Bihar political crisis: From Lalu Prasad Yadav to Nitish Kumar, a tale of two administrations

Steven R Weisman, commenting on Bihar, wrote for The New York Times: "Bihar is not merely India's poorest state; it is also its most corrupt, violent and lawless state. Desperately poor and struggling under barriers of caste, Bihar ranks at the bottom of all the country's indexes of handicaps. It is a state that cannot feed itself, with an annual per capita income of $111, lower than in the poorest countries of the world."

File image of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. PTI

File image of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. PTI

That was written in 1987.

Sadly, the people of Bihar would continue to suffer for almost two more decades. Just three short years later, Lalu Prasad Yadav would take power and rule from 1990 to 2005. Under Lalu, Bihar was so mired in crime and corruption — often by the politicians themselves — that the byword it became Jungle Raj.

Mohammad Shahabuddin, who was convicted for criminal conspiracy, kidnapping and murder in 2004, was one of Lalu's main men, according to a report in Catch News. Lalu refused to distance himself from  Shahabuddin and even accused the BJP of creating controversy around the matter.

Journalists were murdered in broad daylight. The incidents of rape and murder increased manifold. And when Lalu was an accused in the fodder scam, he simply handed over the levers of power to his wife Rabri Devi. It was business as usual.

Shiv Visvanathan, writing for Open, summed up Lalu's time in power thus: "His linkages with dacoitry and kidnapping as ways of deficit financing, represented governance as a new kind of lawlessness. Lalu Raj became Gunda Raj and Jungle Raj... The fodder scam, in fact, was the example of Lalu’s governance. As one investigator confessed, corruption in Bihar was like a chain of being. One could not violate an individual and punish him. Each implicated another and the chain of connectivity flowed into society."

By 2010, Bihar announced it had achieved 11 percent growth rate, making it the second-fastest growing state in India. So what changed? Nitish Kumar took over as chief minister — with an assist from the BJP — vowing to dismantle Lalu's legacy of Jungle Raj.

Much like another political figure who promised 'Saabka Saath Saabka Vikas', Nitish's buzzword was development. He promised jobs, education and safety. “It was not a case of bad governance,” Nitish told the NYT in a 2010 interview. “Governance was completely absent from the state of Bihar.”

A report in TheNew York Times described  Nitish's first term thus: "He tackled crime first. The order went down to the lowliest constable — the law was to be enforced, and criminals would be punished, no matter their political connections. Powerful men were arrested, many of them sitting members of Parliament and the state assembly. They were convicted quickly in fast-track courts."

"Next came schools and hospitals. More than 2.5 million school-age children were not attending classes; by 2010 that number was reduced to fewer than 800,000. Clinics that had been seeing 30 patients a month because they had no medicine or doctors were staffed up and restocked. By 2006, the patient load had increased tenfold," the report added.

The results showed. Historian Ramchandra Guha, fearing a return to the bad old days of Jungle Raj before the 2016 election, wrote in The Telegraph: "Later, I visited the state myself. I was impressed by how safe Patna had become since the National Democratic Alliance government had come to power. Speaking to officials and social workers, I was moved by their zest and energy. The most able bureaucrats had been put in charge of the crucial sector of education. The hope was that once social peace was restored, and a citizenry appropriately skilled, the conditions would be ripe for investors to come into the state, to build factories and generate employment."

In 2015, Nitish broke faith with the BJP, objecting over the ascent of Narendra Modi as prime minister. He tied up with the RJD and Congress, hoping to form a bulkwark against the Narendra Modi juggernaut.  The political results were an unquestionable triumph: The Grand Alliance thumped the BJP, winning 178 of 243 Assembly seats.

However, while they achieved a major political victory, they didn't have much to write about legislatively: Other than the implementation of a complete ban on liquor, fulfilling a poll promise Nitish made before the 2015 Assembly elections, no real progress was made. Meanwhile, a series of unfortunate events frayed the Mahagathbandhan, before it completely broke on Wednesday.

Only time will tell if the renewed partnership between Modi and Nitish will bear fruit.

The people of Bihar would certainly hope so.

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Published Date: Jul 27, 2017 03:31 pm | Updated Date: Jul 27, 2017 03:31 pm


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