Progressive Bihar - Finally the sleeping giant is waking up

Progressive Bihar - Finally the sleeping giant is waking up
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bihar's big moment: An interesting article by Utpal Kumar

I came across an interesting article written by Utpal Kumar written in the Pioneer where he has touched on Bihar's sense of pride or the one that has taken a beating over the years. Worth reading....


Bihar’s big moment

October 31, 2010 12:57:32 PM

With development as poll agenda, Nitish Kumar has changed the very electoral rules of the caste-ridden State. So much so that even Lalu Prasad seems ‘progressive’ today. Utpal Kumar analyses the trend

If you seriously want to know what it means to be a Bihari, then take the first train out of Bihar. I was fortunate — one can call it a misfortune as well — to have experienced this early in my life when I insisted my father take me to Nagaland, where he worked as an academician. My father was one of the few well-placed Biharis in the State, I was told by my local friends. “The rest are filthy labourers,” they would chide me.

At least the perception was so in Nagaland. And why not! ‘Lalu-isation’ of Bihar was already in place, though the worst was yet to come. By the time the image of Bihar hit its nadir, I found myself in Delhi, wanting to pursue higher education from the University of Delhi.

“So, you are looking for a rented accommodation,” I was quizzed along with two of my Bihari friends. Before we could say anything, came a terse question: “Hope you are not a Bihari!”

I was stunned. It was my third day in the Capital. Being unaware of the ‘politics’ of house-hunting, I could have all but lost that flat. Thankfully, my friends interrupted. “We are from Allahabad,” they said.

Then began a series of Bihari-bashing from our prospective Punjabi landlord, unabashedly calling us filthy, thieves and mischief-mongers. It was an agitating moment for me. More so to see my friends listening to the non-stop anti-Bihari ranting with a smile on their faces! How could they lie in the first place? Worse, how could they listen to such comments, and smile?

Being a Bihari, that was my first lesson in the Capital. Today, when I hear the hardships being faced by Muslims — or even Northeasterners — in getting accommodation in Delhi and other metros, I just smile and say, “What’s new in that!”

As I spent some time in Delhi, I realised how my Bihari friends could smile at being rebuked. I, too, learnt to remain indifferent to such slurs being thrown, though not always I could take them hands down. But most times I kept quiet, preferring to blame the Biharis for such a sorry state of affairs — more so their political leaders for deliberately mocking at themselves through comical and at times nauseating antics.

In the past two to three years, however, there has been a perceptible change in the manner in which Bihar is being looked at in Delhi. There is a growing feeling that the State and its people have finally woken up. Even the Biharis seem more confident today. I discovered this myself a few months ago when I did not get agitated when someone shouted the term ‘Bihari’ in public. “Bihari ko Bihari nahin bolenge to kya bolenge,” I wondered.

If nothing else, one can count this sense of self-confidence as the single-most important contribution of the Nitish Kumar Government. And, this feeling is not confined to ‘Non-Resident Biharis’. During a recent visit to “the place where civilisation ends”, a Naipaulean epithet for Bihar, I was surprised not to find a single person who felt the State had not changed for the better in the past five years.

How could Nitish usher in such a turnaround, which till a few years ago seemed unfeasible? The first thing he did was to put the criminals in place. According to a report, at one time no less than 50,000 people were placed behind the bar on the pretext of one crime or the other. This had its impact. The State, which witnessed over 22,000 murders in the five years since 2000, saw a substantial decline of about 8,000 deaths between 2006 and August 2010. Likewise, there were 484 kidnappings between 2006 and 2010, down from 2,196 kidnappings from 2000 to 2005.

With most criminals behind the bar, business began to thrive as never before. This was instantly evident with the flooding of food chains and mobile service providers across the State. On a more sophistic term, Bihar, which had grown at an annual rate of 3.5 per cent between 1999 and 2004, took the highway of 11 per cent growth rate for the next five years, next only to Gujarat. Change was also perceptible in the per capita income, which soared from `8,307 in 2004-05 to `13,959 in 2008-09.

The benefits of economic growth might not have reached every Bihari, but the hope for a better future has reached them all. No one expected a miracle in five years, but the State, which witnessed not a semblance of governance for at least 15 years, saw its fundamentals getting corrected under the Nitish regime.

