Saturday, April 28, 2007

Killing Bihar, steadily

It is an undeniable fact that Bihar stands at the bottom of the ladder as far as the economic indices are concerned. In the past, blame has been put on the Govt of Bihar, and rightly so. Blame has also been put on the people of Bihar. However, we have always let the central govt and its agencies get away lightly. This is rather surprising since in the federal structure of India, the status of the Govt of India is that of a “Mai-Baap” which has the power to dole out favours. Most of the taxes are collected by them and then distributed. Locations of major industries are decided by them. Major infrastructure – roads, bridges, airports, irrigation systems – are all decided by them. In this context, two recent developments show the central government in particularly poor light.

The first concerns the nascent tourism industry of Bihar. The Buddhist circuit in Bihar has been a major unutilised asset of the impoverished state. In a remarkable show of vision, the state government decided very early on its term that it would promote the Buddhist circuit. To this end, several initiatives have been taken. For example, land has been made available to the hotels; special care has been taken to maintain the law and order situation; the upkeep of the tourist destinations has been improved drastically; and the road infrastructure has been improved greatly for better connectivity.

Bodh Gaya has made good progress in the last year. Even in the face of the very basic facility at the airport, it now has international flights to Singapore, Bangkok, Paro and Colombo. There has been persistent demand to upgrade the facilities at the airport so that they can increase the frequency of their flight. The Japanese and the Koreans cannot take a direct flight to Gaya as the runway is far too short for the long haul aircraft to land. Given half a chance, Gaya can easily beat Calcutta as the premier airport of the Eastern India, but no plan is forth coming by the Airports Authority of India to take any of those steps. However, this story is not about that.

This is about the criminal neglect by the Indian Airlines to break the back of tourism at Gaya and give a bad name to Bihar and to India. In fact, it has even led to a diplomatic fracas already. Read for your self what they have done.

The passengers that they brought to Gaya on confirmed return tickets have been left stranded for over one week since the flight was cancelled in a huff. Indian Airlines, being a PSU, should have been at the forefront of promoting Gaya as an upcoming destination. That is how they justify their colossal losses and their pathetic standards. Far from it, they seek to destroy even what has been achieved.

Who gave Indian Airlines the right to cancel their flights? Is it a commercial decision or has been done with an ulterior motive to destroy the nascent tourist destination of Gaya? What are their obligations if they cancel their flights? If they have failed in their duty, what steps the Govt of India has taken to take them to task? Who are the people responsible for this mess? How are they being held accountable? What would be their punishment for this gross negligence? Unfortunately, there is only silence as an answer till now.

The second is an even bigger tragedy as it concerns the issue of universal education for the indigent. Excellent work is being done by the Govt of Bihar under the Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyaan. A very dedicated, scholarly and avuncular officer, Anjani Kumar Singh, affectionately called Anjani babu, has been put in charge of the program. He along with the Secretary, Education, Dr MM Jha, have done immense work in this area, which is both good quality and good quantity. Particular care has been taken to reach out to the girls from the most deprived sections of the society. The work has come for singular praise by several independent agencies, Pratham and the Indian Planning Commission being two of them. This rediff article captures the spirit of this monumental government work which is nothing short of a revolution.

Unfortunately, this good work would be under immense pressure in the coming financial year. Under a change of policy, the “mai baap” at Delhi, the HRD ministry, would drastically reduce the grant for this most laudable scheme since primary education is being made the responsibility of the state government. The education cess that you and I pay would be diverted to higher education so that little games may be played over issues of such national importance as power of HRD ministry over IIMs and IITs. Thus, while the poorest of the poor would be deprived of even primary education, the central govt attention would be riveted over providing better facilities to the already privileged.

Till now, Bihar was denied funds because of inadequate utilization. Now when it has shown the best utilization, in a show of real politik that would put Machiavelli to shame, the rules of the game are being changed. There is no debate on this in the parliament. The electronic media, always in the look out for issues of national importance for its innumerable debates, finds this topic unworthy of any mention.

Rashtra Kavi Ramdhari Singh Dinkar had perhaps this situation in mind when he composed this couplet in his immortal “Hunkaar”

“Swanon ko milte dugdh vastra, bhookhe balak akulate hain
Maa ki haddi se chipak thithoor. Jadon ke raat bitate hain.”

The pet dogs of the privileged get milk as food and finery as dress
The hungry children of the poor scrounge for bare necessities
They cling to the to the bare bones of their mother
They try to get some warmth on the cold winter night

The poor children in the poignant poem at least have the warmth of their mother’s emaciated body to cling on to. Where do the daughters of Bihar go when their mother, Mother India, refuses to give them even that solace?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Just Do It!

