"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man." - Thomas Hobbes.
Thomas Hobbes, the 16th century English philosopher, did not feel that much stood between civilization and barbarianism. And Bihar did live civilization to the edge. But even he would have been surprised at the Hobbesian disintegration in Bihar.
Why Bihar? It had a law enforcement mechanism and a judiciary. It had a free press. The phenomenon of trial by media had already begun in India. Most importantly, it was a democracy and people could vote.
Observing Bihar’s once pitiful state one recalled two maxims: "in democracy people get the government they deserve" and "democracy is the worst form of government except for all other forms of government".
Did Biharis really deserve this government? Why were they not voting themselves out of this hell? If there was no better government surely there must be a better form of governance. Was it not time to give military rule a try?
There are few specimens of mankind more annoying than a pontificating, know it all NRI, delivering sermons during brief trips to the motherland. I was no exception. I could not understand the apathy of the middle class. In hindsight, I was perhaps being too harsh. The middle class of India has a tremendous capacity to absorb, adapt and get along with their lives come what may the circumstances. The view from 29, 000 feet always seems a lot more inexplicable than the ground realities.
Thus the citizenry lived whilst Bihar slowly died. They plotted their children’s education, their daughter’s marriage, always with one eye looking outside Bihar. Several members of my family were on the lookout of any opportunity to leave Bihar.
Perhaps one of the most admirable features of the Indian middle class family is their uncompromising duty towards their children. This narrow prism of focus is particularly valuable in surviving a hostile environment that Bihar had become towards the conclusion of the last century. A side effect of this focus is that the middle class are too preoccupied with their woes to mount a revolution. Middle class apathy is real but wholly understandable and entirely excusable.
The apathy aside it appeared that no credible alternative was emerging to counteract the improbable but formidable union between Yadav and Muslim vote bank, which the reigning party utilized with maximal efficiency. Historical grievances were exploited. Economic progress was promised. Fear was capitalized. Protection was offered.
To his credit, Mr. Yadav can boast of not a single Hindu-Muslim riot during his entire tenure. Social scientists will marvel at this simple truism: controlling crime is far easier when you have control of the elements of disorder than when you have control over the elements of law and order. A similarly curious phenomenon can be seen in Nepal where the harassment of tourists has fallen dramatically since the Maoists have gained power. This is perhaps the only silver lining of lunatics running the asylum, or the criminals running the state.
Muslims were naturally grateful for this protection. Life takes precedence over bread and entertainment. Which minority community would vote against this umbrage?
The Yadavs were promised restitution against upper caste Hindus. Not just economic parity but parity in dignity and eventual reversal of the inequality so that the oppressors would become the oppressed. After all social justice is achieved only when the once dominant can get a taste of their own medicine.
The proletariat was naturally dizzy with such prospects. The vote bank seemed ossified. No combination could break the union of fear and entitlement.
To be fair, politics of historical grievances and identity are not confined to Bihar or India. The activist and African American politician Jesse Jackson regularly lambasts his opponents as racist if there is any disagreement with his policies. Even President Obama resorted to it during the campaign for the US midterm elections when he told a crowd of mainly Hispanics that "we must punish our enemies" (by "enemies" I don’t think he was alluding to bankers).
But patronizing grievances doesn’t feed, clothe, build bridges or bring jobs. Even the Yadav community comprised of women, women who felt unsafe in the same streets that their upper caste counterparts refused to frequent. Even the Muslim community had children, children facing the same prospect of sub-optimal education and lack of jobs as their Hindu counterparts.
The grievance-fear nexus certainly seemed to be playing a long innings in Bihar but it was by no means immortal. The question was of an alternative. The alternative could not be disguised business as usual. It had to be a knight in shining armour. It had to be a lone ranger willing to fight a losing crusade. Such figures rarely arise from democratic institutions. Because democracy as it is diluted by the denominator, rarely produces revolutionaries, just small increments of much the same. Bihar needed a revolutionary. Its psyche did not permit a revolution. And like a long batting partnership broken by an improbable yorker, Bihar’s reign of terror would be broken by an unlikely persona.
In 2007 I travelled by car from Asansol to Patna. Bihar had some time earlier lost its most productive portion, Jharkhand. It was akin to a gangrenous body amputating its only viable limb. As the car crossed the Bihar-Jharkhand border there was a dramatic change in the quality of the road. The improvement was both sudden and unexpected. I wondered if we were travelling in the right direction and had not mysteriously just re-entered Jharkhand.
I never thought I would see the day there would be a state with worse infrastructure and a higher crime rate than Bihar. By then the grievance politics of the anarcho-leftists had migrated to Jharkhand. The jewel of Bihar had retained its business model and the Maoists were showcasing their talents with peerless effectiveness. Big business was fleeing the state faster than a surfer escapes an approaching tsunami. The Maoists were intent on writing the next edition of "how to reverse prosperity in 48 hours".
