A couple of months back I was in Bihar, my home state, and the state was gearing up for elections. It was a completely personal tour to spend some time with my parents and family and I hardly interacted with any ‘outsider’, except when I had to venture out to take part in Money Mantra, a television show by NDTV Profit, where I was supposed to discuss “Business opportunities via social networking” (even though I’m yet to make any profit through social networking, I agreed for sake of being on television ).
The television channel was kind enough to provide me a cab for commuting. While coming back home once the recording for the show was over, I decided to get into a chit-chat with the driver of the cab (it was in Hindi, but what follows is a translated version):
“Finally Patna seems to have roads where one can drive cars without much headache, no?” I started the conversation with the driver, who looked like someone in his late 30’s, and I’m ashamed not to be able to recall his name right now.
“Yes sir, a couple of flyovers have also come up, the traveling time has come down hugely, otherwise it would have taken more than an hour to get to your house,” he agreed. It had taken me around 15-20 minutes to reach the NDTV studio earlier.
“So, Nitish government has indeed done some development work?” I jumped to politics straightaway; not an oddity in Bihar for conversations between strangers.
“Well, yeah,” he seemed to agree, but not quite though.
“So what do you think? Nitish will come back to power?” I asked to confirm.
“If you ask me sir, I will say that he might win, but people would not give him so much power (majority) that he can do whatever he want,” his answer puzzled me further.
“But you just said that he has done development work, won’t you like him to win?” I prodded him further to know his opinion, a common man’s opinion.
“Yes sir, but these things – roads, water, electricity, security – are our basic needs. It is his duty to provide these things. If a government won’t even provide these things, what will it do?” he said.
“But Lalu Yadav’s government failed to provide even these basic things, no?” like a shrewd journalist, I was looking for a ‘sound-bite’ to get his approval for Nitish government.
“No doubt, Nitish has done far better than Lalu,” he obliged me, but quickly added, “but you people shouldn’t think that it will help Nitish Kumar sweep the elections, as many of my bosses think.”
By “you people” he meant NRBs (Non Resident Biharis), and by “bosses” he meant the journalists, or the so-called intelligentsia I guess.
So Nitish had done good work, in fact “far better” than what Lalu Yadav did, but that might not be enough for him to win the elections?
What the ‘common man’ is thinking, I wondered.
Then I recalled a story my father had told me when I was in Bihar during my school days. I guess it was late 1995 or so when either Lalu Yadav was seeking his first re-election or when he had already got back to power.
That period is supposed to be a dark chapter in the history of Bihar with the state witnessing high crime rate, economic collapse and migration of Biharis outside the state in pursuit of better opportunities.
At that time my father was working as a college reader in a suburban city called Bihar Sharif in the Nalanda district and used to commute almost daily from Patna, where we were staying so that we (me and my brother) could study in ‘better’ schools. So even within the state, there was migration; we had shifted to Patna sometime in 1991 for ‘better’ avenues.
The story I earlier referred to as having recalled by me after my discussion with the NDTV driver is a personal experience of my father in one of such trips to his college from Patna. He used to travel by buses and would usually read a book, but on that occasion he decided to join a discussion that was taking place in the bus. And not surprisingly, the topic of the discussion was politics.
People were discussing if Lalu’s government was good or not and the issue of law and order came up. My father happened to witness this dialogue (again, it was in Hindi and a translated version follows):
“Have you seen the crime level in the state? Each day there is some murder, kidnapping, dacoity. What is the government doing?” argued a person in the bus.
“What crap!” retorted another guy, who incidentally was sitting next to my father in the bus, arguing, “Arey tell me, you are going somewhere and some gunda comes, slaps you and takes away money from you. What can the government do in this?”
There should have been a stunned silence in the bus or an unbridled laughter at this point of time, but neither of these happened. The discussion was ‘normal’.
The guy looked towards my father to extract a supporting nod after he thought he made a valiant point in defense of the government. My father and others tried in vain to convince him that it indeed was the duty of the government to ensure the safety of each and every person on the road. He, along with some of ‘like-minded’ debaters, remained unconvinced.
That was how a ‘common man’, whom my father encountered, was thinking in those days.
I told you how the NDTV driver, the common man I encountered, is thinking nowadays.
And this is the change that has taken place in Bihar in span of just one generation.
The common man today is aware of what “development” really means and what the duties of a government are. There has been a sea-change in the awareness, aspirations, and expectations of the people of Bihar. They don’t see roads, water, electricity or security as any “luxury”, but as their “rights”, rather as their “birthrights”.
This change in mindset of the common man could be attributed to various factors, but I would, rightly or wrongly, credit Nitish Kumar’s government too for this. A Bihari that I know appreciates work done by Nitish government, but he wants “more”.
So, Congratulations Mr. Kumar for bringing this change, but you may lose the elections.