Bihar: An Insight into its recent past and the lessons for us

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Bad governance, bureaucracy and corruption exist and thrive together. In a democracy which elects its leaders to rule the State, the people must share the blame if the State falls into wrong hands, for it’s them who hold the ultimate power to choose people who are entrusted with the responsibility of the upkeep of the State and effecting changes towards sustained development. Time and again we have seen the cases of bad, shoddy governance; brazen, alarming proportions of corruption in public; and a labyrinthine, tortuous bureaucracy so ingrained in the administrative system that it makes bribery and graft almost trivial, commonplace events.

When such a situation persists and prolongs itself, people begin losing hope, and despair and apathy get soaked in the public fervour. How do we come out of such imbroglios and bring the State again on a path where there are hopes and promises from a hopeless situation has been shown by Bihar and its people.

After languishing for decades under shoddy governance, lack of law and order, and widespread corruption, Bihar and its people effected the most important change awaiting them for decades – a turnaround of power at the top and electing the Nitish Kumar government to rule the State. The result is before us to see – the people have begun harbouring hopes and promises have begun taking shapes.

Being the 12th largest in terms of geographical area and the third largest by population, the State of Bihar cannot be ignored. Its rich and varied history is marked by the fact that it was a centre of power, learning and culture in ancient India.  However, Bihar has come a long way since then. From being the birthplace of Buddhism to regressing into a State ruled by mafia-dons, from being the 17th century centre of international trade before turning into one of the economically most backward States, from being the ancient centre of learning to coming last in terms of literacy rate in India, Bihar has seen it all. The State hit the nadir during Lalu Prasad governance as is seen in The Economist’s remarks about Bihar in 2004 – “Bihar has become a byword for the worst of India, of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia-dons they patronize, caste-ridden social order that has retained the worst feudal cruelties. “ People had it enough and the water was overflowing well above the brim. Lalu Prasad was ousted in 2005 and the World Bank which had remarked at that time that the issues faced by the State were enormous because of persistent poverty, complex social stratification, unsatisfactory infrastructure and weak governance ranked Patna as the second based city after New Delhi in terms of ease of creating business opportunities and growth in 2009.

From being below national average in terms of growth (the economy grew by just 5.1% per year during 1999-2008 while the nation grew by 7.3%) to achieving an average growth of 11.03% against the national average of 8.5% in the 5yr period during 2004-05 to 2008-09, Bihar is the second fastest growing state in terms of GDP. These positive changes only show what people can do if they come out of their apathy and choose a capable leader at the helm. Nitish Kumar and his government are making inroads in the path of a sustained development and today Bihar is earning laurels for being a model state of growth; having transparent, able governance; and building a future for its people.

Now we should reflect on how Nitish Kumar effected such changes as to change the fortunes of Bihar and bring it on a road to recovery for it entails important lessons for us. His witty remark during ET Awards for Corporate Excellence 2009, where he was awarded with Business Reformer of the year, about the state of Bihar when he took helms in 2005 that “Bihar was not a case of bad governance but the absence of governance” speaks volumes of the steps he took towards rebuilding the state – establishing the rule of law and order and securing public safety. He aimed towards inclusive growth by investing and reviving the traditional handloom and hosiery industry; developing tourism industry by various initiatives; giving incentives to farmers and vegetable vendors, particularly women, by building outlets for them thus giving them a clean, hygienic place and opportunities to fix their own prices daily at the vegetable outlets, all this while promoting agro-based businesses and empowering women; and increasing participation of women up to 50% in village panchayats – thus involving people at the grassroot levels of developmental processes.

To check corruption he brought about tax reforms leading to increased tax collection in the state treasury (tax collection grew by 265% in the first half of the term), implementing Right to Service Act which makes it mandatory for the state government and its agencies to extend services to people within stipulated time frame failing which entails exemplary penalty, making assets of government employees public by uploading the details of 80,000 officials on the government website, and bringing judicial reforms for the timely disposal of the long pending cases.  To win the confidence of his people and to address public grievances, he also holds Junta Durbar where people can directly approach him to get their problems readily addressed.

Within a short span of 6 years, Bihar has made big strides in the rebuilding and development processes. This is only a beginning but the roads have been built, goals have been sighted and people have been deployed – only treading the path is to be done and has to be done by the people together while Nitish Kumar is busy guiding them along the way.  Meanwhile we can learn from Bihar not to lose hope and become apathetic, that people alone hold the true power and that change can be effected – we just need to act in the right direction.

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