Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bihar - Elections, Caste politics and Democracy

Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar
Recently concluded Bihar elections gave a whopping four by five majority to the ruling JD(U)-BJP allience. NDA increased its tally from 143 in 2005 to 207 in 2010(JD[U] 116[2005:88], BJP 91[2005:55]); whereas the main opposition RJD-LJP alliance's tally reduced to 25 from 64 (LJP 3[2005:10], RJD 22 [2005:54]). Congress got 4 seats [2005:9] and CPI got 1 seat. Rest of the seats went to others.

You may be wondering what is the difference between election in Bihar and in Other states. The difference emergence of development as the main political issue in a highly criminalised,corrupt and caste based politics of Bihar. I am not saying caste and religion lost its political shine, it will be there and it is possible that it many come back with more power - look at the situation Karnataka. But there is no doubt that the developmental issues at least for this time came out from the shadow. A spectacular turnaround for a state where caste wars and kidnappings were institutionalised. For a long time Bihar was an example for what can be go wrong in India, and if this model sustained it may become a role model for other states.

A lot of things are changed in the last 5 years. One news paper even quoted a person saying that he no longer feared about kidnapping when going out of home in the night. NDTV report says that "According to Police records, 48427 criminals were convicted and punished by fast track courts across the state between 2006 January and 2010 May...During this period, 124 people including criminal turned politicians were sentenced to death, 8602 people sentenced to life imprisonment, 2282 were awarded Jail terms of over 10 years".


According to Bihar government's own economic survey, economy had grown at an annual rate of 11.35% from 2004-05 to 2008-09 as compared to just 3.5% in the previous five years. Construction sector recorded a growth of 35.8%,communication sector have a growth of 17.68% and 17.17% growth in trade, restaurants and Hotels. There is a considerable improvement in tourism sector also. Number of foreign visitors to Bihar increased by six fold from 61,000 in 2003 to 3.46 lack in 2008. Domestic tourism numbers increased from 52.28 lack in 2003  to 118.9 lack in 2008. An impressive turnaround for a state where some years back people afraid to go.

Government scored good on infrastructure also; around 2417kms of roads were constructed on 2008-09 alone as compared to 415kms in 2005-06.Automobile sales recorded a 700% growth. Crimes by bandits fell from 1297 to 640 and kidnappings for ransom dropped from 411 to 66 between 2004-08.

Sustainable Growth?

It will not be an exaggeration to say that in 2005 Nitish Kumar inherited Bihar in one of the worst forms a state can possibly have. From this lowest point a small but consistent support and direction from a stable government will enable the state to improve dramatically. It can acquire impressive growth rates in the short term, but how far this momentum will go? Will the state be able to grow at this rate for a considerable future? And what about growth sectors? is it a sustainable one?

In many cases not only in Bihar but in other parts of country also the growth are not driven by technology sector or High level manufacturing products. But huge amount of money are going in to bubbling construction sector, which raises the price of property beyond the reach of common man. This construction is not mainly focused on increasing office space but on over prized housing projects. How far this construction led growth will go is still not certain.

The other point of growth in the country is in the form of mining, where the established and dubious companies are excavating and exporting huge amount of minerals in the lower value chain. The scams in this sector involves mind blowing figures and acquisition of the land for mining not always peaceful. But how far this mineral export led growth can move the society forward is still an open question. It may be better than the 'curse of oil' in Africa but certainly in the absence of accountability and transparency this will not lead us anywhere;instead of leading to the upliftment of people it may only lead to the upliftment of the society from the inherited lands.

Government reports states that the use of cement in Bihar in has grown 28% in last year- what they are constructing? budget housing or office spaces? or over prized apartments?
Nalanda University ruins, Bihar

Manufacturing sectors contribution towards the state GDP of Bihar is mere 4.69%. According to the third All India census of SSI, based on RBI criteria, 32.04% units in Bihar were sick and have outstanding loans. The two main reasons for this sickness is 'shortage of working capital' and 'power shortage'. Percapita power consumption in Bihar is just 76 units where as national average is 612 units(2005). In the case of poverty, the poverty ratio for Bihar is around 54.4% well above the national average of 37.2%. Growth rate in Electricity, Water supply and Gas in the state is mere 1.48%.

Caste Politics:

Just like the news papers across Indian told us - caste issues may not got an upper hand this time.. Whenever the politicians doesn't have anything else to boast off,they will quickly jump in to caste and religious fever. These people are sawing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. There should be a clear separation between religion and politics, religious fever should be kept out of politics, its private to the individual not a magic 'mantra' for acquiring votes.


But all these things will not reduce the importance Nitish's work in Bihar. Indeed he deserved this landslide victory for driving Bihar back to the track. What lay ahead of him is more important and demanding, he have to continue his initial success and move the state forward - indeed the capital of First pan indian empire and place of enlightment for Buddha deserve to be among the great cities of the world.


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

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