Foreign diplomats line up for Bihar elections

Foreign diplomats are visiting the cow belt to gauge the mood ahead of the elections

New Delhi: The forthcoming assembly elections in Bihar have caught the attention of foreign diplomats posted in Delhi. Many are them are visiting the cow belt to gauge the mood ahead of the elections, which is being viewed as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the centre.

In fact, many diplomats are travelling across the state rather than doing the perfunctory Patna darshan (visit), and have been sending exhaustive reports to their foreign offices. Also, they have been seeking a list of experts to understand various trends and take on the recent moniker of Bhujang (snake) Prasad and Chandan (sandalwood) Kumar Modi coined for Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Lalu Prasad and Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) or JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar, respectively, during a speech in Gaya earlier this month.

“The interest stems from the fact that under Mr. Modi’s leadership, (Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP) had one spectacular victory after another. And then there were the Delhi elections. A victory in Bihar will firmly establish his stamp on India’s political scene and establish his political legacy. Also, it is well known that one who wins Bihar and Uttar Pradesh controls the political power in this country," said a diplomat posted with one of the embassies of a West Asian country, requesting anonymity.

While the RJD-JD (U) combine has projected Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate, BJP has not announced a candidate, hoping to encash on Modi’s charisma. The humiliating loss in the Delhi assembly election has triggered this change in BJP’s electoral strategy. The party ran a high-profile campaign in February’s Delhi elections, projecting former police officer Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate, but won only three of the 70 seats in the assembly.

Clichés aside, many foreign diplomats are trying to understand the caste dynamics in the state, and the insistence on knowing one’s last name. One can’t blame them. Anyone travelling through the state on a train would have faced such a question, which might sound innocuous, but is a part of a larger stratagem to place the traveller in the caste hierarchy.

Of the other backward castes (OBCs) and extremely backward castes (EBCs), which constitute around 51% of the population, around 14% are Yadavs, 4% are Kurmis and 8% Koeris. The Dalits and Mahadalits comprise 10% and 6%, respectively, with Muslims forming 17% of the population. The forward castes comprising Rajputs, Bhumihars, Brahmins and Kayasthas comprise 15% of the population. It is this arithmetic on which the Bihar elections have been fought ad nauseam.

Aware of the importance of a victory in the state, BJP president Amit Shah has asked the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to work towards a “Mission 185 plus" for the 243-seat Bihar assembly. The NDA alliance in Bihar includes Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) of Upendra Khushwaha.

Travelling in the hinterland, however, entails one problem. Forget about a tehsil (administrative area) or a muffasil (rural area), it is tough to get decent accommodation even in Bihar’s capital Patna. As pointed out earlier by Mint, the ancient city, continuously inhabited since 490 BC, still doesn’t have a five-star hotel. Nothing much has changed since the days of Megasthenes, ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya. Patna’s lack of a five-star hotel may be a throwback to the days of Chanakya—to discourage foreign interest in the city. So much for the efforts to attract overseas and domestic investors to the state.

Maybe the package war unleashed by the Union and state government will finally get expats the much-awaited five-star digs.

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