Bihar, the “template of good governance” in the 1950s, degenerated into a laughing stock by the late 1990s; it’s emerging now from years of misrule, believes
eminent journalist and scholar MJ Akbar.
Addressing the Governance Now Forum on ‘Bihar on the move’, he said a discussion on governance in Bihar would have been unimaginable a few years ago “except as a continuing form of satire”. “The fact that such a seminar is being held in Delhi and that such a large audience has come to attend it speaks for itself,” he said.
“Bihar is emerging from its ‘joke’ reputation and is starting to show promise as a serious player in the growth of the country,” Akbar noted in his inaugural address. “A snapshot of the contemporary Bihar story comes not from Patna, but from Ludhiana in Punjab. Today, the farmers and landowners there are feeling the pinch of labour shortage. The Bihari families working on their fields are heading back to Bihar,” he added.
Akbar, who once represented Kishanganj in Bihar in the Lok Sabha, spoke about how the Bihar story had changed in the last few decades when caste-identity politics hijacked the election agenda in the state. While easy alliances came along caste lines, the excess of caste politics overwhelmed every aspect of governance. Politicians started confusing, very dangerously for the state, political rhetoric with power. “They charmed people at one level and instigated differences at another,” he said.
“There was a time when the ruling class in the state would laugh at suggestions of improving infrastructure in the state,” he added. That the narrative is changing now with the realisation that governance is not charity; rather, it is instrumental in creating value for investment, he said.
At the same time, he was critical of the statistical growth story. “I am not too prone to praising people in power but when I was in Patna speaking at a function attended by the chief minister, I said: ‘I do not understand statistics, I don’t know what you mean when you say eight percent growth, 29 percent growth, 48 percent growth...’ These statistics are utterly meaningless. In any case, this eight percent growth that we talk about is a statistical lie. To begin with, if eight percent growth is going to only 10 percent of the people, then that growth can become counter-productive as we are seeing in the rise of the naxal movement.”
Akbar said chief minister Nitish Kumar had put governance back on the forefront. “I congratulate the CM of Bihar for beginning to change the image of Bihar. But this is not a moment to feel smug. Nothing substantial has been achieved yet, but a difficult corner has been turned,” he said in conclusion.