The Nitish Kumar led Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) ended its 17 year old alliance with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday afternoon. This was on account of the fact that the BJP has or more less declared Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, something which did not gone down well with Kumar and JD(U) and thus led to the split.
While prima facie it might seem to be a clash of two strong personalities i.e. Modi and Kumar, there is much more to the split than that. In order to understand the real reason behind the split one has to understand the caste politics of Bihar in its most basic form.
Nitish Kumar belongs to the kurmi caste which is the numerically too small to help him win elections. At the same time the people belonging to the caste are geographically concentrated and not spread out throughout the state. The kurmis form around 3.5% of the state’s population. In comparison, the yadavs, who back Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish’s biggest political rival in the state, form 11.7% of the population.
Given this, over the years Nitish has had to chip away at votes from other castes. This has included wooing the mahadalits (primarily the non Paswan schedule castes, which included Dalits other than the Dusadh, Chamar, Pasi and Dhobi) and the extremely backward classes or the EBCs (primarily the non yadav backward classes). The EBCs formed 32% of the state’s population but had only a 5% representation in the state assembly.
It has also included wooing the backward caste Muslims i.e. the pasmandas. This was what helped Nitish Kumar break Lalu Prasad Yadav’s MY or Muslim-Yadav formula. The MY formula was the main reason behind Lalu winning successive elections despite the governance in Bihar almost coming to a standstill. Muslims form 16-17% of the population in Bihar which is much more than 9.9% nationally.
What is interesting here is that even though Lalu Yadav successfully wooed the Muslims, when it came to distributing goodies he concentrated on the upper caste Muslims i.e. the ashrafs.
Manjur Ali studies this phenomenon in a research paper titled Politics of ‘Pasmanda’ Muslims : A Case Study of Bihar. As he writes “Lalu Prasad Yadav in the name of M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) alliance has promoted the FM-Y (Forward Muslim-Yadav) alliance, where major benefits were cornered by Ashraf Muslims in the name of the community… Unemployment, poverty and apathy of the state towards their problems were never raised by the Bihar Ashraf political elites ..The RJD made fourteen Muslims MLCs, out of which twelve were upper-caste Muslims. Again, there were seven appointments made for the post of Vice Chancellor, all from upper castes. Similarly, appointment to government posts like teachers, posts in the police department and in minority institutions were allotted to the sharif people. In turn, Lalu received blessings from religious leaders belonging to the upper castes for his electoral victory.”
Nitish Kumar was sympathetic to the cause of the backward caste Muslims while Lalu Yadav took the Muslim support for granted. On October 8, 2005, seven pasmanda political parties issued a clarion call to defeat Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the state assembly elections. Slogans like ‘Vote hamara fatwa tumhara, nahi chalega’ (your dictate on our vote will not work) and ‘jo pasmanda ki baat karega, wahi Bihar pe raaj karega’ (those who concede the demand of Pasmanda will rule Bihar) became the order of the day.
This split in the Muslim vote along with other caste alliances that had been built, helped Nitish Kumar become the Chief Minister of Bihar in November 2005. In fact he first realised the power of the Muslim vote in 2004. The BJP-JD(U) alliance won just 11 out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state. This despite the fact that people of the state were fed up with the misrule of Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi. But the Muslims had not been voting for the BJP-JD(U) alliance and punishing it for the Gujarat riots of 2002.
In the state assembly elections of 2005, Nitish Kumar wooed the pasmanda Muslims and did not allow Narendra Modi to campaign in Bihar. The JD(U)-BJP alliance did very well winning 143 out of the 243 seats in the state assembly. This anti Modi stand continued and the alliance did very well in the state in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and 2010 state assembly elections as well. He also ensured that Modi did not campaign in these elections as well. So Nitish Kumar has found his anti-Modi stand reap electoral benefits in the past.
Hence, any direct association with the BJP which has Narendra Modi at the top would clearly have cost Kumar the pasmanda votes and helped his bete noire Lalu Yadav resurrect his MY formula. In fact, in the recently concluded Lok Sabha by election in Mahrajganj, the RJD candidate won by 1.37 lakh votes. The worrying thing here for Kumar was that Muslims seem to have voted for the RJD enmasse. This was the final nail in the coffin for the BJP-JD(U) alliance.
Critics of Nitish Kumar have repeatedly asked that why did he continue in the NDA government in Delhi after the 2002 Gujarat riots. If he had a problem, he should have quit then. Why wait for 11 years? While this seems like a valid point that is not how things work in politics.
In 2002, and till very recently, Modi was nowhere in the national scheme of things for the BJP. Hence, there was no direct association between Nitish Kumar and Modi. But now with Modi being BJP’s prime ministerial candidate the Muslim vote would have moved enmasse to RJD, which is something that Kumar could ill-afford. In the past Nitish managed to keep Modi away from Bihar, but now with Modi being the prime ministerial candidate for the BJP that would not have been possible.
