August 15, 2008

Bihar : On the Cusp of Change

22nd November, 2005 is a day that people from Bihar around the world would remember for a long time to come. It was on this day that the fifteen year misrule of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) finally came to an end in Bihar. The electoral result came as a shocker to political pundits who had calculated that Laloo would be back with a bang after his successful attempt to dissolve the former State Assembly (the infamous assembly dissolution case involving Buta Singh). Blaming them would not be fair, as nobody thought that a former Union minister not really engaged in state politics would be able to occupy the Chief Minister’s office. The RJD supremo had the caste equation intact and had played all his cards well but as luck would have it, NDA stormed into power.

I still remember the day the NDA government was sworn into power. The election results came had come out in the morning. While returning from school, I saw that Patna was flooded by saffron supporters shouting out the slogan “Naya Bihar, Nitish Kumar." Their excitement was contagious. Despite not being really interested in politics, I was really happy with the outcome of the election as governance in Bihar had reached its nadir and the new government gave its people new hope. A lot of credit for all the positive changes I see in Bihar today goes to the Election Commission for ensuring such a peaceful and fair election.

The elections is 2005 was a story in itself. The Election Commission left no stone unturned in making the huge democratic process a grand success. In the round up to the elections, in a special drive of the state police (under the President’s Rule), about 26,000 people against whom the police had issued non bailable warrants were arrested. About 90,000 police personnel including 72,000 men and officers of the 450 Central Paramilitary Forces were entrusted with the duty of conducting free and fair elections. Armed with shoot at sight orders, they discharged their duties with élan. Not a single election booth was left unguarded. As if this were not enough, the IAF helicopters undertook special aerial surveillance to thwart any untoward incident. The unprecedented security cover gave the state a war zone look but resulted in thousands of people lining up for exercising their fundamental right for the first time.

Three years down the line, I think the paramount effort put in by the Election Commission has not gone waste. Today the state, which is usually seen lagging in all developmental index and parameters, is getting back on track to economic progress and prosperity. The first change that the new government brought in place was instilling a sense of security amongst its people. Before this government took over, anarchy and lawlessness prevailed throughout the state. Not a day passed without some one getting kidnapped or some businessman getting an extortion threat. People almost stopped flaunting any items of wealth for inviting the wrath of extortionists. The fear etched in the minds of the people even translated into declining sales and footfalls across leading stores. Streets were almost deserted by 9 pm and few wanted to venture out at night. The last few years under the RJD rule, the state saw hordes of businessman, traders and industrialists migrating out of the state. Lots of business houses and industries shut down and the economy was almost in shambles. The officials under the former government were helpless as most of the criminal activities had the backing of the ruling party. Every time some policemen or administrator registered a case against a criminal, he would get a phone call from the higher ups and he would have to let the criminal go scot free. The politician-criminal nexus was inescapable. This led to a lot of frustration and angst among the officers and lowered their morale.

If you have been to Bihar in the recent past, what you would find in nothing short of a complete turnaround. The fear etched in the minds of the general public has almost disappeared and has made way for what I would call a “feel good factor.” Kidnapping, once rampant here, has almost been stalled due to the freedom given to the police officers under the present regime. Now even at night, shopping complexes, restaurants and theatres are brimming with activity. The once deserted streets now see vehicles jostling for space. Shops are open till late, sales have gone up and restaurants which were on the verge of closure are going in for expansion plans. Even flaunting wealth is no longer considered a taboo.

After instilling a sense of security among its people, the government is striving to develop all sectors of the economy. The public spending has increased manifold. The amount that the present government spent in its development activities in the last three years is more than entire amount spent in the last decade and a half by the previous regime. The average economic growth rate and its GDP have almost doubled. Ministers can now be seen at their offices and their chief talks of development rather than just about caste. New roads and highways are being built in every part of the state. Spending on building roads has gone up from Rs. 50 crores in 2003-04 to Rs. 2200 crores in 2007-08. The crumbing infrastructure is being redeveloped. Buoyed by the recent initiatives of the Government, major banks such as the World Bank, ADB, DFID and JBIC have shown keen interest in the redevelopment of Bihar.

The state is also getting favorable support from the private players and big business houses have shown great interest in promoting investments in Bihar. In recent years, Patna has seen many major business honchos flowing in to identify business opportunities. These include the likes of Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Sunil Bharti Mittal and other corporate heads. Investments proposals worth thousands of crores have been cleared by the government. All major brands have ensured their presence in the state capital during the last few years. Many new shopping malls, multiplexes, hotels, retail majors and international restaurant chains are in the process of setting up shop in the state.

Even the education sector, once in shambles, is undergoing a transition. More than two lakh teachers were appointed recently. The drop out rate at the primary level has decreased to half its number few years back. In the last few years many national level institutes were established such as the Chanakya National Law University (CNLU), Changragupta Institute of Management (CIMP), BIT Mesra Patna campus, a National Institute of Technology (NIT), a National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and finally an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Patna. The process of setting up the Nalanda International University is also being expedited. Once completed, it is slated to attract global scholars for postgraduate and undergraduate academic pursuits in subjects such as Buddhism, philosophy and religion.

Although these institutes have just been setup, it will go a long way in giving a fillip to the academic environment of the state. Establishment of such colleges would also lead to sprouting of private colleges and will increase opportunity for higher studies in the state. More importantly, it will help Bihar immensely in its image makeover. When students from all over India come and study in Bihar, their impression of Bihar would certainly change and that would help improve the general perception of the state. I believe that people’s perception of Bihar has to change first to facilitate its rapid development. It will also help stop the exodus of Bihari students to other states for higher education. You will be startled to find out that until recently, every student with reasonable means took admission in a college outside the state due to dearth of any decent college within Bihar. That explains the huge number of students from Bihar in engineering colleges across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharastra. Bihar is losing hundreds of crores annually due to the annual migration of students for under graduate and post graduate studies.

Though Bihar is finally back on track, there is still a long way to go. Fifteen years of chaos and mismanagement cannot be undone overnight. Illiteracy and poverty are quite prevalent. The power generated in the state is not even a tenth of what it requires and hence power cuts are rampant. Floods are a recurring problem and the state has a huge debt riding its back. Only a fraction of the investment proposals have translated into industries being setup on the ground. Caste still dictates the terms in politics of Bihar. Though the man at the helm has a clean image, a lot of the ministers are more inclined towards politics rather than development. The huge task in front of administrators and rulers of Bihar would only be over when every person with roots in Bihar would proudly flaunt his origin and its people would venture out of their state only by choice and not by force. I’m eagerly waiting for that day.


Prasad said...

i sure as hell pray that we see the long hoped and newly-awaited future of this state.

Robz said...

Hats off to you Shwetank..
Now its high time ppl start valuing Bihar as a state. And the spark has to be let off by we BIHARIs only. For a long time, Bihar was the synonym for underdevelopment n corruption. Kudos to the state government 4 bringing in the fresh air of change.
A wonderful start... I hope u keep writing more on this topic..

Shwetank said...

@ Prasad:

Nicely put. Lets keep our fingers crossed and hope that somewhere in the near future, a stronger state would emerge out of Bihar.

@ Robin:

Couldn't agree more. The change has to start with us. For others to start valuing our state, we'll have to take the initiative and start valuing it ourselves first.

Lets hope that the new momentum can be sustained by the current government.


probably the Best Bitsian Blogger..

every blog makes a difference..

keep going..

Shwetank said...

@ Manish:

Thanks so much :) Although i'm still far from earning that ephithet. Comments like these keep me going!!

Tirza said...

Well said.

Shwetank said...

@ Tirza:

Thank you!