Just Do It!
by Mayank Krishna
First Published: Feb. 1, 2007

In last one year, with the change of government in Bihar, a lot of hope and aspiration has come to surface in the life of Bihar and Biharis. Apart from the efforts of the government, a select group of passionate Bihari intelligentsia scattered around the globe is making the concept of a flat world a reality and working toward bringing back the past glory of Bihar as a land of wisdom, wealth, opportunity, abundance, governance, and cultural heritage. And it has already started making some small but meaningful impact.

But with the hope there is a concern too. From the interaction I had had with numerous Biharis at various stages of their life and career, it seems that a large number of them, particularly young and well educated, are either not interested in Bihar or show utter pessimism about Bihar's future. Some typical responses are 'There is nothing in Bihar', 'it’s too late', 'development in Bihar is next to impossible', etc. This reasoning is devoid of logic. It smacks of ignorance, stereotyping, and a lack of will and conviction.

These young people educated in top colleges of India often attribute 'criminalization of politics and serious law and order problem' as the root cause of all problems of Bihar. Nothing can be more wrong and preposterous. These children of economically liberated India, devoid of knowledge of the post-independence developmental economic policies of Indian government, believe an effect to be a cause. They believe that fortunes of Bihar tumbled in the last 20 years when the truth is that the script of this tragedy was written by the learned economic planners of India in 50s, 60s, and 70s through unjust allocation of developmental resources. Take an example: In 1955, the total national outlay for irrigation was Rs.29106 lakhs. Of this, Punjab got 38% while Bihar got just 4.5% even though Bihar was 3.5 times larger than Punjab. The result: Almost 76% of Punjab’s land is under irrigation while just 41% of Bihar’s land is irrigated. Or, take the Freight Equalization Scheme that applied to Steel and Coal and remained in vogue till 1991. This policy of consumers paying the same freight whether the coal was transported from Jharia to Dhanbad or Jharia to Vishakhapatnam broke the back of industry development in Bihar. Many of us are blissfully ignorant of numerous historical injustices of this kind meted out to Bihar by the economic planners.

They talk of lack of opportunities in Bihar and assert that opportunities should first be created before they can exploit them. This is passive mentality. If Bihar has to progress then opportunities will have to be created and tapped by Biharis themselves. If one can't help oneself, no body can. Others can help, they can support, but they cannot set your house in order. This is something all Biharis need to understand. I am reminded of the old story of two shoe salesmen who went to a place where aboriginals existed. The first sales man saw that no one wore shoes and reasoned that there was no market for shoes while the second one saw a huge market because no one wore shoes! We have to create our own opportunities. Whining and complaining will not help but action orientation will and this is what is expected from the younger generation of well educated, smart, and suave Biharis. They should feel proud of their Bihari roots and act with courage and conviction.

Another issue is entrepreneurship development. In Bihar, people view entrepreneurship as something that smart, educated people don’t do. This has to change and entrepreneurship has to be accorded its due status. With the pool of well educated and technically qualified young Biharis, there is no reason why entrepreneurship development can't take place in Bihar. The opportunities are immense though they might not be so obvious. An entrepreneurial wave can turn Bihar into the vegetable capital of India. Similar big opportunities are in agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, fruits, agro-processing sectors. The need of the hour is not large scale entrepreneurial ventures but small grassroots level ventures that ensure wealth generation along with economic and social development of the local community. We don’t need 10 investments of Rs.100 crores each; but 100 investments of Rs.10 crores each. Spread of investment is key not the quantum.

Ultimately, what Bihar and Biharis need is the Nike philosophy – Just Do It! And may I modify it a bit – JUST DO IT WITH PRIDE AND CONVICTION!

The Racist Indian Media?

The Racist Indian Media?
by Mayank Krishna
First Published: Feb. 3, 2007

Indian media is racist, albeit of a different kind. It bats for glamour, power, influence, high and the mighty. It seldom plays for people who don't have a voice, are weak and without power or influence. In other words, Indian media practices the fine art of racism of not giving a voice to people without voice, which is essentially at the core of any enlightened media.

The biggest irony with Indian media is its obsession with insignificant issues and its ability to transform such trivial matters into a national debate. At the same time, it is well versed in the fine art of trivializing the significant issues worthy of national debate. More than 50 innocent people, most of them laborers from Bihar, got killed in Assam by outlawed outfit called ULFA and the news hardly created a whisper. Numerous children got physically molested and brutally chopped into pieces by two maniacs in Nithari in Noida and the news lasted just a few days. On the other hand, a silly English lady called names to a not so famous Indian actress on the sets of Big Brother in distant England and that created a national fury in India thanks to the Indian media. It became an issue of national importance and generated many a serious debate on electronic media as if the issue was as serious as Pakistan planning an attack on India! If there is an apt example to explain the meaning of the phrase “blown out of proportion”, it has to be Indian media’s handling of Shilpa Shetty issue.

