The 5:30 am Hajipur Express from Raxaul was uncannily familiar. I had travelled through Bihar many times in the last three years on my way to university in Delhi and back. But Bihar then was just a moving picture from the train window. This time, me and my colleague Navin Jha explored the state which was less known for its glorious history and more for notorious politics and crime.
We reached Hajipur at noon and from there shared an auto rickshaw with 12 people. It was 40 degrees but I instantly felt at home. For the next two days we wandered around the streets of Patna till late at night. Navin had been there before and told me how much Patna had changed. We ate dinner at a local dhaba and it were surprised to see families up and about at midnight. A woman with her sister-in-law and four year-old-son had come out to eat panipuri on Boring Road. "I still remember the days when women were attacked on the streets of Patna in the broad daylight," she said, but things have improved now and we feel safe going on our own even at night."
On the third day of our visit, we went to the Department of Information. The walls were plastered with portraits of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's with enthusiastic quotes about his vision of a poverty-free and corruption-free Bihar.
But when there is so much to do to catch up, progress can be slow. Outside, we came across a slum in the middle of the VIP zone. Around 10 small tents made out of patched plastic bags were scattered under the sign board that read Netaji Marg. Obviously, the Netas including 'Susasan Babu' Nitish Kumar had not yet noticed these half-clad men and women outside their gate wallowing in the filthy water that had overflowed from a nearby drain. An eight-year-old boy paralysed by polio and visibly malnourished was lying in the pavement staring blankly at the sky while flies swarmed around his face. Few meters ahead, the mother who was peeling at half dried potatoes looked up for a second and then went about her work.
In Mahnar we tracked down Professor Prafful Kumar Singh, a social critic. We had run out of our mobile batteries, and as I reached for my charger the professor waved his hand fan and said, laughing: "You are not in Patna my dear. This is Bihar." Power demand soars in the hot season and electricity is rationed, just like back home.
He took us to the nearby block office where the newly elected gram panchayat members were being sworn-in. Women in Bihar have been given 50 per cent reservation in local bodies while the Laalus and Mulayams continue to block women's bill from being tabled in the parliament.
The road from Mahnar to Muzzafarpur, which used to be just a pot-holed dirt track, has been widened and fly-overs were under construction. From the bus to Sitamadi, we gazed out at the bucolic scenes of rural Bihar at dusk, while the aroma of rice fields and cow-dung smoke wafted in through the window. We were rudely jolted from our reverie as we passed a camp of the federal paramilitary CRPF, and I was reminded of the painful life people of this area live everyday as the mighty Indian state wages war against an enemy without a face.
|GDP growth|| |
|Per capita || |
53.74 per ent
63.82 per cent
24.7 per cent
30 per cent
|Life expectancy|| |
In his interview with us in Patna, Nitish Kumar had said the root cause of Naxalism was poverty and inequality and he would defeat them with his development work. As the bus slowed down near the CRPF camp, we saw a group of men and women farmers walk through the checkpoint at the head of the narrow alley leading into the fields, just as we used to do in Nepal during the 'People's war' (pictured above). Here in Chhapra district, people live under the barrel of the gun and the state seemed to think everyone is a Naxal unless proven otherwise. There are no banners here with Nitish Kumar smiling at his people.
We took a room at a hotel in Sitamadi and next morning made our way to the Bhittamod border. As I stood on the Nepali side and looked back, I couldn't help thinking about how the histories and futures of Bihar and Nepal are intertwined.
Going the Bihar way, EDITORIAL
"We want to see Nepal develop"
Winds of change, ANURAG ACHARYA and NAVIN JHA in BIHAR
Bihar is on the right track, but it still has a long way to go
What they don't tell you, PRAFFUL KUMAR SINGH
The Nitish Kumar government has indeed transformed Bihar in the last five years. But we have to de-construct this success story.