When Patna marches into the backlands of Bihar with its SUVs, ministers and secretaries, you know it’s ‘seva yatra’ season. Despite the 51-degree loo blowing around, Nitish Kumar, the engineer-chief minister of Bihar, draws 5,000 to a tented venue in Buxar. If seeing is believing, this mighty effort—an idea the JD(U) leader claims full credit for—is a telescopic vision of everything Bihar residents want their state to be: service-oriented, corruption-free, a place where communities coexist in relative peace. Almost everyone at the yatra has brought petitions, and, security holding hands around him, the CM walks about, taking them, addressing all. Occasionally, he fires into a microphone: “Health secretary yahan aaiye”, “Panchayati Raj secretary kahan hain?” Secretaries rally, promise action, all move on. Two gunny-sacks quickly fill up with petitions.
For a man heralded as Mr Clean across the country and as a responsive, down-to-earth leader in the state—even seen as a potential NDA head someday, a counter-weight to Narendra Modi—it’s a surprise to see protesters roar against him in and outside the venue: “Murdabad! Murdabad!” The CM’s entourage tries to explain away the protests as “anger over not being allowed into the venue”, but the bystanders outside say the protesters are upset about other things—like bad roads, inefficient administration. A day before, on May 23, a defiant crowd threw a rock at Nitish’s retreating motorcade over lack of electricity and poor roads, damaging one vehicle.
Such is the aura of Nitish Kumar, now past his seventh year at the top (roughly half the time his RJD predecessor Laloo Prasad Yadav got) that tales of his successes, particularly to push up the sluggish economy, are customary. In his own words, Nitish’s time in Bihar has turned it into one of “the fastest growing sub-national economies in a matter of years”. The state uses statistics to back this claim. Going by the figures of the Central Statistical Organisation, which uses data collected from the state, Bihar’s GDP grew 11.04 per cent between 2004 and 2009 (Gujarat grew 11.05 per cent). By April 2012, Bihar reported a staggering 14.08 per cent growth, beating last year’s 11 per cent.
Empty ground State effort hasn’t translated into enrolment
It is with confidence in such claims that Nitish faces nine crore people (nearly a 10th of India) of a state where 22 per cent of GDP is from agriculture (India: 15 per cent), and 81 per cent people are rural. To critics, Nitish’s growth is a “chimera”, the result of an overly critical eye on the previous regime’s failings. They compare the last four years of Laloo’s time, when growth averaged 5.87 per cent, with Nitish’s first four years of 6.35 per cent growth, and see no ‘miracle’. At times, indeed, there’s no explaining how Bihar adds up. Agriculture declined 9.1 per cent in 2007, only to grow 30 per cent next year; an inexplicable variation that, experts say, highlights instability.
The Bihar government has outsourced a number of services. For instance, the state’s annual economic survey is brought out by a private think tank, the Asian Development Research Institute, since 2006. Since the move, it is regularly pointed out, data on critical performance indicators is selectively included or excluded in these reports. So the problem, says Santhosh Mathew, a senior bureaucrat in the Bihar government, may lie in “faulty, unreliable” data than in “spin”.
The claims and counter-claims hardly bother Bihar’s forward-looking industry. “Our worries are greatly reduced now that Bihar is safer,” says O.P. Sah, who leads the Bihar Chamber of Commerce. “Investments are coming, will come.” He rattles off approved projects to make biscuits, soya, agrotech and leather goods. A diamond unit assuring Rs 500 crore. Numerous visits and inquiries by Pepsi, Godrej, Max, Nestle, Britannia, HUL, Bharti company chiefs. He cannot, however, say how many projects are under way.
The state’s principal industry secretary, Alok Kumar Sinha, doesn’t seem to know either. “It’s all on our website,” he says. It isn’t, actually. The government lists 529 projects approved between 2007 and July 2011 (including non-starter power projects) but says nothing on their status. A ficci study with the Konrad Adeneur Foundation in December 2011 found none of the Rs 42,941-crore investment approved by June 2011 was implemented. Only Rs 62 crore of the Rs 93,577 crore approved since 2008 saw the light of day.