This is not the first time Indian media is behaving like a bottle fed toddler. The truth is that it is biologically and genetically incompetent to handle issues as per their worthiness. Perhaps the only consideration for Indian media today is – how saleable is the story in generating eye balls. And this phenomenon is not limited to odd issues that crop up from time to time. Blindness of Indian media is omnipresent all the time. The bias is so evident that it stinks.

Take the example of negative stereotyping of Bihar, an economically poor state of India thanks to the myopic policies of Indian government, by the Indian media. Even if something great happens in Bihar, Indian media finds, or perhaps concocts something negative about it and puts it in national glare. And if it can’t find anything negative, it simply ignores the good news. On the other hand, it seldom reports anything bad about so called progressive states of India. Roads of Mumbai are worst of its kind with potholes and craters, but when Indian media has to talk about bad roads, it always moves to Bihar. Rape, murder and abductions are rampant in the economically well of national capital region (NCR) comprising of Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida, and Faridabad; but when talks of crime start it always moves to Bihar. Talks on caste also lead to Bihar, even though the neighbouring West Bengal never had a single chief minister from the backward class. Talks on corruption again lead to Bihar, when the most corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are in Mumbai!

Bihar is economically and socially poor not because of itself. A large part of blame should go to the policies of central government of India in last 60 years that propped other states on the pillars of prosperity at the cost of development of Bihar. These included unjust allocation of funds meant for development of agriculture, infrastructure, irrigation facilities, etc. These unjust allocations combined with regressive policies like Freight Equalization Scheme virtually destroyed all possibilities of development of industry in Bihar despite abundance of natural resources. Many of us are blissfully ignorant of numerous historical injustices of this kind meted out to Bihar by the economic planners of India. Indian media never highlights this, may be by design or by ignorance.

And the same Bihar, which is trying to rise today from ashes like a phoenix, is today facing the worst kind of reporting racism practiced by Indian media. A few days back, a global Bihari meet was organized in Patna which had eminent speakers like Honourable President of India Mr. A P J Abdul Kalam, noted economist Lord Meghnad Desai, Ex-governor of RBI Mr. C Rangarajan, Chairman of ITC Mr. Y C Deveshwar, and which was well attended by NRIs. The meet was to discuss the agenda of Bihar’s growth and to attract investments. This high profile event was hardly reported in any national media, though local media covered the event on a grand scale. My question: Was it not a duty of any enlightened media to highlight this meet to create positive vibes about Bihar and help it in its endeavour to walk on the path to development? Well, perhaps Indian media was preoccupied with glam doll Shilpa Shetty!

But the irony of all ironies is that even on Shilpa Shetty type issues, Indian media is biased. It talks of racism in case of remarks on Shilpa Shetty. But where was this same Indian media in all its glory when a lower rug Indian actor, Deepak Tijori, made a similar racist comment on Biharis on the Indian reality show called Big Boss? Indian media, it seems, suffers from selective amnesia. Or, does it wear a mask to hide its racist face to fight another racist?

To me, it seems, Indian media has become impotent and it needs a big dose of Viagra to perform like an enlightened media. Amen!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Future of Bihar

Sometimes I wonder why I'm so optimistic and sanguine about the future of Bihar. Despite reports on violence and high kidnapping figures there’s a strange optimism about the future of Bihar. Often we question our own beliefs about the way we see our native state. Are we blind to the realities of Bihar and oblivious about the facts of the state? Are we simply building our own castles in air and far away from the realities of the day?

The answers to these facts are simple and very clear. We are all aware of the challenges which Bihar faces today, we are all connected to our villages and have ourselves braved the odds at some point in our career. My generation has survived the odds of some dark days in Bihar during the days of effete leadership. We have spent our times in the street of Bihar and spent hours in the Patna University campus and have some precious memories of our lives. Bihar has a flavour which only a true bihari soul can appreciate. You need not be a born Bihari to relish the essence of being a Bihari. What you need is a big heart and an even bigger attitude to be proud of what you are and the way you are.

You may be a Harryies of the world who takes dig at every thing which goes wrong with Bihar and also showcase yourself as someone special atypical Bihari .You may also be Bhai G’s like us who are out of Bihar but you can never take a Bihari out of them. The quintessential Bihar by heart who relishes the unique gustatory bliss of Liiti and chokha, the rustic beats of Bhojpuri Music and takes pride in everything which Bihar has got to offer. We are proud of our History and what we have achieved and are also committed to have a better tomorrow for our beloved state.

We have the courage to tell the world that what if we have lagged behind but at least we are trying. What if we may not have the best roads in the world but we are on our way .We may not have the best literacy figures to boast of but we have made a sincere effort to improve. We may not have the best police force in the world to fight odds like this; however we are hoping to improve it. We may not have the best leadership in the country but we have someone who is willing and humble enough to learn from others. We may not have loads of investment flowing in to our state but we have started the process and hope to see some thing positive.

