Chapra (Bihar): It's blowing in the wind. Evident to one visiting Bihar after a few years' gap years is the change in mood that is felt more markedly in rural areas than in the bigger urban centres of the state.
The air of despondency - a feeling that nothing will or can improve is no longer there. What has changed? Villagers talk of improved roads that help them travel for work. Whether it is a Rajput, Yadav or Dalit habitation, this is the first thing villagers mention when asked how things are improving. Aap sadak hi dekh lijiye ("just take the roads, for instance"), they say.
The change began three years ago, says everyone, and CM Nitish Kumar is generally credited for this. People can tell you which schemes were introduced by the state and which by the Centre, which one they owe to Lalu Prasad and to Kumar. But for putting them on the ground, they agree, some reluctantly, that the present CM has done a better job.
People also talk of better education and health facilities achieved simply because teachers have begun teaching and doctors attend to the health centres. The old get their pensions, the widows theirs; the safe motherhood scheme is operational and anganwadis function.
Every village has persons working in another state who send money back and income from the agriculture supplements this. There is no huge problem of rural indebtedness and no suicides. Yet. For the time being, the hopes are high.
However, while there may be doctors at hospitals, medicines are not as they are sold through shops, illegally. Schools have teachers but many 'teachers' are not qualified and have been employed by panchayat mukhiyas for other reasons.
Rural electrification has not made much headway. There is little power supply to begin with. The three thermal power stations the state do not work and Bihar gets all its electricity from outside. Most of Bihar gets electricity only for a total of four hours through the day. No wonder then, Bihar is a thriving market for generator sets.
"If you promise power and provide it, you raise people's aspirations and expectations. People would complain they are getting only 18 hours of power supply and vote you out because of power cuts," said one man.