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Bihar on the front line yet again

Bihar’s intellectuals and philosophers have always been for non-violence, humanity and socialism. Pick up any Purana, any epic, any Smriti or any other brahmanical scripture and you will find it full of disparaging references to Magadha and the area around it, says Omprakash Kashyap

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may easily win Uttar Pradesh in the 2024 General Elections, but Bihar will be a tough nut to crack. Uttar Pradesh might have given the highest number of prime ministers to the country but when, in 1975, the reactionary forces decided to come together to defeat Indira Gandhi, they made Bihar their epicentre. Those who weren’t ready to touch socialism with a barge pole, agreed to work under the leadership of an elderly socialist. It was because of the involvement of someone like Jayaprakash Narayan that youth with socialist inclinations unreservedly joined this reactionary movement, taking it to be a transformational initiative. What was basically a movement against corruption in government was named “Sampoorna Kranti” (Total Revolution).

Needless to say, forces like the Jana Sangh, which were dubbing the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi as a “murder of democracy”, had no reverence for democracy and socialism, as they would amply demonstrate later. Karpoori Thakur was also with the leadership of the so-called “Total Revolution” movement. As the chief minister of Bihar, he, in 1978, decided to implement the recommendation of the Mungeri Lal commission, including granting reservations to the OBCs and women. As soon as the recommendations were implemented, the reactionary snakes raised their hood. The Karpoori Thakur government fell and with that cracks appeared in the Janata Party. The foundation for the problems the country is facing today was laid at the time. According to author and sociopolitical commentator Premkumar Mani, “The Jana Sangh was the only constituent of the Morarji [Desai] government which was driven purely and solely by anti-Congressism. Two ministers – Lal Krishna Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee – represented the Jana Sangh. They took charge of the ministries of Information and Broadcasting, and Foreign Affairs respectively and began working diligently to strengthen the foundation of their original party – the Jana Sangh – and the RSS … They worked cleverly and shrewdly.”[1]

Ultimately, Sampoorna Kranti ended up as the name of a train. So, is Bihar the land of failed revolutions? Opportunist forces formed the core of Sampoorna Kranti. Taking advantage of the popular resentment against the central government, they wanted to achieve their rabidly casteist and communal agenda. The people of Bihar never forgave them. After the collapse of the Karpoori Thakur government, Savarna chief ministers ruled Bihar only for seven and a half years while chief ministers from OBC and Dalit communities led the state government for over three decades.

Of course, at times they had to take the help of parties like the BJP. But then, as former Prime Minister V.P. Singh once remarked, “[Railway] wagons becoming the engine is not a small achievement for our democracy.” The communal forces could never succeed in Bihar because its culture is rooted in the Viharas and Chaityas.

Socialism’s old citadel

About 2,500 years ago, large swathes of what is now called North India had become prisoner to the yagna-based culture. Hapless animals were sacrificed on the pretext of yagnas. At the time, a new religion and a new sangha arose from Bihar. Earlier, Aajivaks who were dead set against yagna culture on philosophical grounds thrived in Bihar. They observed tough fasts, led frugal and disciplined lives governed by strict moral norms, and they didn’t lust after material wealth. These qualities helped them counter Brahmanism for centuries. The new religion, its philosophy was also inspired by the Aajivaks. This new religion and its philosophy were propounded by Gautam Buddha. He was India’s first protester.

Brahmins used to say – “Follow what the Vedas and the scriptures dictate … don’t go against them.”

Buddha would say – “Let your reason be your sole guide … be your own lamp.”

The slogan of the Brahmins was – “Take refuge in religion. Only that will do good to you.”

Buddha said – “Only man can do good to another man. So, join the Sangha and set out to rebuild humanity … charath bhikhwe charikam, bahujan hitay bahujan sukhay.”

Brahmins tried to ensnare – “Perform yagnas; offer ghee, incense, light, oblations. It will please the gods and their blessings will rain good fortune on you.”

