Observers of Nitish Kumar’s tenure agree three terms as Chief Minister should be sufficient to show substantial improvement in the health of a province. Many critics, not necessarily hostile, say on many fundamental benchmarks against which his administration must be tested Nitish fell far short. For instance, health care system or law and order in general continued to be sick despite his claim of a clean and efficient administration, Sushasan, in Bihar.
In the field of education, particularly, Nitish is judged to have presided over the demise of a system from the primary to the elementary to the high school levels. The University education system is also in ruins.
In his first term, Nitish’s efforts were applauded when he offered free bikes to school going girls and introduced free meals at schools. The well-meaning programs, however, ran into the quagmire of pilferage, dishonesty and corruption that couldn’t be saddled by an obstacle-free administration.
There were no organized or systematic hiring of teachers or government personnel with a long-term objective. The local bodies (mukhiyas of panchayats) were vested with the power to appoint teachers at village level schools, and they stuffed schools with their relations and hirelings. Other teachers appointed on “contract” were on abysmally low wages. They kept on agitating the entire time for getting their positions converted into permanent ones. There were still epidemic-level shortage of teachers in a state that had so much unemployment.
The state government has now shamelessly announced that it would appoint “guest” teachers to fill up vacancies in government schools. Against an estimated 4,257 posts of guest teachers, there were reportedly five hundred thousand applications that included an overwhelming number of engineering and PhD degree holders.
Another aspect of the tragedy of education system in Bihar was that the educated people seldom raised their voice either alone or in unison. Among a very few who did, Prof Chandrakant Prasad Singh recently drew attention to the state of his own alma mater, Muzaffarpur Zila School that was once a pride place of 1400 students (in 1980), 70% of whom did pass in the first division. The school had a learned teaching staff and nationally recognized principal. Today, Chandrakant laments, there were two regular teachers and the rest on contract. Hardly, 50% of the 500 students enrolled showed up. Hostel and school buildings were in tatters.
A tiny part of my initial school years was also spent at a Municipal School and Marwari High School in Chandwara mohalla of Muzaffarpur. The school system before 1967 was remarkably better in every district of Bihar.
Later, my high school was M.L.Academy (Saraswati School) at Laheria Sarai that was famous for its proximity to Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital, and the school’s excellent result. It was also known for its disciplinarian and renowned principal, J. Kumar.
The ambience of the school was such that in the mid 60’s once Vinoba Bhave had camped at the school with his Sarvodayee volunteers. I had the unique fortune of holding Vinoba’s hand on one of his walks outside the school premises.
Came the era of Pass Without English sponsored by Karpoori Thakur, a former Chief Minister belonging to the Backward caste, and everything changed. He made high and post-high school education easier by eliminating the importance of English. He might have had the honest intention, however, he didn't fathom the enormity and importance of holding intact the higher education standards and infrastructure.
The inheritors of Karpoori Thakur’s legacy, like Lalu and Nitish, took the system down the hill more rapidly. Their fake plans or programs of lifting the lower caste groups to the level of the elite castes in terms of education were grounded into the dust. Later on, it was realized that these leaders never intended to empower their constituencies with quality education, instead, wanted them to stay illiterate, uneducated and as blind vote banks.
As if in a revengeful move, the leaders of the OBCs further pulverized the system of education that was working relatively well for the people interested. Parents in Bihar then started sending their kids to the so called English medium schools because the standards at the government schools fell miserably.
There developed a hand-in-glove conspiracy to further weaken the government schools so that the private run schools might attract more students and higher tuition money from their parents. It's the same as happened in the health sector. The government medical hospitals became centers of pilferage and malpractices by the health officials (including doctors) and therefore, the needy patients ran towards private hospitals.
Nitish Kumar could have stemmed this downward spiral. But he didn't do that because many of the owners of the private-run schools and private health clinics, their patrons were politically linked with him.
It's also a question worth investigating from the social science angle if the 'Mandalization' (49% reservation in the hiring), or overall dominance of the OBCs in every aspect of the Bihari life, including politics and education, were now responsible for the breakdown of education and health system in Bihar.
It's very apparent the upper caste leadership, with all its inadequacies and drawbacks, had either retired or withdrawn in Bihar. This has happened partly because of the relentless sloganeering of "social justice" by the OBC-majority political parties and their uneducated, short-sighted selfish base or leaders.
In absolute majority and enjoying political power since 1990, they have almost displaced competent teachers and administrators from education and all other crucial administrative areas. Having lost interest in new initiatives, the wise upper caste population moved away from Bihar leaving most survivors among them behind to become complicit in the loot perpetuated by the lower caste officials and politicians.
The fact now was out of 120 million population of Bihar, around 25 million lived away in places from Delhi-Ghaziabad to Ludhiana or Mumbai. They would have their education and livelihood there. But, where will the rest of 95 million people go?
Come 2020, Nitish will have to account for what happened to Bihar at the end of his three terms as Chief Minister, particularly in the field of education.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.