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Bihar polls: Caste etched in heart, ‘silent’ in spelling

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My name is Ajeet Bharti. However my father has another surname. Similarly, some of my friends have weird surnames like Kumar (the most prevalent in our generation), Sundaram, Ranjan, and Raj etc. Why is that weird? It is weird for they do not project caste, village or lineage as surnames are supposed to do worldwide. None of us have our fathers using such surnames in Bihar from my father’s generation. My father uses Singh, Kumar’s father uses Sahay, Sundaram’s father uses Gupta and so on.

These are manufactured surnames, often borrowed to hide the caste we belong to. The most prevalent, widely used surname in my generation is Kumar and Kumari (for girls). Literally, Kumar means an unmarried boy, and Kumari means, an unmarried girl.

When we look at it from a distance, from a perspective alien to Bihar, we can marvel at the idea of not having surnames that represent an identity. An identity which is often taken negatively by the people that take notice of. While at our school, Sainik School Tilaiya, most of the cadets didn’t have any surname that could reveal their caste.

This was a good thing for us on campus as we didn’t have to fiddle ourselves around who to sit with and who to talk to as we had no idea of caste. At the same age, my nephews, conditioned by the the social structures, very much know why they shouldn’t sit and eat with a guy from lower caste.

The doing away with surnames to hide the caste identity gained momentum after the Bihar Movement, helmed by dynamic Jayprakash Narayan or JP, as he is popularly known as. It was late 70s that the demand of reservations and upper caste people’s wrath ensured that the lower caste people hid their identities.

The surnames became a means to target the lower caste in jobs, exams, and at educational institutions along with the prevalent social stigma.

However, the time took a turn and lower caste people started targeting the upper caste as they reached good positions in various fields due to merit and reservation. This was the time when the upper caste people started to hide their surnames under Kumar, Raj etc.

From one angle, it is a beautiful thing to have. People respecting (or hating) people for what they are and not for what castes they belonged to. The menace of this carcinogenic idea becomes visible, and talked about, whenever elections take place.

Political importance

Ideologies, promises, perks and issues take a backseat when elections are announced in Bihar. I vividly remember an aspiring MLA ticket seeking industrialist from my district, taking stock of the caste factor every single morning I visited him. It was a daily ritual for him.

Everyone is, perhaps, clear about ‘how things work’ in Bihar. Jumlebazi is reserved for press meets and rallies. Development issues, problems of state are merely printed words in the manifesto. It is not that people don’t want to hear them or to see them getting realised, rather caste factor in Bihar elections is so rampant, that it percolates to the gene-level.

The aspiring ticket seeker I talked about, would micro-manage the caste equation. Ratio of Bhumihars (An upper caste) in a particular village, influential Bhumihars, Bhumihar mukhiyas would all be printed in a sheet as he would mark out the names on the voter list with caste column written by pen.

It would be followed by how to tackle low-caste dominated areas where the strategists would suggest trying to get the area declared as ‘sensitive’ which would result in lower percentage of polling.

(Mis)use and (ab)use of caste

The most dangerous, and pathetic, portrayal of the caste takes place when every leader from every party starts to use the ‘formula’ to woo voters. Convicted criminals like Lalu Prasad Yadav use the caste card to fool the voters. I remember the days when the schools in my village and adjoining places had no roofs, no teachers and everything was left to the Sun god.

This was the time when Lalu ruled. This was the time when his simple formula was to keep the mass uneducated and tell them anything and without any resource to ascertain the fact, they would believe. Precisely the reason why everyone from my generation had to study in mushrooming private schools or come to places like Delhi.

Now, Lalu Prasad Yadav, a convict who can’t fight elections, is going to rallies and spreading false ideas like BJP wants to end reservation etc. He is trying hard to sell himself as a messiah, a champion of the poor and Dalits. However, the fact remains that if Dalits or Yadavs are one of the most illiterate classes from Bihar, it is due to his ignorance.