We are going to see a new Bihar in the days to come and let’s take pride and put our best in reviving our golden past and take our state to new heights.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

History of Shampoo, Indian perspective

Deen Muhammad, the head massage expert, is mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) for helping Europe coin the word “shampoo”. He hailed from Bihar. The ODNB carries the name of those persons who played a major role in England over the last 2000 years. This lowly barber, Deen, now stands in the same row in the roll of honour as Princess Sophia Alexandra, who was married to Maharaja Duleep Singh of Patiala.

Deen’s father was an employee of the East India Company and collected tax from the people of Bihar and Bengal around mid 1700. Deen settled down in England in 1775 and was the first Indian to write and publish a book in English, ‘Travels of Deen Muhammad’ in 1794. It is believed that Deen was born in Buxar where the famous Battle of Buxar between the East India Company and early India revolutionaries took place. Deen’s father had fought for the Company in that battle.

Beginning his career as a servant of the Company, Deen used to massage the heads of war-fatigued soldiers with soap and a special oil. He was called the shampoo champion by these soldiers because they could not pronounce “champi”, the Hindi word for head massage. In England, Ireland and Scotland, Deen gained fame as a shampoo surgeon. The ODNB describes Deen by this name. Deen learnt the art of massaging from local barbers, and hakims from the different towns of Bihar.

Bihar and Central Infrastructure (or the Lack of it)

The four ills of casteism, corruption, criminalisation of politics and inequitable land distribution have been repeated ad infinitum as reasons for Bihar's backwardness and has been accepted as conventional wisdom. But is that the truth? Let's look at how Bihar fares in some key Centre created infrastructure.

Bihar & Jharkhand and the new highways

Have a look at a map of the new highways being built by NHAI

Inevitably, a good portion of these passes through Bihar and Jharkhand. The alignment will not serve most Bihar and Jharkhand towns: Patna, Ranchi, Gaya, Ara, Chhapra, Bhagalpur, Hazaribagh, Bokaro, Dhanbad or Jamshedpur!

Muzaffarpur is the sole exception to prove the rule. The up country cousins from "backward" states are considered unfit to be served by such modern wonders! Or maybe we should call them the Bihar bypass!!!

Is this plain incompetence, deliberate mischief or the inherited imperial mindset of Delhi planners? Either way, the visible outcome is that none has thought to make these locally useful.

See the tortuous turns these highways take in other states. Look at UP where most towns with a population over 5 lakhs are connected. Being land locked, Bihar can't have ports. Highways are the only means of transportation. If these highways do not serve the population centres, why build them?

Bihar became self sufficient in food in 2004 – fabulous example of a green revolution without Centre's investment in irrigation or any others. Bihar is expected to become food surplus in a couple of years. Properly aligned roads are a must to transport the produce to the markets for adequate returns. But we wait to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory to demoralise the farmers!

Bridges over Ganga

Another example are the bridges over Ganga. The river divides truncated Bihar into two roughly equal halves and inadequate communication across the river has hampered economic growth for centuries. The length of Ganga in UP is 1170 km and Bihar is 445 km. Bihar has more population density along Ganga and therefore the bridges would serve more people. Let's ignore the population and just go by the river length. UP should have a maximum of three times the number in Bihar. But what is the reality?

There are just three bridges in Bihar: at Bhagalpur, Mokama and Patna. There is another one at Buxar which starts in Bihar and ends in UP. That makes it three and a half. And the number in UP? Over fifteen! Delhi, divided by Yamuna, has a mind-boggling 8 for a river length of maybe 50 km!! Indeed some are born with a silver spoon. This cannot but leave one numb at the extent of discrimination.

Surprisingly, there has been no informed debate about these at any level. A mention of these has been conspicuous in any media: press or television - by its absence. Let the readers draw their own conclusions about the underdevelopment of Bihar.

Connecting Population Centers of Bihar & Jharkhand by the new highway projects (First published Sept 2005)

As you are aware, a new highway project has been under construction in India for the last few years. There are two parts to it: The golden quadrilateral which would connect the four metros and the east-west, north-south corridor.

Inevitably, good portions of it would pass through Bihar and Jharkhand also. However, sadly, the alignment of these highways have been so made that they would leave most of the major population centers of Bihar and Jharkhand un-served.

None of the major cities or towns in Bihar and Jharkhand would be connected by the new highways envisaged by the mandarins of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) - not Patna, not Ranchi, not Gaya, Chapra, Bhagalpur, Harazibagh, Bokaro, Dhanbad or Jamshedpur. Muzaffarpur is the exception to prove the rule. Perhaps we, the up country cousins from the "backward" states are considered unfit to be served by such wonders of modern development.

