I am writing this article in the wake of two elections in two opposite sides of the globe: One in the US, and the other in Bihar, India.
I have homes in California and Katihar, in the Bihar Province of India, and I am immersed in both communities. Though I visit Katihar only twice a year, I regularly spend hours conversing with associates in Katihar who keep me abreast of happenings in Bihar--big and small. I am also very proud of both homes.
Around last April, I noticed that the political landscapes of both my first home in Bihar and my adopted home in the USA were bafflingly similar.
For starters: the Nitish-Sushil regime in Bihar and the presidency of Barack Obama shoulder heavy burdens inherited from their
predecessors. Obama arrived after eight years of the country being wrecked in every imaginable way. Similarily, the Nitish-Sushil
leadership were preceded by Lalu Prasad Yadav, who, either directly or indirectly, ruled Bihar for fifteen years and turned it into a scene of destruction. People compared the atmosphere of fear in Patna to the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan. NRIs faced familial pressure not to visit, due to fears of kidnapping.
The Nitish-Sushil regime have managed a great turnaround since their coming to power four and a half years ago. But it seemed that they could not take their next term for granted. Everyday the news had a story about a disgruntled somebody defecting. One after another media outlet predicted a reelection struggle for the regime, if not an outright route; there were a few who had professed the latter.
I became a fan of Barack Obama when he was the junior senator from Illinois, and one of precious few congressmen to vote against the Iraq War.. (In the US, opposing a war for politicians is a a big risk, as they may appear “less of a man”.)
I have also admired all of the hard work that, as our president, Barack Obama has put into stabilizing the economy and restoring
America's name on the world stage - he has shown that civility has a place in politics (and finally, we have a president who speaks in complete sentences). In addition to hot button achievements such as health care reform, he has managed to pass several smaller pieces of legislation, despite a Republican party hell bent on setting road blocks against him.
The eight years of the Republican Party's control of the USA oversaw an unnecessary, expensive, and immoral war in Iraq, tax cuts for the rich, and the accelorated institutionalization of corruption in the name of deregulation. The parting shot of the Bush regime was when then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Bank chief Ben Bernanke wanted congress to approve a $700 Billion bailout to the biggest financial institutions, without which the entire American financial system was predicted to collapse like a house of cards. The duo were armed with a three page note to justify the American taxpayers' doling out the large sum.
In Bihar, Lalu Prasad's regime of fifteen years had completely demoralized the bureaucracy. Bihar had come to be known as the land of kidnappings. I traveled once to my alma mater, IIT Kanpur, to encourage my fellow IITians of Bihari origin to get involved in Bihar. One student's question went: "Have you seen the film Apaharan(Kidnapping) by Prakash Jha? You would not ask us to get
involved in Bihar if you watched this movie." I did watch Apaharan, and found it very disturbing.
Both Barack Obama and the Nitish-Sushil regime were brought to power because what existed before was terrible. Both were chosen to boot out the incumbent and bring about change.
After coming to power, both the regimes went into overdrive to undo the damages done by the previous regimes, move their electorate forward. Both faced mountainous challenges, yet both achieved a lot in a short period of time.
Obama had to face the people again in two years, while Nitish-Sushil had five years.
Historically, off-years elections are tough on the incumbent party, especially after the incumbent has inherited a mess. In the case of Obama, change was not happening fast enough; the unemployment rate had continued to hover around 10 percent. In the case of the Nitish-Sushil regime, there was a dramatic inprovement relative to Yadav's time, but in absolute terms, the situation was still bad (for example, electrical power was in poor shape during the summer). He also had to deal with a series of defections from his ruling NDA party.
Electoral masses are infamous for their short memories. In the USA and in Bihar, they are likely to forget who caused their suffering, and blame whoever is in power.
Fortunately, the similarity between my two homes ended there.
In the US, the electorate ignored the eight years of Republican rule, and blamed Obama for not fixing everything in just two years. The elections resulted in Obama's Democrat party losing the lower house in Congress.
In Bihar, the masses conducted themselves differently. They complained about things like the power situation, but they kept thier head above the deluge of negative campaigning and rewarded Nitish-Sushil with another term.
These days, I tell my friends and colleagues in the US that we should have Americans spend some time in Bihar to learn to vote in their own self interests. (They would also get to see the birthplace of the world's first democracy.)
I will recommend President Obama to spend some time with Mr. Nitish Kumar and Mr. Sushil Modi before November 2012. I am sure that President Obama will have achieved a lot by then, but he will still need to overcome the incumbent's disadvantage. Nitish-Sushil can show him a remedy that has worked.
And lastly, the biggest winner in this election are the people of Bihar; congratulations!
The views expressed by the author are personal.
Engr Ravi Verma's pen (or, the keys) and his heart are at the right place. However, a better comparison would have been between the states of California and Bihar. Then, he could have brought in the stories of the former and present governors of California (Arnold Schwargeneggar and Jerry Brown) to compare with Laloo/Rabri and Nitish. The November 2010 elections in Bihar and the USA really coincided, but a comparison of Obama's USA would fit neatly with Manmohan Singh's India.
There is no doubt the voters of Bihar have shown better maturity than their counterparts in the USA. The American voters expressed their anger fueled by Tea party faction of the Republicans against the Democrats led by Obama.
The Nov-Dec, 2010 assembly election in Bihar was a break from the past in so many ways. The people were encouraged by the momentum of change, they went out to vote because they were not threatened with violence, there was no indication the voting would be rigged or manipulated in any way, the Electronic Voting Machine did wonders, and the Election Commission worked as an honest arbiter.