With economic prosperity trickling down, not only the number of Bihari migrants has come down, but also many people have begun to ponder about returning to their roots. According to a report, the number of fresh Bihari migrants in Punjab has come down by 30 per cent. This led to such an anxiety among Punjabi landowners that this harvest season many were seen waiting at railway stations for the trains pulling in from Patna!

Delhi, too, is witnessing this trend, though on a minuscule scale. And why not! Construction boom in Bihar has led to rise in the daily wages from `120 to `200 for labourers and from `150 to `250 for masons. “Why should I work here when opportunities are there in Bihar,” quipped contractor Zuber Alam, working in the National Capital Region for almost a decade. Last month he shifted his base to Patna with a dozen of his fellow labourers.

Nitish has also initiated another revolution, though unintentionally, in Bihari society by providing Bihar sub-nationalism a pride of place. Traditionally, there have been two forms of nationalism in Bihar — Indian and caste. A Bihari was always an Indian and of so-and-so caste; in contrast, a person in Bengal is an Indian, a Bengali, and then of his caste. What this means is that there is no one to vouch for the Bihar cause. For instance, when Jharkhand was carved out of it, there were only minor voices opposing it, unlike the one being witnessed in Andhra Pradesh.

It was this lack of sub-nationalism that also made Biharis indifferent towards the Centre’s erstwhile freight equalisation policy, which meant that transport was not to be considered an input cost. This enable a factory to be set up anywhere in the country and the transportation of minerals would be subsidised by the Union Government. This in turn nullified undivided Bihar’s natural advantage as factories could have been — and were — set up everywhere except in Bihar.

Arvind N Das takes up the sub-nationalism issue in his book, The Republic of Bihar, and tries to explain why Jaipurs, Jaisalmers, Udaipurs, Bahmani kingdoms or Hyderabad couldn’t arise in Bihar. “No baronial nizam-ul-mulk could carve out a territory for himself in a region whose produce was vital to the imperial existence that control through proxy could not be risked,” he writes. Bihar was too important to be left for barons!

Development, however, is no guarantee for electoral success in Bihar. And no one knows this better than Nitish, who, despite doing good work in his Lok Sabha constituency of Barh, lost the seat in 2005. No wonder while Nitish talks about development, he has openly indulged in social engineering, carving out a separate new section of ‘Mahadalits’ (Most Backward Classes) out of the existing Dalits that have traditionally supported Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan. With Mahadalits having 36 per cent vote-share, Nitish has gone all out to provide special financial and employment packages to this section. This, along with the BJP’s traditional upper caste vote-bank, can become an almost unassailable combination for the ruling alliance.

To counter this, Lalu is trying to regain his Muslim-Yadav base, whose loss had played a big role in his losing power in 2005. In the polls held in February 2005, the RJD had fielded 32 Muslim candidates, of which 21 lost. In the October-November 2005 elections, only four of the RJD’s 30 Muslim candidates won. Its ally, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, fared worse, losing all 29 Muslim candidates. One wonders how Muslims will vote in the wake of the Babri Masjid judgement. Lalu expects some benefits out of it. This explains why almost a third of the party’s candidates for the first phase were Muslims. Nitish, too, seems a bit wary. Thus the decision to keep Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi out of Bihar campaigning!

One hopes Bihar votes on the issue of development, and not caste and religion. Initial indications suggest that even if Nitish doesn’t succeed this time, which seems improbable at least now, he has set in motion a process for a different Bihar where a ‘feudalistic’ Lalu Prasad is forced to talk of development and the ever-indifferent Congress promising to take the State to the level of better administered federal units like Gujarat and Maharashtra. Whatever be the people’s verdict, Bihar can no longer be dismissed in Naipaulean terms; it could well become the place where a new civilisation begins.

Making of Nitish Kumar

Politician
1971 Member of Ram Manohar Lohia’s youth wing, Samajwadi Yuvajan Sabha
1974 Joined the JP movement, arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act
1975 Arrested during the Emergency
1989 Secretary-General, Janata Dal, Bihar. Elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time
Minister
1990 Union Minister of State for Agriculture & Cooperation
1999 Union Minister for Surface Transport
2000 Union Minister for Agriculture
2001 Union Minister for Railways

Chief Minister2000 Chief Minister of Bihar for the first time; resigned after seven days when he couldn’t prove his majority
2005 Elected Chief Minister of Bihar for the second time
2010 Heads NDA campaign in Assembly election, seeking another term as CM
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