Please see the map of these highways:

I dont know whether it is the a deliberate mischief or just plain colonial mind set that the planners at Delhi seem to have inherited, no thought appears to have gone in making these useful for the people of Bihar and Jharkhand. Our state is a land locked state. These highways are the only means of getting connectivity for our farmers and agro industry producers. Surprisingly, the 'national' press, which is always so vocal about the negative stories from Bihar, has chosen to be totally indifferent to this criminal negligence on the part of the national planners. A mention of this has been conspicuous in any media: press or television - by its absence. All the "rudali" types ready to demonise Bihar and Biharis have chosen to ignore this gross injustice .

If we are able to connect the major population centers to these highways, this would bring tremendous benefits to the people of our benighted state. For example, Bihar became food sufficient in 2004 - the only example of a green revolution without any major investment from the government in irrigation or any others. I expect Bihar to become food surplus in a couple of years. Properly aligned roads would be the minimum required to evacuate the food economically or else there would be a glut leading to the agriculturist not getting adequate returns. This would result in demoralisation and the gains that our hardworking farmers have achieved would receive a setback.

The issue is, what can we do about it? I propose a four point agenda:

1. Get a small action committee - five to ten people who feel really passionate about it. This group could get started maybe this weekend and meet every weekend over chat or google talk / yahoo talk. Others would be free to join, but this group takes a real active role in taking this forward.
2. We define what we wish to achieve - say x cities get connected so that we can celebrate we have achieved what we wanted to.
3. Create awareness about the issue by enlisting help from the favourable press - One suggestion is journalists from Bihar, the recent generation who have passed out places like IIMC, Jamia, JNU etc. Other is to present our point of view to decision makers like Road department bureaucrats, planning commision, politicians. We can discuss this more.
4. Use the coming elections in Bihar to extract some promise from decision makers. We still have sometime before the elections and with proper planning, it should be possible to achieve this.

I would like to invite all like minded people to come and join in this fight.

While my hearts still bleeds this republic day (Jan 26 2007)

On republic day last year, I had expressed my angst at the unfair treatment being meted to Bihar and Biharis in Patna Daily. Since then, Bihar has moved forward. There are signs of positive change, for example an IIT for Bihar, higher planned allocation for development and the improved conviction rate of criminals.

Yet my heart still bleeds this republic day. There is the most unfortunate killing of our labourers in Assam who still have to go to that inhospitable land in search of livelihood. From Rajdeep Sardesai using Bihar as a negative adjective to the children of migrant labourers dying inhuman deaths in Nithari and Muktsar, Punjab, unable to even have their cases registered with the police, there are any numbers of injustices meted out to Biharis. In spite of the increased allocation to Bihar for development in the last one year, it continues to languish at the bottom in terms of the per capita allocation by the planning commission. There would still be no IARI lab in Bihar though it is an agricultural state. But there seldom has been any protest against these. What could be the reasons for this?

Bihar is at a cross road where we have to try to consolidate the gains of the past year and try to analyze what has held it back for so many years. Why is it that when a Lalu Yadav starts a Garib Rath for Bihar or a Nitish Kumar starts the HQ of a railway zone in Bihar, there is widespread criticism, but when a Chidambaram and a Maran join hands to ensure 90% of all mobile phones for the booming market gets manufactured in Tamil Nadu, nobody raises an eyebrow? Why do many of our own Bihari brethren think asking for equal right for Biharis or development in Bihar is akin to rebelling against India?

The backwardness of Bihar and the ill treatment meted to Biharis, to me, appears rooted in psychology - both our own as well as those of non Bihari Indians. Let me try to delve a little deeper into the psychological make up and see what lies there.
As a school student in seventies, I heard the proposed Ganga Bridge at Patna was refused funding by the central planning commission. I wanted to write a letter to newspapers criticizing the decision. But seniors around me, at school and at home, restrained me, saying people at Delhi must have taken all issues in consideration before taking this decision. I wanted to protest the freight equalization scheme, but found little understanding of this sentiment around me.

What holds us back from asking our share? What is it that makes us believe the central government would always be fair?” Why do we hesitate to question its actions in a logical manner? Why the hurry to give away our share so readily? What is it that makes giving away the strategic advantages of Bihar so attractive for our leaders?

Is it lack of understanding of Bihar’s strategic advantage that causes it’s leders to give it away so easily? That would be really sad for the land of Chanakya. Does Bihari culture over romanticize the act of giving? Or is it the colonial hangover which makes us believe some distant master would be fair to us and set our house in order?

Fact is, even a mother does not lactate unless the child cries.

