Do Biharis deserve Nitish or Laloo?

Posted: October 25, 2010 in Bihar, Politics
Tags: , ,

Yesterday while watching a Hindi news channel, I came across a clip of a voter being interviewed. This guy was a non-resident Indian, who hadn’t missed a Bihar election since he migrated to the US some 40 years ago. During every election he flew down to Bihar and cast his vote. When asked why he did it, he said “I love my state, love my town Darbhanga, and consider it my duty to vote.”

Bihar is going to elect a new chief minister and both Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav are expecting to win. For someone who spent his first nine years in that chaotic place, I won’t be surprised if even that happens! I generally have a very low opinion of Bihar and very few good things to say about it, whenever I’m asked, because I think, and so do a lot of others, that it’s beyond repair.

I don’t know how good a chief minister Nitish Kumar is, but Biharis tell me that Bihar has changed for the better ever since he took over and he is doing his damndest to restore some sanity there. But the problem is that politicians before him have so totally ravaged its resources that there is very little left to salvage. It’s a bit like pumping life-saving drugs into someone in the final stages of cancer. If Dr. Nitish Kumar can cure Bihar of this terminal illness it would be a miracle. So, unlike the conscientious Bihari from the US, I am, unfortunately, unable to generate that kind of enthusiasm for the place.

I too was born in a small town of Bihar called Bhagalpur, and till my father’s death in 1995, we owned ancestral property in Darbhanga. When I flew down to Patna from Mumbai in 1994, to visit my critically ill father in Darbhanga, I don’t think I was prepared for what I was about to experience. From the time I got off at Varanasi airport to the time I finally left Patna, it was one unpleasant experience after another.

I was hit by an overbearing stench as I exited Patna Junction well after midnight looking for a hotel. The reason for this was that the conservancy workers were demanding a pay hike and thought the best way to bring that to the notice of the government was to pile up garbage over a foot high on the road leading to the town from Patna Junction. Then there was a power cut in the town and only the big hotels could afford to keep the power running. I was stuck in one that couldn’t.

The next day I set off for Darbhanga and on the way my brother’s friend gave me an account of the horror stories about the badlands of Bihar. About how kidnapping had become a way of life; how the ministers and other high profile politicians were themselves in on the cut from the kidnappers; how businessmen were now keeping hired guns and electronic surveillance in their homes for protection; how women were abducted when they were travelling with their husbands, whisked away at gunpoint and raped.

(I did have one pleasant experience in Patna sometime in the early 1990s when I was returning from a friend’s place. As I was looking for a rickshaw to take me back to my sister’s place in Pataliputra Colony, I was stopped at a police post. I had downed a few and the cop could obviously smell the whisky on my breath. When the questioning began to get a little interrogative, I said I was a journalist. Immediately the questioning stopped, and the cop asked me to get into a parked Maruti Gypsy and set off. I had no clue where he was headed till he asked me the house number. I realised I was on a familiar road and he soon stopped the Gypsy at my sister’s place! I wondered what would have happened if I had not disclosed I was a scribe.)

So as as we reached Kansi Simri, it seemed like any semblance of civilisation had been left far behind. Filth and squalor greeted us as we made our way to the village. My father’s palatial house was, itself, crumbling and I think it mirrored the general decay of the place. I mean if the ‘zamindar’ of the land was living in such a dilapidated surroundings, what could you expect from his village?

One evening I decided to go walkabout in the village and was even more appalled by what I saw. After nearly fifty years if this is what our villages had been reduced to, I thought there was something drastically wrong with our system. I could see the hunger and deprivation in the eyes of the naked children playing in the dirt. They say a hungry man is an angry man. How long, I wondered, before someone decided they had had enough and picked up a gun?

You could blame the politicians for fanning the flames, but do you think anyone would turn to violence as a means to an end, unless he realised that all other avenues were closed, and the gun was his last act of desperation. I asked a couple of villagers why they never approached the collector or the local leaders for help and they shrugged their shoulders. That said it all – complete apathy by the administration and a slow and hardening realisation that it was each man for himself and the devil take hindmost. Can you blame them for turning naxal?

They say people get the government they deserve. For years, people conned by his mantra of social justice, voted Laloo to power. All he did in the decade or so when he was CM was to fill his pockets and completely bastardize the post of the chief minister. If the people of Bihar vote Laloo and his cohorts back to power, they deserve no better than to wallow in the poverty and criminal way of life that had become a hallmark during his time.

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