‘I Am a Bihari and I Will Question’

I am a Bihari. Not by birth, but by ‘karma’. So when I went back to my state recently after almost a decade, I expected a lot of changes. I had seen the state rot under Congress’ Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra while I was in school in Patna. Later on, while in college in Delhi, when I used to visit my working mother in Danapur during vacations, I saw it deteriorating even further under Lalu Prasad Yadav.

However, Nitish Kumar was the ‘Su-raj’ guy. And since he has been at the helm of affairs for the last 14 years, I expected big time changes. But sadly, changes are all superficial. And what is worse is that residents of the state do not demand anything better. And media is completely silent!

If you are travelling by air, Bihar’s under-development hits you right away. Patna’s airport is named after the rebel hero of Bihar, Lok Nayak Jay Prakash Narayan. The one who talked of “sampoorn kranti” and took on the might of Indira Gandhi during Emergency. Patna airport is 16th busiest in the country and just in last one year, the annual passenger traffic increased by 47 percent. But it is exactly in the same eaxact condition as I saw it 33 years ago. Before landing in Patna, I travelled to Ranchi and was amazed by its swanky new airport. Indeed, being a part of Bihar must have been keeping Jharkhand backward!

Most flights land in Patna and take off between noon and 4 pm. Serpentine lines of passengers to enter the airport extend for over half a kilometer. As they wait patiently under the blazing May sun, there is another line for the VVIPs and the VIPs – netas, their hanger-ons, bureaucrats, police officers, petty officers and their chacha-bhatijas, mama-bhanjas.

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In fact, real netas, the ones with power, never see the actual airport and its worsening condition, as they are whisked off from the tarmac. I left Patna 33 years ago and the airport has only worsened. I am told that a new state of the art airport is coming up. If Jharkhand could have a new one after it became a state, why is Bihar taking such a long time?

But is anyone questioning?

Then, there are those who do not believe in standing in queue. And there are many of those. While boarding the bus to the plane, there was an old lady struggling to get on the bus in front of me, she was followed by her daughter-in-law carrying a four-five months old baby. And from behind me came a macho young Bihari trying to push aside the old lady who was trying to hold rails with both her hands. Unable to see this uncouth, rude behavior, I gave him an earful, while others in the bus just looked on silently. You are either servile or unduly aggressive, that’s the rule in Bihar. No one protests. You never know who is related to which ‘bahubali’?

I was in Patna to participate in an education fair. Six of us were travelling from Gurgaon, and for most, it was their first visit to the state. And their excitement was palpable. Jharkhand before that had been a good experience. So for dinner, we decided to have Chinese food and landed in Mainland China, in the swanky Patna Central Mall on Fraser Road – only to get a nail in our Khimchi salad.

The manager was missing, so the deputy manager was called. At first, he was apologetic, but then, we said that the same could happen to our main order as well. To which he suddenly became aggressive and said he would cancel our order and we can leave. This could not have happened in any other place. We told him that ‘Mainland China’ was a known brand and if we put out this incident on social media it could become quite an item. One of our colleague is a lawyer and she really wanted to follow this up and wanted to take it up with those managing the eatery. So the manager did finally come on line and apologised for the ‘nail in the food.’

Later, I was informed the real reason for the undue aggression of the person serving us food. The mall belonged to a ‘bahubali’ Singh and the eatery was a franchisee taken up by another ‘bahubali’ Singh of the ruling party. Their people do not apologise. They scare people.

The fear psychosis of Sadhu Yadav and Subhash Yadav may be a thing of the past but the rule of fear is not yet over completely.

It’s not as if nothing has changed. Roads are better. There are some flyovers which have come up. But traffic is maddening. And road rage is common. People say law and order is also better, apparently. I came to know of a snatching gang operating near Kurji and targeting those coming out of late night shows. A constable tried to apprehend them but was badly bashed and came bleeding to a local hospital. But these incidents never get reported.

You see, media has to look at greater things happening in Bihar. Just a few years back, its GDP growth rate allegedly was highest in the country. Frankly, it doesn’t show, but no one is questioning.

It’s another matter that during Lalu’s time families could not think of stepping out of the house to watch a late night show.

But are these changes enough?

The mindset in Bihar seems to be in reverse gear.

The hotel we checked in was one of the worst I have stayed in, anywhere! When we asked stained bed sheets to be changed, we were informed that all other bed sheets were as bad.

You see, customers leave stains that are almost impossible to remove, we are told. And they indeed showed us clean sheets that were as stained. I am warning you, you better carry your own sheets when you travel to Hotel Patliputra Samarpan Nesh. You can easily make out that it’s a mindset.

People have no vision. They are not even thinking of customer satisfaction. It’s the ‘chalta hai’ attitude. Take it or leave it. Period! But we were travelling from outside, and were paying for our stay, so we demanded value for our money. We were not ready to tolerate overflowing drains, non-working flushes, etc. so we changed rooms twice and more.

Why can’t all Biharis demand? Why can’t the local media question? If they can question Kanhaiya Kumar as if there’s no tomorrow, why can’t they question local politicians, Nitish Kumar, Sushil Kumar Modi, et al. Is it only religion and castes that are keeping them quiet? Or is it that they haven’t seen anything better?

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Life for people of the state has really not changed. Corruption is rampant, and reportedly, you have to pay for getting any government work done. There is, allegedly, a rate for each service. You first pay the middleman, then pay the actual babu. In most departments. Yes, most! But again, there is no mention of any of this in local media. And since local media does not talk about it, the national media has no clue about it.

People openly say that Nitish Babu has managed media well. Next time, I promise, I’ll try to investigate how this was done. Though some tried to inform me that media is also in the hands of the upper castes, which are ruling at the moment. People close to Nitish Babu are Brahmin, Bhumihar and Rajputs. Why would they ensure hara-kiri by writing about the social upheaval in which they are the beneficiaries.

The one thing that has suffered the most under ‘Vikas Kumar’, as Nitish Kumar is well known as, is higher education.

There is a desperation to move out of the state for those who can afford it, others take loans, sell their land and property to ensure their children go out of Bihar. For those who can’t, in most colleges and universities, they get themselves registered and the next time they come to their educational institution is when they take their exams. Classes do not happen, teachers don’t come, everyone is happy! No one questions why classes are not happening! No wonder, despite being graduates, post-graduates, PhDs, most are unemployable outside Bihar.

I had asked Lalu Yadav once as to why he doesn’t invest more politically and economically in education. He had said that if all his supporters got educated, they’ll stop voting for him.

People thought that ‘Vikas Kumar’ was different. But having spent some time in Patna, I can only say that Nitish Babu blew away a fantastic opportunity. If you can’t change your state for the better in 14 years, sorry, sir, you are no better than Lalu Yadav!

(Sanjay Ahirwal is the Former Managing Editor at NDTV. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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