Nitish’s Problem of Ungovernability in Bihar

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In the 90’s scholars had identified a few states in India as ungovernable. Popular with the acronym, BIMARU, Bihar was first among them. It was the decade of Lalu Yadav, but the degeneration had continued in a big way during the Jagannath Mishra regime.

The first term of the NDA administration led by Nitish Kumar brought a breath of fresh air. Roads were constructed, crimes curbed and officials caught taking bribes were sent to jail. Nitish’s initiative to hold weekly Janata Durbar where complainants could submit their grievances to the Chief Minister had started bearing fruits. All the chronic problems were still there but, people had begun to have more confidence in the government. That confidence let Nitish sail through the 2010 election with the BJP rather easily.

Before the voters of Bihar could fully assess the accomplishments of Nitish, the 2015 provincial election was drowned in the noisy popularity contest between the provincial Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar and national Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Nitish, with Lalu and his Muslim-Yadav support base and also with the support of the Congress party, outsmarted the opposition and continued as the Chief Minister of Bihar.

As Bihar gets close to the 2020 provincial election, once again, the performance of Nitish Kumar and accomplishments of his government (although back with his original National Democratic Alliance partner, BJP) have to come under scrutiny.

If you ask Nitish Kumar, he will enumerate a number of accomplishments of his administration. Improvement in the supply of electricity and blanket imposition of prohibition in the state will be prominent among them. Then there will be a plethora of government funded schemes where the truth is public money were poured out without any consideration for return or accountability.

In most cases, the funds were stolen by the middlemen and the official government babus (employees) resulting in little or nothing percolating down to the ground. Therefore, in the crucial sectors of agriculture, education, health, employment generation or external capital investment, the state has fallen way behind. The most paralysing handicap has been the ineffectiveness of the state law and order machinery. The police system appeared to be hopelessly disoriented, thinned out, corrupt and undisciplined.

During his several yatras (marches), in addition to listening to it from the people, Nitish has been finding out how schemes and plans were cobbled up right before his visit to show they were being implemented and then rendered defunct right after his fleet of vehicles left. Sometimes the locals expressed their anger by throwing bricks at the Chief Minister’s caravan because he didn’t stop to visit with them. Somewhere the villagers protested or stopped a government construction because the contractor was openly and shamelessly using substandard materials (e.g., soil in place of sand). People were not notified right after the CM’s spot inspection that a few officials were suspended for dereliction of duties or for misappropriations of funds. It’s difficult for politicians to take action against failing bureaucrats because most of them are politically connected or could be source of illicit funding.

The role is sometimes reversed also. It’s crime of the members of the public against the people, the state or the civil societies. For example, at many government construction sites, the local toughs (bahubalis) would ask the contractor for a substantial payment. Infamously called “Rangdari tax”, it is levied by anti-social criminal elements almost everywhere they could establish their superiority. Of all the places, from the capital city of Patna and surrounding areas, news came in on a regular basis that a petty businessman was murdered by the local criminals who had earlier delivered a demand and a threat. Banks and cash machines were looted in urban areas after holding employees hostage at gunpoint.

There seems to be a complete anarchy because of the stubbornness of the people who are hell bent on disobeying the laws and the government law and order apparatus not being able to manage the chaos. For instance, politicians, their relatives and friends defy prohibition laws; office employees are apprehended consuming alcohol in their offices; the police posse are seen collecting extortion money from passing vehicles; men and women, including police officers, on the road are run over by heavy vehicles; young lives on scooties are lost every day because of their inattention to traffic laws or their distraction because of the smart phones.

Lawlessness of the state is reflected on the roads everywhere in the state. Frustrated, sick, tired and often insecured public resort to instantaneous judgement: seizing the moment, they kill the one suspected of causing mishap and torch the vehicles. They lynch on the spot burglars, chain snatchers, rapists or child abusers.

In the absence of restraining or disciplining authority, the rural scene is way too tragic. Anyone more powerful than others would like to do things his own way, however illegal it might be, to satisfy his ego, lust or greed. For example, the Right to Information (RTI) activists are killed just because they wanted the village level elected officials to be fair and honest. Witnesses to any misdemeanor in the villages are brutally revenged upon. A poor person’s land is forcibly taken away by his/her own family members; if they protest, they are beaten up to death.

Because of widespread distrust and dishonesty, private lands stay barren and not leased out for growing crops. Married women are regularly coerced by their in-laws into bringing more dowry from their parents. For lack of timely detection and proper treatment, scores of people -- men, women, boys or girls -- develop mental illness and commit suicide.

Multiplied by rural unemployment, millions of failing students thrown on the roads, natural calamities and opportunistic political wranglings, the problems would remain intractable and Bihar ungovernable for a politician who would like to retain power at all cost.


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.

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