Debating India


From Patna, with hope

Friday 24 November 2006

Exactly a year ago, on November 24, 2005, Bihar had returned a verdict that held out two promises. First, a message for governance that made its way through the bylanes of identity politics will not get lost in a post-electoral maze. Second, when such a message is heard the private investment-led new economy will get attracted. Happily, it is possible to be optimistic on both counts. Nitish Kumar deserves most of the credit. Politically, he has been quite successful in keeping caste tags away. No one really calls him a Kurmi chief minister. Neither has the JD(U)-BJP coalition been at the centre of minority politics-related controversies. Part of the credit goes to the BJP, which read the verdict correctly.

Of course, Nitish will face a political test. But he has a chance, a self-created one, to change the language of that examination, fight polls on his administration’s record. That is why the CM’s manifest wish to impose some law on the disorderly is so important. Quite a few ruling coalition big shots have had unpleasant visits from the police. Work on road projects has started - significant indicator of a changing law and order situation. Nitish says with conviction that kidnappers, until recently Bihar’s boldest entrepreneurs, will soon see risks are outweighing returns. If the momentum can be maintained, the private sector can feel easier about one of its biggest fears about Bihar. Private capital isn’t rushing to Bihar yet. But one year is too soon. It took some years for Navin Patnaik to convince investors about Orissa’s attractiveness. Entrepreneurial interest in Bihar, though, has definitely perked. The state’s new sugarcane policy, for example, is a potential investment magnet. Bihar unlike, say, Maharashtra doesn’t need heavy irrigation for cane cultivation. This comparative advantage can translate into a labour-intensive, agro-industrial boom.

For a broader industrial base, Bihar’s famously erratic power supply and its even more famously un-drivable roads have to be targeted. Nitish will try - he’s already rewriting social sector policy. His decision, as reported in this newspaper, that ration supplies will be routed through vouchers is considered too radical by most Indian politicians. It is as innovative as some of Lalu Yadav’s decisions on the railways. If Lalu can turn the railways around, why not bet on Nitish changing Bihar?

See online : The Indian Express

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0