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Why Jungle Raj Bihar kept out communal riots for 3 decades but Delhi and Gujarat couldn’t

Bihar is widely panned for an inefficient administration and lack of development. But the conundrum is that the same administration has ensured a peaceful era.

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At a time when many states in India are witnessing communal violence, attacks, and bigotry, Bihar has remained largely peaceful. It is one of the puzzles of contemporary Indian politics. The state commonly known for Jungle Raj has resisted and probably prevented large scale Hindu-Muslim flare-up for nearly three decades.

Bihar is widely panned for an inefficient administration and lack of development. But the conundrum is that the same inefficient administration has ensured a peaceful era. This calls into question both state capacity and state will. If there is a determination to ensure peace, even the most inefficient machinery can be made to work. And the credit goes to the change in politics that Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar have presided over.

Also read: Not all communal riots are local. Social media is now making them national

It wasn’t always like this

But Bihar has its own communal past. The state has seen some of the worst communal carnage during India’s partition and several riots and religiously motivated violence later on. During partition, large-scale anti-Muslim rioting happened in Bihar. Since the state shared its boundary with then undivided Bengal, which was one of the states to be partitioned, the spillover effect was felt in Bihar as well, resulting in the death of thousands of people, mostly Muslims.

Even after the partition, communal incidents kept happening at regular intervals. The worst incidents include the 1967 Ranchi-Hatia riots in then undivided Bihar; Ram Navami violence in Jamshedpur and Hazaribagh in the late 1980s; and the 1989 Bhagalpur riots in which more than 1,000 people were killed. In one of the villages, the rioters had buried the bodies of Muslims in fields and planted cauliflower over them.

During the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, cities of Bokaro (now in Jharkhand) and Patna witnessed a lot of mayhem and bloodshed, including the exodus of many Sikhs from the capital city.

Bihar has also witnessed some of India’s most gruesome Dalit massacres, including the gunning down of 58 Dalits of Laxmanpur Bathe by members of a militia outfit called Ranvir Sena (whose members were upper-caste Bhumihars) on 1 December 1997. The spiral of violence and counter-violence in central Bihar has claimed hundreds of lives over the decades.

Also read: One thing was distinctly rotten about 2002 Gujarat riots: use of rape as a form of terror

And then the turnaround

But while the rest of India continued to simmer with communal anger, exploding every now and then, Bihar slipped into a peaceful slumber when it came to communal riots. A lawless land presided over by an ineffective, almost non-functional administration did something that even developed states like Gujarat or Delhi or Maharashtra could not.

But given Bihar’s past and its poor administrative machinery, how did it manage to remain peaceful on the communal front for almost three decades? This question warrants some deep sociological-political scrutiny. But here are three things that could explain Bihar’s phenomenal turnaround.

Role of the political class: If we take 1990 as a rupture or departure in the contemporary history of Bihar, then we notice that this is the time when the Congress lost the sheen and was sidelined in the state. The period shows the end of hegemonic political control of the Hindu upper castes and the emergence of the lower castes. This was a silent revolution, a term popularised by political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot. This newly empowered social group of backward classes allied with Muslims in Bihar – which was the genesis of M-Y-D (Muslim, Yadav, Dalit) combination cobbled together by Lalu Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). This social combination was the masonic stone of the 15 years of ‘Lalu Raj’ in Bihar. The natural corollary to this socio-political coalition was that the state government ensured that no communal violence took place.

When Nitish Kumar took over in the post-Lalu era, he continued on this path – driven mainly by his desire to appear more secular than Lalu and win over the RJD’s Muslim support base. What gave Nitish the ground was Bihar’s Muslims’ non-alignment with any particular political force. This created a strange binary in Bihar politics, in which both principal parties – RJD and Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) – keep trying to woo the community. Even now, both the JD(U) and the RJD stand on the same side on the National Register of Citizens – a divisive exercise, which, if implemented nationally, could lead to several Muslims losing Indian citizenship and becoming stateless. And because the BJP in Bihar is piggybacking the JDU, it becomes very difficult for it to play the communal ball game in the state, which goes to polls later this year.

Also read: Kejriwal is wrong. Delhi to Gujarat, outsiders blamed in riots, but most victims know attackers

Role of the administration: Several studies have proven that any communal violence happens with the complacency, even complicity, of the local administration. It might not be possible for even the best of administrations to stop the communal violence from erupting, but it’s impossible that the violence would continue for long without the active or tacit support of the administration.

Because the ruling political class in Bihar found communal harmony beneficial to its interest, it ensured that the administration acts tough on communal forces. That is why when Lalu Yadav stopped the Ayodhya Rath Yatra of Lal Krishna Advani in 1990, and had him arrested, Bihar was one of the few places in India that didn’t erupt into communal fire. It’s the same with the administration under Nitish Kumar. It may falter on many fronts, but it cannot harm the political interest of the ruling JD(U). This administration in Bihar may not have performed on developmentlaw and ordereducation or healthcare, but it has ensured that the state’s communal harmony is not disturbed.

