Agnipath scheme: How Nitish Kumar’s unfettered ambition pushes Bihar on the path of fire

Bihar under Nitish Kumar is literally walking on ‘Agnipath’. At least 12 trains have been set on fire and several railway stations vandalised across the country since protests erupted over the new military recruitment policy on Wednesday. Most incidents of train-burning, vandalism and violence, however, have been reported from Bihar. But why Bihar? Even if one discounts the role of the Opposition in pursuing a nihilistic scorched earth policy, hoping this might bring them back to power after a series of electoral disasters since 2014, and the anti-India forces perfecting their respective toolkits to keep the country on boil, Bihar has been waiting to explode, especially in the last one decade. The reasons, apparently, lie with Nitish Kumar’s unfettered ambition after his great rise between 2005 and 2010. Nitish Kumar, without doubt, deserves credit for bringing Bihar out of decades of morass. A year before he took over the reins of the state,  The Economist  did a scathing story on how Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Bihar had become a byword for the worst of India. “(Bihar) has a claim to be the ancient heart of India. These days it is seen as the armpit,” it wrote on 19 February 2004. However, some of the ills that manifested itself in a gruesome way in the 1990s and early 2000s could be detected in the late 1970s and the 1980s when Shiva Naipaul, brother of the illustrious Sir Vidia, thought Bihar “defied reason and alienated compassion” ( Beyond the Dragon’s Mouth ; 1986). During the Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi era, it just became “outright dangerous” to be in Bihar, with William Dalrymple calling it “madness to be on the roads… after dark” ( At the Court of the Fish-eyed Goddess ; 2000). Even outside Bihar’s borders, Lalu Prasad’s shadow loomed large. As a migrant Bihari student in the University of Delhi, it was an arduous task to get decent accommodation in the National Capital. The moment the prospective landowner got to know about a student’s Bihari connections, his face would instantaneously stiffen and one could discern traces of hostility in his voice. Even if one would get accommodation, not a day would pass when one was not disparagingly reminded of being a Bihari! “ Bihari ho kya ?” This one line would be utterly haunting, as much for the disparaging manner in which it was used then, as for its absurdity. For, a Bihari was inherently brought up to see himself either as an Indian or belonging to a particular caste. His regional consciousness was largely absent till he crossed the state’s boundaries. Nitish Kumar’s arrival in 2005 changed all that, albeit sluggishly. He secured a sense of respect for Biharis — and among Biharis — across the country. Being a Bihari was not a  gali  anymore. By the time Nitish was up for his next term in 2010, Bihar was largely sanitised, much like any other state in north India. Patna was seen competing with other state capitals, with flashy malls, fancy SUVs, and an inkling of nightlife. More importantly, women were on the roads! Its sassy headline said it all: “The Bihari Enlightenment: India’s most notorious state is failing to live up to its reputation.” How could Nitish usher in this turnaround, which till a few years ago seemed unfeasible? The first thing he, as chief minister, did was to put the criminals where they truly deserved to be — behind bars. According to a report, at one time no less than 50,000 people were put inside the jail on one pretext or the other. This had its impact. The state, which witnessed over 22,000 murders between 2001 and 2005, saw a substantial decline of about 8,000 deaths in the next five years. Likewise, there were 484 kidnappings between 2006 and 2010, down from 2,196 kidnappings from 2000 to 2005. With most criminals behind bars, businesses began to thrive. This was instantly evident with the flooding of food chains and mobile service providers across Bihar. The state, which had grown at an annual rate of 3.5 per cent between 1999 and 2004, took the highway of 11 per cent growth rate for the next five years, next only to Gujarat. So, what has gone wrong now? It’s not that Bihar has again fallen into the old ‘Jungle Raj’ trap. It has just stopped moving. Yes, the criminals have mostly been kept at bay, but where is the next step in the development of the state? Not a single industry of repute has put its foot in Bihar. The problem with agriculture is that it has its limits: If someone had 10-15 acres of land 30 years ago, each of his grandsons might end up having as little as 1-2 acres today. Now that would not be enough to sustain a family. This explains why hordes of Biharis, despite improved law and order, still migrate outside the state: One or two brothers would look after family farming, while the rest would migrate to other cities for work. In the initial years of the Nitish era, improved law and order helped in providing new business avenues for young Biharis. A large number of them joined the service sector, more