The second negative trait that I see is debating the wrong question. For close to four decades, the three issues that have been bandied about as the reasons for Bihar’s backwardness are: Casteism, Lack of land reforms and criminalisation of politics. This endless debate has taken us nowhere. Meanwhile so many other relevant questions have not even been debated. For example, why are there only three and a half bridges over Ganga in Bihar whereas there are over fifteen in Uttar Pradesh? Why is the most comprehensive irrigation system in Bihar still the British built Son Command Canal system? Why is there no protest when Patna Rice is registered as a trademark in US while there is such a hue and cry over Basmati? Why is there no comprehensive dialogue with Nepal for flood control? Why does the national integration song “Mile Sur Mera” have no Bihari symbols? I could go on and on, but the point I want to illustrate is that we have been asking the wrong questions for decades without any tangible gains in terms of the economic uplift of our masses.

Let me move to the next negative psychological trait, the inability to hail true success. Mr Neelkanth Prasad, the brilliant engineer, kept the dream of the Ganga Bridge at Patna alive and managed to get it built in spite of severe resource constraints. But does anybody remember his outstanding contribution? Rajkumar Shukla brought Gandhi to Champaran and made him the mass leader. Do we ever pause to think of his massive contribution? And thereby we fail to consolidate success and encourage desirable behaviour.

Take the recent case of an IIT in Bihar. When I hailed in Patna Daily MA Fatmi's promise to bring IIT to Bihar, several people implied I was naive to believe Fatmi. Now when he has actually delivered, one would expect some kudos for him. But no, now there is another set of pessimists saying bringing IIT to Bihar has no relevance!!! Govt of Bihar has been trying to bring a semblance of order for the last year. There are enough statistics to suggest Bihar has improved. But read the pessimistic comments. Police solves the case of kidnapping of a twelve year old Kankarbagh boy and nabs the killer even while he was preparing to strike again. CNN IBN gives it a negative twist. We seem to have an inability to celebrate success. Worse, an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!!

Another is self flagellation or the self blame even for things that are not in our own hand. Like a raped woman, somehow, when things go wrong, we tend to blame ourselves, not realizing there are situations where the blame lies outside. And the outsiders, particularly the 'national' English language press from Delhi and Mumbai, like the moronic UP police, lay the blame on the 'provocative' dress or other such imagined 'crime' for the situation. The labourers get killed in Assam and we blame Bihar’s backwardness. Did the labourer cause Bihar’s backwardness? Is he wrong is seeking a better livelihood for himself? How come the same trait of seeking a fortune in another land in a Punjabi or a Marwari is hailed as a positive trait? This is not to deny responsibility for own's action. For example, if a student at Gaya does not study hard, he is not going to get into an IIT. But if some idiot at JEE committee feels there is something wrong just because there are too many successes from Gaya and cancels the centre, the only fair solution is to expose that idiot and set things right, rather than blame ourselves.

After all, Bihar is the heart of India, appropriately placed a little to the left of centre in the upper part of the map of India. Today, a lot of people are asphyxiating the heart not realising the whole body would be dead if the heart stops functioning. We have to ourselves believe and make others realize that it is quite possible to be pro Bihari and yet be pro India. But unfortunately, the voice of reason and logic that can make it happen is lost in the din of self serving media. When Nitish Kumar calls up Manmohan to seek justice for the slain Biharis in Assam, ‘national’ media calls it ‘chita ki aag mein rajnaitik roti sekna’. And in the process, unfortunately, time is running out.

Thus to me, the backwardness of Bihar and the ill treatment meted to Biharis appears rooted in psychology - both our own as well as those of non Bihari Indians. Till we can zero in on the underlying reasons and take corrective action, things are not going to change fast enough.

Cultivation of Patna Rice

Rice has been cultivated in the Gangetic plains of India for millennia. The cultivation of rice here is not just any other grain cultivation, but it's a process that has moulded the culture of the people like no other. There are songs specific for each activity - ropnigeet, katnigeet; there is merriment, there are festivals, in fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that the whole life of people revolves around the cultivation of rice.

The process of cultivation of rice starts around the first week of June when the harsh Indian summer is at its peak. The last feasting of the lagan (marriage season) is over and the summer has left everyone exhausted. The seasonal high points of summer, the mangoes, the lichees, and the kharbujas and tarbujas have all come and gone. Even as the sun is still mercilessly beating down on the Gangetic plains and heat waves have parched the normally humid landscape totally dry, sucking out the last drops of water from every crevice, the cultivator starts to bring out his implements - his plough, chaas, and other implements. Taking stomach full of traditional drinks made from ground gram (sattu) and occasionally saunf, and keeping full onion in his pocket, he has to leave the cool environs of his thatched hut and start venturing into the unforgiving hot and dry weather. Functional literacy, handed through word of mouth over generations has taught him how to survive the extreme weather with minimum of appurtenances.


