DNA Remark, Rabble-rousing and Elections

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Bihar has been a seat of learning since the ancient times. “Shashtrartha,” that is, churning the books of knowledge, has always been a tradition of Bihar. Wherever you have an ambiance of learning, there’s a climate of tolerance; a willingness to understand as well as appreciate others’ points of view. Biharis have debated a lot, they may appear to be bickering but they listen to others respectfully. That tradition is in the danger of deteriorating fast.

In this context, before Nitish Kumar tries to twist the use of the term DNA with a view to arousing regionalism among the Bihari voters to his advantage, we should help understand what DNA means and prevent ourselves from falling into the rhetorical trap.

DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is explained as “a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.” Science has established that “human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people.” Biologically, therefore, practically every human being carries the same DNA whether he or she is from Africa or Asia or from Gujarat or Bihar.

In political parlance, DNA is used as a term to denote “the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.” Therefore, we come across such expressions as, “it’s not in my DNA to tolerate such and such things..” Or, “caste consciousness is in the DNA of all Biharis or, tribal awareness is in the DNA of every South African” etc.

Thus, when Nitish says, “I am a son of Bihar…My DNA is the similar as that of the people of Bihar..,” he’s just not speaking the fact. In fact, he shares his DNA with more than 99% of the human race. Most of the Biharis wouldn’t consider Narendra Modi’s chastization of Nitish using the term DNA as “questioning” his “descent.” The DNA remark is neither disrespecting “the lineage” of “our people” nor a denigration of “the great legacy of the state” of Bihar. Nitish appears to be distorting the term, DNA, for his own political advantage and for his followers to go after Narendra Modi.

In reality, it is not the politicians or their spokespersons, but the journalists, teachers and professors in Bihar who would explain to the public the meaning and implications of many new terminologies that have crept into the current political lexicon. Along with DNA, more biological terms like adrenaline, macho or testosterone are being used in political narratives.

Bihar expects clean, dignified language, politics and governance

This is not to say that foul language or bad behaviour have not been there in the politics of Bihar. Politicians have always used objectionable language to arouse passions of their base.

During his heydays Lalu went around using a slogan, “Bhurabaal saaf karo” [eliminate bhura baal, where “bhu-ra-baa-l” was an acronym for Bhumihar, Rajput, Brahman and Lala (Kayastha) -- all Forward (Savarna) castes].

Lalu was not the first one to use caste-based slogans. In late 1970’s when Ram Sevak Yadav, a socialist, was defeated by a Congress stalwart, Lalit Narain Mishra at Darbhanga Lok Sabha bye-election, a slogan rent the air: “Lala, gwala, akbar ka saala, ho gaya teenon ka munh kaala.” The slogan explained the caste equation of that time.

Around the same time, Lalit Narain Mishra’s nominee, Abdul Ghafoor, won an election from Madhubani. At the victory procession was heard, “Maithil-Muslim bhai-bhai/ Aur jaat kahaan se aayee.” People noticed the absurdity, but went about their business.

Again, during the golden years of Lalit Narain Mishra and Jagannath Mishra in Bihar politics, the opponents of the two brothers in Darbhanga expressed their anger by shouting: “Darbhanga ko kiya kisne diwaala/ Dono bhai Saharsa wala.”

Much as politicians would like to use strong language to excite their constituencies, people of Bihar would like to have sanity and dignified language restored in their politics and governance.

The trend is not encouraging. With more and more strongmen (bahubalis) joining the electoral competition and noble people running away from politics, we shouldn’t expect politics conducted by ideal gentlemen. Political parties welcome undesirable candidates with open arms just on the grounds of their winnability. Candidates like Sabir Ali, for example, keep moving from the Lok Janshakti party, to the JD(U) to the BJP and to the BJP again and stay entrenched in politics at the cost of genuine party workers. Politics and political parties must be based on principles and not personalities.

As Bihar goes to polls, both the major contesting camps led by Nitish-Lalu on the one hand and Sushil-Ram Vilas on the other must assure the people of Bihar that they would keep the civility and dignity in politics. Both the sides must give an undertaking to the citizens of Bihar that they would not give tickets to candidates with soiled image.

Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). He has authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.


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