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Bihar needs an economic revolution

If Bihar was a country it would be the 12th most populous country in the world, sandwiched somewhere between Japan and Ethiopia.

By Chandan Karmhe
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The name of the state, Bihar, is derived out of Vihara– a word from Sanskrit and Pali monastic literature meaning abode. However, for many of Bihar’s–more than 100 million– people, the goal of life has become to settle elsewhere. It’s not only an etymological tragedy to begin with but also a sense of pain that people from the state have, over the years, normalized. They have acquiesced to the fact that the price of success begins with the loss of home.

If Bihar was a country it would be the 12th most populous country in the world, sandwiched somewhere between Japan and Ethiopia. However, compare that in terms of its per-capita– Rs 46,664 as per the National Statistical Office — it relegates itself to the 176th position, below countries like Sudan, Togo, Liberia, Yemen and only a little above Afghanistan. If time can be a measure, Bihar’s per-capita income today stands at less than the per-capita of India in 2009-10.

One in three Bihari lives under the yoke of the poverty line. Unemployment reigns high. Factories are scarce. The FDI percentage of Bihar vis-a-vis the national average looks like the passing percentage of candidates in the UPSC exams. It stands at a meagre 0.01%. One struggles to find a company from Bihar trading on the stock exchange.

Bihar ranks lowest amongst all the states in the Human Development Index. It also is the worst in the child index. Maternal mortality rate in the state is alarming and its health infrastructure dismal. It has the lowest hospital bed-population ratio in the country. Add to that the shocking figure of less than 50,000 registered allopathic doctors to take care of a state that has possibly as much people as the combined population of United Kingdom and France.

The lack of law and order situation in the state has earned the status of literature. There’s a prevalent social sanction of criminals. The successful among them earn the title of ‘Bahubali’ as their career progression takes them towards the house where laws are made. It’s no surprise that Bihar also is a laggard in the justice index.

This is a tragedy. For, the state has & have always had so much potential. In the 1980’s Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were roughly at the same income level as the Bihar. They, however, grew faster since and did better. Bihar also missed the bus of liberalisation despite having stable governments. Jharkhand’s loss and along with it the loss of industries also hit its economy right at the heart. The obsession with socialism wasn’t of much help either and neither is the unsustainable policy of prohibition which has led to a parallel economy in the state.

However all is not gone, if one has the resolve to reform. The state is sitting on its deep asset: human beings. Biharis make their state proud when they move out of it to do wonderful things. There’s no death of talented people in the state. In fact, Bihar is India’s youngest state. It doesn’t, therefore, behove a place like that to have one of the lowest labour-force participation rate in the country. It doesn’t behove a state like that to have only 11% of its people in salaried employment. It doesn’t behove a state like that to not dream of a revolution.

The silver lining of this election, in a state with such embedded caste identities, was the campaigning around jobs. The political parties in Bihar have, over the years, achieved tremendous results when it comes to catapulting people from the marginalized sections into the societal mainstream. Bihar has been the hotbed of India’s political revolution. It has put itself second to none when it comes to the task of keeping India’s democracy intact.

However the focus now also must shift to revolutionizing its economy. When you have a low base, quoting high GDP growth number can’t be the end of your promise Bihar is crying for a major overhaul. It has to make itself learn the value of capital. It has no option but to learn making money.

Poverty is terror. So is loneliness of place where you can call nobody your own.

No person should be forced to barter home for hope, especially not people of Bihar—the land of gods and kings. Manifestos are not enough measure. For, in between the promises of elections, in places like ours, generations get lost. The new government must come with a new deal.

(Chandan Karmhe is a Chartered Accountant, alumnus of IIM-Ahmedabad and a Delhi University law graduate)

(Chandan Karmhe is a Chartered Accountant, Delhi University law graduate and an alumni of IIM-Ahmedabad)