He takes his implements to the village artisans - the blacksmith and the carpenter - to make them ready for the busy season ahead. He knows that once the rains fall, there would be no time to tend to his implements. It is also the time to spread the cow-dung, which was allowed to rot in ditches for the whole year. Unlike the other fertiliser, this manure has to be spread on his best field, as he knows that there is no manure better than this organic manure for his tender seedlings.

Spreading the seedlings

The first drops of rain fall around mid June heralding the monsoon. The first rain is normally accompanied with strong cool winds and sometime also hailstorm. As the first drops of water quench the thirst of the parched earth, it oozes an intoxicating earthy (saundha) smell that can be found in only this part of the world. The earth acquires a greenish hue - it is as if the no nonsense tomboy has turned all feminine grace on getting married.

Now there is no time to loose and the cultivator has to quickly plough the Beehan Kiyaris (Seedling fields) where the manure has already been spread. In less than a week, those fields have to be ploughed, seeds spread and flattened again for the seed to start germinating in the hot and humid soil just under the surface.

Ploughing the Land

Once the seedlings spread, all the agricultural fields in the village good enough for rice cultivation have to be ploughed. It would be barely six weeks when the seedlings would be ready for transplantation and the ploughing has to be accomplished in this period. By this time, the monsoon is in full flow and the urgency of the first few days has given way to the humdrum of the busy agricultural season. There are still not enough hours to do all that needs to be done, but life assumes a routine.


The humdrum of ploughing follows the extreme physical activity of the transplantation phase. Transplantation is a very intricate process that has to be accomplished very quickly. If the seedlings are allowed to get over-ripe before being transplanted, it would be very harmful for the quality for the rice. No cultivator has the resources to accomplish this alone and all of them have to depend on others to achieve this. This is the time when old rivalries and petty differences have to be forgotten as this once in a year opportunity cannot be missed. All able bodied men and women are out in the field. Elderly help with household chores like cooking and children help by transporting the meals to the field as there is no time to loose in commuting between the field and the house. Men may not rest for days and children may bunk school. Even the teachers may leave the school to give a helping hand during this crucial phase.

There is some respite from hard physical labour once the transplantation is done, but no time to be lax. Now is the time to tend the field and protect it from all enemies, both natural and human. Machan may be put in the field to keep a watchful eye day and night. The male members may not have a chance to come home for weeks. There has to be just enough water in the field for the rice to grow; if you don't drain the excess water, it would become flooded and destroy the crop. If water is less, the paddy may start to die.

The same village neighbour who had helped him in the crucial transplantation phase may now not hesitate to leave his cattle loose for grazing in an unattended field. If the neighbour had not helped when all were watching, the animosity would have come out in the open; in the cover of darkness, one can always settle a few scores without too much damage to one's reputation. In any case, the petty differences, probably festering for generations, were merely papered over, not by any means settled.

Mid season Break and the festivals

Around October, the paddy has grown to waist height and needs less tending. Monsoon has somewhat slackened and there is festivities everywhere, for now is the festival (puja) season. : Dushshra, Divali and Chath are celebrated in this period. The all round greenery adds to the festivities. Other than keeping a watchful eye to keep the cattle and the thief away, which brothers and friendly neighbours can take turns to do, it is a time of comparative physical rest but mental alertness.


Harvesting starts as soon as the last araghya to the Sun god has been given. This is another period of intense physical activity when the paddy has to be harvested and transported to the Kharihaan for processing. When we see Indian software professionals slogging during crucial phases of a project like go live or testing, and barely managing to keep office timings during "normal" office days, one cannot help thinking if they have got it in their genes from their agriculturist forebears who had to work seasonally like this. It is this perhaps which helps him in his direct march from the agricultural age to the information age, bypassing the evolution of the industrial age and its clockwork precision.


As the temperature starts to dip with the onset of the winter, the processing of the grain starts in the Kharihaan. After the first offering to the gods - the gram devi (village deity), the fruits of the labour is ready to savour. Certain varieties of rice may be boiled with the husk to prepare the parboiled rice. After this, the rice husk is removed in the wooden "dheki", a process greatly enjoyed by the ladies of the house and accompanied with much merriment.

Rice has always been a symbol of plenty in Hindu tradition. According to the custom, married women in India are honoured and wished a life of plenty by presenting them with a handful of rice, turmeric and grass saplings (Khoincha) on all festive occasions. The throwing of rice is associated with all pious Hindu rituals include weddings.

Patna Rice, the king of all rice, comes to you from the intricate handcrafted process described above, perfected over generations.

The 'Babu-ization' of Bihar Education

At the time of Indian independence, the schools and colleges of Bihar were largely privately run. There was the system of the Zila School which were like the benchmark of quality education. There were the British Govt established institutions like the Patna Science College and Prince of Wales Medical College. But for every Government run institution, there were scores of privately run as well. This system got a fillip in the period after independence when philanthropists and other public minded individuals were encouraged to take these up since the government of the day had limited resources and did not wish to restrict the march of progress. These schools were built on land donated by the much maligned Zamindar families of Bihar. They had trusts running them.

