Times of India has chosen to comment editorially on Bihar's demand for special status (Link). It is quite sad to note the level of ignorance prevalent among the editors of the national press when it comes to Bihar and its economic or, for that matter, cultural and political landscape. Editors are opinion leaders. Whatever they write is read with great interest by millions and helps shape opinion. It would be better if they familiarize themselves with some basic economic and political history of Bihar before writing such editorials.
There has been a consistent neglect of Bihar since independence. Demands for irrigation projects, floods control, bridges over its rivers, agricultural research institutions, central universities, IITs etc have all been ignored. Let me give some examples. When the choice was between Bhakra Nangal and Kosi, money went to Bhakra Nangal. The Ganga bridge at Patna was not approved by the Planning Commission of India even after repeated plea by the state government. The result was inordinate delay in its construction as state funds were rather meager. Sone Command Area, among the best irrigated, was allowed to deteriorate as Sone water was diverted upstream. As a result of such gross neglect, the per capita plan allocation in every Five Year Plan since independence has been the lowest. Our Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has never taken up any serious dialog with Nepal for flood control.
Public servant Ashish Bose derided us by calling us Bimaru, later picked by regional chauvinists from different parts of the country. It was perhaps a continuation of the lead given by a certain statesman who (in)famously called himself the last British to rule India. Pertinently, his opinion as expressed in his autobiography is that Biharis are lazy and untrustworthy. In the 40's, he had even asked Patna to be bombed when his writ did not run in toto. Such psychological antipathy at the highest policy level resulted in a general negative feeling towards Bihar. They then translated into discriminatory policies such as freight equalization (cost to Bihar: over one lakh crore rupees), no right to use Ganga water for irrigation among others. Bihar has just three and a half bridges over 445 km of Ganga. Compare that with over dozens for 45 km of Yamuna in Delhi.
Uninformed people say Biharis elected useless leaders like Lalu and thus deserve their poor status. They quite forget the string of useless courtiers dropped on Bihar by Centre in the Congress era. As for Lalu, he won only one election (1995). 1990 was anti Rajiv Gandhi wave and Ram Sundar Das was the front runner to become CM till VP Singh stabbed him in the back and hoisted Lalu despite the mood of the MLAs.
In 2000, Lalu had lost but continued in power due to - a. Split of Jharkhand where Lalu had fewer MLAs; and b. Backing of Congress which though having fought on anti-Lalu slogan, supported his govt. (No wonder Congress is reduced to a joke in Bihar).
People ask us: are we Biharis North Indians, or from East of India? Well we never identified ourselves as being from this or that region. We are Indians and not North or South Indian. In the words of the famous Indologist Sir John Houlton, Bihar is the heart of India. Geographically too, we are placed a little left in the upper part. An average Bihari, in spite of the tons of abuse, is happy to call himself an Indian and only an Indian.
Unfortunately, such undying patriotism has come to be seen as either foolishness or weakness.
Net net, special status is a chance to correct historic wrong. This will strengthen Bihar and India. The sacrifice that Bihar made after independence so that other states could grow will only then be seen as sacrifice and not as being made an idiot by central power brokers.
T. V. Sinha, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com