Singing the same old tune on a broken harp, RJD supremo, with no other issue in sight, described the crucial Assembly polls in Bihar as a direct fight between the backward castes and forward castes. He gave a clarion call to Yadavas and other backward castes to rally behind the ‘secular alliance’ to defeat the BJP-led NDA.

This is an unfortunate situation for Biharis who are ridiculed for this kind of fixation with caste. It is sad that someone, convicted of scams and barred from fighting elections, has the audacity to incite the caste factor vocally when the Election Commission’s code of conduct is in force.

Lalu’s friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Nitish Kumar coined a term like EBC (Extremely Backward Class) and initiated a series of policies for their betterment. When he came in power in 2005, everyone had hopes. He did work hard to improve education and transport infrastructure. Roads are visible in villages, and schools have buildings.

People saw a ray of hope in Nitish Kumar. He became the metaphorical silver-lining in cloud for Bihar.

However, in the last two years he dumped the development politics and focussed himself on replying to ‘jumlas’ and jibes from BJP. When the future looked bleak, he had to shake hands with Lalu Prasad Yadav and try to justify it by playing the communal and secular cards. These cards didn’t do any good to any party in the 2014 elections as BJP moved ahead with issues while all others tried to counter it by sloganeering.

Caste equations and its implications came to the fore when Lalu, imitating Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’, gave the election-cry: BhuRaBaL Hatao. Where ‘BhuRaBaL’ denotes the top four upper castes in Bihar: Bhumihar, Rajpoot, Brahman, and Lala.

Centuries of oppression of lower caste was somehow subverted with Lalu’s ascent as they gave him 15 years of power that saw no governance. Deliberate ignorance to policy making was evident when Nitish came to power in 2005 and the state had nothing to lose as it had seen its nadir during Lalu’s ‘Jungle Raaj’. However, it did no good to the lower caste as Lalu was just preparing his family case while (not) running Bihar.

Recalling Lalu’s impact of governance (or the lack of it) in his Telegraph column in 2014, Ramachandra Guha remarked, “Murders and kidnappings were common. It was unsafe to walk the streets of Patna after dark. It was unsafe to drive in many districts even during the day. Fifteen years of rule by Lalu Prasad and his family had depleted the state’s finances and demoralized the bureaucracy.”

Assembly elections

Recently, when Lalu and Nitish were seen ‘championing’ the cause of lower caste (again) by making statements centred around caste, BJP swiftly said it would ensure that CM is not from upper caste.

But the question is, will this caste card have the same impact this time? If we go by this article on Indian Express, the mahadalits (EBCs) who had voted Nitish to power are now disenchanted by his theatrics and handshake with Lalu.

As the election dates are nearing, mud slinging has started with jibes like ‘chaara-chor Lalu’ (Fodder thief Lalu) and ‘Narbhakshi Amit Shah’ (Cannibal Amit Shah). Jungle Raj 2, Madal Raj 2 are the phrases in vogue as Bihar goes to vote.

It is an undeniable fact that as with the search for a suitable groom people go for caste and gotra match, similarly, during elections people vote for caste.

The reason is, they have no other connection from these leaders who seldom have anything else to offer. However, increased literacy and awareness has made this habit somewhat less obvious.

Ticket distribution pattern and caste

NDA has announced its list of candidates for the elections and the caste factor is abundantly clear in the ticket distribution. Although the upper caste constitutes just about 15% of Bihar’s population, it does influence the lower caste votes. They are the opinion leaders in villages where they dominate the power.

Unless, there is a reserved seat for the lower caste as mukhiya, the panchayat seldom gets a lower caste village chief. Even in the reserved seats, the backward caste candidate that wins is the one with the backing of upper caste.

For the coming Bihar polls, as many as 84 upper caste candidates have been fielded by NDA out of the total 243 seats in the assembly. This includes 36 Rajputs and 28 Bhumihars, the two dominant castes of the state.

