Bihar Assembly elections | Millennial politicians are determined to take over reins, says Prof Ashwani Kumar

Ashwani Kumar, political scientist.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Professor Ashwani Kumar, political scientist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, speaks to The Hindu on why the upcoming Assembly polls in Bihar are different from the last 45 years and herald a new epoch in State politics.

The Bihar polls were considered a slam dunk but a spirited campaign and clever positioning by Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan seem to have made the contest interesting. Your take?

The Bihar Assembly elections promise to be historic in many ways. Whatever be the outcome of the elections, the ageing political patriarchs from the days of Total Revolution (Sampurna Kranti) are set to fade into history; it is the last election with regard to those who came up in the Emergency and Mandal.

If the 2005 elections were about Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) misrule, 2010 was a victory of Nitish Kumar’s ‘vikas’, and 2015 resonated with the return of Mandal titans Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in ‘Naya Bihar’. The Assembly elections of 2020 will be the last polls of the older generation of socialist leaders in Bihar.

With Lalu Prasad in absentia, Ram Vilas Paswan deceased and the ageing Nitish Kumar facing the toughest political challenge of his life, Bihar is on the cusp of an improbable youth insurgency. Refusing to play the secondary role in the making of new Bihar, the starry-eyed upwardly mobile millennial politicians Tejashwi Yadav, 30; Chirag Paswan, 37; Mukesh Sahani, 35; Shreyasi Singh, 29; Garib Das, 26; Pushpam Priya Choudhary, 28; Sandeep Saurabh, 32, and many others, including fire-brand student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, are determined to take over the reins in a post-clientilsitic Bihar.

Also, there is something novel here — these millennial young politicos or their cohorts belonging to subaltern groups point to further democratisation of politics, as a new youth elite has emerged through the resilient post-Mandal politics in Bihar.

Many of whom you have named are political dynasts and inheritors, so what is new in this youthful politics?

Unlike their famous fathers, who inherited the legacies of caste, rural and feudal experiences, these neo-dynasts are savvy with social media, electoral rhetoric and also conjure up an image of aspirational India. Demographically speaking, Bihar is a State with 80 million (65%) youth population, and it is home to a large proportion (58%) of youth, below the age of 25. This demographic reality is reflected in the electorate, as there are as many as 56% voters in Bihar in the 18-40 age group among the 7.6 crore voters in Bihar.

In other words, Bihar’s politics stands transformed by millennials and their generational cohorts. The four north Indian States of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have seen median ages fall, while the South is greying; this will have an impact and is having one within the established political parties too.

How is the leadership within parties changing in Bihar?

This unexpected youth insurgency has impacted all political parties and has initiated what is termed as a “demographic electoral shift in leadership”. Older-generation BJP leaders like Sushil Modi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Nand Kishore Yadav, Giriraj Singh are pitted against the rising new-generation stars like Nityanand Rai. Likewise, veteran Congress party leaders like Sadananda Singh, Madan Mohan Jha, Aditya Singh have handed over their pocket borough to the next generation sons and daughters.

Schooled in the old grammar of patronage and caste, Upendra Kushwaha of Rashtriya Samata Party (RLSP) and Pappu Yadav of Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) are also facing the heat of gravitational force of rising youth. Interestingly, the older generation of bahubali politicians like Anant Singh, Sunil Pandey, Surendra Yadav continue to be in the electoral fray, but Anand Mohan Singh’s 29-year-old Chetan Anand is contesting Shivhar seat on RJD ticket, signalling a generational shift even in the mafioso politics in Bihar.

That sounds like a regular generational shift that’s happened in the past, how is it different from others?

Strauss and Howe, the demographers who coined the term ‘millennials,’ have identified some core traits of them. Millennials, including post-millennials and Gen Z, consider themselves special, both as individuals and as a group. They are confident, tech-savvy, meritocratic, high-achieving, team-oriented and pressured to succeed even if it means donning the role of potential hackers of systems. And they are practical, entrepreneurial, and digitally networked than their more austere, risk-averse parents.

Paradoxical as it might sound, they are not nationally powerful politicians as yet but they are locally influential, drawing huge crowds to their political rallies, and changing the local political equations and coalitions. Given his administrative experience as youngest former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Tejashwi has excited the imagination of voters by his ‘million jobs’ pledge. With his audacious and strategic decision to part company with JD,U) while retaining the NDA, Chirag has invoked the powerful slogan of ‘Bihar First, Bihari First,’ making the Bihar elections truly aspirational and open-ended.

Nitish Kumar is credited with bringing in some development to Bihar, yet he is facing strong anti-incumbency in the State. How do you square that with an “aspirational youth”?

Success begets its own enemies. Call it ‘revolution of rising expectations’ or ‘demographic revolt’ of the millennial generation, Nitish Kumar’s roads, electricity and transport etc have become passé in such a short time. People, especially the post-millennial generation youth, men and women, have no living memories of so-called ‘Jungle raj,’ kidnappings or caste militias like Ranvir Sena.

They want aspirational new-age goodies like smartphones, free WIFI, dating games, smart classrooms, gig economy jobs, and also wish to shed the tag of lowly migrant workers. This is where Nitish Kumar has been found wanting by the aspirational generation. And it is here the BJP has done better than the JD,U). By projecting Prime Minister Modi as the star campaigner, the BJP has insulated itself from the anti-incumbency backlash of younger generation and it is hoping to cash in on millennials’ aspirations and disaffections.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 8:40:28 AM |

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