy is the bargaining power.

The bargaining power which comes with vote. Not just vote, but the vote of people as a group.

BJP's very premise of carving out a behemoth vote bank of all Hindus, is a flawed model.

Why? As one cannot see all Hindus as having the same wants. If for a second we assume that all Hindus have the same wants then any Government which comes to power by gaining the support of all Hindus, will not be able to fulfill its promises made at the time of elections. Because resources are always scarce. Even when a political party manages to gain votes of half the Hindus, even then it faces a big challenge to fulfill the wishes of such a large group (if 36 percent is more than sufficient to come to power).

In contrast, when the same the 36 percent is contributed by a couple of vote banks; then the task becomes easier for the new Government. The new Government can fulfill small but key demands of these multiple vote banks.

When a political party tries to create a one single votebank, it gives itself the impossible task of making everyone happy. This explains why BJP is finding it difficult to run the Union Government today. The 31 percent votes which allowed it to win 283 seats last year; was one uniform vote bank. The basic problem with such mammoth vote bank is the momentary suppression of different aspirations of the voters. People may bring a party to power on some Utopian goal of a Hindu Rashtra. But as soon as this state of heightened enthusiasm of voters fades away, and they start looking at their day to day hardships, this big vote chunk starts disintegrating into smaller pieces which have their own parochial aspirations and wants.

For this reason I believe that when it comes to a democratic election, parochial is always better than Communal. People are served well when they are divided on the line of caste, locality, region or province.

Caste is Often wrongly criticized

The concept of caste, although much criticized in India today, is a better classification than religion. The primary reason for this is: Caste is a much smaller classification compared to a religion. A caste, which is a sub-set of religion, is a more homogeneous grouping in terms of its wants and aspirations.

In short, up to to a certain point, the smaller the classification, the better is the bargaining power for the voter.

In short, up to a certain point, a smaller classification is good for a political party as well.

Caste and regionalism are often over-lapping each other. As castes are predominantly of regional origin, or a certain caste is localized in a certain region, this over-lapping is easy to understand.

This explains, why in the latest Bihar polls, Lalu Prasad managed to win 80 seats by leveraging Yadav and Muslim votes; while Nitish Kumar's JDU managed to get only 71, even when Nitish had a better development report card in his favor.

Minority appeasement is not equivalent to communal

It's important to understand why minority appeasement is not the same as communal.

The share of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains etc. in India is so small (not more than 30 percent of the entire population) that rather than communal, their grouping can more be seen as parochial. This becomes even more true, when one takes into account the 14 percent of Muslims are spread across India.

All the elections which so far took place in Uttarakhand showed a distinct bias towards parochialism. People voted and changed Governments based on their regional, caste and localized wants and governance issues. It's a sign of political wisdom. It's much better than one single behemoth identity of being a Hindu.

It's time for BJP to re-look at its election strategy. As even after consolidating Hindus on communal lines, it will not be possible for it to deliver, when it comes to power. It is not some prophecy (fortune telling or some God send word) but you must not be surprised if you see BJP led Government at Center or in states sitting over a big pile of unfulfilled promises even in 2018.


You may be wondering why I chose this article for an Uttarakhand website.

The reason is my observation. I have seen that rather than maintaining our regional or caste based or ethnic identities; we have started becoming a small part of big Hindu religion. We have stopped practicing our traditions and we are seem to be more than eager to be part of the behemoth Hindu culture. We must not do that. If we do that then we as voters will lose all our bargaining power to get our wants and aspirations fulfilled.


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