The grand alliance (JD-U, RJD and Congress), for the 85% of Bihar’s backward population (including OBCs), has announced 64 Yadavs – 48 of them by the RJD alone – apart from 33 Muslims as candidates. This reflects the traditional social support base of MY (Muslim-Yadav) for the RJD and JD-U.

Apart from these 97, the alliance is also dependent on on the OBCs- Koeris and Kurmis. A total of 47 candidates from OBC, 30 Koeris and 17 Kurmis (Nitish Kumar’s caste men), have been fielded by the grand alliance.

The break up looks like this: OBC+EBCs 55%; Muslims 14%; SC+ST 16%; general or upper caste 16%. (percent data is in approx values)

Let’s see how it unfolds

It’s just a matter of few weeks when the results would be announced. It would be interesting to see if Biharis choose to fall for the ‘caste factor’ or go after the rhetorical ‘development’ agenda. Given the increasing literacy rate, still among the lowest in nation, and penetration of social media, people might have better idea of their leaders.

However painful it is for me, as a Bihari, to write this, but caste is not going to go away that easily from the Bihari psyche. Caste equation might not be so obvious in this election as in the 1990s but, for certain, it will have an impact till the realisation of its ghastliness comes to the voter.

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Facts About Fodder Scam: 21 Year Old Case Against Lalu Prasad Yadav

A Rs 1000 crore scam through a nexus of bureaucrats, elected officials, and businessmen which resulted in the conviction of more than 500 people

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Lalu Prasad Yadav is the highest profile person convicted in the Fodder Scam. Wikimedia Commons
Lalu Prasad Yadav is the highest profile person convicted in the Fodder Scam. Wikimedia Commons

BY SHANTAM SAHAI

  • 1000 crore scam with fraudulent withdrawals on the pretext of fictitious livestock
  • A nexus of bureaucrats, elected officials, and businessmen
  • All of it resulted in 500 convictions, including that of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav

India faces many challenges. Corruption, however, tops the list. It has proved to be an impenetrable loop in our system which continues to adversely affect the country’s economy and the credibility of our government agencies. This loop has a history of holding our economy back from reaching new heights and also stunted the country’s development process.

Let’s turn the pages of history to not long before 23rd December 2017, when RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav was convicted by a special CBI court in Ranchi for the Fodder Scam. In a quick followup he had tweeted:

In his tweet, he was supposedly attacking the BJP. The fact, anyway, remains that he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and was slapped a 25 lakh fine by the CBI court.

Many were not satisfied with the verdict, though.

What is the Fodder Scam?

Fodder scam, a corruption scandal, was next to a theft that spanned over twenty years. The embezzlement amounts to over ₹1000 crore from the government treasury in Bihar. It involved a number of administrative and elected officials from multiple departments. A scam of extremely high duration and magnitude, it proved the existence of a nexus between bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen. The Fodder Scam became a prime example of the ‘mafia raj’ that has penetrated the state-run economic sectors of the country.  

ALSO READ: Lalu acting as proxy leader to unleash ‘jungleraj 2’ in Bihar

How was it done?

It worked like a conspiracy where high-level politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen teamed up to fill their pockets with public money. Several fraudulent withdrawals from the Bihar treasury were made, on the pretext of procurement of fodder, medicines and animal husbandry for vast herds of fictitious livestock. It was done by forging several documents and fabricating allotment letters for making payment to suppliers for ‘non-supply or short supply’ of feed/fodder/medicines. Basically, huge withdrawals for the supply that never existed.

Fodder scam is so-called because of the fictitious livestock. Pixabay
Fodder scam is so-called because of the fictitious livestock. Pixabay
  • Suppliers, in connivance with officials enjoying political patronage, submitted forged documents and produced fake bills to claim reimbursements from the animal husbandry department.
  • They (suppliers) mentioned registration numbers of two-wheelers saying that cattle including buffaloes were transported over hundreds of kilometres by those vehicles.
  • Bills of 500 kg of mustard oil worth Rs 15 lakh meant to polish the horns of buffaloes were submitted and cleared.
  • Pigs were shown purchased from Ludhiana by animal husbandry officer RK Rana – who went on to become a Member of Parliament on RJD’s ticket. Rana claimed that during transportation of pigs from Punjab to Bihar, half of the pigs died at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

All these were bogus claims to withdraw huge amounts of public money.

