Social media posts about the ’90s kids often draw our attention. DD programmes, ads, jingles and news presentation styles evoke a sentimental yearning for a return to our growing-up years when we like to believe life was slow, relaxed and more peaceful and innocent. But for many of those in Bihar brought up during that time, there isn’t much nostalgia. For them, the more relevant word is nightmare. Caste, crime, corruption and stories of a lack of or non-existent health, education and connectivity facilities overwhelmed newspaper headlines.
But to be fair, Bihar was never Maharashtra, Punjab or Tamil Nadu. It was always an underdeveloped and poorly governed state. And its origins could be traced back to British rule when provinces such as Bombay and Madras paid taxes based on agricultural output. But in Bihar, part of the Bengal province, taxes were fixed, no matter how good or bad the produce was that year.
Zamindars went on a spree to add to their land parcels and squeeze sharecroppers. Caste tensions led to caste wars between landlord armies and peasant militias. After Independence, decades of political instability made matters worse in Bihar, already reeling under extensive poverty, illiteracy and flooding.
But it was a different ballgame in the 1990s. The politics of Mandal and Kamandal meant new breeds of politicians, and their henchmen, rose on both sides and formed their nexus with criminals, officials and businesses. Reports of murder, rape, dacoity, kidnapping and extortion were the order of the day. Even massacres were almost a regular feature. Civil servants unabashedly touched the feet of their political masters. Men with a particular surname could rape wives of bureaucrats for years and roam around freely to intimidate their families. Whistleblowers of corruption were shot dead with impunity.
I saw my father paying bribes for everything he wanted to do, be it setting up a bulb factory or starting a pharmacy. The manufacturing of katta and country liquor became cottage industries. Both killed. On both sides of the Delhi-Howrah railway line, illegal train halts named after Lalu and Rabri and other such figures mushroomed, making travel and daily commute a nightmare.
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Teachers gossiped, knitted sweaters or remained involved in census or mid-day meal preparations. When there was hardly any education in schools, mass copying was allowed as a relief for students, with brief interruptions when the Patna High court took matters into its hands. Girls needed to clear the school-leaving test in order to get married and boys required the certificates to hope for even menial jobs. Matric was a threshold everyone was desperate to cross. But English was a problem for many and rampant cheating alone did not help much. The government had a solution. When I took my class X exam, English wasn’t even a mandatory subject.
There were few jobs. Investors shunned the state. Many businesses and factories shut shop. In my hometown, Dumraon, lantern, steel and cotton units were locked up in the absence of government help. Young men were forced to move to cities outside the state to work as labourers, watchmen, dhobis, and rickshaw pullers. Bihari became a swear word. When the children of migrant workers took up jobs and college seats, political parties fuelled anti-migrant rhetoric and violence.
Back home, any man in a white kurta-pajama with a particular surname was to be taken seriously in government offices. Lalu Yadav believed he gave his constituency swar (voice) if not swarg (heaven). In a sharply divided society, he was both a messiah and a monster.
NITISH BRINGS HOPE
Then the 2005 assembly election in Bihar ended 15 years of Lalu-Rabri regime. Nitish Kumar, who had parted ways with and campaigned against the Yadavs for years, became the chief minister. The BJP was his partner.
Mass movements in India have a chequered history. Technically, even the Quit India Movement ended in failure. The desired result came, however, a few years later. Every five year — at times even before — India and all its assembly-wielding states witness mass movements, which we call general elections. One such quintessential mass movement had brought Nitish Kumar to the chief minister’s post in 2005.
Every gear-shifting election is the result of the frustration of the people with the previous government and is a way out of the desperate situation the people find themselves in. This comes with a hope for a better future. A politician riding this wave of hope emerges as heroes. Nitish was the hero of Bihar in 2005.
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People hoped Bihar will change for the better. School and college education will improve. Hospitals will have medicines and doctors to prescribe them. There will be a plan to deal with perennial floods, if not a solution to the annual disaster that wreaks havoc in half of the land the government governs. The broken systems of roads, drainage, sewage, civil and police administration will be fixed.
