Development creeps into Bihar’s political lexiconApril 29th, 2009 - 10:09 am ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) For a state where caste identities have played an overriding role in politics, development is inching its way into the political lexicon of Bihar for the first time.
Queried about the issues making a difference to the democratic process in the state, Bihari “expatriates” chorus they are more concerned about the basic needs of the people, infrastructure and progress than about caste.
The first two phases of elections in the state were held April 16 and 23. The next two phases are due Thursday and May 7.
Thousands of workers from Bihar leave their state every month in search of greener pastures elsewhere in India and abroad. But come election, they all return home to vote or at least discuss election-related issues.
“For the first time all the three giants - Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan - are talking about development,” S.N. Sahay, a senior corporate and media consultant who grew up in Patna, told IANS.
While Lalu is flaunting improved rail connectivity in Bihar, Paswan is talking about steel and industrial development.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is touting the new roads, bridges and civic infrastructure he has built in the state, said Sahay, who is now based in Ranchi but spends much of his time travelling to Kolkata and New Delhi.
“Development is a tangible reality in Bihar. Patna now boasts of a six-lane road (Bailey Road) and Nitish Kumar has managed to re-open several old sugar mills in Bihar, which had closed down during the tenure of Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi,” he said.
Sahay felt that Nitish Kumar and his political ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had an edge in this election. Lalu Prasad, whose Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) had the lion’s share of seats in the outgoing Lok Sabha, had the most to lose, he said.
Former student activist and Aligarh Muslim University alumnus Imtiaz Alam, a native of Mungher in Bihar, concurred. “For the first time, people are talking about development.
“Earlier, politics and elections were all about social justice and empowerment. In the early 1990s, it was Mandal; then it was the ‘kamandal’ (Brahmins and other upper castes represented by the BJP) and then the turmoil between Mandal and kamandal. Consequently, development took a beating, pulling the state back by at least two decades,” New Delhi-based Alam, a communications executive, told IANS.
Alam, who visited Bihar recently, felt that Nitish Kumar was making a serious effort to improve civic infrastructure, despite the odds and the political red tape. “Nitish is an honest person, but he is part of a corrupt system,” he said.
“The law and order situation is better. However, the state still needs a lot of support. Those affected by floods (of 2008) have not yet been rehabilitated,” Alam lamented.
For Zia-ur-Rehman, an assistant director in Bollywood and a native of Siwan in Bihar, the three major development issues that need to be addressed are poverty, electricity and roads. “Things had deteriorated during Lalu Prasad’s regime,” Rehman said.
He felt that by creating more jobs migration from districts like Siwan and Gopalganj to Dubai, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh had to stop.
“It is a catch-22 situation. Agricultural land is shrinking and in districts like Motihari and Bettiah which still have some land left, farmers do not have the money to till it,” Rehman explained.
Mohammed Habib, a trader in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market and a native of Gaya, felt that Muslims in the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) vote bank of the RJD were gradually switching allegiance to Nitish Kumar.
“Lalu Prasad has not done much for Muslims. Actually, Muslims in Bihar are quite confused. They want to give Nitish a chance - but are in a dilemma because he is aligned with L.K. Advani,” Habib told IANS.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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