Buddha, like Kabir, held just the opposite view – “No god has ever done any good to a human. God’s existence is unproven, the Puranas lie. Man can do good to himself and also to the gods, if they exist … lokanukampay, atthaya hitaya, sukhaya dev manussanam.”

Gandhi, who translated John Ruskin’s Unto the Last into Hindi under the title Sarvodaya, used to say that the State should help the last man in the last row of society. Ruskin himself said that a parable from the Bible, which has been quoted at the beginning of the book, was his inspiration. This was also the philosophy of Buddha who wanted the welfare of not only the last man in the last row but of everyone – whether at the end or the middle or the head of the row. A desire for the welfare of everyone was a part of his philosophy – “Deseth bhikhwe dhamam aadikalyan manjhe kalyanam pariyosaan kalyanam…”[2]

This is what socialism is about. Buddha was the first to propound the theory, which later came to be known as socialism, which spread from India to the rest of the world.

Paid the price

Bihar’s intellectuals and philosophers have always been for non-violence, humanity and socialism. Buddha’s message was assimilated and adopted in the entire world but in his own country – in Bihar and elsewhere, the people who followed Buddha had to pay a heavy price. Pick up any Purana, any epic, any Smriti or any other brahmanical scripture and you will find it full of disparaging references to Magadha and the area around it. The residents of this area were described as atheists, agnostics, pashand (one whose conduct is against the Vedas), rogues, sinners and what not. The Puranas also describe Magadha as Kikat Pradesh. Brahmins revered the cows, but only if the animals belonged to areas whose people respected them and their religion. Now, the people of Kikat Pradesh rejected the brahmanical religion. They were atheists and agnostics. So, the brahmanical scriptures had only hatred for the cows of Kikat Pradesh!

“O Indra! What is the use of the cows from the Kikat (Magadh) region? Neither the milk the cows give is of any use to you, nor does the ghee, along with alcohol, can be used to light the fire in the cauldron during yagya. There, O Indra, grant us the wealth of these low castes.”[3]

Sayana, the celebrated commentator on the Rigveda, dubs the residents of Magadha as atheists and non-Aryans. No Purana or Smriti or religious scripture is free from this hostility towards Magadha and its people. Hostility towards those who disagree with them is very pronounced in Sanskrit scriptures. The literature of no other language harbours such hostility towards dissenters. According to the Mahabharata, warriors from Kalinga, Magadha, Ang and from many other countries had fought in the so-called Dharmayuddha (crusade) in Kurukshetra from one side or the other. It was claimed that the warriors who would die in the battle would go to heaven. But even here the writers of the Mahabharata are not ready to give up their caste prejudices and hostility. It says that one should always keep away from the residents of Mahishak, Kalinga, Kikat, Atvi, Karkotak and Karaskaran.[4]

Opposition to Aajivaks

In Magadha lived Makhali Gosal, who had the highest regard for peace[5]. He was a Vainayik (a branch of Aajivak Parivrajakas), who respected everything – living and non-living[6]. His philosophy was initially played down, naming it Lokayat (views of the ordinary folk). When the conspiracy succeeded, because those behind it wielded the pen, the progenitor of the philosophy was named “Charvak” – the “god” who lives off the hard work of others and who believes in the philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry”. Ordinary people wanting to enjoy the fruits of their own labour were termed “Charvak”.

“If an object is sliced with a sword, no harm is done to it. The sword slices through the object and dangles in a vacuum”. When Puran Kashyap says that nature is indestructible and gargantuan, he is termed as indolent. But when the Gita says that no weapon can slice the soul and fire can’t burn it, it is called “karmayog”. What are such statements if not stealing and chest-thumping?

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin presents a book on the life of his father M. Karunanidhi to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna

Befitting response

The southern states also have had to face the derision reserved for States like Kikat, Kalinga and Maishak in the Sanskrit scriptures. The Hindu epics and the Puranas describe the residents of these States as Asuras and as the descendents of the Rakshasas. But then, South India had intellectual-leaders like Iyothee Thass, Singaravelu and Periyar E.V. Ramasamy. When the Savarnas refused to give them their due share in politics and resources, they rejected the brahmanical religion. They declared that they were Dravidians and that their culture was older than that of the brahmanical religion. They immersed themselves in rejuvenating their culture. They fought for years for their rights. Ultimately, Brahmin Raj ended in South India, where today Dravidian culture is flourishing and the right-wing forces are struggling to find a toehold.

