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‘Show or Substance’ – Recounting Bihar’s Political Landscape

Abhishek Ranjan, Founder of Policy Matrix and Co-author of the book ‘Show or Substance: Bihar since 1990,’ has actively collaborated with Members of Parliament from diverse party affiliations. His involvement extends to the prestigious LAMP (Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament) Fellowship 2015-16, conducted by New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research. Possessing an MBA from Liverpool Business School and a Bachelor of Engineering from MIT Manipal, Abhishek Ranjan, with roots in Patna, Bihar, brings a comprehensive perspective to the issues discussed in the book. Santosh Dubey, the other Co-author, boasts advisory experience in conjunction with a Member of Parliament.

In an engaging conversation with The Interview World, Abhishek Ranjan delves into the critical aspects of Bihar’s challenges as explored in the book. He sheds light on the reasons behind Bihar’s diminishing developmental index and, specifically, the fluctuating characteristics of Nitish Kumar. The following are key excerpts from his insightful interview.

Q: In your book, “Show or Substance: Bihar Since 1990,” how does the narrative unfold the decades of governance challenges in Bihar?

A: Bihar has faced significant governance challenges in recent decades. The state witnessed a transition from Lalu Prasad Yadav’s leadership, marked by populism and a focus on caste politics, marred by corruption allegations. This era was followed by Nitish Kumar’s tenure, emphasizing development but criticized for its stagnant growth. The 2020 elections signalled yet another shift, resulting in the victory of the NDA.

Presently, Nitish Kumar, serving as the Chief Minister, grapples with formidable challenges such as unemployment, poverty, and agricultural distress. These issues are further compounded by deep societal wounds, often referred to as the legacy of “Jungle Raj” from Bihar’s darker years. Despite commendable efforts in specific areas, the state continues to confront persistent problems, underscoring the delicate balance needed between social justice and economic development.

As we delve into these intricate issues in our book, we shed light on the complexities that have given rise to the current challenges facing Bihar. The state’s leadership is confronted with the formidable task of navigating these intricacies to formulate a more sustainable and comprehensive governance approach for the future.

Q: Could you shed light on the 5 most important issues of the 15 that your book captures?

A: Despite facing numerous challenges, as detailed in the book, Bihar particularly grapples with five pivotal issues:

Governance Issues: Over the years, Bihar has confronted governance challenges marked by allegations of corruption and mismanagement. The state urgently needs transparent and efficient governance to fuel its overall development.

Poverty and Migration: Bihar is characterized by widespread poverty and a high rate of migration. Inadequate livelihood opportunities force a significant portion of the population to seek employment outside the state. Addressing poverty and creating sustainable employment within Bihar are imperative for socio-economic upliftment.

Poor Healthcare: Bihar struggles to provide quality healthcare due to insufficient infrastructure, a shortage of healthcare professionals, and limited access to medical facilities. Substantial investments and reforms are urgently needed to bridge the healthcare disparity.

Need for Agriculture Modernization: Agriculture, a primary livelihood source for a large population in Bihar, requires modernization. Outdated farming practices, lack of irrigation facilities, and inadequate access to credit hinder agricultural productivity. Modernizing the agriculture sector can enhance yields, improve farmers’ income, and ensure food security.

Lack of Industrial Presence: Bihar’s underdeveloped industrial landscape contributes to a high rate of unemployment. The absence of industries hampers economic diversification and deprives the state of a robust revenue source. Encouraging industrial growth through policies and incentives is crucial for Bihar’s economic resurgence.

Effectively addressing these challenges necessitates a comprehensive and coordinated effort from the government, involving policy reforms, infrastructure development, and targeted initiatives. The trajectory of Bihar’s progress hinges on its ability to tackle these issues effectively and create an environment conducive to sustainable development.

Q: Does your book pose inquiries about the declining developmental index in Bihar?

A: Chapter 8 of the book “Bihar Economy and Overview” delves into the repercussions of the Freight Equalization Policy on the state’s economic decline and its impact on Bihar’s developmental index.

