A blow to the caste system - Macleans.ca

A blow to the caste system

Economic progress in the state of Bihar counted for more than Kumar’s lower caste

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A blow to the caste system

Economic progress in the state of Bihar counted for more than Kumar’s lower caste | Aftab Alam Siddiqui/AP

In the Indian state of Bihar (pop. 80 million), voters chose growth and development over traditional caste-based politics in this month’s election. Nitish Kumar, the lower-caste chief minister first elected in 2005, got an even stronger mandate when his Janata Dal-United (JD-U) party and its allies earned more than four-fifths of the state’s 243 seats. His main competitor, Lalu Prasad Yadav, got just 22 seats.

Yadav and his wife had taken turns running Bihar from 1990 to 2005, and were always re-elected despite little economic progress. Amberish Diwanji of Rediff.com documented how they stayed in power: “Sir, we vote as per our caste, nothing else,” a high-caste man told the journalist in 2005. “Lalu Yadav is a rascal, he has done nothing, but as a Yadav, I have to vote for his party.” Not this time. Kumar has built schools, distributed bicycles, cut down on bribery, and built roads that attract investment. Travel times have been halved and economic growth is now the highest in India at over 11 per cent. Kumar’s victory is proof that jobs can trump tradition.