In 2008, industry was a mere 3.8 per cent of Bihar’s GDP (India: 20 per cent). “Weak industrialisation in Bihar,” explains Sinha, “is because nearly all large industries went to Jharkhand after the state was bifurcated.”
The capital, in particular, seems in a constant state of construction, as older homes give way to new property developers. Where once leaving city limits meant venturing willy-nilly into agricultural fields, now metalled roads, bridges and suburban infrastructure rim the cityscape. Bridges over the Ganga still wear old signs that declare: “This bridge is severely damaged.” Yet, brand new housing blocks designed after their counterparts in Gurgaon or Vashi are coming up, their basements chock-a-block with SUVs, as owners, said to be erstwhile landlords, gentrify in urban centres. Since 2006, registered vehicles have also grown 50-fold in Bihar, from around 80,000 to 3.87 lakh by 2011.
Tough asks SUCI members leading a protest against power hike. (Photograph by Manoj Sinha)
Property in parts of Patna is, residents proudly declare, priced at par with suburban Delhi or Bombay. “Every Tom, Dick and Bihari wants to be a builder,” says Vikram Singh, who runs Ashiaana, a property development company. He’s not being cocky—surveys unequivocally establish a construction boom; the sector grew 10 per cent since 2008 (and over 13 per cent last year compared with just 4 per cent in 2004.) Bihar also had the highest off-take of cement in India last year. And this boom rides residential demand more than anything else, supplied by the ubiquitous brick-kilns springing up across the rural landscape—the only apparent sign of industrialisation.
In Darbhanga, at one of the three largest mandis of Bihar, the irony of one kneejerk decision is playing out. The state dismantled a profitable agricultural marketing board in 2006 on the charges that it was inefficient and corrupt. Traders here say they’re relieved to see the last of corrupt officials; but now that they straddle the strange in-between zone of privatisation and public ownership, they must provide for their own maintenance, electricity and water. More importantly, mandi prices have vanished too. As talk of privatising the market creates a buzz, traders are insecure. “We’ve been here for years, will we be moved out?” asks Niraj Kumar Pansari, secretary of the bazaar samiti.
Bihar’s roadmap for agriculture admits the state has no record or information for arrivals or prices for farm produce since 2006. The attempt to bring the state agriculture market in sync with the Centre’s policies has backfired, leading to huge variations in estimates of production and arrivals, a tough situation in a state that is largely farm-based. Food inflation in Bihar has therefore beaten national food inflation rates. “This was a mistake,” admits one public figure in Bihar, an aide to Nitish. “Dismantling apmc should not have been done. Nitish should have taken a longer-term view.”
Sure, Nitish hardly inherited a prosperous, effective state machinery. In fact, 42 per cent of Bihar’s population lived below the poverty line (Planning Commission) in 2008. His government also introduced new ideas. For instance, the chief minister responded with road-building and education, to create a backbone of skilled manpower and industry. But expectations are higher than that. “Biharis are culturally and politically critical and sharp,” says Manoj Srivastava, principal secretary, Panchayati Raj. “Today they don’t leave much room for benefit of doubt.”
Nitish’s initiatives have also been accompanied by tragic irony. Take schooling, for instance. The state provided uniforms, bicycles, mid-day meals, scholarships, free textbooks and appointed over 1 lakh teachers. Yet, up to 20 lakh student enrolments turned out to be bogus; the enrolment rate refused to cross 50 per cent—partly because the new teachers were ill-equipped. The state then trained these teachers, weeding out the fakes. After training, these teachers, who were hired at much lower salaries (Rs 6,000) want parity with regular teachers who earn Rs 36,000. This is a monthly bill the state says it cannot afford, while the protests rage on, earning the moniker “chhah banaam chhattees” or Bihar’s six versus 36 battle.
Actually, grants from the Centre, which grew six-fold to Rs 24,000 crore last year, could be the real secret to Bihar’s growth, not agriculture, not entrepreneurship, not even services. It’s not all black-or-white, though. Call it overcentralisation but even Nitish’s critics agree that every new project in Bihar—from building bridges to school education—works, but only as long as Nitish’s watchful eye is on it. Like the eye of Sauron, the moment he blinks, “the project ceases to exist”.