Implemented during the early years of independent India, the Freight Equalization Policy was originally devised to foster industrialization in less-developed states. The idea was to subsidize transportation, ensuring uniform industrial production costs nationwide. However, the unintended consequences of this policy have significantly harmed Bihar’s economy.

Instead of fostering growth, the policy paradoxically affected Bihar’s industrial landscape. By equalizing freight rates for raw materials and finished goods, it inadvertently discouraged industries from establishing themselves in the state. Industries found it more economically viable to set up in already industrialized states, closer to raw material sources and markets.

Consequently, Bihar grappled with a lack of industrialization, soaring unemployment rates, and an economy stuck in stagnation. The policy’s destructive impact hindered the state’s ability to attract investments and generate employment opportunities.

The Freight Equalization Policy not only impeded industrial growth but also perpetuated a cycle of underdevelopment in Bihar. The absence of industries limited revenue generation, constraining the state’s capacity to invest in crucial sectors like infrastructure, education, and healthcare.

To revitalize Bihar’s economy, it is imperative to revisit and revise policies such as the Freight Equalization Policy. By offering targeted incentives to encourage industry establishment in Bihar, the state can unlock its economic potential, generate employment, and contribute significantly to regional development. Reforms that promote a more balanced and region-specific industrialization strategy are crucial for Bihar to break free from the adverse impacts of outdated policies like the Freight Equalization Policy.

Q: Can you elaborate on whether the political oscillation of Nitish Kumar has become a prevailing trend?

A: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s political trajectory has been characterized by frequent and seemingly opportunistic shifts in alliances, a phenomenon critics attribute to ideological inconsistency. Some may censure Kumar for his multiple switches in political affiliations, often perceived as driven more by a thirst for power than principled convictions. Notably, his reversals in 2017 and 2022, deviating from the mandates of 2015 and 2020 respectively, have drawn significant attention.

Examining Kumar’s move in 2022, when he parted ways with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to join forces with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, provides insight. However, this alignment was short-lived, as he recently realigned with the NDA. The rapid and seemingly opportunistic changes in alliances can be interpreted as a disregard for the voters’ mandate. Kumar’s earlier role as a leader in the anti-BJP Opposition alliance sharply contrasts with his swift return to the BJP fold.

While leaving the judgment to the people, genuine questions arise regarding Kumar’s assertion of being a champion of good governance. His inability to settle on a consistent party partnership raises doubts about his ability to deliver the elusive “Good Governance.” One certainty emerges: Kumar’s political foundation is under challenge, yet he remains the Chief Minister, seemingly indifferent to the tarnishing of his legacy as long as he retains the position.

Q: Do you believe that your book has the potential to captivate and inspire the younger generation in Bihar amidst the prevailing governance issues?

A: This book goes beyond merely focusing on Bihar; it aspires to be more than a compilation of pages. Its purpose is to engage the younger generation amidst the governance challenges in the region. Through an exploration of Bihar’s intricate governance history, the book provides a historical context to better understand contemporary issues.

Delving into the political oscillations and socio-economic struggles of the region, it offers a roadmap for navigating Bihar’s complex political landscape. The narrative attempts to provide a nuanced understanding of prominent leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.

The primary focus is on highlighting the various problems faced by the common Bihari. By doing so, the aim is for individuals to gain a better understanding of the situation and become agents of change. This book serves as a call to action, urging the youth to actively participate in the democratic process and contribute to a future where Bihar can overcome its challenges.

It’s crucial to emphasize that the power for change doesn’t solely rest in the hands of seasoned politicians. Instead, the passion and determination of the youth play a pivotal role. Ultimately, the book seeks to be a catalyst for change, inspiring the younger generation to actively shape Bihar’s destiny and contribute to a more just, equitable, and prosperous future.

'Show or Substance’ – Unfolding Bihar’s Political and Developmental Fragility
‘Show or Substance’ – Unfolding Bihar’s Political and Developmental Fragility
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