Tag New Bihar

Persistence beats Perfection 9

Dec29

One of the most redeeming qualities of Nitish Kumar is persistence. Most politicians have a tendency of launching something with much fanfare, only to fade away in a whimper once the public gaze shifts. Nitish on the other hand has an inclination for following up on his initiatives. One of the best examples of his persistence is the ‘Janta Durbar’ program. Every Monday morning, he along with his key ministers and top bureaucrats meets complainants who approach him.
New Bihar Janta Durbar
Such programs had been in fashion with earlier administrations too, but then they were primarily used for either dispensing favours to select groups, patronizing sycophants (ala ‘Lalu Chalisa’), or most importantly for earning useful publicity news bites . However, more often than not they quickly lost their utility and were slowly relegated to the back burner. One of the first significant changes that Nitish made to this program was to change its name from ‘Janta Durbar of Chief Minister’ to ‘Chief Minister in Janta Durbar’. The change though symbolic, epitomizes Nitish’s approach to governance. Another important improvement that he brought in was to connect all the complaints to an online tracking system. This online system assigns a ‘ticket number’ to every complaint that is logged in. The complaint is then followed up through the maze of bureaucracy till its resolution. He also experimented with ‘Janta Durbar’ on specific topics such as cases related to Police or to other departments and schemes. After assuming Office, Nitish Kumar has meticulously stuck to his ‘Monday morning’ schedule of ‘Janta Durbar’. The only time he makes an exception is when he is unwell, away for some important business or any other extenuating circumstances ( like the period of mourning after his Wife’s demise). Another time when he changed his schedule was when he took the program to the electorate’s door steps during his ‘Vikas Yatra’ while campaigning for the Parliamentary Elections.

This is not to suggest that all the complaints that land up in the ‘Janta Durbar’ get redressed. While many complaints are frivolous in nature, many seek personal favours and some are even antagonistic and require investigation of the contrarian point of view also. However still many genuine problems too face bureaucratic resistance in spite of the direct intervention of Chief Minister. Moreover one of the unfortunate offshoots of persistence has been that that those whose problems get redressed are less likely to return for expressing their thankfulness than those whose problems do not get redressed. This has led to several publicity disasters with complainants turning to the Janta Durbar multiple times unable to get redressal even after repeated attempts. Anyone else would have given up on this program if not for anything else, then for the bad publicity it generates when complainants recount their horror story of bureaucratic apathy and expose the inability of even the CM to cut through the red tape. Yet he has steadfastly stuck to his guns and refused to shut the program down. Four years down the line, different people may have different take on the efficacy of the program, still its regular continuance is an achievement in itself. That people continue to flock his Monday morning sessions and are allowed to approach repeatedly if their problems are not resolved, is no mean achievement at all.

In conclusion, Nitish Kumar has turned out to be an honest politician who has sincerely worked hard to put the state back on rails. He however, does not just bring good intentions and hard work to the table but also actively engages in realpolitik to ensure his political survival. He may not be a perfect politician, but his persistence scores well over his lack of perfection. Yet it may not be desirable to have him at the helm in perpetuity. On the contrary, we need many more such politicians so that we can rotate power among them and be sure that one takes off from where the other left. Only then, the people’s work can finally get done .

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Shades of Chanakya 3

Dec18

It is for not for nothing that Nitish Kumar was called ‘Chanankya’ of undivided Janta Dal in the early ’90s. In his present avatar too, he has mixed up a fair dose of realpolitik with his developmental plank. From the very beginning of his term he strategically targeted the vote banks of his two chief opponents in the state – Lalu Yadav (RJD) & Ramvilas Paswan (LJP).
New Bihar Graphics
He began by assiduously wooing the Muslim Community to break the Muslim-Yadav (MY) axis of Lalu Yadav. Apart from symbolic gestures of admitting a large number of Muslim Leaders to his party (JDU), attending Muslim festivities, drafting a Muslim bureaucrat for the critical Home Secretary position ( rarity for a BJP ruled/partnered state) etc., he also has also launched several schemes for the Muslim community (such as ‘Hunar’) and recruited ‘urdu’ teachers in bulk . He took credit for finally convicting the main accused of Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and distributing relief to its victims on the lines of Delhi 1984 Sikh riots. He has cleverly positioned himself as a ‘doer’ versus Lalu who he says, only provided ‘lip service’ to the community. His recent decision of allocating 250 acres of land for establishing a center of Aligarh Muslim University in Bihar too, has been a step in the same direction..