That’s one part of the story. The caste alliances that Nitish Kumar built were one reason behind the success of the BJP-JD(U) alliance. Nevertheless the alliance was also helped by the upper caste vote that the BJP brought with it. The Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars and Kayasthas, form the upper castes and account for around 16% of votes in Bihar.
The upper castes formed the icing on the cake. In fact, the JD(U) leader and former convener of NDA, Sharad Yadav, admitted to as much when he said after the 2005 win: “We had the masses with us but I am not sure we would have won such a landslide without the BJP. Although some JD(U) members wanted to break from BJP, we realised that it was the BJP which had the support system – the upper-caste dominated press, bureaucracy and judiciary. Though Nitish led from the front, the BJP played its part in this win.”
Manish K Jha and Pushpendra summarise the situation very well in their 2012 research paper Governing Caste and Managing Conflicts Bihar, 1990-2011 “Nitish Kumar had assiduously worked to bring together a coalition of Kurmis, Koeris, EBCs, lower Muslims (Pasmanda) and Mahadalits. and the upper-caste and business-community support-base of his party’s coalition partner, BJP. Finally, in November 2005 assembly elections, EBCs consolidated their votes in alliance with lower caste Muslims and upper castes and RJD regime was replaced by the JD(U)-BJP coalition.”
In a state as feudal as Bihar is, for any party the support of the upper castes is a huge help. What the BJP also brings with itself is the RSS cadre, which is a huge help during the election process, from campaigning to manning booths to having the right electoral agents at the right booths. This is something that Nitish would have realised during the recent Maharajganj Lok Sabha poll.
One possibility for Nitish is to align with the Congress to make up for the loss of the votes that BJP brought in. The Congress has already started sending feelers regarding an alliance. There are two problems with this approach. The first problem is that the Congress is more or less dead in the state. Hence, any alliance between the two parties is going to benefit the Congress more than the JD(U).
And the second problem is that the Congress already has an alliance with Lalu Yadav’s RJD. And aligning with Lalu won’t go well with the political plank of development that Nitish has built and also delivered on. Any political leader who stands for economic development can’t be seen aligning with Lalu Yadav, the very antithesis of development. But as they say funnier things have happened in politics.
Given these reasons, Nitish Kumar and JD(U) will be worse off after the split with the BJP, but only slightly. Nitish’s bigger interest here seems to hold back Lalu Yadav from resurrecting his MY alliance and from the way things stand here, he should be successful at that.
As far as the BJP is concerned it will continue to get the support of the upper castes in the state. But that in itself will not be enough to win a substantial number of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. In the current Lok Sabha, the BJP-JD(U) alliance had 32 seats from the state.
Also, it is worth remembering that Hindutva was never really a big issue in Bihar. Even after Lalu Yadav arrested Lal Krishna Advani during the course of his 1990 Rath Yatra, the state continued to remain peaceful. So BJP’s attempts to resurrect this issue (as it is plans to in Uttar Pradesh by appointing Modi’s lieutenant Amit Shah as in-charge of the party in the state) won’t really work in Bihar. Given these reasons, it will be difficult for the party to win more than 10 Lok Sabha seats from the state, on its own. Hence, Modi will have to work more magic in other states so as to ensure that the party wins enough seats on its own so that potential allies are attracted to it at least after the elections.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 17,2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
Ravi Batra is an Indian American economist and a professor at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Unlike most economists who are in the habit of beating around the bush, Batra likes to make predictions, and he usually gets them right. Among these was calling the fall of communism in the Soviet Union more than ten years before it happened. Batra is also the author of many best-selling books like The Crash of the Millennium, The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism, Greenspan’s Fraud and most recently The New Golden Age. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul.
You are a great proponent of the Law of Social Cycle. What’s it all about?
In 1978, to the laughter of many and the ridicule of a few, I wrote a book called The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism, which predicted the demise of Soviet communism by the end of the century and an enormous rise in wealth concentration in the United States that would generate poverty among its masses, forcing them into a revolt around 2010. My forecasts are derived from The Law Of Social Cycle, which was pioneered by my late teacher and mentor Prabhata Ranjan Sarkar. Lo and behold! The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Soviet communism vanished right before your eyes. And in 2011, the United States witnessed the birth of a social revolt in the form of the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement’, which opposes the interest of the richest 1% of Americans. The nation now has the worst wealth concentration in history.
So what is this law?
It is an idea that begins with general characteristics of the human mind. Sarkar argues that while most people have common goals and ambitions, their method of achieving them varies, depending on innate qualities of the individual. Most of us, for instance, seek living comforts and social prestige. Some try to attain them by developing physical skills, some by developing intellectual skills and some by saving and accumulating money, while there are also some with little ambition in life. Based on these different mentalities, Sarkar divides society into four distinct classes: warriors, intellectuals, acquisitors and labourers.
