The most noteworthy consequence of JD(U) parting ways with the NDA has been a clear shift in the perception of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar amidst the masses. Where he was an honest, hard-working and humble man before, he is now seen as a power-hungry, ambitious and arrogant schemer.
I will not try to defend Mr. Kumar against the allegations, neither will I justify the reasons for his departure. I won’t draw any parallels to any other leader or state, but I will only try to give you an insight into the work Mr. Kumar has been doing all these years. I am attributing the achievements to Mr. Kumar solely, because a leader is responsible for both the failures as well as the successes of a team. It is his job to promote imagination and integrity in his team. If the team does well, he has every right to be given the credit.
If after reading everything below, you still think him to be an evil man striving for the “Iron Throne”, it is your wish.
As Union Minister of Railways:
So, although Mr. Kumar’s political career starts with the JP Movement in 1974, he really shot to fame after quitting Lalu Prasad Yadav’s side in 1994, and aligning hands with the BJP. Soon, he was a cabinet minister for a second time, this time under A.B.Vajpayee.
- In 1999, after Gaisal train disaster, Mr. Kumar did not hesitate to submit his resignation, taking moral responsibility for the failure of railways. (I hope that gives you some insight into the kind of man he is.) He says, “After visiting the site, the images did not leave me for days. There was no way I could work after that.”
- During his time as rail minister, he introduced several visionary steps, such as opening a record number of booking centres in the country, introduction of e-ticketing, and the revolutionary tatkal scheme.
- According to some reports, the ‘Garib Rath’ idea was from his period, which Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav went on to implement and derive credit from.
Anyway, the real story starts in 2005, when Nitish Kumar was selected to lead the state of Bihar. To truly appreciate his contribution, we must go back to the prevalent scenario at that time. In those days, kids from the biggest private schools were being kidnapped, men would be shot to death for fun in the playground next to your colony, and not even grown men would dare to go out of their houses after 8-9pm, let alone women/children. The state was well and truly failing.
Reestablishing law and order:
So, Mr. Kumar’s first step was to reestablish the authority of the state.
- Fast track courts were set up, and speedy trials were held to put the criminals behind bars.
- In the first five years, there were 47,000 convictions of 10 year imprisonments and more.
- Around 5,000 people were handed out death sentences by these courts during the period.
- As of 2013, the figure of convictions stands at 83,000. Tell me that it is not astonishing! Needless to say, the impact was felt in reduced crime rates.
Human Development: Education, Health, Women
The second step as Mr. Kumar puts, was to focus on human development. According to him, growth cannot be gauged by GDP numbers alone. He says human development indices are the prime scales for measurement. “What good is an increasing GDP if it means the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Unless the laggards come up to the national average, there is no point of these numbers.” (By the way, Bihar registered around 11% increase in GDP in the first four years, and total 8.4% since 2005.)
Hence, the focus of the Bihar Government quickly moved onto education sector.
- A record number of recruitments in excess of one lakh teachers for government schools was undertaken.
- At the beginning of his term, 12.8% of kids were not attending any form of primary education. Currently, the number stands around 3%.
- The “poshak yojna” and the “cycle yojna” aimed for the girls in the middle school and the secondary school (which were quite revolutionary programmes to be honest) helped boost the number of girls in 9th standard from 1,80,000 to 6,50,000.
- As of now, 14 lakh cycles are being given out every year to the girls in this age bracket. The state decided against tenders to private companies in order to not compromise on the quality of cycles.
- Currently, Bihar spends 18% of its revenue on education. The only state which spends more, among the ten biggest states by area, is Maharashtra at 21%.
Mr. Kumar says, “Cycle is not just a mode of transport. It is a motivation, an inspiration for the female community that they are on equal footing with the men. It gives them hope to dream again.” I could not agree more.
- But, that is not all. The scheme of providing Rs. 10,000 as incentive for passing 10th Bihar board with first division to SC/ST/Backward Classes has helped boost the number of students passing with first division from mere 2300 to around 26,000.
- Patna now also has IIT, AIIMS in the education sector. NIT, Chandragupta Institute of Management, Patna (CIMP) are other important institutes on the rise. Mr. Kumar, meanwhile has been haranguing the Centre to pass the papers for an IIM too in the city.
- The Nalanda University, which is widely known to be one of the first universities to pop-up in the world is being reconstructed. The new batch is scheduled to start in 2014.
The health sector too saw massive improvement:
- When his term began, the number of patients in one public hospital on an average in a month stood at 39. That means 1 or maximum 2 patients a day.
- After the doctors were lured back to the hospitals with a combination of incentives and administration, this number swelled within one year to around 4000. It currently stands in the range of 8000.
- A revolutionary scheme in this field was the “free medicine” scheme for the needy.
- The mid-day meal scheme has been a success despite an unfortunate accident putting a dent on it.
Other fields such as employment have not been ignored either:
- Loan schemes for farmers were improved by involving national banks. Bihar refused to use genetically modified crops to increase productivity as there may have been potential health risks. 5 farmers from the state broke the productivity record of China in growing paddy.
- Bihar developed an electronic version of the RTI, named as Jankari Scheme.
- E-Shakti NREGS program which provides employment information by phone to rural people was another innovative idea.
- Also, Mr. Kumar has held Janta Darbars every week since assuming office to address the grievances of the common public.
And finally, the topic of women empowerment! The bicycle scheme was discussed earlier. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Bihar is the first state to provide 50% reservation to women in Panchayat Raj and Urban Local Bodies.
- 50% reservation in teacher recruitment, and 35% reservation in Police forces.
- Again, Bihar is the first state to introduce a revolutionary idea of “women auto drivers”, incentivizing the idea by providing tax relief.
Needless to say, women have been an integral part of the development of Bihar and have been somewhat able to reclaim the rights they deserve.
Infrastructure and industries:
According to Mr. Kumar, the third step for development is the work in the field of infrastructure and industries. He says for the development of the state, it is important to bring investors to the city.
- The numbers for construction work in Bihar far exceeded the national average, creating a record.
- Building of long-delayed bridges, relaying roads that ceased to exist, construction of monuments that reflect the state’s history have been very actively pursued and the results are there for everyone to see.
- There has been an increase of 70% in the per capita units of electricity available in the state, in the same period that there has been an increase of 15% in the national per capita units of electricity. Yes, the state’s per capita value is still just 15% of the national value, but the rise is there for everyone to see.
- According to a survey in 2009, Patna was ranked as the second safest city to open a new industry after Delhi.
- The reason Bihar is fighting for the “special status state” is to reduce the central tax on new industries. The state has subsidized its own taxes, but it cannot control the centre’s share.
I can go on and on, but I think you get the point. All I want to say is that Mr. Nitish Kumar is a visionary, and his focus has always been on development, more specifically “inclusive development”. His idea is to take everyone in the quest for development without an inkling of bias or discrimination. He does not believe in hype or advertisements about his achievements and likes to lead a very simple, peaceful life. He is a total abstainer, and values Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a source of inspiration.
If you want to understand him as a person, just sit through some of his interviews, and it will be evident to you that he has no air about him, no sense of self-righteousness. He has reiterated on many occasions that being in office is out of his control, and that the only way he can get back there is by focusing on development. He is just trying to do his bit, and he really does not deserve the flak directed at him.
The biggest achievement of Mr. Nitish Kumar is that he has been able to change the word “Bihari” from an expletive to a compliment within eight years! Anyone who does not understand or appreciate this fact is in sheer denial.
Disclaimer: The numbers presented above have been compiled from various sources, not all of which have infallible credibility. They are true to the best of this author’s knowledge, however.