Can Nitish change Bihar for the better?

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Bihar
Tags: , , ,

I was reading a Facebook status update about train passengers in Patna without confirmed reservations who barged into a reserved compartment and locked themselves in, thereby effectively denying legitimate ticket-holders entry into the bogey! There are only two States in the country where such a thing can happen – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh!

I remember writing a blog post after the Assembly elections when Lalu and Rabri were given marching orders by the electorate in 2010 and Nitish took over. I had also said in that blog post that it would take Nitish at least two decades to put the State back on the road to some semblance of prosperity.  After that, I had heard that Bihar had been changing for the better. For Nitish Kumar it must have been like climbing Mount Everest.

His biggest problem would have been to change the mindset of people who have lived in the belief that if they want something that is not theirs they don’t ask if they can have it, they just take it. In other words, the Goonda culture. That is Lalu’s legacy which has filtered down to the man on the street in Bihar. The kidnappings, murders, etc are all part of that legacy. And that is what I hoped, Nitish would change. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is happening, though I sincerely hope I am wrong.

So when I read the FB update I remembered an incident during a trip back from then Calcutta to Bombay sometime in the mid 1980s. When the train reached Kiul there were just four of us in that IIIrd sleeper compartment, which meant that at Patna, there were berths reserved for the rest who would be boarding. What happened next was a fascinating replay of what happens at most railway stations in the East and North on any given day. Those with reservations got in and got comfortable. Then a train conductor appeared outside and shouted to those clamouring for a seat or berth to form a queue. I marvelled at the order he had managed to put things in.

Then he stuck both hands out and as passengers trooped in, they put money in the TC’s palm! I watched mesmerised. It was like clockwork — opening his palms, closing his palms once the money was in, putting his hands in his coal pockets, and then pulling them out for the next round. He soon got tired and called for help to pocket all the money! There are, I think around 74 berths in a IIIrd sleeper, but there must have been at least double that number in the compartment before the train left Patna.

I took down his badge number and name and on my return to Pune, wrote a letter to the railway minister. About a year later I got a reply from the ministry, which stated that they had conducted an inquiry and found that there was no TC with that name or number on that route, and no such person at Patna Junction either! The letter helpfully added that since I was sure of the TC’s identity they would be having an identification parade at Danapur Junction on a given date, so I should be present.

I wrote back to the railway minister telling him that I wouldn’t be attending any ID parade, because after a year it would be impossible for me to identify a man I saw on a dimly lit Patna Station. I added that having been born and lived in Bihar I knew exactly what could happen to me, if I ever landed up there to identify a crook!

It is these incidents that have given Bihar a bad name. So let’s hope for Nitish’s sake, that whatever happened at Patna Junction recently was an isolated incident, and not a sign of things to come – or return, to what they were during Lalu’s time.


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