As Bihar gears up for the upcoming assembly election, there is an often asked question on why this election is so important. In a couple of months’ time, around one tenth of India’s population, whose development is essential if India has to develop as a nation, goes for election. In the last ten years, the state has witnessed unprecedented growth and prosperity. After decades, the conversation about Bihar has acquired a positive tone and tenor. A stable foundation has been laid on which a brighter and prosperous future of Bihar awaits to be built. I believe that not only are people conscious about the importance of these elections in ensuring the unabated development in the state, but there is a resolve to make sure this journey continues. Beyond the issues and priorities of Bihar, in my view, these elections will also influence the political discourse and direction of politics in the country.
First, let’s talk about Bihar’s perspective. Driven by the mantra of ‘Development with Justice’, the state has focused on ensuring governance, rule of law and effective delivery of basic services. Bihar has outperformed the country on most socio-economic indicators. At 17.99%, decadal GSDP (gross state domestic product) growth rate (at current prices) has been at an all time high. Per capita income has grown at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate of 16.33%, more than twice the national average. Agricultural GSDP growth has increased by 5.1%, industrial production by 13.3% and tertiary sector by 9.8%. The electricity situation has seen massive improvement. There has been a four-fold increase in power supply (from 700 MW to 3012MW). Per capita power consumption has trebled (70 units to 203 units). About 36,504 (including partially electrified) villages have been electrified. Road network in Bihar has doubled over the past decade; more than 66,500 kilometres of roads and thousands of constructed bridges have connected the length and breadth of Bihar. Going forward, while we have challenges, the results give us the confidence to work harder and accomplish better results for the people of Bihar.
Statistics and data, though important, cannot be the only criteria of a job well done. When I see empowered young girls and future of Bihar riding on bicycles, clad in school uniforms, adding wings to their dreams, I consider it as a job well done. When thousand more people visit state-run hospitals in their hours of pain and misery and come out satisfied with a feeling of being helped, I consider it a job well done. When I see people roaming the streets of Bihar, without a shred of fear for safety and the confidence that in their state, the rule of law prevails, I consider it a job well done. A job well done is when people of Bihar take pride in being called a Bihari.
While all these issues will dominate the mind space of people when they decide on electing a new government in Bihar, in my opinion, in a federal structure like ours, the electorate will also factor in the performance and delivery of the 1.5-year-old government at the Centre. More so, because it is after 30 years that the country has a government of a single party majority and it has come to power at the Centre riding on high hopes and promises of ushering in “ache din”. However, till now, what we have seen does not give much confidence. The government’s delivery has fallen well short of its tall promises. It makes me wonder if this government would ever be able to deliver on its promises of ‘ache din’. But there are other issues as well which make many sections of society uneasy.
Increasingly, the government at the Centre is being seen as the government of a select few. Civil society feels hounded, minorities and the marginalized feel that they don’t have a stake in the government. So, I am in great pain when I read a retired IPS officer Julius Ribeiro say “… I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country.”
Additionally, the government has shown some early signs of weakening the democratic fabric of the nation. Increasingly, the government at the centre is being seen as non-consultative, and as having little regard for alternate opinion. It is disheartening to note that for a country that took pride in debates and being argumentative, this totalitarian approach makes one feel there is little or no room left for dissent in this country.
“A job well done is when people of Bihar take pride in being called a Bihari.”
Now coming back to issues and circumstances in Bihar, just like the political dispensation at the centre, the political combination in Bihar, aspiring to grab power in the state, seems devoid of vision and a positive narrative for Bihar. When I hear what is being talked ad nauseum by my colleagues in opposition, I wonder, where is the vision and agenda for the state and people of Bihar? Beyond the rhetoric of change, there is very little narrative on what should change. Do we need to change the stupendous growth the state has seen? Do we need to change the all-pervasive rule of law prevalent in the state? Do we need to change the massive improvement in delivery of services?
Our track record is there for people to see. We might need to improve on some counts, but a strong foundation has already been laid to pave the way ahead. It is for the people to judge if they should give us the responsibility of serving the state again. Beyond that, I have full faith in the collective wisdom of people and immense respect for the will of democracy. I assure the people of my state that till I have their blessings, development shall remain unabated and in a few years from now, Bihar will achieve its goal to be at the frontier of the developed states of India. May God bless all of us!
Nitish Kumar is the chief minister of the state of Bihar