Bihar on Edge, but is there a Way Forward?

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By now, most people are aware of Brahmeshwar Singh, the leader of Ranveer Sena. His killing has ignited a lot of passion and has polarised Bihar as very few things have. The poison of casteism, which had started to wane, has got rekindled. His killing provoked massive outpouring of emotions first at Arrah and then at Patna on the day of his cremation when virtually the entire city was shut down for the entire day.

It is a cruel irony that The Times of India headline declaring Bihar as the fastest growing state in India appeared on the same day that the death of Brahmeshwar Singh was reported. Indeed Bihar is very unfortunate: at a time when one thought Bihar had got away from the negative spiral of caste wars, this killing has happened. There is enough positive development happening in Bihar at the moment. But the wounds of 90’s are still raw. And such incidents have the potential to push it back. It is a moment of test for Bihar. I don't want to know who's right and who's wrong but I do know that two wrongs do not make a right. I do want that Bihar comes out of it with minimum bruises.

If one looks back, the social tension of Bihar started when left leaning politicians started demanding redistribution of land. Caste divide became sharper and social order was ruptured. People have rightly pointed out that there was peace at the time in spite of massive exploitation because the exploited were too meek and weak to protest. This social tension and rupture of social order would have been well worth it if the end result was the emancipation of our poor. But have we achieved that? Unfortunately, the answer is NO. We continue to be among humiliatingly indigent and what little difference has come about has mostly come about in the last six or seven years when the stress has been on good governance and development rather than redistribution of wealth. And there is a lesson for us in it. As someone remarked, one has to create wealth before it can be redistributed. Else you only redistribute poverty.

Let us take a moment and ask ourselves:

Who has to face more uncertainty; vagaries of weather and floods? Whose house and family is safer? Who needs to work harder? In short, who has a riskier profession? And in return of all this risk and hard work, who gets a bigger monetary reward which can provide a better life to him and his children?

1. A peon at Delhi in a Govt job / Public Sector or MNC or an agriculturist in Bihar with 10 acres land?

2. A clerk in Delhi with Govt / Public Sector or MNC or an agriculturist with say 20 acres of land in Bihar?

To be sure, this is a redundant question. There are different economic and social factors in play here which make the Delhi job holder's life far superior than that of a farmer in spite of the lower risk profile of his profession. Some of these factors can be discerned by a reading of the epoch The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler. One would realize that the days when agriculture was a driver of economy, political power & culture is long over. Toffler in fact predicted even at the peak of the industrial age, that the third wave, the Information & Services age, is about to dawn which will diminish the power of manufacturing. We are seeing that unfold in front of our own eyes as IT and other service industries show robust growth even as manufacturing tapers off.  A direct beneficiary of this is some of us who were lucky to choose IT as a profession when some of our colleagues chose to stick to manufacturing. The manufacturer's by and large toil away for a smaller reward for perhaps a bigger risk.

Unfortunately, our political leaders, particularly the left leaning variety and many of the right leaning ones, chose to ignore these mega trends and sought to play the politics based on the prevailing situation of the society. This led to politics of division and distrust. They had the means of liberating the society through utilising these economic and social trends and by use of modern technology.

Let us take a moment to ponder why in the 80’s Bihar struggled to give employment to the barely 400 to 500 engineers that its four engineering colleges produced while Bangalore had the opposite problem of coping with the growing demand of engineers in spite of thousands (now lakhs) of Engineers rushing to it every year.  The answer is pretty obvious. The centre invested heavily to create engineering research and design institutions by the dozen there while the back of industrialization, the second wave which was just about emerging in India at the time of independence, had been broken in Bihar by a most regressive policy called freight equalization.

Who all would have been the beneficiary of this industrialization had the natural forces of economics been allowed to run its course? Were there too many entrenched Biharis, upper caste or otherwise, then as industrialists? Wasn't that a level playing field where everyone had a chance to make good? To my knowledge, there has been no mass movement to protest this exploitation. Lives have been lost over small parcels of land, but no one has bothered about the vast loss of opportunity of wealth creation for thousands of poverty ridden Biharis.

Even within agriculture, I don’t see much evidence of attention paid to the modern tools of agriculture: timely water for irrigation, fertilizers or agricultural research in Bihar. Why does a largely agricultural state like Bihar not have an irrigation scheme equivalent of say Bhakhra Nangal? Why has the Kosi scheme not taken off in spite of the repeated plea of successive govt of Bihar? Why aren’t there a dozen high tech agricultural research institutions in Bihar? (In fact, Bihar does not even have one sponsored by the central government barring the tiny and ineffectual Rice Research centre running from a bungalow in Patna).

When did our external affairs ministry last engage Nepal for better flood control? What was India’s position and what was the reply of Nepal? Is Nepal so unreasonable that it does not listen to us or are we so ignorant that we don’t know what to ask for? Few decades back, the top leadership of Nepal would come to Bihar so often for education, medical treatment and myriad other social, political and economic reasons. Why has the historic tie of Bihar with Nepal ruptured? Who ordered the cancellation of Indian Airlines & Royal Nepal Airlines flights between Patna and Kathmandu and diverted the bilateral quota of flights to Delhi, Mumbai, and can you believe, Bangalore? Is our present Central Government even now engaging Nepal for Bihar's flood control? Is there anything more important than flood control in India’s bilateral relationship with Nepal?

Very importantly, and this is in our hands, why are the people of Bihar not demanding these rather than being so aroused (on both sides of the divide) by slogans of land redistribution and caste based schisms. For God’s sake, these outdated concepts have run their course and have little leverage in alleviating poverty but all the potential to push Bihar back into the abyss of caste wars and criminality.

Just look at the number of bridges in Bihar. Delhi has over 2 dozen bridges for 45 km of Yamuna but Bihar has a mere 3.5 bridges for 445 km of Ganga. Will it be people of any particular caste that will benefit if these bridges are built or will it be everyone?

To the extent I know, different CMs of Bihar including Karpoori Thakur, Kedar Pandey and Jagannath Mishra pleaded for funding of the Ganga Bridge at Patna. The funding for the same was repeatedly denied by the centre and it had to be built from the state govt funds. The reason given by the planning commission was that the expected traffic volume does not justify this huge investment. In the event, the 'learned' economists giving such views have been proved wrong many times over. The investment of Rs 42 crore to build this bridge was recovered in much quicker than the 20 years or more that is the norm for an infrastructure of this kind. But yet there is similar lack of funding for the half a dozen bridges over Ganga currently under construction. Thus every bridge is consequently delayed. Why does not our blood boil for the slackening pace of building these bridges? Why don’t we bring the Railways and the Planning Commission to task for their lethargic attitude?

We can cry ourselves hoarse about land distribution and so on, but if we want to have a better life for the people of our state, we have to discern the trends of economy and ride it. Any leader can go visiting Belchi / Dalelchak / Arwal and countless other places where caste violence has taken place and ride to power by using the divisions of the society, but change can only come when we ride the trends which bring economic prosperity.

We have to demand more bridges over our rivers. Our present state government which plays the politics of building more bridges and roads has to be lauded for it and has to be supported for such good work. We have to demand an economic corridor from a good port in Orissa to our population centres, a corridor at par with the economic corridor of Mumbai to Delhi. We have to demand mega irrigation projects at par with Bhakra Nangal and Sardar Sarovar. We have to demand more agricultural research institutions rather than let our old institutions like PUSA get shifted to Delhi. We have to protest those people who wish to take away Nalanda International University from Bihar because Bihar is not liveable. But alas, the last couple of days have shown, we will fight over every issues other than these.

 


tvsinha

T. V. Sinha, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com

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