It is not that North India remained untouched by the movements in South India. In the 1960s, Periyar travelled to many parts of North India and the impact of his teachings was felt in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It was in those days that Jagdeo Prasad, often called the Lenin of Bihar, gave the slogan:

“Sau mein nabbe shoshit hain, nabbe bhag hamara hai
Das ka shasan nabbe par, nahin chalega, nahin chalega
Dhan, dharti aur rajpaat mein, nabbe bhaag hamara hai”

(Ninety of the hundred are exploited. Ninety percent is ours. The rule of 10 over 90 cannot last. We have 90 per cent share in resources, land and political power)

Lalu Prasad Yadav also worked to bring these 85-90 per cent into the mainstream of politics. But the media, enamoured of the language and the culture of the elite classes, never took him seriously. These people sang paeans to the Gurukuls but frowned at the 354 Charwaha Vidyalayas (Grazers’ Schools) started by Lalu Prasad – this when the scheme was a boon for the poor children who had to share the workload of their families.

The challenges of 2024

The modalities of forging a joint front of the opposition was discussed in Patna on 23 June. In the assembly elections held in 2020 in the state, the BJP-led alliance got only 23 per cent of the votes. The remaining 77 per cent were shared between the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and local parties. In next year’s general elections, not only the two key players in Bihar’s politics, but also the Congress and the left parties will forge a joint front. This will ensure that the Muslim voters of the state do not face any dilemma. The central government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has lost their sheen. In the last general elections, the BJP could win only 17 seats from Bihar. This time, it may end up with less than 10.

Bihar may decide contours of future politics

If the strategy of the opposition front is formulated diligently and sincerely, with social justice as its core, 23 June 2023 may decide the direction the politics of the country would take in the future. Nitish Kumar, who has already served as the chief minister of the state for more than 16 years, should break free from his comfort zone and take to national politics. Other key leaders like Tejashwi Yadav can also contemplate moving to central politics. Leaders like Jitan Ram Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha and Mukesh Sahni in Bihar and Anupriya Patel and Sanjay Nishad in Uttar Pradesh have been selling the votes of their castes in return for a few seats for their family members. It would be better if they redefine their role and accord centrality to the ideology of social justice. This will enhance their self-confidence and also their vote banks.

Around 56 years ago, Jagdeo Prasad had said, “I am building a revolutionary party and there will be no dearth of people deserting and joining it. But it is a stream that will flow unhindered. The first generation will be killed, the second generation will be jailed and the third generation will rule.” Stalin is making the effort to spread the ideology of Periyar in north India – which is a good thing. Leaders like Nitish Kumar are in touch with him. Supporting and backing them, boosting their morale and working for justice-centred politics is the need of the hour.

References:

[1] Akath Kahani, Premkumar Mani, Vani Prakashan, p 148
[2] Mahavagga, Vinaypitak
[3] Kim te krinvanti kekateshu gavo nashiram duhe n tapanti dharmam
Aa no bhar pramagandasya vedo naichashakham maghvan randhya nah – Rigveda 3.53.14
[4] Karaskaranmmahishkankalingakikatavin
Karkotkanvirkanshya durdhmarashya vivarjyayet. Mahabharata, Shalyaparva, 8.30.45
[5] Shantirvah shreyasheeti, kashikavritti, Ashthadhyayi Bhashya, 6.1.154
[6] Surnripatiyatigyatisthaviraghmmatrapitreshyu sada. Suttanipat 828

(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)


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About The Author

Omprakash Kashyap

Omprakash Kashyap has published as many as 33 books in different genres. The litterateur and thinker is well known in the field of children's literature. He has been honoured by the Hindi Academy, Delhi in 2002 and Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sansthan in 2015. Kashyap is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines

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