By Vikas Khanna
New Delhi, Nov. 20 (ANI): A huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of Nitish Kumar, who took oath as chief minister of Bihar, for the third straight term. With initial euphoria of crushing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over, Kumar will be charting into a new territory as he is going to share power with his bitter rival-turned-friend Lalu Prasad Yadav, who in his past avatar was seen as the fountain head of mass corruption.
That Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has emerged as the single largest party in the state assembly is going to weigh heavily on the new chief minister. And it has been reflected at the swearing-in function. Kumar was forced to induct both sons of Lalu in his cabinet, with one is made his deputy. But one hopes Nitish does not get bogged down and continues with his mission of providing not only a clean administration but taking one of the most backward states to new heights. The success of the government will depend largely on Lalu, who will do better not to meddle in the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day functioning of the government. The mandate of the just-concluded election is development, development, development.
There is no doubt that the people of the state see in Nitish a visionary who has set the ball rolling by improving the law and order situation considerably. Gone are the days when mafias used to call the shots and people would dread venturing out of their homes after dusk. Kidnapping had become an industry. A semblance of normalcy has been restored and the state has taken some baby steps to restore investors’ confidence. But there is a long way to go.
As per a Planning Commission report of 2012, Bihar remains the poorest state of the country. Odisha, which used to be the poorest state as per the previous data released in 2004-2005, is way better off than Bihar. The report says the percentage of people below the poverty line in Odisha has gone down from 57.2 percent in 2004-2005 to 37 percent in 2009-10, a remarkable feat. In contrast, Bihar, helped by economic reforms carried out by Nitish Kumar government, witnessed marginal fall in the percentage of population below the poverty line. In the five years between 2004-2005 and 2009-2010, Bihar could uplift people below the poverty line by just one percentage. There were 53.5 percent people in Bihar who remained below the poverty line as per the last data. Of course, the figures would be quite different now since no current official data is available. But the figures suggest that the reforms have not yet percolated down the lowest strata of the society and reached the deserving.
Nitish will not only have to give maximum ministerial berths to RJD but will also have to accommodate the Congress. But in doing so, he will have to ensure that criminal elements are kept away from the government. Not only that, all the three stakeholders will have combined responsibility to see that the government meets the aspirations of the people. The outflux of Biharis to other states for lesser paying jobs needs to be stopped. The government will need to create facilities as well as opportunities so that the educated and uneducated youth don’t have to leave their state.
A huge mandate entails larger responsibility as people have high expectations. Better and accessible education, job opportunities and creation of a favourable environment to invite both domestic and foreign investment and better infrastructure and connectivity are some of the key issues that are expected of the government.
The state has fared poorly in a World Bank report on “ease of doing business in Indian states”.
The report, which was released in September, has ranked Bihar at 21.The report has red flagged red tape which continues to deter people from setting up establishments in the state. In fact, Modi had ridiculed the state of affairs in Bihar during his several election meetings. Ironically, Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar about a decade and a half ago, leapfrogged to third position. This demonstrates that all is not well and there is something perennial wrong in state policies.
One also hopes that the Modi government will display maturity and release promised funds. Victory and defeat are part and parcel of elections. Once the elections are over, it should be the duty of both the federal and state governments to join hands to work for the welfare of people. The country will develop only if Bihar develops. (ANI)
(Vikas Khanna is a senior journalist and the views expressed by him are personal)