Friday, December 09, 2005

End of anarchy?

A state that has not cast a vote in decades, only voted castes; change in government appears a loss for Lalu. It’s not yet a win for progress

It was supposedly late in the night. Which would mean about 5, on a winter evening (not early morning, when you can still get stuck in a traffic jam in Bombay’s bustling suburbs).

The streets, or more likely the woods, were eerily quiet. A rickety cop jeep parked itself at least 200 metres from the desolate police station that it belonged to.

And a fairly unkempt inspector walked out of the vehicle, adjusted the waist of his tattered trouser, looked around slightly uncomfortably and yelled aloud, “Dost” (Friend). The ‘password of the day’ was returned like a mating call. And the jeep drove into the dusty driveway. The inspector turned around with a nervous grin to explain, “We are most scared inside a police station! You never know what’ll hit us any time. We’re here to protect people. But who the hell will protect us?”

The word ‘anarchy’ comes from the Greek word anarchia, meaning “without a ruler”. And I’d come from Bihar. From a fairly large town of petrified policemen. It seemed like a trip back from a dark film, several watts darker than Prakash Jha’s Apaharan.

But the image that played on my mind was not of helpless khakee-clads talking about how they don’t attend any emergency calls after sunset, unless they had a death-wish.

What I kept thinking about was a popular, prosperous temple-town teeming with East Asian tourists, who walked and shopped around freely, closer to 10 in the night, unconcerned, unaffected.

Both Bodh Gaya (the place where Buddha had attained enlightenment) and Gaya, the city without lights, were not just in the same state. A mile or two from each other, the ‘problem’ and the ‘solution’ in fact, came under the same town. Not too far from Jehanabad where in what should be termed a civil war, a bunch of militants, who called themselves comrades, blew up a jail and freed up inmates last month.

Surely those mass-murderers still roam the streets of Gaya, fairly sure no one can touch them, least of all the police. And you cannot propel such chaos, unless the people (large number of them) are on your side. Which they have been. The ‘naxalite’ groups belong to Hindu surnames that signify lower castes. Ranvir Sena, their rival army represents ‘landed’ ‘rich’ upper castes, who are hardly landed, or rich anymore.

No one around me in Gaya could quite come up with why Bodh Gaya remained a cradle of prosperity and hence peace, while its neighbourhoods lay in pieces. Over a few days I realised that was because they actually hadn’t thought about it, so deeply they were enmeshed in matters of caste groups — how one needed to retaliate to a particular episode perpetrated by the other, how the other was justified in avenging sins of the past….

All aspects that came to be labelled ‘Lalu Raj’, a strong, spell-binding leadership that thrived on keeping all busy with interpersonal problems, waxed eloquent on how the subaltern finally had a voice (read: guns), and which threw up parallel governments headed by likes of Syed Shahabuddin (Nana Patekar in Apaharan).

Those with more pertinent concerns eventually gave up and moved to other parts of the country, to make a living. Those who did not, never cast a vote. They just voted ‘caste’. And they’ve done so for decades.

So yes, Lalu is gone. What I wish to know is if he took away his regressive supporters who made up 40 per cent of Bihar’s population and voted for him for 15 years regardless.

So yes, Nitish Kumar is the new one in, as much as a result of yet other “caste equations”.

So, for those who just chanted “end of Lalu, end of anarchy” actually quite forgot that yes, a change in government in ‘India’s Africa’ was necessary. That does not yet mean change in deeply embedded mindsets. Which is where lay the real problem.

* O yes, Lalu is gone. What I wish to know is if he took away his regressive supporters who made up 40 per cent of Bihar’s population and voted for him for 15 years regardless

* When he is not busy being world weary, Mayank Shekhar writes on movies

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