25 November 2010

Landslide victory for Nitish Kumar in Bihar, India

Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal-United (JDU) who ruled the state of Bihar in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contested the elections together are set for a landslide victory. The result is an outcome of some people centric measures.

Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar 3-10 March 2000 and 24 Nov 2005 till date.  ©  Government of Bihar
Elections to the 243 seats of the state assembly of Bihar, India was held in six phases that lasted for more than a month and the results have been announced today. The ruling JDU-BJP alliance with Nithish Kumar as its Chief Minister has won 206 seats, 115 for JDU and 91 for BJP.
The surprise part for people in other parts of the country is that the right-wing pro-Hindu BJP has been doing well despite the state having one-seventh of its population as non-Hindus (mostly Muslims). A few months ago, Nitish Kumar, had refused to share a dias with BJP's Narendra Modi, Chief Minister from Gujarat, a state that witnessed one of the worst anti-Muslim riots in 2002.

All this has been possible in Bihar because of some positive measures taken by the government. In 2005 when Nitish Kumar took over the reigns of the state, the word Bihar conjured up a negative image identified with poor law and order, poor infrastructure, high incidences of poverty that led to out migration from the state for basic livelihood and corruption. This was unfortunate because etymological roots of 'Bihar' lies with the monasteries of Gautama Buddha.

The last five years saw a change and Bihar is on its path to a new glory. In the last five years, visits to Patna the state capital and other regions throws up some positive developments. Law and order has improved tremendously. Murder, kidnapping and other crimes have reduced.
When it comes to infrastructure, new roads are being laid everywhere. Distances of 60 kilometers from Patna required five hours of travel, whcih could now be covered within two hours and this is the story all over the state. Number of vehicles have increased and travel time has reduced considerably.

To do away with poverty, good cases from other states were studied and JEEViKA: The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project modeled with the Andhra Pradesh experience was taken up. This organized poorest women and vulnerable sections. One such story is among milkmen (Yadava's who belong to the same community as that of Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav), an earlier Chief Minister and leader of the opposition party). A group of 13-15 milkmen were indebted and had to sell their milk to the lender-trader at a lower price. Jeevika formed a group of these people and gave them a loan of about 75,000 rupees ($1,600) to repay the earlier loan and also helped them in establishing a marketing channel as a result of which the group was able to repay this fresh loan in three months time. There are many such success stories in building people's institutions. Of course, this is just the beginning and a lot needs to be done.

The one thing where perhaps the Nitish government failed is perhaps corruption. It is said that earlier people used to be afraid of the bullet (indicating the law and order problem) but today they are afraid of the pen (referring to the bureaucrats) who seem to be asking for a cut in all the pro-people scheme that have been initiated. The new government has to address this and also chart the new direction with people. The difficulty is that they will not have a credible opposition. One would have been happy if JDU could have formed a government on their own and BJP provided a strong opposition. But, that is not to be, as JDU falls short of a simple majority. One hopes that it is the people of Bihar who provide this critical input to check the coming of vested interests that may scuttle their surge forward. Bihar khush raho!

(This write-up was first put up in Digital Journal, 24 November 2010, http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/300626.)

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