At the same time he also targeted the ‘Dalit’ vote bank of Ramvilas Paswan. He first broke off a large chunk of the community by branding them as ‘Maha-Dalits’ as they had not received the benefits due to them while all their benefits were being cornered by the more well off communities among Dalits. A separate “Mahadalit Vikas Mission‘ was founded under his supervision and a flood of schemes have been launched to directly target succour to this community. To add injury to salt, he has slowly expanded the ambit of ‘Mahadalits’ leaving only the ‘Paswans’ in the dalit community. This move has been greatly resented by Ramvilas Paswan who has seen his electoral fortunes dwindle.

He has even tried to neutralize Congress with his demand for a special state status for Bihar. He strategically voiced this demand just before the declaration of the results of General Parliamentary Elections, at the time when Congress was fishing for more allies. The Congress was initially sympathetic but backtracked later after they were able to cobble up a comfortable majority on their own. Nitish now periodically uses this demand as a stick to beat Congress apart from his usual lament of insufficient central assistance. He has not even spared his partners in the government – BJP. Starting off as junior partners with BJP in the undivided Bihar, he has slowly pushed them to a corner and assumed the role of big brother in the state. He also asserts his authority clearly in matters of protecting his secular credentials such as the recent land allocation to AMU.

Internally he has moved swiftly against detractors in his own party. Early dissenters like Upendra Kumar Kushwaha were promptly shown the door. ( He has recently rejoined Nitish after unsuccessfully trying his luck with NCP for past 4 years). Even the party patriarch, George Fernandis who was also the convener of NDA, was kept at bay. Fernandis was denied a Loksabha ticket on grounds of ill health, though he was later accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. Other detractors such Nagmani were thrown out or the ones like Prabhunath Singh were neutralised through election defeat.

However despite all his brilliant strategies, Nitish received a body blow in the last bye-election for 18 assembly seats in September 2009. He along with BJP could only manage to win 5 setas whereas RJD+LJP won 9 and Congress 2. This has exposed his razor thin lead in the deeply divided caste equations of Bihar. While the marginalisation of Ramvilas Paswan has pushed him firmly into the Lalu camp, the rejuvenation of Congress nationally and the decline of BJP (his partner in the state) together have the potential of stinging him badly in the next assembly elections slated for late 2010. Only saving grace for him is that there is still another year to go and if he heeds to the warning signals of the recent bye-election defeat, he can still re-work the magic next year.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Wings of Education 6

Dec6

Literacy rate in Bihar has consistently been the lowest in India and it has been responsible for the state being a laggard in all developmental indicators. Education in Bihar is characterised by poor quality of infrastructure, lackadaisical attitude of teachers, rampant corruption in student welfare schemes, teacher absenteeism and chronic session delays. As a result many students migrate out of the state for higher education. Migrant bihari students have even become the main stay of several private professional colleges nationwide. Anyone who has had the discomfort of traveling in Bihar during examination or interview dates, when entire trains are taken over by examinees, would also be witness to the longing and yearning of students who wish to flee the clutches of poverty on the wings of education.
New Bihar Image
Another manifestation of this hunger for education is the widely acclaimed Super 30 which is a free residential JEE coaching program for extremely poor students that has turned out 100% success rates in last two years.

