Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hope For Bihar?

Bihar anyone? For those who aren't from the state it's a black hole so it probably doesn't matter to them that Lalu is out and Nitish is in. But for Biharis, I guess this is a historic moment. For them, it probably means victory of hope over despair and a reiteration of their faith in democracy and its ability to bring about profound political changes painlessly. There are numerous questions in my mind. Above all, after this, what? Will the change finally bring development on the state agenda? Will Biharis get basics like roads, power, education, health and jobs? Of course, nothing will happen immediately. Bihar, from all accounts, is so far behind, that making any difference will take an awful long time.

I have a suggestion, though. Bihar, I am told, has virtually no electricity. Town after town remains in darkness after sunset. Apparently, availability of power isn't as big a problem as the state's refusal to pay power companies for electricity. I have read that NTPC set up a super thermal power station in early '90s in Farakka, on the Bengal-Bihar border. This was at the instance of Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the then power minister. The plant duly set up, generated 1100 mw of power, but there were no buyers. In Bengal, one industry after another was shutting down, and it was actually a power surplus state. It didn't want electricity from Farakka. NTPC turned to benighted Bihar which obviously needed electricity. But Lalu told them: you can supply but there's no guarantee of payment! Any money that Lalu could get went for the upkeep of his hordes, I guess.

So, Nitish needs to buy electricity and light up Bihar. The impact will be HUGE. To begin with, the very fact of homes getting lit will lift the pall of gloom in Bihar. It'll make a palpable difference to the people and such a visible one that Nitish would be seen to have made a magical difference. In comparison, building roads will be trickier; the road mafia will first have to be tackled before construction begins. Electricity will also reduce the need for lalterns (Lalu's poll symbol). So Nitish can claim that he has made the `Lalten' literally redundant! Imagine the symbolic impact. Finally, for any developmental activity -- including industrial activity -- power is a must. So, I see bijli as a relatively easy and painless way of making an impact in Bihar.

A lot of hopes are riding on Nitish. His landslide win, in which even Muslims and Yadavs seem to have contributed, shows that. I hope he can deliver. For, stereotypical versions of Bihar and Biharis apart, it has millions of real people for whom life has become very hopeless. The only salvation they seem to have is getting out of the state. When the rest of the country is progressing, I hope Bihar too gets its act together and adds to the momentum. Or else, it will become a cess pool of stagnancy in a resurgent country. And that has grave socio-economic implications, including spread of crime, terror and what have you.


Blogger K said...

I've changed the look, and Bihar might finally make some progress. I really hope it does, the people of the state deserve progress. I hope the EC is equally strict with the polls in Bengal and Kerala.

10:43 PM  
Blogger papamali said...

Hey! I'm a big fan of Garbarek's. Did you know he played at an early jazz fest in Calcutta? I'd even got quite chummy with his (then) bass player Palle Danielsson. This was in the late seventies (!). I've some early recordings of the Jan Garbarek quartet. Scandinavian jazz really sounds great.

12:27 AM  
Blogger ShantanuDas said...

No use of EC being strict in Bengal!! Do you not know that there is no opposition worth its salt at Bengal? Even if there is no rigging the Left will win because of that.

12:12 PM  
Blogger rani said...

Yes, I am aware that the Opposition the Congress has virtually ceased to exist in Bengal and Mamata is today viewed by the bhadralok class as a bad joke. Besides, the Left Front under Buddha seems to have captured the middle class' imagination. There is a sense of optimism today in Calcuttta which, people say, is unimaginable.

However, I learnt that Mamata is picking up pockets of support among those displaced by Buddha's modernising drive. Like the Salim project, etc. Which brings us to a key issue in relatively poor countries like India: develop they must, but development often is a cruel process. Be it a dam, a factory or expressways, they displace people. And invariably in these countries, the displaced are also the most vulnerable sections of the population. Should we, therefore, not develop? Of course, not. But the process of compensation should be speedy and compensation itself healthy. Had this been the case, we wouldn't have had such a raging controversy over the Narmada dam, delaying it by over a decade. At times I feel people like Medha Patkar - however, impatient I and you may get with her - play an important role in democracies. They hold up the shortcomings and give us the chance to correct our errors. Without them, a subterranean movement may grow against development and before we realise what's what, it can blow up on our face.

Well, coming back to Mamata, she might be doing a good job by rallying the displaced together. The challenge before the Left - which swears by the poor - is to set down the model of humane development. Given the break-neck pace at which the country is poised to grow, the model would be of immense value.

10:18 PM  

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