Can you go into a little more detail?
Among warriors are included the military, policemen, professional athletes, fire fighters, skilled blue-collar workers, and anyone who displays great courage. The class of intellectuals comprises teachers, scholars, bureaucrats, and priests. Acquisitors include landlords, businessmen, merchants, and bankers. Finally, unskilled workers constitute the class of laborers. The division of society into four classes based on their mentality and occupations, not heredity, is at the core of Sarkar’s philosophy of social evolution. His theory is that each society is first dominated by the class of warriors, then by the class of intellectuals, and finally by the class of acquisitors. Eventually, the acquisitors generate so much greed and materialism that other classes, fed up by the acquisitive malaise, overthrow their leaders in a social revolution. Then the warriors make a comeback, followed once again by intellectuals, acquisitors and a social revolution. This, in brief, is The Law Of Social Cycle.
That’s very interesting. Can you explain this through an example?
Applying this theory to western society, we find that the Roman Empire was the Age Of Warriors, the rule of the Catholic Church the Age Of Intellectuals, and feudalism the Age Of Acquisitors, which ended in a social revolution spearheaded by peasant revolts all over Europe in the 15th century. The centralised monarchies that then appeared represented the Second Age Of Warriors, which was, in turn, followed by another Age Of Intellectuals, this time represented by the rule of prime ministers, chancellors and diplomats. Since the 1860s the west has had a parliamentary rule in which money or the acquisitive era has been prevalent.
What about India?
India’s history is silent on some periods, but, wherever full information is available, the social cycle clearly holds. For instance, around the times of Mahabharata, warriors dominated society, then came the rule of Brahmins or intellectuals, followed by the Buddhist period, when capitalism and wealth were predominant; this era ended in the flames of a social revolution, when a great warrior named Chandragupta Maurya put an end to the reign of a king named Dhananand, and started another Age Of Warriors. Dhan means money and ananda means joy, so that dhan + ananda becomes Dhananda or someone who finds great joy in accumulating money, suggesting that the Mauryan hero overthrew the rule of greed and money in society.
How do you see things currently through The Law Of The Social Cycle?
Today, the world as a whole is in the Age Of Acquisitors, while some nations such as Iran are ruled by the clergy or their intellectuals. Russia is in transition from the warrior era to the era of intellectuals, while China continues in the Age Of Warriors, which was founded by Mao Tse Tung in 1949 after overthrowing the feudalistic Age Of Acquisitors in an armed revolution. As regards Iran, applying the dictum of social cycle, I foresaw the rise of priests or the Ayatollahs in a 1979 book called Muslim Civilization and the Crisis in Iran. For ten thousand years, the law of the social cycle has prevailed. Egypt went through three such cycles before succumbing to Muslim power. Muslim society as a whole is now in the Age Of Acquisitors. Some Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Bahrain are still in the acquisitive age, while some others such as Egypt and Libya have recently seen a social revolution and are in transition to the next age. The wheel of social cycles has thus been turning in all societies, albeit at different speeds; not once in human history was it thwarted.
Any new predictions based on this law?
The United States along with India are now on the verge of a social revolution that will culminate in a Golden Age. That is what I have predicted in my latest book, The New Golden Age. The American revolution is likely to occur by 2016 or 2017, and India’s should arrive by the end of the decade. This is the way I look at some popular movements such as the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States, and those started by Anna Hazare and Baba Ram Dev in India. They reflect people’s anger and frustration with the corrupt rule of acquisitors. Such movements are destined to succeed in their mission, because the rule of wealth is about to come to an end.
One of your predictions that hasn’t come true is that about the Great Depression of the 1930s happening again
It is true we have not had another Great Depression like that of the 1930s, although the slump since 2007 is now being called the Great Recession. The difference between the two may be more semantic than real. The Great Depression was not a period of one long slump lasting for the entire 1930s. Rather, there were pockets of temporary prosperity. The first part of the depression lasted between 1929 and 1933. Then growth resumed and the global economy improved till1937, only to be followed by another slump. This time there has been no depression, but at least in the United States people’s agony has been nearly as bad as in the 1930s. Farming played a great role in society at that time so that the unemployed could go back to agriculture and survive. This time around, that has not been possible. Millions of Americans are homeless today as in the1930s. Still the 1930s were the worst ever, but my point is that American poverty today is the worst in fifty years. The wage-productivity gap, consumer debt and the stock market went up sharply in the 1920s, just as they did after1982. The market crashed in 1929 and then the depression followed. So I concluded that since the same type of conditions were occurring in the 1980s we would have another great depression. However, what I could not imagine was that, China, one-time America’s arch enemy, would lend trillions of dollars to the United States. Note that so long as debt keeps up with the rising wage gap, unemployment can be avoided. In other words, China’s loans postponed large-scale unemployment in the United States for a long time, but not forever.