so with the state witnessing a spurt in automobile, TV and mobile shops. Malls came up really fast. In fact, when the first Domino’s Pizza store opened in Patna, it recorded the highest sales in the nation. But then improved law and order alone could have taken Bihar’s economy that far only. *** Also Read Agnipath scheme: An initiative that can truly transform India and its armed forces Agnipath scheme: A path-breaking, futuristic initiative that should be welcomed Agnipath scheme: Checkmate the false narrative as it’s a game-changer for India and the defence forces Agnipath scheme has its reasons, but government should have initiated it as a pilot project How's the josh? Why Centre's new Agnipath recruitment programme for soldiers is considered revolutionary Education ministry to recognise in-service training received by 'Agniveers' as credits for graduation *** COVID-19 hit the Indian economy very hard, but Bihar suffered the most. The majority of people working outside the state had to come back as the economy came to a grinding halt amid a series of lockdowns, taking unemployment in Bihar to new heights. In 2021, as per a report released by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) from September to December 2021, the state had an unemployment rate of 13.3 per cent; India’s unemployment rate during that time was 7.7 per cent. According to the same report, Bihar had 38.84 lakh unemployed job-seekers, while the all-India number of unemployed was three crore. The pandemic magnified the failure of the Nitish government to take Bihar beyond agriculture, which employs nearly 80 per cent of the state population. One does not expect Maruti or Tata to set up its automobile plant there, but large agro industries could definitely have been established. It could have propelled Bihar’s economy to new heights, besides providing employment to locals. The state could also have done well in the tourism sector, especially around the Gaya-Nalanda-Rajgir circuit. It could have been one of the top employment generators for the state. This failure of the Nitish government to create Bihar-specific industries has forced the youth of the state to look obsessively for government jobs. A visit to small towns and villages would show how youngsters in the 15-20 age group prepare for their selection in the armed forces, police,  et al . With their limited resources, they arduously train themselves for the jobs. Political opportunists and anti-India forces have used this young, jobless population in Bihar to create mayhem. The youth has been misled into believing that the Agnipath scheme would mark an end to their military dreams. What’s being concealed from them is that the initiative opens new avenues for them: It gives them an exposure in the armed forces and makes them experience and learn the military way of life; those excelling there (25 per cent) would continue their military journey, while the rest can take up a less arduous work, with an experience certificate and a skillset that would put them in an advantageous position in getting jobs in state police and paramilitary forces, as well as private firms. And of course, these 25-year-olds would receive a hefty sum of Rs 10 lakh at the end of their four-year military tenure to build a fresh life outside the barracks. The Central government could be faulted for its failure in setting the narrative for the Agnipath scheme: On Day 1, the scheme mostly received bad press, especially with several veterans coming out in the open against the move; the government could have handled this part well, but it let the narrative drift against the scheme. By Day 2, the vested elements jumped in to provoke the youth. Since then the Central government has been in a damage control mode. As for the violence, especially in Bihar, the failure squarely lies with the state government. The Bihar government has failed miserably to, first, not do enough to industrialise the state, thus keeping a large number of educated youngsters unemployed — and then when a few thousands, misguided and misled by vested political and anti-India forces, take law into their hands, the state machinery simply does a vanishing act. The failure is as much administrative as it is political. Nitish Kumar, after all, is a shadow of the “Sushasan Kumar” he used to be in his first term as chief minister. He was still in control of things during the first half of his second term, but as he began faltering in the race for the Prime Minister’s post, especially vis-à-vis Narendra Modi, with whom he in many ways turned his animosity personal, the Bihar chief minister began losing interest in state politics. Today, he is popularly seen to be distant, indifferent and unapproachable. And when the top leadership of a state loses his touch with the masses, the government’s priorities get skewed and governance hits a major roadblock. Bihar’s liquor policy is an apt example. Read all the Latest News , Trending News ,  Cricket News , Bollywood News , India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .

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