I might be a Bihari who hasn't lived in the state for nearly 20 years, but as any ‘expat’ Bihari will tell you, living with the tag still isn’t for the faint-hearted.
When I was studying at Delhi University, it was routine to hear ‘Bihari’ used almost interchangeably with ‘friendly’ and irreverent words like ‘idiot’. The word was basically used as an alternative to bumpkin—as if people from the state knew little, understood less and so could easily be made fun of.
The insults—whether intended or accidental—didn’t end at the campus gates. For example, it wasn't unusual for well-educated, smartly-dressed Biharis to be told by well-heeled Delhiites that they were surprised Biharis could be so eloquent and look so fashionable. Most people meant this as a compliment, but self-respecting Biharis like me would bristle at the lazy assumptions made about our state. In fact, I often felt Biharis were subjected to the same patronising ‘poor bloke’ comments that Indians experienced abroad in our pre-liberalisation years.
It’s true that until five years ago, Bihar had for the preceding two decades been steadily descending into painful poverty, governed by a political class that wasn't merely inept, but ill-meaning, opportunistic and dishonest.
Sadly, this downward spiral was served up as ‘entertainment’ to the rest of the nation thanks to former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose faltering English, carefully cultivated persona and TV-oriented sound bites ensured Biharis continued to be the victims of caricature.
This is why the re-election of incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar last week by a landslide is so important. Sober, driven and with integrity, Kumar has begun the process of reversing what seemed almost irrevocable damage to state pride. In fact, his efforts to turn Bihar around were even noticed by mainstream foreign media like The Economist.
Hopefully, Kumar’s re-election will help accelerate the progress already made.