Mind your roads, CM

A Roadless Bihari

Uma Bharati had once narrated her childhood story of want and penury in Madhya Pradesh Assembly soon after becoming the first woman chief minister of the state.

She said how she would ride shoulders of elder brother Swami Prasad Lodhi to reach Bada Malahra market, six km from her village. At times, she had to walk down to market with mother to the market to buy domestic chores.

The ageing mother, who could not lift the little Uma, would wonder if the baby could walk back with her frail tiny legs as well.

What she would do was to stand by the roadside and wait for bullock carts, carrying goods to villages crossing her village. The old woman had no penny to pay.

Some bullock cart man would take pity and give a free ride to Uma for the village while the self-respecting mother would still walk down.

December 2004. Uma Bharati became the chief minister with helicopters at her disposal to ferry her anywhere and probably hover around those kachchi Bada Mahalra roads.

The firebrand chief minister committed to her people to turn kachchi roads into pucci (metalled) ones. It, however, is a different thing that Uma could not fulfill her promise as she resigned citing reasons and hiding personal idiosyncrasy.

I do not know if our very own chief minister Nitish Kumar had to walk kilometers to reach the nearest connected towns from his Kalyanbigha village.

What I know that he rode (read road) to power with high hopes to take people out of Lalu’s proverbial lantern age. November 24, like so many Biharis, is etched in my memory as it saw exit of Lalu-Rabri age.

The rustic charmer, Lalu, who otherwise had illusions of invincibility, was made to eat a humble pie.

One year of Nitish rule is gone now. He talks of improved law and order, heavy investment proposals and global tendering for constructing good concrete roads.

The NDA’s recent victory in by-polls has only boosted his rating.

But where are the roads, chief minister? I know you would talk of “technical” problems, things like bidders did not come. A miffed CM had gone on to tell a television news channel “the government is desperate to award to tender to anyone, including that channel”.

Point well taken, Sir. But common people, your voters, do not understand or do not want to understand such technicalities. What they want is roads.

They are tired of age-long journey. We all are tired of bumpy road ride, those Tata-maxis and gate-less trackers. Potholes never deterred us.

Death of a Tata-Maxi cleaner did not surprise us. The journey of 40 km in four hours was a common thing. My area MLA Shakuni Choudhary never gave us a road between Tarapur and Sultanganj. A 13-km Tarapur-Kharagpur distance remained quite a distance for us.

My native village Ramchua never got a connecting road. Villagers pooled in money to make a mud road. But last rains washed its most part. The native village has again receded from its nearest connecting links and from leaders’ memory.

This is perhaps the story of all Biharis. What we want is a palpable difference between two governments. We do not want to listen to bureaucratic jargons and future tense promises.

Mr Chief Minister, I remember your words that you will ask votes only on development count. You must remember it like morning-prayer.

Give us roads. We are not interested in your investment proposals and GDP growth rate. Do not give us figures, give us facts.

Giving roads to Bihar alone will survive your party and your NDA alliance. People take your words seriously. We do not want a situation when we end up saying that Lalu “joked with Bihar seriously” and you are a “serious joke” for Bihar.

I was happy that you took road route to open a bridge near Sultanganj four months ago. I followed Patna-Bhagalpur roads a few months later by a hired car. Eight hours, a puncture and severe body ache later, I reached Sultanganj.

The travel agency driver swore not to take that route ever.

Describing more about road journey will only be a déjà vu for fellow-Biharis. So, I am back with road request.

Forget the model Gujarat roads, even a 200 km journey from Bhopal and Indore would take only 3 and half hours.

Dear CM, I won’t remind you about tax payers’ hard-earned money.

I want roads to reach my ageing old parents faster, take my pregnant sister-in-law to hospital fast and rush ailing Bihar to well-being.

To conclude with optimism, I am reminded of these lines:

Suraj saron pe aag ugalta dikhai de,
ye shahar mujhe aaj hi pighalta dikhai de,
main aaj hi kud jaunga dariya mein,
aage koi chirag to jalta dikai de

(Let the sun belch the fire and melt my town, I will not mind taking a plunge into the river provided someone shows me ray of hope)

Santosh Singh is Patna -based Principal Correspondent with The Telegraph