For all his shortcomings, Nitish Kumar has emerged as the great hope for Bihar, with a certain sincerity and earnestness in his style of functioning (How to Build a Reputation, Jun 18). It would be sad if the aam Bihari sinks back into the cynicism and despair that was the staple of Laloo raj.
Ebad, Bangalore Last month, I attended a national seminar on the Dynamics of Dalit Exclusion in Contemporary India held by the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Patna University. All three days of the seminar, there was no electricity for the ACs in the auditorium to work. There were participants from across the country. Nothing demonstrated before them the story of Bihar’s growth better. As for education, especially primary, it’s in bad shape. The large teaching army recruited by the government will ensure the future of students is doomed. The quality of teachers is pathetic, a majority of them recruited via the strenuous efforts of a former advocate-general for vested interests. The much-touted development is nowhere to be seen in the villages or in people’s conversations. They say the government’s efforts have only been for the haves. It explains the euphoria from the media and a tiny section of influential people. Why doesn’t the government fast-track the cases of Dalit atrocities? The Bathanitola verdict is a slur on the Patna HC. The government’s not yet challenged the perverse order. It just shows who’s in the driver’s seat.
A Dalit Speaks, Noida, UP
Nitish is our own Obama. His biggest asset is, he is not Laloo. His image might be bigger than his achievements, but then he’s building on ruins. Give him more time, I say.
Santosh Gairola, Hsinchu
The expectations from Bihar have increased after the new government came into power. We seem to think that Nitish has a magic wand that can eliminate all problems in the state within no time. We should be realistic and not expect a state grappling with 15 years of misrule to be resurrected in five minutes.
M. Shekhar, New Delhi
The Outlook cover along with another newspaper’s attempts to tarnish Nitish and his government points to a sinister campaign by the RJD-Congress combine. What makes these stories less credible is the fact that the ground opinion is solidly in favour of the JD(U)-BJP government. They are relieved to be rid of Laloo’s jungle raj. If they started believing these planted stories, they’d have to return to the dark ages.
Outlook’s audacity is amazing.
Kumar Virochit, on e-mail
Nitish had won by a landslide, mustering unprecedented electoral support from all—upper castes, minorities, OBCs, Dalits, including most backward castes and Mahadalits. However, for his schemes to succeed, he needs a trusted and honest team of bureaucrats in key positions. He also needs to attract industrial investments in Bihar and convince potential entrepreneurs that the state is now free from lawlessness.
Pramod Srivastava, Delhi
You can debate the quantum and pace of change. But change there is. Visibly so.
Pradip Singh, Stafford, UK
So, Nitish got an overwhelming mandate in 2010 on just a souped up reputation? I’m glad the majority of the people in my state read newspapers where Nitish’s message is relayed and his faux achievements lauded. People who have no idea of how Bihar had become a byword for utter lawlessness and helplessness can scarcely perceive our comfort at such scant improvement.
This is an extremely irritating article. Nitpicking, unrealistic, illogical. Nitish may not be perfect, nobody is, but this article is clearly motivated.
The poverty rate has not budged an inch during Nitish’s rule. Poverty and malnutrition actually had come down in the 15 years of Laloo’s rule.
Rajesh Chandra, Phoenix
As far as I know, it was the famous historian from Patna, Arvind N. Das, who coined the phrase, The Republic of Bihar. Arvind ardently loved his dear, dear Bihar. How I wish he was around now to contribute to this interesting debate.
G. Niranjan Rao, Hyderabad
Contrary to what you think, Bihar ceased to be India’s second-most populous state after the formation of Jharkhand. Now, Maharashtra comes next to Uttar Pradesh in population.
Ravi Metre, San Francisco
To be very honest & Impartial.Nitish know how to divert da people's mind.Da very recent example is Secular PM issue.I hav certain Q to asked by Nitish Govt ?Natwar lal Reborn as Nitish Kr In 21st Century ............
