“As per 2010-11 figures (of the Central Statistical Organisation), per capita income of Bihar (Rs 13,632) was about one-third of the national per capita income average (Rs 35,993) and was about one-fifth of per capita income of Maharashtra (Rs 62,729). The huge gap is a matter of serious concern and needs to be addressed at the earliest,” quoting a government presentation to the Planning Commission, writes Santosh Singh in Indian Express.
What strikes most when one thinks of today’s Bihar: the people living there or those beyond in other states or even abroad? But to many, another question may seem no less pertinent: other than the 100th year of its separation from the then Bengal, are there enough reasons demanding a serious relook at Bihar (that has always been known for its strong identity, mostly in conflict with the dominant trends)?
Common to almost all the major discussions and writings on the state is the underlying hope, on all fronts, of not only doing well but also doing so very fast. This could mean catching up with Gujarat in economic terms, Kerala in social terms and Delhi in educational terms.
And, what is it that fuels this all pervasive hope?
Destined to rise like a phoenix
First, the rock-bottoming of economic growth for nearly three plan periods along with a near absence of faith in the law and order till a few years ago, especially during 1990-2005. Bihar watchers of all hues almost shared this perception about the then state of affairs: this far and no further and it is nothing short of nadir from where it is destined to rise like a phoenix!
Second, the mandalization of politics that was allowed to retard economic growth and reduce the people’s confidence in the state machinery that had become a mere semblance of what it was at the time of independence ( In 1951, Bihar was one of the best administered states in the country), also weakened the caste rigidities and created a sort of Pan- Bihar feeling, especially in those who were forced to go out of state ( Delhi, Punjab, Maharashtra) in search of better life: better incomes, better education, and of course, recognition of their worth.
How could this happen?
Political empowerment vs. development
With one caste pitted against another and no improvement in the all round economic situation for three full assembly terms led by Lalu Prasad’s party of whichever denomination , there was only poverty ( and related deprivations resulting in conflicts of all sorts) to be redistributed among the teeming millions.
Even the 80’s generation of the upwardly mobile middle castes was quick to realize that the benefits of post-1991 liberalization had almost bypassed the state; and, that blaming the upper caste dominance of yester years for everything good that was not happening there wouldn’t stand in the face of hard facts. During the same period, most of the BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh) were making strides on the developmental front.
No doubt, the 1990-2005 years also saw the emergence of a new found confidence resulting from socio-political empowerment unleashed by the politics of reservation that was aimed at increasing the share of the middle castes in governance at all levels. And, this was no less important than economic development per se. But can it be denied that in a poor country like ours, socio-political empowerment in due course of time tends to speed up the thickening of discontent resulting from reduced economic opportunities? In fact, may be the faster the process of socio-political empowerment, the quicker the disillusionment with its leaders who invariably fail to deliver on the economic front. At least, the Bihar of the last two decades testifies to this.
Emergence of cosmopolitan ‘Harries’
It is in this context that mere efforts aimed at maintaining law and order and putting the government institutions in place got overwhelming support from the people: both living in Bihar and beyond.
Though the middle class in Bihar doesn’t constitute a major chunk even today, there is no denying the fact that the last few years have seen the coming of a Cosmopolitan Bihar who could belong to any age group. Thanks to being ridiculed by others for having belonged to Bihar, he is ready to think beyond his caste affiliations as he finds that a growing home state at least earns him the much needed recognition and respect in the eyes of the people from outside. Seen through the eyes of others and testified by his daily experience, he found that any thing despicable had become synonymous with Bihar( It is a different matter altogether that much of this, at least in the domain of competitive exams, could also be attributed to envy borne out of failure to compete with Bihari students).
No wonder such cosmopolitan Biharis ( call them Harries in the post-liberalization global lexicon , if you wish) headed for Bihar months before the first phase of 2010 Assembly Elections and decided to stay back till the final phase was over: this was just to ensure that the Nitish-led coalition came back to power. For many this was a matter of now or never: would they be forever identified with poverty and floods that had come to be associated with Bihar for quite some time or with a Bihar that was now back to rails with growth rates touching double digits and where no one could take the state power for a ride, not even a Minister, MP or MLA of the ruling coalition.
Delhi-Punjab’s loss, Bihar’s gain
During this period( August-December 2010), the production in scores of Delhi-based industrial units had almost stumbled because of severe man power crunch ; and, the agriculture in the Punjab was no different on account of unusual delay in the return of migrant Bihari workers who constitute the most of farm workforce there.
But the loss of Delhi and the Punjab was Bihar’s gain. The traditionally illiterate migrant voters had decided to defeat the retrograde designs of the well-entrenched and even educated ones. The former being trained in the ‘campuses of universities of life’ with no match in the universities most of whom have reduced themselves to mere degree distribution agencies in Bihar as elsewhere in the country( In the top hundred institutions in the world, there is not a single university from India).
Renaissance of sorts
It may not be a coincidence that the Bihar government is putting all its might behind resurrecting the ancient Nalanda University that was destroyed almost a thousand years ago and till then it was unquestionably the best known global destination for knowledge seekers. Encouraged by this and many such initiatives, a significant section of non-resident Biharis may be heard saying that the state is waiting to be swept by a renaissance driven by an unshakable faith in the future of Bihar.
Today talking of Bihar or writing about it is just communicating this faith that has the backing of an enviable past starring, to name a few, Lord Mahavira, Lord Buddha, Kautilya, Chandragupta Maurya, Asoka the Great, Aryabhatta, and Sher Shah Suri (who built the Grand Trunk Road connecting Tamraluk on the north western coast of the Bay of Bengal and Peshawar in Pakistan along its borders with Afghanistan).
Bridge to a reassuring future
However, a collective faith of this kind needs to be rooted in a vibrant present that acts as a bridge between the past and the future.
Not to mention, the state had been in the desperate need of this bridge that could evenly connect its awe-inspiring (‘The Owner’s Pride and the Neighbour’s Envy!) past to a reassuring future. Thankfully, it has one such bridge today, the happening present, for which it has gone through a rather longish and agonizing labour pain marked by a turbulent social and political churning in the recent past. Not unlike the mythical ocean-churning by the gods and demons together, this too has its own share of Amrit (nectar) and Vish (poison), the two sides of the same coin.
It’s time the current dispensation in Bihar accepted this in letter and spirit in order to create conditions in which even thugs struggle hard to become honest leaders, leaders aspire to become statesmen and statesmen go to any length of personal sacrifice to retain the people’s faith in the system.
- Guest POST by Dr. C P Singh | eMail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Author is Professor & Head, School of Mass Communication, GGS Indraprastha University | Published here with due permission.]
“Biharis form 20 per cent of the population in Delhi. They contribute significantly to the city’s economy. If they stop working for a day, Delhi would come to an halt. I am not saying they should stop work, but that is the potential of Biharis”
- Nitish Kumar, CM, Bihar