I ended up spending two days in Munger, Bihar, on my visit there this week. But 15 years after I finished my schooling in the district, it doesn’t look much different. And this isn’t in a good way.
Munger is a historic place. In the middle of the 18th century for example, Bengal King Mir Qasim transferred the capital from Calcutta to Munger. Later, the East India Company also set up a base in the district, while the graveyard on the outskirts of the city has numerous tombs (belonging mostly to deceased British) dating back to the mid-19th and early 20th century.
But since independence, Munger’s development has lagged as it wasn’t possible to construct a bridge to the bigger cities across the Ganges. The previous government started constructing a bridge to connect the city to the mainstream business hub in eastern Bihar to stimulate the local economy, but politics got in the way and the project was abandoned half completed.
One thing that has changed is the state of my old college. In the 1980s and 90s, Munger boasted the renowned RD & DJ College, which back then was the only good college for further education. But these days, the college is in ruins. There’s no longer any visible boundary wall, and the campus looks dilapidated. I couldn’t believe that this wonderful educational institute was in such dire straits.
The college reflects the relative decline of Bihar as a whole over the past 15 years. The previous Rashtriya Janata Dal government not only failed to create any new institutions—it ran the ones the area did have into the ground. The present local administration is so busy grappling with the basics of governance that it doesn’t have the time to focus on the fundamentals of human development. It’s clear that despite initially showing all the signs of being a progressive regime, Nitish Kumar’s administration has utterly failed to improve education here.
I was extremely sad to stand in front of my alma mater—the place I was introduced to Shakespeare, Dickens and Eliot—and see the ruin it had fallen into. The Bihar government is now talking about reviving Nalanda University and restoring it to its former glory. But what about the more modern centres of education that are already falling into ruin?
Bihar feels like the country’s own ‘Heart of Darkness’. It’s still light years from being able to call itself a developed state.