The ‘kuchh to kiya’ factor

PATNA: Every answer to question on Nitish Kumar’s performance in the last five years as Bihar’s chief minister begins with the phrase, ”Kam se kam itna toh kiya hai… (at the very least, he has done this…).”By any index of growth and development, Nitish’s five-year reign has unleashed no miracles. With 54.4% of its population under the Tendulkar Committee’s revised poverty line, Bihar is India’s poorest state and its health indicators the worst. Its recent growth has been predominantly driven by a construction boom which has a limited life.Industrial growth is far lower than the national average and agriculture has stagnated. Yet, by the lowered expectations of Bihar’s electorate, the Nitish era has brought change. So, while the unadulterated praise that he has garnered in some quarters is not shared on the ground, many in Bihar’s villages and towns believe that a start has indeed been made.Chief among his government’s achievements — which his political rivals, too, do not privately deny — are the restoration of the rule of law and the massive expansion in the state’s road and bridge network. ”While other places may talk of a soft state or a hard state, what Bihar had was an absent state,” says Shaibal Gupta, social scientist and founder member-secretary of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI). ”No other CM in modern India has had to make the kind of state-building efforts that Nitish has; in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and even Orissa, this was done in the 1950s and 60s,” Gupta adds.However, if this gives the impression that the RJD’s 15-year reign was one of complete inaction, then that would mean ignoring all that can’t be paved and signposted. ”Nitish has to be seen as a product of a long history of social justice movements in Bihar,” says Gupta. Lalu may not be far off the mark when he says Nitish is CM because of him. ”Lalu gave backward castes a voice. They are now able to demand development with this voice,” says RJD supporter Raghavendra Yadav, a dairy shop-owner in Gaya.

Says social activist Pramod Kumar Singh, ”During Lalu’s reign, I asked a Yadav, ‘What has changed for you?’ He replied, ‘Earlier, Brahmins would spit on the road, and we would jump out of the way. Now, we spit and they jump out of the way.’ But the point is they’re both still spitting!” says Singh, who praises Nitish but feels he hasn’t tackled poverty.In the desperately poor Dalit village of Rattu Bigha, 60km south of Patna in Jehanabad, expectations are even lower. ”Life in this village hasn’t changed even one bit for the better in five years of Nitish’s rule,” says Sudama Paswan (40), a landless farm worker. But it has not got any worse either, and the paved road is now only 10 km away. It is this harvest of lowered expectations that Nitish could reap – Timesofindia