The French and we still change, but here’s the curse,
They change for better, and we change for worse.
Dryden.—(Prologue to the Spanish Friar)
Unless one is a card carrying troglodyte, the results of the Bihar elections would still be reverberating in every Indian's thought progress. While the Indian electorate has been known to spring surprises, the results were startling even by the accepted standards. The Nitish-Modi battle turned out to be a 'no-contest' with the former registering a hands-down victory.
Over the last two decades, it has become almost fashionable to dismiss Bihar as a gone case beyond any redemption. Perhaps it was this tendency that prompted many journalists to resort to pessimistic prognostications based on the state's recent record. Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta seems to have been a victim of this tendency when he penned his editorial column in the Business Standard today.
For someone born in Bihar like myself, his clumsy attempt to dismiss the state as inconsequential was deeply galling. He commenced by making a bizarre statement that Bihar as a state had always been low down in the country's list of priorities when contrasted with the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
For someone who has headed one of the top national dailies, that was particularly ill-informed and made me wonder if he had taken the trouble to visit the province as often as we would expect a journalist of his vintage and seniority to do so.
Indeed Bihar never did have as many members of parliament as Uttar Pradesh, but that was because the latter had a much bigger population. Undivided Bihar was in terms of mineral wealth by far the best endowed region in India. It was primarily for this reason that the first Indian multinational, the Tatas, decided to headquarter themselves in Jamshedpur, Bihar! May come as a surprise to many but during the late British era, Bihar was regarded as the richest state in India. It also had the seventh oldest university in India and was regarded a centre of learning until the late 50's when the University of Patna attracted some of the top names in science as well as humanities. The doyen of Indian history, Sir Jadunath Sarkar taught there for nearly 30 years and attracted the foremost scholars of history.
When one glances through pages of modern Indian history, how can one overlook the fact that MK Gandhi acquired his cult status in India only after the Champaran movement? His success in that endeavour instilled hope within the subjugated class. Several leading lawyers with extremely lucrative legal practices decided to devote themselves completely in the service of their country.
While Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar-ul-Haque and Imam brothers are only too well-known, not many are aware of the stellar contribution made by Brajkishore Prasad, a top lawyer without whose logistical support, Gandhi freely admitted that he would not have been able to conduct the Champaran movement. It is ironical that his son-in-law whom Gupta alluded to (Jayaprakash Narayan) is much better known as is his daughter Parabhavati Devi who was Kasturba Gandhi's foremost disciple for over 20 years. When Gandhi gave a clarion call for boycott of British education, Bihar remained right at the forefront. Mazhar-ul-Haque along with Rajendra Prasad was at the forefront in establishing Bihar Vidyapeeth as an alternative educational center which still survives.
I am sure Shekhar Gupta would be aware of these facts. Taken collectively, there are very few states in India that can match Bihar in terms of the legacy it inherited through its excellence in nearly all spheres of human activity. I am not even alluding to the ancient and medieval times when the region was an undisputed leader in promulgation of philosophical as well as political wisdom.
The decline and degradation that Gupta obliquely alludes to is a relatively recent phenomenon. One of the reasons for this very unfortunate debasement of a glorious region was indisputably caste conflict. There had been historical antipathy between Rajputs and Bhumihars and of course the internecine hostility between different sections of backward communities that continued to impede progress.
But any chance of realistic development was eroded after the fractured verdict in 1967 elections when for the first time a non-Congress government under the leadership of Mahamaya Prasad Sinha took office. Sinha was a disgruntled Congressman who founded a party which became the precursor of the different Janata parivars. But as a Chief Minister, he was an abject failure and governance took a back seat. His successors did not fare any better. It was a standing joke in those days that the Chief Ministers in Bihar used to last just for weeks instead of months or years. One lasted 24 hours. Another moved over to Bollywood to become an actor.
Amidst this chaos, Indira Gandhi was busy manoeuvring her own machinations -she formed the Congress (I) and kept on foisting her cronies as Chief Ministers, small wonder that corruption and anarchy continued to thrive. When true to her style, she made Ghafoor the Chief Minister, Jayaprakash Narayan took up cudgels. The rest is history!
Though JP was successful in orchestrating an election victory, perhaps his biggest failure was his inability to ensure a change of mindset in his proteges both at national and state levels. They were infected with the contagious virus of corruption and this ultimately resulted in the victory of Laloo Prasad who was not just an active corruptionalist but a pastmaster at cheapening the political discourse through his vulgar catchphrases and antics.
Bihar therefore became an unfortunate victim of ugly politicking and fell behind on every parameter of growth and human development. As someone who loves the region, my main grouse against the Fourth Estate vis a vis Bihar was their relative failure to hold the errant politicians to account.
Nitish Kumar came with a clean image and did not carry the baggage of nepotism that nearly all his political colleagues did. He certainly instilled some hope in the province. But it has become difficult for many to give him credit for dis-aligning with Modi whom he clearly detests when he chose to associate with Laloo Prasad and Congress -both fountainheads of corruption, thuggery and nepotism, the three vices that have plagued the province for the last few decades. His party spokesperson, the articulate and suave Pavan Verma, contends that this was a compulsion in order to insulate the province from the ravages of communalism.
Verma does have a point. Some of the venal utterances from the BJP folks do give ground for trepidation! But so does the prospect of a person like Laloo having a free reign. It is upto Nitish to demonstrate that he can deal with Laloo with the same alacrity as he did with Modi should Laloo step out of line.
I on my part shall keep my fingers crossed! Let us hope that Nitish would give reasons to the disparaging columnists like Gupta to re-evaluate the once glorious region with a proud history.