The development in Bihar proves a familiar pattern: When the environment is favorable and welcoming, and an undertaking is led by well-intentioned leaders, all kinds of forces with equally pious intentions are galvanized. This trend was noticeable during the freedom struggle under Mohandas Gandhi and the Bihar Movement (1974-77) under the influence of JP. On the other hand, if the environment is full of violence, treachery and deceit, all types of foul people get around. The best example is Afghanistan after 1979 when the Talibans created an atmosphere of violence and extortion that attracted Jihadis from all over the world. Lallu-Rabri regime, except for the initial years, could be seen in the same way -- the kidnappers and mafias having direct access to the Chief Minister's residence in broad day light! In this case, the vested interests immediately jump into the scene to make profit.
Bihar is now promising to go back into the former category.The present leadership in Bihar has convinced that the situation there now is more congenial compared to what it had turned into during the 15 years of Lallu-Rabri regime. As a result, a great enthusiasm among the Biharis, particularly the Biharis outside Bihar, is in evidence.They want to galvanize and do something good for their place of origin. Hopefully, the government and the civil society will help create that environment.
As for Mr Verma's other point on kidnapping in Bihar, the media rightly shape up the perception of a place and the environment, and if his fellow IITians from Bihar were scared of doing something in Bihar based on Prakash's Apaharan, they couldn't be faulted. But they should be convinced now that the situation is more favorable now.
Let me share a conversation I had with the late Digvijay Singh, the former MP from Banka, a union minister and a friend. On the question of whether the Biharis living abroad would like to go back to Bihar and contribute something to the state, he observed there were many young Biharis in Delhi who would be very reluctant to go to Bihar even for a visit. They would complain of the sweltering heat, lack of power, bad roads, un-civic uncooperative attitude of the people, morally collapsed administrators and under the table dealings at every possible level. How, then, he asked, do you expect the Biharis living abroad for such a long time and used to a particular organized life style, would make such a Himalayan sacrifice and go back to settle in Bihar. The simple answer is that the history records the extra-ordinary sacrifices of such brave people.
Mr Ravi Verma may know, David Thomas, a fellow former Kanpur IITian and a native of Tamil Nadu, also a former comrade of mine from the JNU Students' Union days. He left his software career in Belgium and moved with his wife to his state to run an NGO. The IIT Kanpur Alumni in the USA recently recognized him for his Life's achievement.
May I suggest something in closing: I would not endorse or recommend the high-spirited Biharis leave their new places of settlement either in the country or abroad. They must stick to the places where they have contributed so much; they have their kids, and as they grow older, they might legitimately expect something back from their societies/countries in terms of old-age care or pension. They can do with a lot of effectiveness what our fellow Gujaratis and others are doing living away from their home.
We should form groups of like-minded people and in a very limited way focus on some projects like running a school, launching pilot projects to provide sanitation, clean water, providing health care to the elderly and vulnerable. The objective reality, it would seem, is that the Nitish administration will be cooperative. And in this day and age all of us can stay connected.
So, please throw in your suggestions. We will be thankful to Bihar Times for providing the Forum.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
I am also outside Bihar for the last 15 years, and now I am planning to go back to Bihar very soon. I am getting calls from Companies in Patna..
Hope to see you all there in another couple of years…There is no better place for us than our Mother Land Bihar..
Dear Ravi and KK Bharti Ji,
Your article and comment summarizes pretty much everything about today's Bihar. It was indeed a real good comparison.I am Bihari and too away from my birthplace from more than 10 long years and quite settled in London. I have not made UK my future place to live and look forwarding to do anything and everything for our motherland. This is the only way to serve India. I can sense a wind of change from the internet, print media and other sources. Not sure when but we who are away from Bihar for one reason or another will become an integral part of Bihar one day. I want to see our next generation doesn’t need to migrate after completion of schooling (class tenth exam in particular) and also build a decent future in the same place.This has to happen now and I strongly believe this is going to start too soon. Lets see when and where we all start this work together.
Dear Ravi verma
A very good comparison . I too belong to katihar .This election has become historic on many accounts .Number of voters turnout ,participation of female voters outnumbered male voters , agenda of election good governance leads to development ,failure of caste and creed equation, no fear of naxals rather they too participated instead of boycotting the election ,Muslims voters shifting their traditional alliance from congress, RJD to JDU and BJP, a violence free election without shedding a single drop of blood and above all the unexpected result in such time when every possible move is exercised by candidate to lure the voters .This is a clear cut message to all of us who really want to do something in Bihar. Now no more excuses, come and participate in the development of Bihar and I assure u there are lot of youngster who are raring to go , very keen to do any possible thing .Now we need people like u to become our guide and torchbearer .we just need people from all walks of life. Bihar needs heavy investment in education a large number of engineering colleges ,medical colleges, pharmaceutical colleges, management colleges and lots of boarding school .This way we will not only save a lot of money which is going outside Bihar in the name of donation but our student can study with their family which will enhance family security , quality of life and boost for the economy . The education establishments of Pune , Banglore, Chennai ,and Maharahstra, are basically supported by Bihari students. These states score a point above Bihar because they are able to place them in good organization. only roadblock for us is placement .That too can be overcome in due course of time as one thing leads to other .I am signing off with the hope we will meet to take Bihar in new era .
K K Bharti