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Home > News > Columnists > Aditi Phadnis

Nitish Kumar's rule: Well-begun but half-done

December 03, 2007

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Bihar's rural areas look very different today, but Nitish Kumar is now dithering.
 
Nitish Kumar, who completed two years as Bihar chief minister on November 24, is standing at a crucial crossroads.

Has he achieved enough on the development front to be able to do a bit of plain politics?
 
The jury is out on this. Those who know the depths of the mindless lethargy that the bureaucracy had sunk into until two years ago, understand the importance of the unquantifiable but invaluable revival.
 
The result is the well-reported progress Bihar has made. The roads that the state has built are not spanking new four-lane state highways. They are not even roads in Patna upgraded after the floods -- those continue to be potholed. They are small stretches between villages or between a state/national highway and a village.

You have to live in a village to know what this access to the outside world means. Small rivulets that turn into vast swathes of stillwater unnavigable after the monsoons have been tamed because building or repairing small bridges has been decentralised.
 
Footfalls in state hospitals continue to grow. Classes in panchayat-run government schools are being held. Every girl child born in a family below the poverty line will be given Rs 2,000 that the UTI will manage until she comes of age.
 
Flabbergasted bureaucrats watched as Kumar announced that one quintal of rice to every flood-hit family -- regardless of economic status -- will continue to be given two months until after the floods. This was earlier 25 kg, barely sufficient for a family of four and would result in large-scale migration every year to stave off hunger.

A 100 kg of rice every month!

There is some leakage (Madhubani saw firing), but there is enough to go around.
 
A scheme to provide a toilet to every home, no matter how small,will cost the state government Rs 1,300 crore, but will at least begin to address the problem of sanitation in rural areas.
 
Of necessity, the chief minister has had to rely heavily on his bureaucrats -- his ministers are untrained in governance.

But this also means that the power of the bureaucracy has grown, untrammelled, in the rural areas. There was a time the legislator was everything and the district magistrate, nothing. Now it is the other way round.

This is causing tension, with partymen otherwise loyal to the chief minister, turning against him for being so bureaucracy-led.
 
What is also worrying party colleagues is the face of the bureaucracy. For 15 years before Kumar came to power, the caste-steeped Bihar had been identified with the Yadavs.

The Dalits came to terms with their situation, the Brahmins made their peace, the Rajputs and Banias fretted and fumed but to little avail.

The social target of Lalu Prasad Yadav was the land-owning, socially powerful, outspoken, aggressive Bhumihar (land-owning Brahmins). It is the perception of this caste that he tried to grind their power into the dust, but they were the only ones who fought back.
 
Now under Nitish Kumar, they feel they've got their place back in the sun. It is a social compact that has been denied for years. Nitish Kumar is chary of getting a Bhumihar-friendly image, but he can't do much about it.

Your average friendly bureaucrat in Bihar is a Bhumihar. So are elements like Anant Singh and Suraj Bhan, the militant face of Bhumihars, to whom laws don't appear to apply.

Other castes don't like it, but they are not in a mood to make a choice just yet.
 
Hemmed in by all this, there are times when Nitish Kumar comes to a standstill while taking administrative decisions and this is beginning to annoy his well-wishers. The state has acquired not a single acre of land for industry wanting to invest in Bihar unless farmers voluntarily offer land.

First, the cost of land is prohibitive because of the generous acquisition terms the state government has decided (one-and-a-half times the value of the land on the basis of stamp duty and privately owned land to be bought by industry directly from the farmer). But also, giving away land owned by the state is a political decision loaded with controversial ramifications.
 
The result is, an investor for the Rs 1,320 crore Appu Ghar amusement park project got an assurance from the Bihar government that state-owned land on the banks of the Ganga in Patna would be given to him for development.

Then the chief minister got cold feet. The project has since relocated to Delhi.
 
It isn't that investment is not coming -- the state government has cleared proposals worth Rs 2,37,000 crore since coming to power. But only the bravest are actually putting money in the state.
 
With the best of intentions and working 18-hour days, Nitish Kumar needs to succeed, not just for Bihar but for India.

To do this, he needs to be resolute.

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