'Does everyone keep track of UP's Dalit castes the way they do in the
case of Bihar?'
Vandita Mishra Posted online: Wed Jun 09 2010, 01:27 hrs
Madhepura : He's been in poll mode almost ever since he's been in
power. The ongoing Vishwas Yatra is his fifth in four-and-a-half
years. Nitish Kumar uses this latest yatra to showcase his
government's record and to dole out new schemes in an election year.
In the corridors of Patna's secretariat, awed stories do the rounds
about how this Chief Minister puts in 8-10 hours in a sitting, parses
the commas, looks at a 10-page document and spots mistake in line 13.
On his yatra, he travels with the image of a chief minister immersed
Nitish Kumar evidently revels in this. "I hear every voice, howsoever
distant, and then I reflect and take a decision. I am going away now
to the district headquarters where I will spend several hours
assessing the area's problems," he says as he takes leave of his
audience at the village meeting in Jorgama, during the yatra in
Later, in an interview to The Indian Express, he narrates an instance:
"In my last tour through the state, the Vikas Yatra, a disabled child
came up to me. I was told that he didn't get the disability pension
because he was under 18 years. I went back to Patna and changed the
requirement. Now, all are entitled to it. Then, I was told that the
disability certificate can only be issued by a civil surgeon. I
changed that as well. Now it can be issued by the doctor at the
primary health centre. Earlier, the collector would dole out the
pension. Now, the SDO can do it." These are "micro-level"
implementation issues for which "I try and find a way out", he says.
The Chief Minister is most at home surrounded by his team of
bureaucrats, a number of whom he ferries with him to the district on
his yatra to showcase on the dais when he makes his speeches. But the
politician has sensed the clamour building from below. Across the
poll-bound state, there is increasingly audible criticism of what many
call afsar shahi, or the perceived rule of the bureaucrat in Nitish's
In his recent speeches, Nitish pointedly addresses allegations of
increased corruption in the lower bureaucracy. Corrupt bureaucrats
will not be spared, he says. He plays to the gallery in Madhepura: "I
ask my IAS officers, if you are so qualified, so intelligent, and
you've come in through the UPSC, then how come a petty village thug
can subvert your schemes?"
He has set up a trial system for public servants under the Bihar
Special Courts Act, he tells the Express. "This is through an
amendment last year of the Prevention of Corruption Act. There will be
designated courts with two provisions — one, a time-bound trial, and
two, if the government finds ill-gotten property, it can be
confiscated by a designated authority. When these courts begin working
in the next one year, there will be an impact," he says.
But as elections draw closer, when faced with criticism of his
government on most other counts, the much-awarded Chief Minister is
surprisingly testy, and ill at ease. Two questions, or two criticisms,
agitate Nitish Kumar especially.
One, the suggestion that his government has been able to deliver in
the state in part because he was better placed than his predecessor in
terms of financial assistance from the Centre. Incidentally, this is
the thrust of the anti-Nitish campaign being conducted by JD(U)
dissidents and the Opposition in election year. It is finding echoes
in Bihar's streets, where it often translates into a hard-nosed
questioning of the Nitish government's achievements vis-a-vis the role
of Central largesse in Bihar's recent development, especially in the
building of roads. And two, the bataidari issue.
On the first, the role of the Centre versus the state in Bihar's
development, Nitish counters: "What does the Centre give us? Is there
any Bihar-specific scheme?"
Bihar's plan size has grown from about Rs 4,000 crore to Rs 20,000
crore, he says. But, of this, "70 per cent is made up of our own
resources and our borrowing; and only 30 per cent is plan assistance
from the Centre which is formula-driven. We're not going to be
grateful to the Centre for that!" On the contrary, he claims that the
Centre has withheld funds for relief for the Kosi-affected, and the
state has had to pitch in its own funds to repair the national
highways. "The national highways are more visible, so if the Centre is
tardy in sanctioning the money, I have to do it. Or else, what will
On the second issue of the "bataidari" fears spreading in the
countryside among the upper castes, sparked off by a
government-appointed commission's proposals on land reform, Nitish is
unyielding. "This is not an issue, this is a ghost. I will not discuss
it," he says. His government has put the 2008 land reforms report,
which advocates legal recognition of the tiller, on the backburner in
the most time-tested way: it has set up a committee. But the political
calculators are still out on whether or not Nitish had revived the
sensitive subject of land reform by electoral design in the first
When asked about another government-appointed commission's
controversial renaming of 21 out of Bihar's 22 Dalit groups as
Mahadalit, leaving out only the Paswans, he contends: "Does everyone
keep track of Uttar Pradesh's Dalit castes in the same manner as they
do in the case of Bihar?" And on reports of increasing dissidence in
the ruling party: "It happens in every party. But in our case, it
makes news even in states where the JD(U) does not exist."
Stories abound in Patna, and outside it, of the Chief Minister's close
monitoring — and opponents allege, his close manipulation — of his
image in the media. There are loud murmurs of the growing government
adspend being unabashedly used as leverage.
Nitish denies charges of being overly sensitive to criticism. "I take
advantage of the information provided by the media. It is others who
are on the phone (to newspapers) all day. I am not touchy. I am only
involved in my work." "If the government of the day is working, there
is a provision for publicising it," he declares with vehemence.
He is expansive once again as he spells out the biggest challenge in
his four-and-a-half years as Chief Minister. When he came in, Bihar's
problem was not lack of governance or mis-governance, he says, but the
"absence of governance". "There was a fear of doing. No one had any
expectations from the state. Now, the people's confidence is back. Now
there is talk of growth rates," he says.
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