If Bihar is really ahead of Gujrat than why dere is no 24 Hours Power Supply even In State Capital Patna ? What was he doing in Atal ji Governmnet regarding Special Package for the State ? Why Mum On Gujrat Masscare in 2002 ? Why People are leaving state for earning ? Why no report of Forbeojganj Killing after One year ? BRGY Funds still unutized more than 2500 Cr ? If da State really needs Special Package dan why wasting Crores On Bihar Diwas ? Why wasting Crores On his Publicity Yatra ?Why no proper Water Supply In Patna during Summer ?
RK Singh >> How come you forgot the 15 long years of Lalu's misrule.Those dark days and still darker nights.
What is the basis of this claim? Because the media says so? Same media who is coerced and bribed for Nitish's reputation building project. Same media where Hazare is projected most popular figure in the country though it cannot win a single parliament seat. Do you know in Bihar where most people are poor, poverty rate has not budged a bit during Nitish's rule. Poverty and malnutrition came down during 15 years of Laloo's rule. Check record. Before Laloo Bihar was at the bottom. Bihar is still at the bottom after 7 years of Nitish.
Pragya, you are a little harsh on Nitish Kumar. How come you forgot the 15 long years of Lalu's misrule.Those dark days and still darker nights. The damage to the economy,polity and psyche of Bihar during this Orwellian period was colossal forcing lakhs of Biharis to migrate to other states/countries for a better and secure future.You have to give credit to Nitish-led Government for their sincere efforts in curbing crime and corruption so rampant in the earlier dispensation and concentrating on development projects like roads,communications,hotels,manufacturing etc.He may not have turned the corner when it comes to power generation and industries or attracting investments but his achievements in 7 years need not be belittled.And what is the harm in using '' spin doctors'' and who does not use them.The glass of development which used to be empty in Laloo's regime is now half-full. You are free to call it half-empty. Nitish and Narendra Modi are as different as an Apple and Orange but both have been good for the development of their respective states.One is loud-mouth and the other is discreet but both are effective. So why compare them.
Manish Banerjee >> /timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Gujarat-Myth-and-reality/articleshow/14032015.cms
The TOI article was written by Bhalchandra Mungekar, who is a Congress MP . To disagree with ahimsa, you don’t need to quote from Churchill.
Further much of the data ,esp on HDI indicators is based on 2004 as year. HDI indicators cannot be influenced in short term. The relatively poor showing of Gujarat on HDI indicators , should be blamed not only on Modi, but on also the nearly 40-50 years of Congress rule and the dynasty nominees who sat @ Gandhinagar from 1950 to 1995…
Manish Banerjee >> Rustic Modi took on highly sophisticated & an education person like Nitish Kumar. Modi took on more than what he could chew
There is nothing wrong being anti Modi but this is surely this sounds very feudal line of thought. Does the education and sophistry of a person makes one a good administrator ? Is being Rustic hilliby a crime? BTW the whisky sipping, educated, sophisticated Buddhadeb was taken on by chappal wearing rustic lady called Mamata and we all know the end result and how the lefties are still rotting the trash can that they rightly belong to !
Manish Banerjee>> If at all my bet is on Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar is running a coalition government for last 7 years . Let us him full credit to his success but do not deny that Nitish Era would not have been possible without the support of his junior ally and its able leader and present Dep CM of Bihar. Without BJP/NDA we would have seen Rabri or her son or Inlaw or Paswan ruling the state today.
>>During 2001-04, the rate of industrial growth for Gujarat was 3.95%, and during 2005-09, it was 12.65%. In isolation, this appears to be a phenomenal jump, but not so when compared to some other states. During these sub-periods, industrial growth for Orissa was 6.4% and 17.53%; for Chhattisgarh 8.10% and 13.3%; and for Uttarakhand 18.84% and 11.63%. Thus, the hitherto industrially backward states have far surpassed Gujarat.
Ok, for those Congress Rajya Sabha members who use statistics without understanding their meaning, here is an example.
State A has industrial output of 10 and state B an output of 1000. A’s output grows to 30 in five years while B’s to 1600 during the same period. The ‘myth busters’ scream A’s performance is far better than B’s since A grew by 25% while B by only 10%. Essentially such moronic arguments are being peddled as analysis!
Off course the same paragraph can also be spun as: Gujarat growth rate rose 3.2times during the two periods while all the other mentioned states were lower!
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