Indian Decade

Bihar – Depressingly Familiar

Nitish Kumar was supposed to improve things in Bihar. But 5 years on, things look much the same.

I finally reached the small station of Jamalpur in Bihar after a 12-hour journey from Kolkata. From here I had to travel the remaining 7 or 8 kilometres to get to my final destination of Munger by Trekker.

The Trekker is a rugged four wheel vehicle that’s often used when travelling around areas where the roads are bad. It’s a 12-seater vehicle that in India is usually used to taxi around 17 passengers inside, with four or five more on the roof (it doesn’t matter how much you argue with the driver, he won’t take less, and will sometimes also share his seat with another passenger).

 Nothing has changed since I studied here in the 1990s—the same Trekker, the same road running past the same old unused airstrip on the way to Munger, with thatched houses and buffaloes on the sides of the road and numerous rickshaws.

This being mango season, there are mango sellers everywhere (Munger is well known for the quality of its mangoes) and we passed many as we travelled the 20-minute journey from Jamalpur to Munger, a journey that cost the equivalent of about 12 cents. I then took a rickshaw to reach my uncle's house a kilometre away along lanes that were also the same as when I had left 16 years ago—rough roads, unlit streets, dilapidated houses with a new generation of poor residents. The only visible changes were the billboards advertising the ubiquitous cell phones.

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But don’t let the mobile technology fool you—the electricity and water situations are woeful and there isn’t a reliable electricity supply for more than 8 hours a day, while water comes properly every other day. The river Ganges, which flows past the city, is a huge relief for the poor.

I’ve been looking for some of the much touted changes that Bihar has supposed to have been undergoing since Nitish Kumar became the chief minister five years ago, but the only thing that seems to have improved is law and order. Five years ago kidnapping, looting and hooliganism were normal in most parts of the state, but now you can move around freely even late in the evening. I guess that’s something…