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Verdict 2014, Bihar: a development folktale interrupted

By Ratnakar Tripathy

Storytelling in progress

Storytelling in progress

The key word that occurs time and again to describe the 2014 verdict in the favour of BJP and Narendra Modi is ‘decisiveness’ in its most manly and broad-chested sense. In the last five years, the Congress, now punished severely for its limp-wristed demeanour and dyslexic style of communication, created levels of despair that seemed almost unspeakable. But as we know, with development as the core mantra, the despair hastily turned into hope as the election results began pouring in yesterday. Hope is the name of the luxury democracy rarely denies its voters. The voter has thus overnight heaped mountains of hope over Mr Modi and he must crawl out of it to seek his chosen path of action.

The question is when the world’s largest democracy is still busy belching over the celebratory laddoos, is it fair to raise the little matter of Bihar? Isn’t this a bit like a country bumpkin raptly seeing nothing on a large globe but his own little pinpoint of a hamlet? I feel small-hearted, parochial, petty and mean-minded breaking up the big party and asking ‘what will Bihar get out of it all?’ I remind myself of the apocryphal American legislator from the 19th century who repeatedly and insistently got up in the Congress to raise matters related to the pipsqueak of a Buncombe County, the etymological origin of the word ‘bunkum’. Nevertheless, I must confess that my anxieties follow boundaries and I have rarely found myself worrying over matters pertaining to Tasmania or Uruguay.

In the last ten years, Bihar was able to put in place a sense of bodily security and law and order unknown for decades. This is as true of my village in Champaran as my lane in Patna. Young men in my village commute to and fro neighbouring Motihari freely, at times reaching home at midnight with no ghosts or robbers to waylay them. I vividly remember the time when there was a 100 per cent guarantee of being stripped of belongings if you travelled past sundown. Similarly, I was shocked to find three young, wealthy and attractive women travel from Patna station to my lane at 3 AM. Till some years ago if you alighted at Patna in the morning you waited for clear sunshine before leaving the safety of the station since you knew the neighbourhood is choking with marauders looking for breakfast money.

Once movement became safe, people in Bihar naturally wanted some comfort as part of the deal. So roads and bridges got built by an NDA government led by Nitish. But movement cannot be purposeless. People move out to get jobs, money and business. People travel comfortably or otherwise to exchange goods, conversations, opinions and hard cash or kind. People are enterprising enough to make use of freedom to move and exchange to develop themselves. But goods ranging between agricultural produce to high tech wares require energy to produce. You may be bursting with ideas to make money but you cannot produce electricity at home – you need a government to do that. Energy means electricity out of gas or coal.  We all know that despite the great distance of neglect by the centre, Bihar is tied up placentally to Delhi because of energy issues. We need power plants. Power plants need coal. Coal comes from mines. Mines are allocated by the centre. Even after mines are allocated, Bihar may find itself stuck with environment clearance. Even after the coal gets extracted, it may not reach the power plant as the freight infrastructure and the supply chain is enormously erratic.  Power plants in India, believe it or not often have no more than a day’s coal supply in their yards. Imagine the anxiety levels of the managers and workers in those plants. We have turned routine management into highly specialized disaster management cases as a matter of routine.

To come back to Bihar, it took our state a full decade even before it began sorting out its power deficit. The power plants are now coming up and the coal is on its way. But this fairytale of development gets spiked even as the electrical lines are being laid out. It is a bit like your neighbourhood transformer blowing up in flames just as you switch on your TV for your favourite show.

The safety of the body and the comfort of travel are all really the background of the folktale. Like a child cuddling up snugly with her grandma and ready for a flight of fancy is not a tale by itself but just the stagecraft.

The real tale was just beginning. The TV had just displayed the cast and some preview; the grandma had just tentatively uttered ‘once upon a time…’, when Bihar abruptly plunged into darkness. Nitish and BJP broke up and the story ended before it took off.

The question I ask in 2014 is – do we go back to scratch? Will the BJP now do everything to oust Nitish from Bihar? Will BJP prove capable of continuing with the tale where it was interrupted? Will Bihar be ruled from Patna or Delhi? Will Bihar BJP throw up leaders with sensible heads on their shoulders? Coal supply chains are notoriously easier to manage than leadership supply chain, if such a thing exists.

Or are we at the mercy of a series of Giriraj Singhs?

One Response

  1. Ratnakar says:

    comment received with thanks from Sadan Jha on gmail chat –

    ‘nice read! thinking beyond the modi wave, i find it difficult to answer why Nitish has done so poorly when other regional stalwarts like Amma and Didi and Naveen Patnaik successfully retained their hold. One way to respond this question is by inserting the figure of Lalu Prasad yadav and say that others did not have to face Lalu. One would also add here that caste might not have such a decisive role to play in Bengal, Tamilnadu or Orissa. One can further include Nitish was sailing on a half broken ship post BJP-JDU breakdown. The outcome was inevitable. Yet, the result is an eye opener for Nitish’s government, it should be. He may side with Mulayam and Mayawati and say that Bihar has remained loyal to its neighborhood state UP in displaying the outcome of Modi wave and Amit Shah’s managerial charisma. Whatever it may be, the moot question is how will Nitish respond? Will he remained complacent and find solace in midia reports that continued to neatly demarcated the territories of populism: Modi for PM and NItish for CM Or will he learn some lessons and go back to his development agenda backed with caste equation something that was USP of his initial phase. Issues like higher education, health, employment and infrastructure (including Gandhi Setu bridge over Ganga where repairning work has been going on ad infinitum.’

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