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Bihar’s journey from ‘glorious past’ to today’s ‘rampant casteism and communalism’

King Ashoka, Buddha, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav
King Ashoka, Buddha, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav

Elections for the Bihar State Assembly will be held shortly, from 28th October to 7th November, with results to be announced on 10th November.

Several years back I had said as a joke that Bihar should be given to Pakistan. Biharis were very upset over this statement, which I had made in a lighter vein, and took out processions against me, and burnt my effigies. Even Chief Minister Nitish Kumar spoke vehemently against me.

What I had really meant was that compared to its glorious past, Bihar was in a lamentable plight today, and one could say about it, as Mark Antony said in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ ” O what a fall it was my countrymen ” ( Act 3 Scene 2 ). From the land of the Buddha, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, the kings, scholars and poets of Mithila, King Ajatshatru and the Vajji democracy, Nalanda University, etc it has become the land of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, and ‘bahubalis’, with rampant casteism and communalism, as can be seen in this pre-election scenario.

Consider the following about its past :
(1) Though born in Kapilavastu in Nepal, the Buddha spent most of his life in Bihar, getting Enlightenment there in Bodhi Gaya, and mostly preaching in Bihar.

(2) There were not only kingdoms in Bihar, there were also democratic republics e.g. the Vajji confederacy with its capital at Vaishali.

(3) Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador of Seleucus Nicator, who had become the ruler of the eastern part of the empire of Alexander the Great on Alexander’s death, came to Pataliputra, the capital of Magadh, then ruled by Chandragupta Maurys. After staying there for some time, Megasthenes went back to Greece and there wrote a book called ‘Indica’. The entire book has not survived, but it’s fragments have, and they give an account of the greatness of Magadh.

(4) Bihar is the land of Kautilya, adviser to King Chandragupta Maurya, who wrote the famous book ‘Arthashastra’ on statecraft.

(5) Mithila in northern Bihar, is the land of Raja Janak, the legendary philosopher king ( father in law of Lord Rama ), and of great scholars like Vachaspati Mishra, who made original contributions in several branches of knowledge, the great poet Vidyapati, etc.

(6) Nālandā University was a great centre of learning in ancient India to which scholars from many countries flocked, e.g. the Chinese monk Xuanzang ( Hiuen Tsang ).

(7) Ashoka’s edicts show his concern for the people’s welfare, and tolerance of all religions.

Many such instances of the greatness of Bihar in ancient times can be given, but should one only gloat on past glories ? As Dhritarashtra told Vidur in the Mahabharat :

भवद्विधाह भागवताः तीर्थभूताः स्वयं प्रभो
तीर्थो कुर्वन्ति तीर्थानि स्वान्तास्थिन गदा भ्रहा
i.e.
” People like you, who have a sense of values, what you do today will make a sacred place more sacred, and not what happened a long time back “.
It is time now for Biharis to reflect and do introspection.

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s own and do not reflect the opinions or views of The Rational Daily.)

Markandey Katju

Written by Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is the former Chairman, Press Council of India. Prior to his appointment as Chairman, Press Council of India, he served as a Permanent judge at the Supreme Court of India.

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