‘When the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.’ These are the memorable words spoken by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, when he addressed the Indian parliament after independence back in 1947.
Nehru's words reflected India's exuberance over its new-found independence. But there seemed a similar excitement on November 24, when the results of the Bihar election came out. The victory of the Nitish Kumar-led coalition was an emphatic assertion by the people of the state that they want to finally be free of the shackles of backwardness and poverty.
It was the first time in 60 years that the people of Bihar had given such a thumping majority to any political group. The ruling coalition got 207 seats of the House's 243 seats, wiping out the opposition led by former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is generally believed to be largely responsible for bringing the state to its knees economically during his party’s 15-year rule.
What makes the result all the more interesting and historic is that various castes and communities united to vote for development and progress. Bihar is notorious for its persistent caste structure, and its politics have tended to reflect this mindset. But this time, people rejected their caste representatives and voted for the candidates who promised to intervene in their lives in a progressive way.
The state was in complete chaos when Nitish Kumar first assumed office in 2005. Kidnapping and killing were rampant, existing institutions were in complete disarray and there was a pervasive feeling of hopelessness. But those days now look like a nightmare that the state has woken up from.
Over the last five years, Kumar has attempted to turn the state around in numerous ways. The results of these efforts can be seen not only in terms of better law enforcement and roads, but also in the overall mood of the people. Those who had no hope for progress under the 15 years of rule by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government can now feel optimistic.
But it's not just in Bihar where the benefits of Kumar's reforms are being felt – the changes have also altered the way outsiders see the people of Bihar – people now truly believe that Bihar can make progress.
There's still a long way to go before this eastern India state can think of catching up with some of the developed states of India. But at least there's been a start. Five years isn't long enough to undo the entrenched backwardness of the past 60 years, but at least the state has travelled the distance from hopelessness to hopefulness.
This is a liberating moment for Bihar, and one that's similar to the change Nehru described back in 1947. It’s also one that comes rarely in history, when we step out from the old into the new, when an era ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds its voice.