Date: 1/18/2005


Source: Date: 17th Jan 05

The rise of Lalu Prasad Yadav and the fall of Bihar into anarchy have corresponded so neatly over the last 15 years that political observers cannot be faulted for coming to the conclusion that the political exit of Lalu is the simplest solution to Bihar's innumerable, complex problems. Thus there are shenanigans at multiple levels to plot the downfall of the Yadav boss. Even the RJD's partner in power, the Congress, cannot be excluded from such efforts; for the first time in years it is pitching itself aggressively in the State - as a dry run for the next Lok Sabha elections whenever these are held.

It is tightrope walking between Lalu's RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP to regain some of its lost ground. The JD(U) and the BJP, as NDA, would be jostling for space with UPA in the tight finish to the race that is expected. Lalu alone appears to be sitting pretty, the occasional jitters notwithstanding. But he has gone through this before - each time his political obituaries have been crafted, it is Lalu who has emerged beaming.

There is another picture of Bihar still, far removed from the political dust. It is its rural base that is coming off at its seams. While caste wars continue to claim the lives of people, Bihar's farmers - already in penury - are often victims of official corruption. The landlord as exploiter has been replaced by the Government in the same capacity. Small example: In absence of proper distribution network - owing, of course, to the absence of infrastructure and because of corrupt nexus between small traders and State Government officials - farmers are forced to sell their products below the minimum support price (MSP) to middlemen.

For example, foodgrain which is supposed to fetch the farmers, say, Rs 500 per quintal, is sold by them in distress at Rs 300 to the traders. The same grain is then purchased by the Bihar administration's procurement agencies from middlemen at the msp of Rs 500. The subsidy amount of Rs 200 per quintal is thus pocketed between the Government procuring agents and the middlemen. Such corruption causes alienation among farmers, who in turn are recruited by sundry armies, militias and "revolutionaries".

The few factories that still operate have to provide "tax" to the Maoist guerrillas. The money thus disbursed helps the factory-owners in purchasing peace. What they do not realise is that, through their compliance, they are contributing to the worsening of situation. This is because militants are buying time to spread further, from the depth they have already acquired: Maoists are now knocking at the doors of comparatively prosperous centres like Munger. Their compatriots in Nepal provide them weaponry, the manufacture of which, it would not be surprising if it is discovered, could be one of the leading cottage industries in the region in terms of turn-over. According to newspaper reports, during the Lok Sabha elections last year, 34 small arm manufacturing units were busted. Guns are today a necessity in rural Bihar. Promise of arms licences is enshrined as electoral strategy.

More than 42 per cent of the State's population lives below the poverty line, which is much higher than the national average of 26 per cent. It is the only State in the country where more than half its population, nearly 53 per cent, is illiterate. The per capita income at Rs 3650 is one-third of the national average of Rs 11,625. The anti-development agenda of the RJD Government is perhaps most tellingly evident from a staggering unspent amount of Rs 5,489 crore from an outlay of Rs 15,411 crore (1997-2001 Planning Commission figures). As for law and order, in the last decade, there have been more than 32,000 abductions. Murder, rape, and dacoity are common place. There is flight of human resources - skilled and unskilled - from the State. Meanwhile the population figures are running away: Bihar has an average density of population nearly double the national figure which stands at 257 per sq km.

Again, it's not just the landlords and the state that help in breaking the back of their own people: Nature too is equally harsh as virtually every year the plains of Bihar are awash with flood waters. Those beyond the reach of swollen rivers are hit by drought. Elections in these conditions must come as respite to the people, for these focus attention on their abject conditions, at least once in five years.

But even this single promise of bringing change is belied and corrupted. Only a couple of years ago, this paper had reported fraud in the Bihar Legislative Council elections. A number of cases of fake teachers' list were reported, with nondescript colleges in the State "employing" teachers in numbers five to 10 times higher than the actual figure. Thousands of fraud votes were thus polled, while some of the most distinguished academics of Patna University discovered, to their utter bemusement, that their names were missing from the voters' lists.

Will all this change if Lalu loses the elections? It will take years for even a semblance of order to arise out of such chaos. Bihar is well and truly into its longest hour; that there will be a morning, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, is a matter of faith more than objective reality. It is emotion more than reason. For such a vision to turn real, a solution that moves upward from the ground will have to be found. Bihar needs a new message that goes beyond caste and communal identities - addressing the direst economic needs of the people - in order to turn around.

As a process, if one were to use a metaphor, the State is still somewhere in the middle of the night. The process won't necessarily begin or even end with the change of the RJD Government. But it will certainly take Bihar's benighted people an hour closer to the morning.