The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the colossal failure of the leadership in Bihar. Disturbing images from the state have shown the reality of sushasan (good governance) for what it is. While several other states have grown rapidly over the past decade, Bihar, under Nitish Kumar, has been on a downward spiral.
Development is an evolving process and its trajectory is shaped by the size and direction of the national economy. Our party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), formerly the Janata Dal, was in power in the state from 1990-2005.
In 1990, my father, Lalu Prasad, took over a state crippled by huge debt, gross social inequality, rampant corruption and social and political discrimination against the communities on the margins.
My mother, Rabri Devi, was chief minister (CM) from 1997 to 2005. During this time, there was significant progress on all these parameters. In hindsight, we realise that the 1990s required immediate intervention in correcting an unequal social and political order.
It also needed leading from the front to achieve the goals of social justice for oppressed and vulnerable citizens so that they could get a sense of belonging in a structure which had turned its back on them. My father is secular to the core. He did not mind risking his government when it came to saving the people under attack by the forces which threatened to destroy the social fabric and composite culture of India.
Remarkable progress was achieved in education, health, social sector and the economy. When Lalu Prasad became CM, he started the recruitment of teachers through competitive examinations under the Bihar Public Service Commission, thereby bringing transparency into the process. A series of such reforms to ensure a level-playing field for everyone posed a serious challenge to the hegemony and dominance of some caste supremacists. Initiatives such as this became a trigger for sinister conspiracies to defame and frame him. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nitish did some good work in his first term (2005-2010) as every freshman does in his probation period. But in his successive terms, from 2010 onwards, he faltered in evolving any sort of inclusive development agenda for the state. Instead, by spending huge amounts on image-building exercises, he was able to project himself as an able administrator and mask his failures. The state performed poorly on all indices of every government evaluation report. Going by data, the situation went downhill after 2005.
Today, Bihar’s per capita income is the lowest in the country, and its per capita debt is the highest. It is high on unemployment and crime. Outward migration from Bihar for work and education is the highest in the country. The CM has ruined the education, health, agriculture and industry sectors. Operating factories, sugar and jute mills were shut down and no new industries were set up. Public health care has collapsed as is evident in the Covid-19 crisis. He gave powers to mukhiyas (headmen) to directly recruit teachers and set the terrible precedent of hiring on a contractual basis. Corruption is institutionalised to such an extent that not a single bit of work gets down without bribing officials — from getting a caste/nativity certificate to filing the First Information Reports. Bihar is perhaps the only state where bridges collapse even before their inauguration, roads cannot withstand one monsoon and dams are damaged by rats. As many as 57 huge scams involving colossal amounts of money have come to light.
Clearly, Nitish abandoned governance and public welfare from his second term onwards, and spent all the state’s resources on trying to stay in power. Ties between the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started worsening in his second innings. In 2013, he snapped ties with the BJP and made Jitan Ram Manjhi the CM in 2014. Then, in 2015, he joined hands with the RJD and became the CM again. True to type, he ditched us in 2017 and again tied up with the BJP and remained the CM. But this game of thrones has cost the state dearly in terms of development.
During his tenure, which still continues, Nitish has turned Bihar into a wasteland. For him, image is all. He announced the prohibition on alcohol and dowry to project himself as a reformer. But the reality is that there is home delivery of liquor, and no marriage takes place without a dowry. Thanks to a favourable media, he has got away with it by conveniently blaming our party for his shortcomings.
But now the day of reckoning is approaching. In each election, he has gone out to seek votes, not based on his track record, but by making personal accusations against my family. He and his party will stop at nothing to come up with some evidence or the other to defame my family and our party. But it must be asked how these personal attacks are of any benefit to the state.
Over his 15-year rule, we have seen how this negative politics has proved disastrous for Bihar. It diverts attention from the bigger picture and puts paid to any prospect of progress. Now it is time to consider whether we should trust a person who constantly talks about the past to lead us into the future. The strength of electoral democracy is that the key to power is in the hands of the people.
I can only hope that the wisdom of my compatriots from Bihar will bring in a progressive government in this new decade, one which collectively works for the peace and prosperity of the beleaguered state.
Tejashwi Prasad Yadav is the leader of Opposition, Bihar
The views expressed are personal