Event ReportsPublished on Jan 24, 2011
Though the recent Assembly polls in Bihar witnessed developmental agenda replacing caste and related equations, the power structure is yet to change at the societal level. There only the rich and influential mattered, with caste playing a dominant role, based on individual regions.
Changing Face of Bihar
Bihar is one of the most under-developed States in India. Be it the political anarchy or recurrent floods in one part and droughts in the other, Bihar has always remained in news for wrong reasons. Taking heed of the recent positive developments in the State, the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation organised an Interaction on the 'Changing face of Bihar', on January 22, 2011.

Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba, Director, School of Mass Communication, Vels University, Chennai, presented a detailed profile of Bihar, explaining the political history and the ground realities in the State. A native of Bihar, he enumerated the wave of change that has been sweeping across the State in recent times, inter-mingling facts and figures with anecdotes and personal experiences. He listed construction of roads across the State as among the top achievements of the present Government of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and said that in a State where no roads had existed for decades, it also helped the ruling coalition NDA (National Democratic Alliance) to win re-election the previous year.

Dr. Mujtaba elaborated the changes in different fields with relevant examples. The administrative sector witnessed tremendous changes, ranging from the better functioning of Government offices to the introduction of new technologies. New laws have been passed, making it mandatory for Government employees to declare their assets. He noted that surprise-checks and raids have brought down the incidence of corruption to some extent. Reports about kidnapping for gain and murder too have reduced considerably. At the local-governance level, both the panchayatiraj system and municipal corporations have been revived and are active. He also pointed to the vast improvement in tax-collections of the civic bodies.

Dr. Mujtaba was of the opinion that the life of the people in Bihar has improved in different ways. According to him, the increased connectivity attained by construction of roads and popularisation of mobile phones have revolutionised life in Bihar. The primary education, especially for girls, is given a lot of importance than ever before. The strict implementation of Centrally-funded schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, providing noon-meal, uniforms and books have all contributed to an increase in the enrolment of students. A number of new Government hospitals have been built and the existing ones are being modernised at a fast pace, said Dr.Mujtaba. He also appreciated the State Government for taking initiatives to construct public toilets in rural areas, to improve the health and sanitation of the people.

Dr. Mujtaba attributed the reasons for the backward status of Bihar to several factors, like landlocked geographic location, historic neglect of the peripheral regions, political instability and the complex socio-cultural matrix of the State. For him, the downfall of Bihar from one of the best governed States in the 1950's to one among the least developed States of today revealed the extent of poor governance in the interim. None of the regimes after the first Chief Minister Srikrishna Sinha, who was in power for close to 15 years, could continue development activities initiated at the time. The average term of a Chief Minister was less than a year, until the Rashtriya Janata Dal came to power in 1990. Despite promising change, the party became known for poor governance, he said.

Pointing out the complex social matrix of Bihar and the consequent caste politics as a major reason for the political instability, Dr. Mujtaba said while there was a constant tussle between the forward and backward castes, Muslims numbering around 17 per cent after the creation of Jharkhand, remained king-makers. Though the recent Assembly polls witnessed developmental agenda replacing caste and related equations, he said that the power structure had changed only in the ballot paper but not at the societal level. There only the rich and influential mattered, with caste playing a dominant role, based on individual regions.

Dr. Mujtaba admitted that Bihar faced enormous challenges and it would definitely be a tall task to resolve them. The strong resistance from the influential land-owners came in the way of much-needed land reforms. Naxalism posed a grave threat to the security and stability of the State. Natural disasters like rampant floods and droughts that affect more than half the population demanded immediate remedial action of a permanent nature. According to him, the higher education sector needed a total revival. The police force also required thorough modernisation. Issues like curbing criminalisation of politics and employment-generation must also be given high priority. He expressed confidence in the present Government in its attempt to deliver the basic needs of people like road, water, power and jobs.

Charing the session, Mr. N. Sathiya Moorthy, Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter, outlined the complexities of Bihar politics and drew attention to the dynamics of Centre-State relations in the case of Bihar. He remarked that the changing face of Bihar was a heartening fact and also reminded that Bihar has a long way to go in terms of development and modernisation.

During the interaction, participants discussed several significant issues. The need to train a second-line of political leaders in order to sustain the achieved level of development was also stressed. The relative legitimacy of successive elections in Bihar, the role of the Election Commission and the extent of caste politics in the 2009 Assembly polls were discussed. The need to emulate lessons from the Bihar model of development was also raised during the discussion. 

(This report is prepared by Neethu S Thottammariyil, II MA, International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai)
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