Meanwhile the citizenry of Patna were witnessing Nitish Kumar’s magic in real time, frame by frame. I don’t know his plan of action. I don’t think many people do. But it might have gone something like this: control the crime – control the crime – control the crime.
If the police can be made inert by higher command they can also be spun in to action by authoritative decree. Like toy soldiers with new batteries, the Bihar police worked with zeal. And I suspect with schadenfreude.
Despite rampant baseline corruption in Indian police service I believe there must be some measure of satisfaction when you finally get to do what you have been trained to do. That the men from JNU who studied for months to compete the civil service examinations could finally be on the right side of the criminal divide, must have liberated their soul, even at the expense of a lighter wallet.
The armpit of India began to walk without clutches. And the first to notice that were the capitalists. If you want to know what the rest of the world really thinks of your place, whether they like the furniture and the shape of the garden just ask a bunch of greedy capitalists. They never lie. You know they don’t think very highly of Peshawar because they don’t place their money there. A pariah state can be defined as one in which an American firm does not believe that the benefits of cheap labour outweighs the risks of civil disorder. And that is really saying something.
Big business entered Bihar. The price of real estate rose. Young professionals began returning to Bihar like the prodigal son. As one of my cousins questioned rhetorically on accepting a job in Patna "if you are earning 6 lakhs a year where would you rather be Delhi or Patna?" The self-evident answer a few years ago, Delhi, would now be the wrong answer. Even Kingfisher, the hip airline with designer cabin crew purportedly hand-picked by its larger than life owner, started operating flights to Patna. Patna could no longer be ignored.
The reverse exodus was not just confined to educated professionals. Sensing the opportunities inherent with the booming infra-structure Bihari labourers hitherto ploughing the paddy fields in Punjab left their work shy employers. Why would they not prefer to be in Bihar but for the disorder and the unemployment?
All of this seemed too good to be true. Could a chief minister be so solemnly dedicated to nothing but the progress of the state? Something in the script must not be right. Why was he not keen on building a Swiss bank account? Would Biharis be able to resist the lure of identity politics without facing an identity crisis?
Judgment day was approaching and the state elections of 2010 would reveal what government the Biharis truly deserved. Anyone who has watched the fortune of the Indian cricket team will know the feeling of impending defeat from being snatched from the jaws of victory. Was the reversal of misfortune of Bihar going to be undone in the last few overs of the match?
The verdict was delivered. The margin of victory would leave even the most irrational optimist reeling in surprise. The party that once seemed immortal won a mere 10 % of the seats. This was a shellacking of the highest proportion. Biharis of all castes and all religions got a taster of progress and they wanted more.
The change in Patna has been staggering. Bridges and flyovers have been completed. The city is pulsating. The restaurants and ice cream parlours have been returned to the rightful patronage of families. Gym membership has gone up, indeed has become difficult to obtain. There are women cycling on the streets. Yes women are cycling in Bihar!
Bihar is like a reformed drug addict. It has shown the rest of the world in real time what most of us already know. That left wing politics of grievance, entitlement and anarchy as addictive as a mind altering drug does not a society make. That people, no matter which manual they choose to use as a guide for ultimate salvation demand the same things from the government. They want law and order, infrastructure and an environment for job creation. That democracy is necessary but not sufficient for free market capitalism.
As for its chief minister, future historians and social scientists will dissect his thinking and his motives for going against the trend. He will surely be canonized. Lesser personalities with fewer accomplishments on their resume have been eulogized in India.
Question will be asked why there are not many more Nitish Kumars in India. To borrow another cricket analogy, the answer is similar to why there are not many genuine pace bowlers in India. There could be. But the pitches do not favour fast bowling. They favour spin. And politicians know the proletariat loves spin.
Bihar’s volte face has not been achieved by a revolution. Indeed, judging by the poor track record of revolutions, it would have probably replaced one form of tyranny with another. Bihar achieved its Nitish by the ballot. This is an important point to appreciate.
Make no mistake. It was the Biharis that took Bihar to the edge of abyss and it was the Biharis that hurtled Bihar in to a gravitation free orbit of progress. The ballot works.
As a pontificating NRI I have often commenced my sermons with "it is high time that Indians do this and Indians do that, ya di ya di ya" Allow me one more indulgence of grand lecturing: it is high time all Indians voted and voted intelligently.
Dr. Saurabh Jha, MD MRCS, a British/Indian NRI, is an Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA. With his natural flair for writing, Dr. Jha will be expressing his views on Bihar, Bihar-related issues, and other topics that are sure to grab the attention of the visitors of PatnaDaily.Com.