Sunday, April 22, 2007

Why My heart Bleeds this Fifty Sixth Republic Day (26 Jan 2006)

I sit at home to watch the 56th Republic Day parade, I await patiently for the float from Bihar. Somebody had told me the newly formed government of Bihar so keen to showcase itself would be putting up a Chhath float. As I wait in vain for the elusive float, I am reminded of Rajkumar Shukla – the forgotten hero of India’s struggle for freedom. For those whom the name does not ring a bell, he was the peasant leader from Champaran who had requisitioned the help of Mahatma Gandhi to launch the struggle against the Indigo farmers. Even as the Mahatma emerged from that movement as the great mass leader of the subcontinent and Champaran became the very symbol of India’s freedom struggle, we as a nation chose to consign this fearless hero to the dustbin of history. No text book talks of him, there are no memorials for him; but for a very small group, nobody knows the role pioneering role he played in India’s freedom struggle.

The neglect meted out to Rajkumar Shukla, alas, symbolizes the neglect of Bihar since Independence. Look at the list of the Padma awardees and you would find Biharis rather conspicuous – by their absence.

In his book “Integration of Indian States”, VP Menon writing about the administrative challenges of the new nation, narrates how the robust Bihar administration was used for training the bureaucrats from other parts of India. In 1952, Prof Appleby had rated Bihar as the best administered state of India. Prince of Wales Medical College of Patna was among the first to start the post graduate medical education in India. Patna Science College was the best the country had to offer in Science education. Those early leads somehow appear to have sowed the seeds of petty politics at the central government level which has brought the state on its knees.

It started in a small way when the Agricultural University at PUSA near Samastipur was shifted to Delhi. When the credulous Bihari in the newly independent nation took this in his stride thinking it is for the national cause and did not protest, we soon we had the wily Dr Bidhan Roy outwitting the scholarly Sri Krishna Singh in snatching the IIT from Sindri to Kharagpur. Arguably the biggest body blow to the state was the ill conceived Freight Equalization Scheme.

Look at the priority of the central government and you would find the attention of the foreign ministry riveted with empathy for the pro democracy movement in Nepal; but deafeningly quiet about the plight of the Bihari peasants who have to bear the brunt of the annual floods as the Himalayan rivers thunder down to the plains every monsoon. It is a matter of public record that in each of the five year plans since independence, Bihar’s per capita share has been the lowest. What are not so well known are such sordid incidents of petty mindedness. To narrate just one incident, the late sixties was a period of political turbulence when Congress was loosing power to coalitions of socialists. In this period, when Karpoori Thakur wanted to start the Ganga Bridge project at Patna, the planning commission rejected it saying it had no economic justification!! It is another matter that when Bihar Govt anyway went ahead with it from its meager funds, it had the fastest payback for any infrastructure project that I know of. These shameless babus continue to draw their ill earned pension. Maybe they are reaping the reward for planning the backwardness of Bihar so perfectly!

To come back to the present, the area of Bihar had two of the three greatest seats of learning in ancient India – Nalanda and Vikramshila (the third being Taxila, now in Pakistan). Today it has no IIT, IIMs. no IIITs, no RECs, no central universities, no centre of higher learning for medical education, no CSIR laboratory, and no DRDO laboratory. Absolutely not even one centre of higher learning which is funded by the central government. And one thought it was the job of the government to invest in the less developed areas of the country.

Now there are reports that the central government is going to start four “National Institute of Science” in the country. Inevitably, not one of them is planned to be in Bihar.

Will it be too much to expect the central government to allocate one of them to Bihar this republic day so that Bihari sub-nationalism continues to breathe in synch with the Indian nationalism.

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