With his new term, Nitish Kumar will become the longest serving chief minister of Bihar. From his first two terms, he certainly has many credentials on his side. However, it was his third term which created tremendous ire among young voters and that was well capitalised on by Tejashwi Yadav.
Due to augmented youth aspirations and strong opposition, people will watch him closely on electoral promises made. During the election campaign, he appealed to voters to give him another chance using the popular idiom “ant bhala to sab bhala” (all’s well that ends well). The current term is thus going to be a defining term for him. If he delivers, he will always be remembered as one of Bihar’s best leaders. Else, people will remember him mostly for the tasks he could not deliver in the last term.
Bihar hasn’t been faring well in many sectors including health, education and employment, which require his close attention. The current term is a golden opportunity for him to rise to people’s expectations and create employment opportunities; bring investment by creating SEZs; develop a film city; professionalise tourism industry; promote craft based tourism and strengthen crucial sectors such as health and education.
Employment requires immediate attention, which should include expansion of government and private sectors to create new possibilities in the state. The government should invite industry leaders from all over the country and Bihari NRIs to seek their guidance and support to create a conducive environment for investment in the state.
Creation of SEZs and incentivising industries will increase manufacturing. The state should set up a transparent fast track approval mechanism to bypass bureaucratic red tape. Big investments can create employment opportunities for different skill sets. That will not only retain talent and workforce within the state, it can also bring back many Biharis settled elsewhere.
It’s prudent to promote entrepreneurship in the state. Biharis are known for their hard work. A district wise entrepreneurship training programme including ways to connect with financing from the banks would help youngsters and people of all ages to start their own enterprises. It’s critical to make sure that entrepreneurs and small businesses get loans without any harassment. There should be an employment and entrepreneurship cell involving the district development commissioner, industry bodies and civil society, which should look into its implementation.
Investments will also open up tourism in the state due to high mobility of people. Bihar has many hidden tourism spots such as Barabar caves in Jehanabad; Vikramshila area where river dolphins are also found in the Ganges; Tutla Bhavani waterfalls in Rohtas; Valmiki Tiger Reserve in Betiah, and so on. Craft and arts based tourism clusters can be promoted in Darbhanga, Madhubani and Bhagalpur. Service industries such as transportation and hotels require a major face-lift. Government should collaborate with hotel and transport industry bodies to help them professionalise this sector.
Many Bihari youth travel to Mumbai and try their fortune in Bollywood and TV. Movies and series can be produced in Bihar with regional talents. Creation of a film city by the government would help filmmakers set up studios and processing units. Besides creating employment opportunities, this can augment promotion and preservation of regional art and culture.
According to a Niti Aayog report in 2019, Bihar stood last among the big states with most indicators being ‘deteriorated’ and ‘most deteriorated’. The main factors weighing Bihar down are poor scores on total fertility rate, TB treatment success rate, quality accreditation of public health facilities and non-institutional deliveries. However, the state has fared well in immunisation, with 89.7% coverage.
According to the Indian Medical Association, more than half of Bihar’s doctors are located in only three districts – Patna (33.5%), Darbhanga (8.9%) and Muzaffarpur (8.6%). Bihar has less than 26 hospital beds per lakh population, while the national average is 138. The current government should not only upgrade the health infrastructure but also make attempts to regain confidence in the public health system, thus reducing people’s expenditure on health.
Last but not the least, education requires a complete overhaul. First and foremost, all vacant seats in schools and colleges need to be filled up immediately with good quality candidates. All schools and colleges must have regular principals. The government should also implement a comprehensive capacity building exercise for teachers. In the absence of good teachers students will keep faltering and will be dependent on a fast expanding private coaching network.
Developing alumni associations at school and college levels could bring emotional resources and support for them. There’s an urgent need to democratise school management committees by involving more parents and alumni. All educational institutions should have a functional library, computer learning facilities and science labs that can prepare students for the future. Government schools should collaborate with Niti Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission and open Atal Tinkering Labs that will allow students to explore and develop scientific temperament.
Nitish Kumar should critically evaluate his leadership journey and understand the aspirations of people he has been serving in the last three terms. Thousands of Biharis migrate to other states in search of jobs and better education. With about 12 crore population of whom 65% are below 35 years, Nitish Kumar has an uphill task to serve the interest of this aspiring age group. But if he is able to follow his own mantra of ‘ant bhala to sab bhala’, then he truly has a chance to win the hearts of people and could leave a great imprint of his leadership on Bihar.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.