Sunday, April 18, 2004

A second look at Laloo’s Bihar
Jaswant Singh

Bihar: Myth and Reality
edited by Ramendra Kumar Yadav ‘Ravi.’
Hope India, Gurgaon. Pages 112. Rs 150.

Bihar: Myth and RealityANY number of jokes are floating around the country about Bihar and Laloo Prasad Yadav, none of these kindly disposed towards the state and its leaders. Bihar is counted among the ‘BIMARU’ (sickly) states and its rulers are shown as incapable of administering the state. The impression is that of a state administration run to seed with the rulers concerned more with promoting their own self-interest than with looking after the affairs of the state. Anything unbelievable said about Bihar is believed, any blame, however far-fetched, sticks and any height of irregularity is considered possible in Bihar.

In this atmosphere of incredibility, here is an attempt to redeem this much-maligned state and its leaders. The editor, who is currently an MP (Rajya Sabha) from Bihar, and is a well-known educationist and social activist, has put together six articles from equally eminent writers to project a picture of Bihar which runs close to reality. They do not try to show that all is well in Bihar but the essence of the exercise is to treat Bihar and Laloo Yadav for what they are and not for what they are imagined to be. They do not deny the existence of poverty in Bihar, the population of which is equal to that of Germany and where the living standards are no better that those of Burundi. They do not deny the sorry state of education, healthcare, roads and other basic infrastructure. But at the same time they try to explore the causes that have kept Bihar from making any progress in these fields.

The book does not try to project Bihar as a state free from poverty and pain, it does not try to establish that there is no law and order problem, that there are no caste wars, that there are no murders in Bihar. It admits all that but at the same time it shows that the extent of such incidents is not as much as is generally believed by a biased intelligentsia of the country. And it produces authentic statistics to prove the point. If a magazine survey puts Bihar at the bottom of its law and order table, lawyer K.P. Yadav quotes figures released by the Union Home Ministry’s National Crime Report Bureau to put Bihar almost on top, next only to West Bengal, in respect of cognizable crime per thousand persons. There certainly is poverty, but Yadav blames the Centre for not doing enough to enable the poor state to get over the disadvantage.

Journalist A.J. Philip, who has spent 10 years in Patna, questions those who find the filth in Patna (or the whole of Bihar) unbearable, and compares the situation in Patna with that in parts of Delhi which are filthier. But nobody asks a question; nobody blames anyone but as far as Bihar and Laloo Yadav are concerned, any stick is enough to beat them with. But, returning to Bihar after almost 10 years, he finds a change, a transformation in Patna. The downtrodden, the common labourer, the rickshaw puller, now stands up and demands his rightful wage and surprisingly gets his due.

These analysts all agree, as do the Bihari politicians, Laloo Yadav, Rabri Devi et al, that the Central Governments have giving step-motherly treatment to Bihar and they hold the Centre’s callous attitude to be the root cause of the state of things in Bihar. But no one has been able to explain why successive governments at the Centre did adopt this attitude towards just one state, Bihar, while the other states continued to enjoy better Central assistance. Someone should try to find an answer to this basic question.