Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Bihar's ringtone: Nitish government works
As our Indica zooms through the highway from Madhubani to Darbhanga at night, driver Sachin says, “During Lalu Prasad’s regime, I would not have brought my car on this road. It was so bad!”
The local guide, Prakash Jha, adds: “I would also not have advised you to travel on this road at this time during Lalu’s rule. You would have definitely fallen prey to dacoits.”
From rickshaw-puller Sitaram Bhagat at Patna’s Fraser Road to Harindar Rai of Banbira village in Samastipur district, from agriculturist landlords to workers at the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) office, poll-bound Bihar’s common ringtone is: Nitish Kumar’s government is working.
People across the state talk about two major changes since Kumar took charge as the chief minister on November 24, 2005, ending the 15-year rule of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — better roads and improved law and order situation.
NK Rai, an agriculturist in Patna, echoes the same sentiment. “It is 9 pm and my wife has gone to the market. In Lalu’s regime, I wouldn’t have allowed her to step out after sunset. We don’t expect the state to change overnight. But there should be some visible efforts to change it.”
Till November 2008, 10,311 policemen were recruited in Bihar during the NDA government’s rule. Murder cases have come down from 3,519 in 2001 to 2,286 in 2008 (till September). Incidents of robbery has also come down from 1,293 to 491 during the same period. Besides, kidnapping, which earned the ill-reputation of “cottage industry” during Prasad’s regime, is down from 385 to just 42 cases in this period, according to the government’s “Report Card 2008”.
Shaibal Gupta, member -secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) explains the reason behind improved governance. “The number of convictions in criminal cases has increased. Nitish initially emphasised the Arms Act cases. The law says employees can be witnesses, and so there is less chance of witnesses turning hostile in courts.”
Rajkumar, another rickshaw-puller in Patna, feels the difference in his daily life. “Earlier we used to go back home by 8-9 pm. Now we can ply rickshaws till 11 in the night.”
While these initiatives have earned him goodwill, Nitish Kumar is yet to deliver on some key areas. “ The Land Reforms Commission was constituted in 2006. The report has been submitted but no action has been taken yet. Updating of land records, too, has not taken place,” says Gupta.
Riding high on this feel-good factor, the chief minister spends more time focussing on the state’s overall development, rather than attacking his political opponents. He even mooted the idea of “having the state and the Lok Sabha elections only once in five years because elections every year hamper development work.”
His detractors like Left candidates complain that only select districts are benefiting from the development, but they are unable to deny improvement. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad might attack him for helping the BJP and other issues, but he, too, says nothing about the law and order situation. The power situation, however, remains a matter of discontent. While Kumar’s ‘Report Card’ has a separate section on power and mentions the new power projects that have been cleared, most hotels in Patna switch off air-conditioners from 3 am to 6 am to “refill the generators”.
Kumar has often told his political friends how he is keeping the BJP as marginal as possible in the state, while he offers sops for minorities one after another. He has introduced free vocational training schemes for girls from minority communities. Another scheme “Talimi Markaj” has been introduced to provide primary education to poorer and low caste minorities.
Among Kumar’s other achievements are the upgrade of 2,955 km of state highways, currently in progress. This apart, upgrade of 620 km of big district roads have been completed, and construction of 701 km of national highway already done. For national highways too, the chief minister claims credit. “Why were these not done before I came? I took initiative to bring these projects,” he says.
The chief minister’s 48-page report card boasts of many more schemes of development. But several of these, according to political opponents, are yet to take off effectively.
But even in the Bheriwahi village of Madhubani district, sitting by a dilapidated stretch of road, Irfan Ahmed talks about new government job opportunities. In the campaigns, Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) harps on the recruitment of over 80,000 primary teachers as a key achievement of the government.
Labourers at NK Rai’s farm say, “beti aur vote dusri jaat mein nehin diya jaata.”(there are two things you cannot share with another caste: your daughter and your vote) But there is also Harindar Rai, a Yadav, who says, “a Yadav will not always vote for a Yadav. If a Yadav is dacoit, should I vote for him?” His companion Laddu Das adds, “We will vote for the person who has the best chance of winning. If a candidate doesn’t win, how will he be able to work for us?”