Bihar: after the “Jungle Raj”

April 14, 2009

“The state government is trying to establish the rule of law…however so mighty someone may be, without any discrimination, whatever their clout is, they will still be put on trial.” 

This is what Neelmani, a senior police officer in Bihar, told me in a recent interview.

He said the “Jungle Raj”, which gave the state a reputation for corruption, kidnappings and crime, is coming to an end.

The state’s bad name made me expect the worst. But violent crime such as civilian killings has dropped sharply in the past four years.

When you ask people in the capital, Patna, what they are happiest about now, they often say they can venture out after dark without fear.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wants to present his leadership in stark contrast to that of his predecessors, Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi, who ruled the state for 15 years until 2005.

Prasad handed over the reins to his wife when he was accused in the “Fodder Scam”, a large-scale corruption case.

Her residence is just opposite Chief Minister Kumar’s, and despite the bluster around Kumar, Prasad and his wife may well think they can cross the road again in the future.

Taking a short trip to a village just outside Patna, it is clear Bihar faces an uphill battle.

I wanted to check out how Congress’ flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) had worked.

The villagers complained they were getting ripped off by contractors and threatened with jail.

At a small government office in the area, I could see why. A contractor we talked to was very friendly at first. He gave us plates of delicious grapes and tea.

But when we asked him about NREGA, he clammed up.

His senior came in mid-way through the conversation, took him to one side and, so says a friend of mine who overheard them, muttered something about a short jail stint if he spilled the beans.

We asked where we could meet NREGA labourers. Twice a local came in, heard what we were talking about and offered to help, and twice they were quickly ushered out past a small sign by the door warning against corruption.

We ventured out on our own to find the workers. When we did, they listed ways in which their money disappeared in NREGA. 

One trick was simply not to pay them. Another was to get them to work for weeks and then not record it. Yet another was to take their thumbprints and then go collect the money.

The job scheme has faced problems in several states and done well in others. I was left in little doubt in which category Bihar falls.

Nitish Kumar is campaigning on a platform of caste-blind development and communal harmony — a message that may or may not resonate in a state where caste loyalties are still strong.

But no one can write off Lalu Prasad, who many credit for giving a voice to the poor, to lower castes, and to Muslims when he was chief minister.

His party argues that Kumar’s much trumpeted development platform has excluded many of the state’s poorest.

Prasad is now the federal railway minister. He won praise for rescuing the service from near bankruptcy and turning it into a cash cow, and has given lectures to American Ivy League students on the success story.

But some Biharis may wonder why he did not work the same miracles for them.

8 comments

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The real point lies at the end of this blog why he did not work for Biharis under his regime. Well might be he is overloaded with corrupted money and seriously wanted to do something which change his image and strengthen him after fodder scam. Any ways, its good to listen some thing gud about Bihar i cant say much about it didnt get chance to visit bihar after Nitish become CM, but the feed back i got from my freinds are good and i see first time in long back history people may caste their vote not on base of caste but on development still for the miracle no one can expect much change in the mindset of voter but still some change has seen which is a seed for future plant in their mind.

Hopefully even if Lalu comes to Bihar he do the same thing to state what he did to railways.

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive

do you know bihar is fielding the highest number of criminal candidates this election amongst all states? Are we electing Jungle raj again?

Posted by dalia | Report as abusive

It will take years to clean the filth of 15 years spread by the (mis)rule of the Lalu-Rabri regime. I am a Bihari and a neutral witnessing to what happendned to my state then and what is happening now. The least I can say is that there is some resembelance of law and the hope for a resurgent Bihar has been rekindled. I may as well agree to the fact that the rate of progress is slow but for that I will put the blame not on Nitish but on the toxic filth which the Jungle Raj has produced over the time.

Posted by Purnendu | Report as abusive

As Amit said, it’s good to read something even slightly positive about Bihar. In my school days, the word ‘Bihari’ would immediately conjure up for me the paan-chewing invective-spewing image of an Indian Uriah Heep who will slip you a mickey on an Indian train and proceed to rob you of your worldly belongings.

And then I used to be shocked to meet Shakespeare-quoting good ol’ souls from Patna who wouldn’t literally hurt a fly. Talk about cultural stereotypes.

Hopefully, the image of a ‘Bihari’ will change soon. Having the freedom to move about freely after dark in Patna is the first step. It may take time but caste-blind development is the key — change is just around the corner.

The picture travellers (non biharis) passing thru bihar painted was scary.That was a few yrs ago.Train journey would result in robbery or an assault or a combination thereof.Sad but true.Pleased to know that some improvement seen now.Lalus government was in Patna at that time.

India is where US was, may be more than 150 years ago.
Perhaps it will continue to be like this for another 10 years if we are lucky.

When you visit India one thing is very striking. People are paying too heavily for simple things like transparent administration,resonable living,job,transportation,drinking water,clean air which are taken for granted in western Europe or north America.

The politicians of India are perhaps the worst living kind on this planet.

But I love India, “Jai HO”

I strongly believe things would definitely change in India.

Harsh Wardhan,USA

Posted by Harsh Wardhan Singh | Report as abusive

Nitish is doing a good job. There are many areas which needs to be looked upon and this process will take time. Main thing is that change has started and it will continue. Laloo flourished bcoz he used illerate innocent people as votebank in the name of caste and religion. Now people all across the state irrespective of caste or anything got the taste of development.Any govt which may come in future, will have to continue this development work else people will vote them out. Jai Bharat. Jai Hind

Posted by Ashish Kumar | Report as abusive

Tha works done by Nitish is all visible evrywhere in Bihar atleast in Roads,Law and Order,education and medical care.
The writer shpuld have written more about it.I request the media to give credit to him since Bihar has got a good CM after decades.May he be able to bring back the glories of this state which Lalu Prasad destroyed completely.
I keep on visiting the state and seeing the improvent in Law and Order I was surprised.General confidence of public is high there as all castemen believe in Nitish`s Gandhi-like stature and all-inclusive growth.Let`s hope for the best from this technocrat CM.But he needs and deserves the support of national/international media since Lalu Prasad is being given extra-importance.

Posted by Kumar | Report as abusive