Bihar averaged 11.3 per cent economic growth rate — the highest by any large Indian state — during Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s four-and-a-half year reign. The national average during this period was about 7 per cent. Kumar will, thus, face elections, due in the state at the end of the year, with a solid record of performance behind him. In a freewheeling interview with Hindustan Times’ Ashok Mishra, he spoke about his decision to back the Women’s Reservation Bill, his relationship with alliance partner BJP, his views on how to tackle the Naxal menace and his vision for the state. Excerpts:
There are differences within JD(U) over the Women’s Reservation Bill. Why did you change your stance and support the Bill?
I saw the explosion of energy among women after we introduced 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats. They now want greater participation in legislative process. This changed my views on the Women’s Reservation Bill. Some party MPs have a different opinion but that will not affect the party. Everybody has a right to have his or her opinion on any issue. But I am confident that a majority of our MPs will vote for the Bill when it is put to vote in the Lok Sabha. We will continue our fight for a quota within the quota later, but there is no logic in stopping the Bill at present.
There are reports about differences between your Janata Dal (United) and BJP. Your comments…
Our alliance is successful. There may be some problems at certain levels, but they are within manageable limits. We will go to the polls together and emerge victorious.
The Congress is making a comeback bid in Bihar. How do you visualise its future in the state?
Such resurgence is visible only in the media. There are no leaders in Congress in Bihar. Take it from me: Nobody takes it seriously here. Some (central) leaders come and sermonise us, but I ignore them. Just wait and watch; after some time, fatigue will overtake the UPA (in Bihar).
You have turned Bihar around in four-and-a-half years. Any predictions for the elections?
We have proved that Bihar can be governed effectively. We have also demonstrated that Bihar can be developed on its own without the help of the Centre. We will go to the people for a renewal of our mandate on this basis and I’m confident that the people will respond positively to this.
How do you propose to tackle the Naxal problem? Are you satisfied with the steps initiated by the Centre?
We have only 23 companies of central forces. I have been asking for more but the Centre has not yet responded. It has even threatened to withdraw its forces. This is sheer nonsense. In my opinion, the most appropriate solution to this problem is to pursue development programmes along with police operations simultaneously. It should be ensured that development schemes reach the last person. We will also have to eliminate corruption in the execution of schemes at the grassroots level.
How far have you succeeded in eliminating corruption?
We have taken strong steps against corruption. It is our main and the most important area of interest and activity. First, we launched a sustained campaign against corruption. That is why we have filed a record number of against corrupt officials, including DG-rank officers. Besides, we have sanctioned prosecution in 71,000 cases, some of which were pending since the days of past governments.
The most pioneering step in this direction is the enactment of the Bihar Special Courts Act in March 2009. The Act has two special features. Under it, trials have to be completed within a year and it allows for confiscation of the property of the accused if he or she is absconding.
Are you getting the support of the bureaucracy in this campaign?
Yes. Officers are extending full cooperation in this exercise of cleansing the administration.
What about allegations that some of your party colleagues are not cooperating?
No, it is not true. Nobody in the party is opposed to my campaign. I used to announce at public meetings that nobody would be spared if found guilty of graft charges.
There has been a sudden spurt in crime in some parts of the state. What has gone wrong?
The law and order situation in Bihar is far better than any other developed state now. There has been marked improvement in the situation in the past four years. There was a time when people, particularly women, did not dare to venture out of their homes after sunset. But now, the situation has completely changed with effective policing and people’s confidence in police.
Have you been able to attract investments?
We have proposals worth more than Rs 100,000 crore lined up for investment in the ethanol and thermal power sectors. Investments are also coming in education sector for setting up engineering and medical colleges. There is a real estate boom in the state. Even media houses have invested here on their own.
What is your vision for the state?
Bihar has been development-deficient state since its inception. Even the British government neglected it. After Independence, the Centre didn’t focus on Bihar. We want to develop the state on par with China. We do not want money; but just special category status, so that investors can get certain incentives. This will help us in IT, food-processing and other sectors.