IAS officer holds Lalu responsible for Bihar’s decay

August 12th, 2011 - 3:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) A Bihar cadre administrative officer has held former chief minister Lalu Prasad responsible for the “perverse” governance of the state from 1990 to 2005 - the years when the politician and his wife Rabri Devi were in power.

In a paper presented as part of his doctorate at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex University, Santhosh Mathew, a 1985 batch officer, contends that the maverick Bihar leader “knowingly undermined the capacity of the state apparatus” during his tenure.

The paper — ‘State Incapacity by Design: Understanding the Bihar Story’ and co-authored with Mick Moore, professor of governance at IDS — cites figures and examples to substantiate the finding that Bihar was ruled “particularly badly” between 1990 and 2005.

Mathew is currently principal secretary, Rural Development, in the administration of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He reportedly took leave to pursue his doctoral studies at his own cost.

A combination of three factors was responsible for this state of affairs, Mathew and Moore state in their academic paper.

Says the paper: “The first was the type of leadership exercised by (Lalu), who was chief minister throughout most of this period - even when his wife formally occupied the post.

“The second lies in electoral politics: the need to maintain the enthusiasm and morale of an electoral coalition that (Lalu) had constructed from a number of poorer and historically oppressed groups.”

The paper explains: “Such was the scale of poverty among this core electoral coalition that (Lalu) had limited prospects of maintaining its cohesion and allegiance through the normal processes of promising ‘development’ and using networks of political patronage to distribute material resources to supporters”.

The third factor, according to Mathew and Moore, was that the strategy required a “high level of dependence on the government apparatus, which was dominated by people from a number of historically-dominant upper castes”.

The paper states that Lalu preferred to mobilise his supporters on the basis of a “continual confrontation with this historically oppressive elite”, and allegedly kept public sector jobs vacant rather than appoint qualified people”, who happened to be from the upper castes.

He also states that Lalu sought to micro-manage the state apparatus, denuding the public service of state employees. He was, thus, “unable to use it to deliver ‘development’”.

As a result, the paper states, “the Bihar government sacrificed large potential fiscal transfers from the Indian government designed for anti-poverty programmes because it was unable to complete the relevant bureaucratic procedures”.

In what can be seen as a severe indictment of Lalu’s record as chief minister, Mathew and Moore say: “Lalu knowingly undermined the capacity of the state apparatus. There are parallels in many other parts of the world. Low state capacity is often a political choice.”

However, Mathew and Moore conclude that they did not see Lalu’s record “as just an interesting but idiosyncratic story”.

They say: “Rather, it is centrally relevant to the ways in which we think about that bundle of activities and concerns variously labelled state-building, capacity-development, institution-building or public sector reform.”

According to them, Bihar has socio-political problems with deep historical roots but it was short-term political strategy, not deep history, which tipped Bihar into a “particularly perverse pattern of governance between 1990 and 2005″.

Lalu’s governance record, the authors say, “revolves around a chance combination of circumstances and an individual who seized the opportunity they provided to rule over Bihar for 15 years”.

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