When Nitish Kumar took office, mending education was one of his key priorities. To fix the prevailing teacher student ratio of 73 : 1, he plunged headlong into recruitment of 2.35 lac school teachers at one go. Such a scale of recruitment was previously unheard of. Simultaneously he also reserved 50% positions for women and decentralised recruitment down to the panchayat level. The ensuing period has been anything but smooth, with systems creaking under record 10 million applications, post offices running out of stamps, fake degree rackets being busted, charges of corruption at ‘mukhiya’ levels, court cases being filed by disgruntled candidates, protests, ‘dharnas’ et all. Yet unfazed, the government has recruited more than 2 lac school teachers in the last 4 years and is still trying to recruit many more. While it is true that quality has given way to quantity and the endemic problems of teacher absenteeism, inadequate infrastructure etc are yet to be addressed satisfactorily, the resolve and priorities of the government have shone through. Another key development has been the realisation that gender differential (large female illiteracy) is the main culprit behind the abysmally low literacy rate in the state. Hence a number of schemes specially targeted at girl students have been launched. These include a free dress scheme & a popular bicycle gift scheme for every girl student (recently extended to boys too), ‘Hunar – a vocational training program for girls from marginalised community, and a scheme to improve sanitation facilities (Poor or lack of sanitation facilities forces many girls to drop school out of shame) in schools.

The success in higher education has been more visible. Within 6 months of coming to power an MOU with BIT, Mesra (the Private Engineering College that ceded to Jharkhand during bifurcation of state), which was hanging fire for a couple of years was signed promptly. The first batch of students will pass out in 2010 from its spanking new campus with adjoining housing facility for staff and students. Its . Another two new impressive institutions were started by the state government, albeit from temporary campuses. One of them is Chanakya National Law University that provides an integrated 5 year degree course in Law. Another one is the Chandra Gupta Institute of Management that aspires to model itself on the IIMs pattern. More good news followed when IIT and NIFT started functioning from Patna in quick succession last year.

IIT Patna Gate Image

The dream project of Nitish Kumar is however the Nalanda University. He has roped in two distinguished patrons to pilot the project – Nobel laureate Amartya Sen & Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The project has also attracted funding interest from several budhist circuit countries . Once it comes to life, it will transport Bihar back to the glorious days at the dawn of civilization when it was a global center of learning. Other notable institutions that have begun operations in Bihar are Amity Business School & ICFAI Business School. Yet others in pipeline include AMU, IGNOU Regional Office, Aryabhatta Knowledge University etc. However not everything has worked out well . AIIMS type institute that was promised long ago has failed to take off. There are no other new Medical Colleges that are coming up. Even existing Medical Colleges are being threatened of de-recognition by MCI for lack of facilities. In case of Engineering & Management institutes too, the demand far outstrips supply. Also, most of the new institutions are operating from temporary premises. Soft infrastructure such as housing and entertainment for staff and students is still missing.

To put things in perspective, whereas during the earlier regime ‘Lathi Ghumawan, Tel Pilawan’ rallies ( Oil and wave the stick, ostensibly to ward off communal forces) were the order of the day and teachers & educationists were treated with scant respect, today education is the crown jewel of the government strategy to put the state back on track . The battle on the education front is far from over but at least it is moving in the right direction.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Building Bridges 4

Nov21

Note: This is the second part of a multi part series on Nitish Kumar and his efforts to build a New Bihar.

Another major challenge that confronted Nitish Kumar was Infrastructure. Roads through out the state were in poor condition. While rural roads were non-existent, National Highways too were in bad shape. Even roads in major towns were full of pot holes.  An immediate task was to find contractors to build these roads. In the past decades, all the big contractors had fled the state. Those who remained, were small and had no infrastructure of their own. Outside contractors were not interested due to the smaller size of opportunity and the overhang of bad image. Still,the work on road construction started early in Nitish’s term. Unfortunately the beginning itself was botched up badly by the inflexible bureaucracy. A rare national contractor, Tantia Constructions, who ventured to work on the Patna Road Project, was forced to exit the state after one year of incomplete work. Either side blamed the other, however the real losers were people (who had to wait longer) and the state (whose already tarnished image took another hit). Notwithstanding the initial hiccups, most roads in Patna at least have now been built. What is more remarkable however are the drainages (nalis) that have been built alongside all the major roads. This will prevent water logging and ensure that roads last longer. Paved footpaths too have sprung up, where none had existed earlier. Today wherever one goes in the state, construction activity is visible. Even though progress has been stilted, it is still progress nevertheless from the days when infrastructure in Bihar wasn’t going anywhere.

