The more populous among Indian states - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal - are un-smart and will remain so in the times to come. That's official now. I, unfortunately, have the distinction or ignominy of belonging to a state which is not smart. No portion of my state's geographical boundary is going to get anywhere closer to being called so.
For long, first as a student in Delhi and then as a resident, I used to hear "Oye Bihari" hurled at my fellow natives of all hues in a condescending manner. These words are not used any longer, for the simple reason that driven by economic and social compulsions, more and more people from Bihar and Eastern UP have landed in Delhi and eventually outnumbered migrants from other parts of the country, and those claiming to be original inhabitants of Delhi. The latter include Punjabis who made Delhi their home in post- partition days.
Bihari, UPites and Paharis have since become Poorvanchalis. They are now very confident – smart if you please - of themselves. In Delhi we have MLAs, MPs, top officers in various ministries and departments, white and blue-collared employees in private sector. Thus when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked passionately about `start up India' and `stand up India' for the younger generation, those hailing from Bihar and UP thought they had the potential to be showcased as brand ambassadors, albeit with modifications.
In UP, we have a young chief minister in Akhilesh Yadav. He is advised by his three-time chief minister father Mulayam Singh and uncles who have been ministers. In Bihar, we have a 26-year-old under-matriculate deputy chief minister in Tejashwai Yadav. His brother, Tejpratap, two years older to him, too is a minister. Between them, the two hold six ministries, including the one which was to do preparatory work for sending nominations for the smart city. They have the benefit of having the most experienced administrators at home. Their father Lalu Prasad Yadav is a two-time chief minister and mother Rabri Devi has also been one. Their senior and the boss in government in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, is a five-time chief minister who is known as a good governance man and development messiah. In West Bengal, in Mamata Banerjee we have a fighter chief minister who is connected to grassroots and lakhs of people are always ready to act on any call of her.
Yet all these states failed to make it to the smart category. They didn't qualify in the competition. It pinches us badly but it pains more when we see Orissa, which till the other day was considered as backward as us, topping the list with Bhubaneshwar being designated as city number one in the current or currently proposed list of smart cities. Assam too qualifies with Guwahati getting into the high profile list. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh earlier formed part of BIMARU states along with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But two cities of Rajasthan, Jaipur and Udaypur, and three cities of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, Jabalpur and Indore, have qualified. It hurts.
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab were always considered "developed", so it does not matter to us if they qualified.
During the 2014 parliamentary elections, while covering elections in UP, we got the sense that if there is any place to be in India it was Uttar Pradesh. It was not because it had given so many prime ministers to India but because this state was going to decide the fate of the nation for the next five years. Again while covering assembly elections in Bihar in October-November 2015 we got the sense if there was one place to be in during those months, it was the land of Lalu and Nitish, if not of Ashok and Buddha, because the elections were again going to decide the fate of not just the state but of the nation. In January 2016, both these places are known or talked about only for the wrong reasons.
Perhaps we don't know to make presentations in the designated format as some say. But that's an excuse. In this era we could have outsourced this presentation part, just as our leaders did during election campaign. We failed because we were grossly underprepared for the test and had not even seen or known the syllabus for the test.
But then we were optimistic because PM Modi had constantly been saying India couldn't progress only on the strength of western India, its progress lay in eastern India. He did talk about competitive federalism but we took that easy because, as seasoned Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh often said, it is the duty of the headmaster to pay extra attention to poor students to make them pass. But he didn't tell us that what may happen if the headmaster (the Centre) handed over the entire evaluation process to "outside" experts. Let's see if we make it to the list of 40 in the next round, next year.
One thing is sure, as this writer has come to know, Bihar's capital Patna is not going to be on the list of 98. It has summarily failed in the evaluation process.