This is part 1 of our 5 part series on Indian States.
The strategy professor at the one of the oldest universities in the world — Takshashila University, Prof Chanakya started his Neetishastra by saying the phrase “Sukhasya moolam dharma, Dharmasya moolam artha”. What he meant was that happiness for a person or a corporate or a kingdom lies in ethical deeds of the entity, but ethical deeds can be expected only if the entity has enough resources to support itself and feed itself to survive. This observation of the chief strategist of the Mauryan empire, headquartered at Patliputra, today’s Patna, is as true today as it was in 4th century B.C. when he penned it down.
Bihar, after losing all its glory deep in the past, was regarded as one of the worst performing states in India. It has been long since someone heard about the word Progress in Bihar. The per capita income of a Bihar resident was dismally low at Rs 6,610 compared with the national average of Rs. 20,734 per person in 2007, according to a report by Bihar Times. The Hindu reported that the literacy levels in rural Bihar for the year 2006-07 stood at slightly over 52% whereas the national average stood at over 65%. With over 1000 (reported) rape cases and over 3200 murders in a year, Bihar faired quiet high on the list of crime heavens in India in 2006. This was the situation when Nitish Kumar was elected as the Chief Minister of Bihar in November 2005, ending a 15-year run by Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi in power. Since then, the entire perspective of Bihar has changed to a very large extent. A friend of mine, Sanjeev Sharma from Ranchi pointed out that a few years back, they locked themselves up in their homes as soon as it struck 9 on the clock. But now, he says, the situation has changed and he often has dinner with his parents in some restaurant in Patna, even till 11 at night, without any fear. Such is the visible impact of the change that has come in Bihar in such a short duration of time. Bihar became the 2nd fastest growing state, just behind Gujarat, after it recorded a GDP growth of 11.4% in 2008-09.
The important thing to notice in the entire discussion is what brought about this change in Bihar’s administration and Bihar’s mentality. Was it just the attitude of the political honchos that changed in this period or was it more about the play of socio-economic developments that forced Bihar to mend its traditional ways of governance? One of the many initiatives by Bihar government was to promote the traditional handloom industry once again by organizing an expo for showcasing the talent in 2008 which was attended by traders from various countries. On the healthcare front, organizations to the likes of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Institute for One World Health and pain-based agency Medicine-Sans-Frontier are working alongside the Bihar government to improve the healthcare condition of Bihar, especially on issues like kala-azar, polio, routine immunization, and maternal and new-born care and nutrition. No wonder that the efforts were appreciated by Bill Gates himself. Since the state is primarily an agriculture based state, a major emphasis has been laid down on the development of agro-based industries in Bihar. Confidence building policies like additional employment guarantee plan of 80 days of work, in addition to the 100 days mandated by NREGA, are some of the ones that are creating a feel-good factor in the Bihar residents. But as the government has realized, only agriculture cannot help it achieve the aim of being a developed state by 2015, it is imperative to encourage industry as well. A new Industry Policy of 2006 and reimbursement of 80% of deposited VAT are just some of the measures that are beginning to show positive results in attracting industry in the state. Growth of connectivity in terms of mobile phone growth rate is 88.2% in the current financial year. Industrial projects worth Rs 71,000 crores have been approved by the government that are expected to create jobs for over 100,000 people in Bihar. And amazingly, the World Bank ranked Patna next only to New Delhi in terms of ease of starting business in India, ahead of Mumbai and Bangalore.
Looking in a perspective, it appears that the growth of Bihar is clearly a result of the shift in the intent of the political masters whose consensus scolded them for what had happened to the intellectual Magadha kingdom. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Nitish Kumar was called upon byLondon School of Economics to participate in the Growth Week 2009 and was invited to participate in the research and policy session on developing rural areas. I seriously feel that India has pockets of high development, but at least equal, if not more pockets of ultra-low development. If the policy makers take the initiative to change this disparity in wealth allocation, the citizens will support the ideas and fulfill the dream of a Developed and Unified India.
The writer is a senior correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz and holds special interest in social entrepreneurship. You can read more of his articles here.