Bihar’s success story tells us that if Nepali leaders want, Nepal can progress in a couple of years, not decades.
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
Finally, the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu last week did what he was primarily supposed to do: promote his country rather than poking his nose into internal affairs of the hosts. “Some people talk about possible Biharisation of Nepal,” Rakesh Sood reportedly said at a programme organised to mark his country’s Republic Day in the Nepali capital on Jan. 26. “But look at Bihar, the economic growth there has crossed 11 percent.” The ambassador blamed Nepal for its growing trade deficit with India, arguing that market was of no use if there’s no production. He might be correct in his assessment. But I wondered how Prachanda and his company took the statement that came as a response to the Maoist’s ‘we don’t need Bihari-style republic [that rest of the parties and India want to impose] in Nepal’ rhetoric.
Why blame only the Maoists? For many in South Asia, the Indian state of Bihar is synonymous with lawlessness, poverty and underdevelopment. Not only in Nepal but in India too, I have found, the word Bihar(i) is taken as a mark of insult and humiliation. I have met many Biharis who hesitate to identify themselves as Biharis, including those who are highly educated. The problem is with the image of Bihar that was largely shaped by the politicians who ruled the state until 2004. Since, with Nitish Kumar assuming Chief Minister-ship, that rusty image has slowly been changing.
The growth figure of 11 percent that Sood so proudly stated has been contradicted by some well informed economic columnists in India itself though one thing is for sure: Bihar is progressing. “Is it true that Bihar is doing good these days?” I always ask whenever I meet a Bihari. “Yes,” I get the response, “the biggest change I have felt is an improvement in security situation.” The fear of extortionists and kidnappers may have evaporated now, observed an Economic Times commentator recently, citing figures of decreasing incidents of kidnappings in Bihar. Only 317 kidnappings for ransom were reported during the last four years as against 1,393 during the previous four, according to ET report earlier this month.
Most of Bihar’s infamous dons are behind bars. Speedy trials have ensured a total of 38,824 convictions between 2006 and September 2009, according to ET. The convicts included dons with political connections and their henchmen. Those include M. Shahabuddin, the former Rastriya Janata Dal MP who had once gone live on TV daring the state police chief to arrest him. Gun-totting strongmen are no longer a common sight on the streets of Bihar. Policemen patrol them now. Isn’t that a great leap forward, particularly from our perspective? Next time Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his comrades make any statements like ‘Bihari-style republic’ I wish they would check first the latest coming out of Bihar. How many kilometres of roads have they built in Nepal? Did they even inaugurate a highway project when they were leading the government? In Bihar, on the other hand, thanks to improved security situation, investors have been encouraged and private business is booming. The infrastructure has expanded impressively. More than 6,800 km of roads have been re-laid and 1,600 bridges and culverts constructed in the last four years. Automobile sales in the state grew 45 percent in 2009.
If the Maoists continue with their gundagardi politics in Nepal, the day will surely come when people will say: We don’t want Nepali-style revolution. That day Nepalis will be ashamed of themselves. The Maoists are already creating problems for poor Nepalis living in India. It is okay to ask Indians not to intervene in our affairs but to publicly disrespect their flag is not the way to go about it. That’s plain stupidity. The Maoists might not know the importance of national flag because they are hell bent on changing the national flag of Nepal but for many people around the world that national symbol holds great importance. Because Maoists disrespected the Indian flag, that too on the Indian Republic Day, many Indians are rightly agitated. There are already reports coming out about general Nepalis being harassed by Indian security men at the border crossing points in an apparent revenge against the Maoist act.
Funds provided by the central Indian government has played significant role in the resurrection of Bihar. Its success story tells us that if Nepali political leadership concentrates in development issues rather than hitting the streets all the time on trivial matters, Nepal too can progress in a couple of years, not decades. Money will not be a problem as there will be donors ready to help. The problem with us is that our politicians are busy in street fighting while the economic developmental issues have been put on the back-burner. For them, sacking an Army officer is more important than building a road.