Millennium Post

Growth to counter caste

Urgent family commitments in Bihar and perennial problem of tickets not being available to board trains has forced frequent air travel on me to the state in the last one month. These travels to Bihar happened in the midst of the ‘political crisis’, if there is any, with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal (United) parting ways as partners in government and also in electoral battles. I would have preferred a travel in the local train between Patna and Ara to get a very juicy and earthy analysis of the ‘future’ of the state including that of its knights in shining armour – Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav – with unfathomable and sometimes inscrutable details. Unfortunately the Bihar unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t have any leader capable of showing same machismo as the former comrades of Jai Prakash movement, thus the chances of a Sushil Kumar Modi or a C P Thakur in these railway charchas (discussions) remain remote.

Anyway these travels, including the latest being over the last weekend has indicated that there doesn’t seem to have stirred much in the state even as the BJP members were dropped by Nitish Kumar from his cabinet. One of the most visible signs of the BJP not being part of the government are the ministerial bungalows. The road to Patna airport is lined with huge British era ministerial bungalows, many of them occupied by the erstwhile BJP ministers. These bungalows have signboards displaying their names prominently. However, now these name plates uniformly have tapes pasted on the designation of these leaders.

On reaching Patna on Saturday last, I asked the car driver, who has driven me around Bihar several times including during the 2010 polls, ‘what effect will BJP’s walkout have on the health of Bihar government.’ I have known this person all these years to be a big Hinduvta votary and supporter of the BJP and expected a reply on similar lines. ‘Thoda bahut (somewhat),’ he said leaving me surprised. I poked him further, ‘Will the walkout by such big names not matter?’

With a nonchalant swipe, he replied, ‘This government has one leader and face and that is
Nitish Kumar. All the good works are to his credit and all the weaknesses are to his discredit. But the credits far outscore the discredits. He is capable of managing even without the BJP.’ Though as an afterthought he added a note of caution, ‘But there could be a problem, it would not be as easy as the last time.’ I wondered what made this BJP sympathiser not reject Nitish Kumar outrightly. Probably it’s the fruits of development which the residents of the state are currently enjoying which makes them wary about having somebody else as the head of the government in Patna. This driver too has personally benefitted from NDA government’s good governance in the past 10 years.
He was used to work on a small salary for a retired old couple driving them around in weather-worn 1990 model Premier Fiat car. Incidentally Lalu Yadav came to power in Bihar in 1990. Today this driver owns an Indica taxi, which is drives around for 10 days in the month and continues to work for his old employer for the remaining 20 days driving them in a Maruti-make vehicle. His employers gifted him their old Fiat, which he has taken to his village across the Ganges and rents it out to ferry bridge-grooms during the marriage season.

Economic activity has spurred Bihar at every level. During the last visit had the occasion to meet a friend who too was in Patna to rent out his old house. He managed to interview four bright entrepreneurs for his 1800 square-feet space within a span of two hours. One was an eye surgeon who wanted to start laser and lens replacement surgery, another a pathological laboratory owner who needed the space as he was seeking national-level accreditation, third wanted to start a service centre for a multi-national electronic company and fourth who had to start online classrooms for the bank employees on behalf of Tata Consultancy Services.

Of these, at least two of them had left good jobs outside the state to return to their home and start enterprise. Unlike past these prospective tenants were all very clear on rent agreement and payment module. But the icing on the cake was that the landlord was going to get a rent which was three times more than what he would have got just three years back. Some sign of the economic boom which the state is in the midst of. Another indicator could be the fact that on an average, according to CISF officials, Patna receives around 2,000 air travellers every day.

While I do not seek to discount the role which caste combinations have played in the past in deciding the electoral results in the state but I seek to assert that the fear in the fall of the land prices would be a dominant agenda in the electoral battle of 2015 assembly polls, if not 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The traditional voters of both the BJP and to some extent the Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal are big landholders, the direct beneficiaries of the economic boom. Would they like to risk a fall in the land prices? To find an answer to these questions one would have to wait for the results of the next electoral battle.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor,
Millennium Post

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