For example, when the Deputy Commissioner of Jamshedpur district administration received an information that huge fraudulent withdrawal of Government money has been made in budget head 2403 of Animal Husbandry Department in the period 1991 to 1996, he got it inquired by a senior officer. It was found that in the said head 2403 Animal Husbandry, withdrawal has been made from Jamshedpur Treasury even more than the whole budget of Bihar State in the head.

The allotment for the whole State and the withdrawal from the Jamshedpur Treasury. Civil Court Ranchi
The allotment for the whole State and the withdrawal from the Jamshedpur Treasury. Civil Court Ranchi

This was a just a small part of the big picture, which once revealed, convicted more than 500 people.

How was the scam exposed?

Ravi S Jha, an Indian journalist, who was working with the Asian Age, then in Calcutta, was the first to name Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav of having implicit involvement in the scam. He not only found involvement of Bihar Government machinery in the scam but even mentioned how earlier governments too were flouting norms to make money illegally.

Many people believe the Fodder Scam was unearthed, for the first time, in 1996. However, Bihar Veterinary Association had already exposed the Animal Husbandry Mafia in 1985 through a Press Conference. Though in 1990, the executive committee of Bihar Veterinary Association was modified, and Dr Dinneshwar Prasad Sharma was made the General Secretary of BVA. The mafia now had control over the association.

ALSO READ: SC notice to Lalu in fodder scam case

The CBI investigation is said to have been driven by political consideration. Wikimedia Commons
The CBI investigation is said to have been driven by political consideration. Wikimedia Commons

At that point, Dr Dharmendra Sinha and Dr Biresh Prasad Sinha (Ex-officers of BVA) had started collecting information against this whole scandal. They had shared their information with Sushil Kumar Modi who initiated the whole episode of exposure after it was broken out by VS Dubey.

Who is VS Dubey?

VS Dubey was the Finance Commissioner, who came across some financial irregularities of massive scale. On 20th January 1996, he made an enquiry of the excessive withdrawals by Animal Husbandry Department from Ranchi treasury. The enquiry revealed a horrific whole scale loot of government money drawn through forged documents.

On 27th January 1996, Amit Khare, the Deputy Commissioner of West Singhbhum conducted raids (on direction from VS Dubey) on the offices of Animal Husbandry Department in the town of Chaibasa. The documents seized by him indicated a large-scale embezzlement by an organized mafia of officials and businessmen. Ravi S Jha’s work was based on the evidence found in Chaibasa.

CBI comes into the picture

The state police was probing the irregularities. However, it is accountable to the state administration and hence, there were fears that the probe committee would not investigate the case properly. People demanded the case be transferred to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is under federal rather than state jurisdiction.

Many members of the probe committee themselves faced allegations of being involved in the scam. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court in March 1996, based on the directions issued by the SC, the Patna High Court ordered that the case is handed over to the CBI.

In the span of over two decades, the CBI registered 53 cases related to the Fodder Scam. More than 500 people have been convicted by various courts, including Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Aftermath and Impact

The Fodder scam has become a symbol of bureaucratic corruption and criminalization of politics. The investigation and prosecution are said to have been guided by political motive. Many lower level staffs who did not have any connection to the scam have been crucified in the process. Many families are left without any earning. And when the Lok Sabha debated for a complete session as ‘Lalu Prasad Yadav’ an official agenda, how can we look forward to a system that has set its priorities right?

The 1000 crore of tax payer’s money that was embezzled in the Fodder Scam, will it be compensated by 3.5 years of jail term or an acquittal?