Who can dare to let Bihar down at this stage?
The expected has happened. Nitish Kumar has been voted back to power. In more ways than one, this is a triumph of hope over ignorance, disorder and desperation, which he dispelled in his first term. Bihar has voted for a continuation of these policies.delhi Updated: Nov 25, 2010 00:36 IST
The expected has happened. Nitish Kumar has been voted back to power. In more ways than one, this is a triumph of hope over ignorance, disorder and desperation, which he dispelled in his first term. Bihar has voted for a continuation of these policies.
The re-election of Nitish has broader implications.
First, the electoral battle turned out to be a referendum on Nitish and his emphasis on good governance. Political parties paled in comparison to what was perceived to be an election for Nitish, about Nitish and on Nitish.
Second, good governance has triumphed over caste, sectarian and class divides. It is ironic that it is India's most backward state has preferred development-centric politics over the politics of social divides. Its demonstration effect has implications beyond Bihar.
Third, it is now well accepted that Nitish has benefited from a Triple Dividend.
A Peace Dividend, which given a new climate of security and confidence unleashed what economists may call the "Animal Spirit", the unleashing and flowering of millions of micro entrepreneurial decisions. Unleashing the latent animal spirits has multiplier effects beyond the narrow calculus of any settled economic model.
A Demographic Dividend, in which improved education by way of achieving higher enrolment, narrowing gender gaps, reducing the dropout ratio and improving the quality of education along with new institutes of higher and technical education created value addition. This, in addition to the "Gender Dividend" through policies empowering women made them active agents of change.
A Rainbow Dividend, which in the broader sense implies inclusive development, which is caring for minorities and the disadvantaged and within them those at the bottom of the pyramid.
Nitish may be overawed and overwhelmed by the confidence reposed in him.
The challenges of Bihar are far from over. The achievements of the past will at best have nostalgic value for the future.
In his next five years the multiple complexities must address seven critical ones are:
i) Improving the efficiency and efficacy of public interventions and delivery options. Repeated complaints of bureaucratic obstinacy in programme implementation need redress. Accelerating the rollout of UID, revamping the public distribution system and direct cash transfers for anti-poverty schemes can make a decisive difference. Administrative reforms need to be deeper and credibly felt.
ii) Continuing these high rates of growth through enhanced public outlays has limitations. Garnering private investments and fostering public-private partnerships in large, medium and micro enterprises need innovative approaches. More than awareness, it needs nurturing and monitoring outcomes and policy flexibilities qualitatively different than Bihar is used to.
iii) Notwithstanding improved road connectivity, a lot remains to be done even in this regard particularly credible maintenance system.
iv) Energy security is a complex issue. The absence of coal linkages has to be overcome and new generating capacities need to be fast-tracked. In the short run, aggressive power purchase agreements to secure power from elsewhere through power trading and other financial engineering need priority in his early years. After all, "no power" is the costliest power.
v) While agriculture has shown progress, a fuller implementation of the Agricultural Action Plan prepared by the state government by way of seed replacement, optimal use of fertilisers, penetration of rural credit encouraging allied agricultural activity to improve farm incomes must result in at least doubling agricultural productivity.
vi) The manifesto, apart from committing to make Bihar a developed state, seeks to improve its performance on the index of human development. Further reducing the gender gap, infant and maternal mortality, the fertility rate creating employment hubs through vocational training and entrepreneurial development is inescapable. Improving the quality of urbanisation providing clean drinking water and sanitation is part of the same matrix.
vii) The logjam of central partisan politics must be overcome. It is in India's interest that a backward state like Bihar that has made strident efforts must join the mainstream. Playing partisan politics has not benefited the central ruling configuration. The central leadership must show sagacity and vision.
Nitish has raised the bar for an acceptable report card. The electorate has voted that it will not allow its future to be a hostage of the past.
The rekindled Bihari pride and its vibrant diaspora have generated a new euphoria. Who can dare to let them down?
The author is a Rajya Sabha member and a former revenue secretary