Bihar Vikas Mission: Can Prashant Kishor help Nitish Kumar settle the ‘Super CM’ debate?

By Marya Shakil

In October of 2015, in the midst of a bitter electoral battle in Bihar, an idea would evolve into a promise. Nitish Kumar’s election strategist Prashant Kishor would propose a model of governance that he had earlier suggested to Narendra Modi in May 2014 — but Modi couldn't implement. The election victory a month later ensured that a blueprint would soon be put into the works.

The Bihar Vikas Mission notified by the Bihar cabinet last week is being pitched as a ‘path breaking initiative for ensuring time bound delivery of services’. However, a Bihar cadre bureaucrat, currently deployed with the Central government, says Nitish is looking for policy solutions to what is a political complexity of divergent views between him and Lalu Yadav. Sources close to the Bihar chief minister said that Nitish did communicate his concerns of the Bihar story — carefully scripted by him — getting lost in the emerging narrative of governance chaos in the state.

Hence, his best bet was the man who had acted as the liaison between Lalu and him during the elections. This is the man who enjoyed the unflinching trust of Lalu and Nitish.

 Bihar Vikas Mission: Can Prashant Kishor help Nitish Kumar settle the ‘Super CM’ debate?

Nitish Kumar and Prashant Kishor. Twitter @NDTV

In a country/polity where dual power-centres are seen as a way of life as far as politics and governments are concerned — with recent history replete with such examples of 10 Janpath and 7 RCR during UPA-I and II, the new governance model in Bihar hopes to settle that debate between Lalu and Nitish. The urgency with which it has been notified, shows how Nitish wants to ensure that the governance address doesn’t change in the state. Kishor, now officially the advisor to the Chief Minister of Bihar will have to solve the conundrum of achieving Nitish’s singular vision while being locked in an unlikely alliance.

If Kishor is to be believed, then a first-of-its-kind in India CMO is in the making in Patna’s secretariat and 7 Circular Road: A work space where politics and policy will come together in creating a system that will act as a facilitator and a force multiplier. The bedrock of this model will be the ‘programme management units’ functioning at multiple levels. The Bihar chief minister’s office, currently functioning with a strength of just four to five officers, is likely to see the infusion of 250-400 talented professionals, retired bureaucrats, civil society experts and specialists from private sector in the next year.

The second unit will be the chief secretary’s office, which will act as an interface between the bureaucracy and the mission. At the level of department secretary and the district magistrate in 38 districts of Bihar, there will be the induction of over 400 professionals, who will be functioning at the grassroot-level for the implementation of the programme on ground. Kishor plans to extend it to the Block development level in the second year.

According to the equations calculated by Kishor, the programme management units functioning as resource centers at multiple levels will be injecting hundreds of new people into the governance system. The mission establishment cost will be roughly Rs 150 to 200 crore of the allocation of roughly 55,000 to 65,000 crores that Nitish plans to invest in his seven nishchay programme every year. A bureaucrat privy to the discussion says that Nitish has told Kishor that the mission model would not be limited to just seven election promises, but all the programmes of the Government of Bihar will be rooted through this mission.

Dr Saibal Gupta, the founder of the Asian Development Research Institute however views it with skepticism: "What’s the need for such a mission?" He added that despite Bihar being written off as a non-functional state, the state machinery responded efficiently to Nitish’s scheme of giving bicycles to school girls. He however highlighted that in the past, similar missions have been successful, adding how in 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi had rolled out multiple missions — literacy mission, the telecom mission and so on. However, those were ‘individual missions for individual agendas, not one mission like this one with multiple agendas.’

A senior bureaucrat in the Bihar government who was actively involved in implementing Nitish’s earlier governance agendas said, “The Bihar Vikas Mission will try to make use of energy and innovation of the young generation, complimenting it with the experiences of retired bureaucrats and experts who have excelled in their fields, ensuring that experience can cut the delivery time gap. There will be some kind of generational outreach that will reflect in the form of delivery.”

So, for example, the duration given for achievements in the energy sector is two-and-a-half years. The officer further added that most state governments have aspired to achieve similar goals, but the difference between the Bihar model and that of other states is that Bihar will have more urgency in implementation, rather than the usual model of giving it 10 yearst. Kishor has already drawn up a list of bureaucrats with proven track records who are being approached by the chief minister’s office and they range from across the board. A woman IAS officer known for her expertise in water sanitation in Tamil Nadu has been contacted. Bihar’s former chief secretary Anoop Mukherjee, known for his work in the rural development department, is another bureaucrat on this list.

The criticism is that the new model will lead to more implementation challenges due to bureaucratic resistance to perceived outsiders, as attempts are being made to open up governance to newer stakeholders. The question before the Prashant-Nitish model will be-how to construct an ecosystem where the new and the old order can coexist, with the ‘steel frame of India’ devolving some of its powers to the young experts.

Ironically, the experiment of redefining the role of administration is emerging in a state where every other young Bihari is born and bred on the philosophy of cracking the IAS. For the moment though, Bihar is gearing itself for an experiment conscious of its historical blunders and socio-economic indices. Readying to take a leap of faith with the leader in whose hands they entrusted the reins of the state for the next five years and the man with whom he shares a vision for the future.

The author is associate political editor and anchor with CNN-IBN

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2016 11:45:56 IST