Nitish had worked as a minister in the Vajpayee government. He was seen as an able administrator. There was hope that he would arrest the rapid slide and usher in an age of development that Bihar was helplessly craving.
Some work did happen in his first tenure till 2010. Especially, the condition of roads, schools and electricity supply got somewhat better. Nitish came to be known in some circles as Sushasan Babu and Mr Clean. But sobriquets and piecemeal efforts were not going to fill the governance deficit of decades. There was still hope.
Nitish had left his old friend Lalu because he did not want to work under the latter’s growing shadows. It was equally challenging to continue espousing the secularism cause while working with the BJP, but Nitish’s ambitions were not limited to Bihar.
ALLY SWAPS BEGIN
Then, in 2013, another shadow, this time on the other side of India’s political spectrum, was emerging. It was becoming clear that Narendra Modi would be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. A secular Nitish dumped the BJP and went with the Yadavs whose jungle raaj he had exploited to come to power.
But in 2017, Nitish was again feeling stifled by the growing shadows, this time of the two sons of Lalu Yadav. He discovered corruption in their conduct and dumped them to form another government in Bihar with the BJP. Lalu called him a snake. Nitish said he would die but not side with the Yadavs again. But history has a strange way of repeating itself. On Tuesday, he did what he had done nine years ago.
In June 2013, when Nitish first broke his alliance with the BJP, the first court conviction for Lalu was still three months away. Today, he has been sentenced in multiple fodder scam cases. But Nitish did what he did. He must have his reasons, including national ambitions, to go for another ally swap, and I don’t want to get into the politics of it. The only question that I, as a Bihari, want to ask is: what happened to and in Bihar during the last 17 years?
NO BAHAAR IN BIHAR
Today, school teachers are worried about the menu chart hanging on the walls. They distribute lungis and baltis to migrant workers heading back to their dilapidated homes when a pandemic strikes. Teachers order students and convince their parents to stand in a human chain from six in the morning because the chief minister will host an event at nine. They have to trace migrants who might have fled from the village. They do the rounds for panchayat elections. They are asked to do so because the government can’t trust the civil or political administration at the grassroots level.
Many hospitals still don’t have doctors, and their pharmacies turn away patients lining up for medicines. Who can forget the sickening images of the crumbling and stinking Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital flashed during the devastating second wave of the Covid pandemic? Anyway, hospitals in Bihar are the breeding ground for a number of diseases. Politicians or government officers including judges don’t plan their medical treatment in Bihar. The chief minister himself visits Delhi’s AIIMS for routine checkups (2018) or a simple surgery for cataract (2021).
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A child born when Nitish took the reins of Bihar in his hands is now almost a voter. But she continues to head to Kota, Delhi, Manipal and even Gorakhpur for better education and preparation for some competitive exams. Those who stay back burn trains and buses because their most dependable job — and hence a shot at acquiring instant riches in the form of dowry — as a prospective soldier has been sacrificed to a reform in the armed forces.
Thieves are now stealing iron bridges and ATMs. Images of people risking their life and limb by clambering up a multi-storey school building and clinging on window ledges to help their wards cheat still draw worldwide derision.
To his credit, Nitish can take pride in the high growth rate of state GDP. But have you ever heard America growing at an 8% rate? Only the poorest of the poor have the potential to grow faster. A person earning Rs 10 would see a 10% growth rate if she earns Rs 11. The fact is, if Bihar was the second poorest state in 2005, it is the poorest in the country now.
There could be many angles to look at Nitish’s extended stay at the helm of the affairs — unusually long for a politically involved state of Bihar. And one definite view would be that his 17-plus years are waste years of Bihar. Fortunately, Biharis have graduated a bit more from being laborious people to hardworking one.
Back in my hometown, my father is still forced to pay bribes to get even the smallest of government works done. The industrial units remain shut. Nitish, who was sworn in as Bihar’s CM for a record eighth time on Wednesday, and the BJP may accuse each of betrayal. But the one who has been really betrayed is Bihar.
And I, as a Bihari, continue to feel massively let down.
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One thought on “Nitish raaj and years of lost opportunities for Bihar | OPINION”
Top ,.. top top … post! Keep the good work on !