Role of the social forces: Senior journalist Navendu Kumar, who has been covering Bihar since the 1980s, explains that Biharis must be lauded for this achievement of maintaining relative communal harmony. After all, no administration or government has the capacity to ensure permanent peace at the mohalla level and only people can exercise that agency to co-exist peacefully. Navendu argues that some sort of fatigue set in among Biharis, who, having seen decades of communal and caste violence, became more worried about their everyday lives and issues.

Bihar is peaceful because Bihar wants it to be like that. It is not that the BJP and the RSS have not tried to communalise the social and political aspects of Bihar, but these efforts have remained largely unsuccessful.

Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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  1. The Writer is spot on : communal riots are created by the upper castes politicians to keep alive the hindu vs Muslim binary so as to deflect the attention of the Bahujans from their real enemies the bamman, Bania & Thakur trio . Nowadays anybody who exposes the upper castes devious plans is dubbed as communist or paki ….

  2. There were brutal caste wars raging throughout rural Bihar in the 1990’s, which were instigated and encouraged by the Lalu Yadav administration. Entire villages of people were massacred in fights between armed Maoist Dalits and upper caste militias which formed to defend themselves. Muslim and Yadav gangsters aligned with Lalu Yadav’s RJD were given the green light to commit extortions and murders against all other communities, with a guarantee that a corrupted justice system would never hold them accountable. There is no society that was as polarized on communal lines as was 1990’s Lalu Yadav run Bihar.

  3. This is wrong analysis in 1992 Sitamarhi riot is well known where muslim attack on Durga Pooja idol immersion.

  4. These are all stupid and biased psedo liberal journalist who take money and spit poison. These sick minded journalist has already made India’s journalism not to mention at its “highest peak” in the global scenario. Bihar has been always the target state to motivate their self upper status agenda. Time is powerful, like hitler all you pseudo journalist will fall on face and I will be there to do your reporting. Best of luck for bullshit journalism.

  5. If the print and other leftist media don’t try and create hatred by propagating their pseudo secular and pseudo liberal ideologies peace will easily prevail anywhere across. By the way RJD has already hired the PRINT to campaign for the upcoming election. The ludicrous analysis by the author makes is feel so

  6. The author is either ignorant or biased or both. After ayodhya structure destruction riots erupted in Bihar. Then Chief Minister Lalu Yadav saw his throne shaking. He requested and was able to convince Muslims, Yadavs and Rajputs, who were generally Lalu’s vote bank not to fight. M-Y equation is still more or less intact in his favour. Nitish, too, tries to keep muslims in good humor.

  7. No need for such deep analysis to understand the reason. When a group becomes too strong to fight with, no conflict happens. Lalu and Nitish ensured that Muslims becomes so strong. Watch few symptoms..Ramnawami julus as well as Tazia can go on route which are allowed by Muslims. Hindus are leaving areas dominated by Muslims but other way it doesnot. Kishenganj and Katihar are best ex. All by govt support. My feeling is that it is silence before storm.

  8. Same way as no riot happened in UP. Riots happen when minorities think they can get away or atleast inflict equal damage. Thats why no riots in many Asian countries. Here role media plays is important .If balanced reporting was run on Shaheen Bagh riots may not have happened. Only 1 in 20 mentioned inconvenience or this could result in violence.

  9. Intersting analysis. What about WB? after huge violence post partition, WB has been relatively clam for decades – same reasons?

  10. Navendu kumar’s opinion appears to be more plausible. It may be just that the Muslims have realised that it is futile attempt to browbeat Hindus in Bihar. In Bihar both Hindus and Muslims keep Tamanchas in their possession. And experience of last 70 years have shown that Muslims suffer more . The case in Gujarat, Hyderabad is different. Till recently Muslims were dominant in those areas. Let us see what happens after – if at all- Taliban comes to power in Afghanistan.

  11. Writer has rightly pointed out that Lalu and Nitish both are eying Muslims 16% vote. Since both of them are from OBC class, they never harboured enmity with Muslims, as is the case with most upper caste Hindu leaders. Had they belonged to upper caste community, they couldn’t sustain the pressure of their community. One key point writer didn’t mention is population of upper caste in Bihar, it’s just 15%, which has lost the teeth in administration to bite anyone. Everything put together had kept the Bihar peaceful.

  12. The writer is professor? The bihar is a casteist den, which helps the arabi follower, as Indics like Hindus are divided too much on caste nonsense. Once Mandal era drama grows, we will see a new churning based on religion

  13. Sir,
    I strongly believe more prosperous you are , more bigot you become as you begin to believe the deity has made you rich.
    Then these rich spend millions in making religious places irrespective of all religions. They become more hard core, fundamental.
    Saudi Arabian prosperity made it leader of WAHABI Islam.
    Most, not all, of Gujjus are very very communal, the reason is prosperity.
    Manmohan Singh era made them ultra rich but they tilted towards hard core.
    Bihar once rich will behave like Gujjus.

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