The real crown jewel of infrastructure however, has been a small, erstwhile sick, state PSU – Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam. The Nigam which was put under liquidation by the previous administration, has been turned around in quick time. From having accumulated losses of Rs. 17 crores in 2005-06, it was able to contribute Rs. 20 crores towards CM Relief Fund after last year’s devastating Kosi Floods. In the past 3 years it has built an impressive array of 300 high level bridges at an estimated cost of Rs. 708 crores.

New Bihar Image

Bridges that had languished since ages, have been completed in record time. In the process many a stereotypes of a state infamous for tardy work culture, have been broken. The corporation has emerged as a role model for other ailing state corporations. Another stereotype that has been challenged is that of an ossified bureaucracy. The success of Amrit Pratyaya, a young, soft spoken, 1991 batch IAS officer, who is credited with this turnaround, has demonstrated what committed bureaucracy can achieve if it can rise above vested interests and get out of its comfort zone. The IAS Officer has since then been shifted to head a much larger Road construction department, normally reserved for a more senior, Principal Secretary level officer. This has lent credence to another important, emerging Nitish trait that he is able to spot, inspire, back and reward good performers consistently.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Changing Bihar, slowly 14

Nov9

Note: This is the first part of a multi part series on Nitish Kumar and his efforts to build a New Bihar.

When Mayawati became Chief Minster of U.P. for the first time, she shook up the entire bureaucracy and police by shifting more than 150 officers in one day. When Lalu became CM, he soon landed up at the Patna Medical College Hospital with the media in tow, to inspect whether Doctors were attending duty properly. He publicly rebuked those who were found derelict. He did the same when he became the Central Railway Minister, by ordering the office gates to be locked after the scheduled time so that the habitual late-comers could not get in. Yet, when Nitish Kumar became CM of Bihar in November 2005, after 15 long years of Lalu-Rabri rule, there was hardly a flutter.

Bihar CM Image

Save one or two key bureaucratic changes, there were hardly any changes anywhere. So much so that even the official residence of Chief Minster, 1 Anne Marg, continued to adorn the outgoing Chief Minister, Rabri Devi more than two months after he was sworn in. People started to wonder what, if any, were the changes. Nitish Kumar went to work with practically the same bureaucratic and executive team as his predecessor. Sure there were reshuffles later on but the pace was unremarkable. He started off by conducting long meetings with the senior bureaucrats that routinely went on till late nights. The bureaucracy was rattled a bit but not too much thinking that the initial enthusiasm will soon run out of steam. They were, however, in for a rude shock. Nitish was digging his heels for a long seize, not a guerrilla war. Assiduously he went to work to put the state back on track, bit by bit.

One of the first challenges was to stabilize law and order situation. However here too, those who were looking for some high profile, quick fix solutions, were disappointed. In fact the first full year barely saw any change. High profile kidnappings and murders continued to rattle the state. Nitish came in for criticism for his pre-election claim that he will fix law & order within three months.  Change however, started to become visible later after a few cases were cracked by the Police and the accused were charge sheeted promptly. Another significant change appeared in the form of unshackling of several upright senior Police Officers who had been completely sidelined during the Lalu Rabri era.

Another turning point was the gusto with which the state embraced the centrally sponsored Fast Track Court scheme. More and cases were transfered to the FTC especially those belonging to high profile criminal politicians ( even those from his own JDU Party) . Suddenly things started to look up after the conviction rates started to inch up. In the past two years 2006 – 2008, more than 26000 convictions have taken place. Several dreaded political criminals have been awarded capital punishment and lesser sentences. Today, even thogh the law & order situation may not be ideal, but at least it has turned a corner . A clear proof of this is that Bihar has already ceded its monopoly over prime time television news to a lot of other states. No news is indeed good news.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5