Can a depression still occur?
Yes, it can, but only if countries are unable to create new debt. Such a likelihood is small but cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, if for some reason oil prices shoot up further to say $150 per barrel, the depression will be inevitable.
How do you see the scenario in Europe playing out?
In Europe and elsewhere the nature of the problem is the same, namely the rising wage gap, so that production exceeds consumer demand, and the government has to resort to nearly limitless debt creation. But the PIIGS — Portugal,Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain — show that government debt cannot rise forever and when debt has to be reduced there is further rise in unemployment. The European troubles are not over and we should expect the debt problem to linger for years to come.
The dangers in Europe have suddenly taken away the attention from the United States. What is your prediction about the United States the way it currently is?
So long as the United States is able to borrow more money either from the world or from its own people, its economy will remain stable at the bottom. But there is a strong sentiment now among most Americans that the budget deficit must come down, and the laws already passed aim to bring it down from 2013 on. This is likely to raise unemployment in that year and beyond. 2012 could also see real troubles after June when the already rising price of oil and gasoline starts hurting the economy. If the speculators succeed in raising the oil price towards their goal of $150, there could be another serious slump by the end of the year.
Do you see a dollar crash coming in the years to come?
Yes the dollar could crash against the currencies of China and Japan, but I don’t see this happening before July. After that the global economy could be as sick as it was in 2008. The scenario would be reminiscent of what happened in 1937 when the global depression made a comeback. Something similar could materialise again in that the Great Recession could make a resounding come back. However, I don’t see an alternative to the dollar at this point because the whole world is in trouble. For the dollar to fall completely from grace, Opec would have to start pricing its crude in terms of a different currency and I am not sure if that is possible.
What do you think about the current steps the Obama administration is taking to address the economy?
The Obama administration has followed almost the same policies that George W Bush did, and in the process wasted a lot of money to generate paltry economic growth and some jobs. In fact, the government has been spending over $1.5 million to generate one job. This sounds bizarre, but here is what has happened since 2009. The administration’s tack is that we should keep spending money at the current rate to lower unemployment, even though the annual federal budget deficit has been around $1.4 trillion over the past two years. It seems apparent that the main purpose of excessive federal spending is to preserve or generate jobs. This is a point emphasised by every American president since 1976, and especially since1981 when the federal deficit began to soar. This is also how most experts defend the deficit nowadays.
Could you elaborate a little more on this?
In 2010, according to the Economic Report of the President, as many as 800,000 jobs were created, and the government’s excess spending was $1.4trillion, which when divided by 800,000 yields 1.7 million. In other words, the US government spent $1.7 million to generate one job. The economy improved in 2011, providing work to 1.1 million people for the same expense. So dividing $1.4 trillion by the new figure yields $1.3 million, which is now the cost of creating one job. Thus, the average federal deficit or cost per job over the past two years has been $1.5 million.
Is it prudent to be wasting precious resources like this?
I don’t think so. The trillion dollar question is this: where is it all going, when the annual American average wage is no higher than $50,000? Obviously, it must be going to the so-called 1% group or what the Republican Party calls the job creators, i.e., the CEOs and other executives of large corporations.
Could you explain that?
Let us see how the main culprit for the mushrooming incomes of business magnates is the government itself. This is how the process works and has been working since 1981. The CEO forces his employees to work very hard while paying them low wages; this hard work sharply raises production or supply of goods and services, but with stagnant wages, consumer demand falls short of growing supply. This then leads to overproduction and threatens layoffs, which in turn threatens the re-election chances of politicians. They then respond with a massive rise in government spending or huge tax cuts, so that total demand for goods and services rises to the level of increased supply. As a result, either those layoffs are averted or the unemployed are gradually called back to work. This way, the CEO is able to sell his entire output and reap giant profits in the process, because wages are dwindling or stagnant even as business revenue soars. In the absence of excess government spending, companies would be stuck with unsold goods and could even suffer losses. In other words, almost the entire federal deficit ends up in the pockets of business executives. With such a vast wastage of resources, the economy has to falter once again, and I think the second half of 2012 will be just as bad as 2008. The Fed will then revive Quantitative Easing III, but it will not help.
What about the entire concept of paper money?
Paper money is here to stay, but in the near future there will be some kind of gold standard as well, so that money will be partially backed the government’s holding of gold. This way there will be a restraint on the government’s ability to print money.
Any long term investment ideas for our readers? Are you gold bull?
Gold and silver may still be a good investment for 2012, but not for the rest of the decade. However, if there is excessive violence, then the precious metals could shine for a lot longer. I used to be very bullish on gold, but with the metal having appreciated so much already, I am now on the side of caution.
(A shorter version of this interview was pubished in the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) on May 7,2012. Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])