A week ago, 306 students of Karjanand Primary School had a reason to rejoice — end of a 40-year wait for a water hand pump on the campus.
The children of Kuvri Primary School nearby were not so fortunate that day. Like always, they spent more time sweeping the cracked floor of their school than studying.
Such rundown schools within 30km of the ruins of Nalanda, ancient India’s global education hub, belie the push for infrastructure in present-day Nalanda, one of Bihar’s key assembly seats and chief minister Nitish Kumar’s home turf, 80km southeast of Patna.
The place has had several big-ticket projects, including Nalanda University (NU), in the past decade besides smooth roads. They include sophisticated medical and engineering colleges, police and CRPF training centres, dairy facility and an International Convention Centre from where NU operates — 800 years after its ancient predecessor was destroyed.
These new landmarks have made Nalanda earn the Amethi of Bihar tag, a take from the Congress pocket borough in Uttar Pradesh.
But schools such as Karjanand, barely 4km from the site where the ancient university once stood, reveal things aren’t picture-perfect. Like the students who squat on the floor because there are no benches to sit, basic amenities have remained “grounded” in areas off the highways.
The Moratalab Madhya Vidyalaya, 30km from Nalanda, has dingy, suffocating classrooms. It has no electricity and proper approach road, indicating the “winds of change” have not blown in its direction.
Teachers in these schools often play truant, as do the non-teaching staff. “We don’t use our children as sanitation workers; it’s just that the staff did not report for duty today,” Vinita Devi, principal of Kurvi school, said in defence of engaging the children in her version of Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan.
Such “extra-curricular activities” keep the children, mostly from poor, backward families, off school too. Attendance registers say barely 15% students turn up on most weekdays.
Nalanda’s past as a centre of academic excellence is no motivation for students used to schools where nothing apparently works. “Wo badka log ka jagah hai, door se chamkega (That’s a place for big people, shines from a distance),” Muskan, a class 7 student of the Moratalab school, said pointing to NU.
The JD(U) wants Shrawan Kumar, rural works minister, to retain the prestigious Nalanda seat that goes to polls in the third phase on October 28. But rival candidates, including BJP’s Kaushalendra Kumar, have been targeting the “development divide” under the Kumar government.
The contest between JD(U) and BJP has been marked by a credo war — “Aage badhta rahe Bihar” (let Bihar march forward) and “Badhega Bihar” (Bihar will change).