If you are a political science student anywhere in the world, it might help to look at Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Even after six decades of independence, it struggles to stand on its feet while other states like Karnataka, Haryana and Punjab are zooming ahead.
In the ten years of rule by Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, (RJD) nothing much happened. It ended in November 2005 after it was voted out by a largely illiterate electorate, new hopes were immediately kindled. Nitish Kumar, the new Chief Minister, had a clean image. He seemed sincere when he said he wanted to help Biharis see a brighter life. The only question that loomed large was whether he would deliver in a state that had crumbled so much that it did not seem to have a future.
Nitish who heads the National Democratic Alliance government alongwith the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, has just completed a year on November 24, 2006. One year in Indian politics is not a long time. It may be unfair to draw a report card on his performance so soon, but he seems determined to change the future of Bihar.
When he inherited the state from the RJD, there was little to write home about. Bihar was synonymous with inaction, crime, corruption, lethargic bureaucracy, casteist politics, unemployment and the ills that poor governance brings. It did not even have the basic infrastructure and investors saw it as an industrial graveyard.
Law and order was a major issue. Criminals moved around freely. Dacoity, kidnapping, ransoms and murders were commonplace. There was anarchy. Politics was criminalized. Many members in the legislature had criminal records. There was a palpable fear in the air after sunset.
Decision making was centralized. Bureaucrats pushed files not wanting to take decisions after Laloo was jailed in a scam that dealt with fodder!
No one envied Nitish Kumar as he took oath. It did not take him very long to realize that he will have to work harder than any Chief Minister in India to change the pathetic reality of poor governance. He told himself that his fist priority was to revitalize the unworkable systems that had become defunct down the years. In short, he had to bring in governance.
The roads were in a very bad way. Over 7,500 km of roads were to be constructed. It has taken over a year for the new government just to get all the plans drawn to build new roads. Nitish has asked the Road Construction Department to publish details of roads being constructed and at what cost so that people would be alert and monitor it. As much as Rs. 3,000 crores have been allotted for the new roads. With the Patna High Court asking for road construction at the earliest, work is expected to start in December 2006 according to Nand Kishore Yadav, Road Construction Minister.
Earlier, fear of the mafia prevented major road construction companies from operating. Nitish even wants villages with populations under 1000 to get connected by roads. This was something that was unthinkable in Bihar. It is a tall order but he has set up the Chief Minister's Village Road Scheme to do this.
The power situation was pathetic. With the exception of Patna, almost all the districts have severe power cuts and have power for only a couple of hours everyday.
Nitish understands that power will bring in industry. A new Power Policy is being prepared that will woo private investment in generation and distribution. There are proposals for new thermal power projects that could generate 5,750 megawatts on an investment of Rs. 23,350 crore. A nuclear power project is also being considered. Private players are being roped in for electricity repairs, billing and collection.
Nitish had to change the heavily imprinted image of how Bihar was full of badlands. Crime still continues but there has been a significant drop. For example, there were 411 kidnappings in 2004. It was 150 after Nitish took over. He appointed retired Central Investigation Officers to vacant posts in the Vigilance Department. It helped. The police are now more pro-active. Courts have convicted over 5000 criminals in the last one year. Walking on the streets is safer now. But crime continues to stalk Bihar. It is going to be a major nightmare for Nitish who promised a crime free state.
For the first time, there has been a concerted effort to nab corrupt officials. As many as 75 police complaints have been registered against corrupt officials and around 35 of them were arrested and jailed.
To change its pathetic literacy rate which hovers around 40 to 45 per cent, Nitish is looking at education as priority. Over 2,36,000 elementary and secondary school teachers are going to be hired to ensure that schools function and more have access to education. Earlier, Bihar was well-known for its schools that had teachers who only came in on payday.
Nitish also is working to revive the glorious Nalanda University and setting up of other professional and technical institutions.
Health had been a neglected factor in Bihar. Hospitals were in a bad way and mot primary health centers were non-functional. Nitish is now working at upgrading health facilities. He is inviting private partnership to achieve this and already Rs.200 crore have been spent in construction and upgradation. Immunization, the key to control disease is being aggressively promoted.
Subash Rai who migrated to New Delhi many years ago as he felt Bihar had no future, now says: 'If the situation in Bihar improves, I will go back. Many Bihari youngsters are thinking like me. Nitish Kumar should not fail us. We are ready to do anything to help rebuild Bihar, but we want a crime free state and a political process that is ready to bring in change.'
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was invited to address a joint session of the bicameral legislature in March this year. He captivated all with an ambitious game plan designed to change the face of Bihar:
Exploit the state's core competence of agriculture. Increase rice production from 5.5 million tones to 15 million tones in four years.
Create sugar cooperatives that will have 10 sugar mills to make optimum use of the state's production of 100,00,000 metric tones of sugarcane.
Build milk cooperatives in all the districts helping 7,50,000 families to find new earning potential.
Raise the literacy percentage to 75 per cent by 2010. Create numerous educational institutions to cater to developing skills, create research scholars and leaders.
Each Bihari should donate Rs. 3 per month to the government which also puts in Rs. 3 making a health corpus of Rs. 576 crore annually to boost healthcare.
Make Bihar a tourist destination. It has Bodh Gaya which can draw tourists. Tourism had the potential to create four million jobs and earn revenue of $10 million annually.
Provide urban amenities in rural areas like roads, electronic connectivity through telecommunication, knowledge connectivity through education and vocational training of farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs.
Nitish would do well to pick them up. He knows that he now has to start delivering. He has got the Indian industry thinking and interested in Bihar, but that is not enough. Change has now to be felt and experienced. The masses are eager and impatient. No one knows it more than Nitish does. Elections are only four years away. Time flies.