Later, some of the new private institutions that came up were by politicians and started getting misused as an instrument to distribute favours. However, the number of institutions run by professional politicians were limited and the private educational institutions were largely well run.

In the mid seventies, with a stroke of pen, all of them except those run by the minority community were nationalized. In one stroke, the chairmen and secretaries of these school committees who were men of eminence from the local area and had a stake in the continued welfare of these institutions were replaced with nameless and faceless babus who had no aptitude, training, interest or time for such activities. In a sense, the babu-ization of the educational institutions had started a little earlier when an IAS, was appointed OSD for Bihar University superseding the bodies of academics who were perhaps too independent minded for the rulers that be. The hunger for power was only matched by an arrogant belief that cuture and intelligence are alien to the native Bihari and he has to be kept under constant vigil as he cannot but be corrupt.

In the event, the stifling control killed all initiative. The result was a steep decline in the education standards all round. Teaching, which was regarded as such a noble profession in the land of Nalanda, Odantpuri and Vikramshila, became a chore. Is it any surprise that the only schools which escaped this period with their reputation intact were the Xaviers and Convents of this world?

The second is the privatisation of the medical colleges. Several private medical colleges were started in Bihar in the sixties and early seventies: NMCH, SKMCH, MGMCH, Patlitputra MCH, Magadh MCH. They quickly built good infrastructure and a name for themselves.
For example, Nalanda Medical College and Hospital at Patna had an enviable infrastructure, excellent faculty, highly dedicated trustees and very well maintained book of accounts open to public scrutiny. Again, babudom felt threatened by the power wielded by those who were running these institutions as they were unfettered by the chain of command of the bureaucracy. They managed to convince the well meaning Karpoori Thakur to nationalise these in the name of "merit". In the process, what could have been the template of an educational revolution ahead of the Karnataka model was nipped in the bud. One can only imagine what kind of engineering and medical education infrastructure would have developed in Bihar had they been allowed to thrive.

I myself, having secured admission through IIT JEE at IT BHU, had been so brainwashed about the misplaced 'merit' theory that I thwarted the attempt of many a cousins who aspired technical education in the private colleges. I realised my mistake years later when I had to depend upon the masses of the Karnataka style private college graduates while managing large scale software dev factories. Where had Bangalore been without the benefit of these huge masses of engineers? Conversely, where would Patna had been with the steady flow of engineers in such large numbers?

I dare say that Patna and not Bangalore would have been the centre of science and engineering if these early leads of Bihar were allowed to flourish. Alas, that was not to be. Today, the state of Bihar with a population of over eight crore has less than five engineering colleges and maybe six medical colleges. Courses like MCA and BCA are conspicuous by their absence. The admission to these limited number of technical institutions is against very stiff competition. However, the reputation of these institutions, inspite of having first rate students is so bad that they have to really struggle to get a job. Things like campus placement are virtually unheard of. A large number of Bihari students have to migrate to the southern states and Maharashtra for basic engineering, computer science and medical degrees. Needless to add, this is at a great cost to the students and their families of the economically deprived state. One economist even assessed that the total inflow of remittance from the roughly one crore Bihari labour force working outside is almost equalled by the outflow required for the fees and provisions of the several lakh students studying outside.

Do hope decision makers would go by common sense rather than misplaced idealism and allow private educational institutions to thrive in Bihar

Journalists and Bihar Bashing

(This article is in response to an article by Rajdeep Sardesai raising Bihar bashing by the mainstream media to a new level. Here is the link)

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something" - Plato

Bihar has been the favourite punching bag of the Indian English language journalist community, actually not just the journalists but many English speaking "elite" of India. We see the parody of Bihar bashing being played out everyday. Sometimes one feels upset, sometime angry and sometimes pities those indulging in this. If one had hoped that with the end of the Lalu raj in Bihar, Bihar bashing would stop or at least abate, well nothing of the sort has happened.

What is it that makes Bihar bashing such a favourite pastime? Actually, it is not just a pastime, but a vocation or "dhandha" for a certain class of the journalist brethren, as we shall presently see.


Come to think of it, the rusticity of Lalu was just another ruse to denigrate Bihar and Biharis. Making fun of Bihar has existed for much longer than that.

There are unsavoury references to Biharis since the early days of journalism in Bengali. I remember seeing a black and white Bengali film whose protagonist was a thief who gradually reforms himself to become a saint. This person starts as a Hindi speaking guy when he is portrayed as a thief, but gradually starts to speak Bangla – his fluency in Bangla language keeps improving as he reforms himself. There is also the oft repeated joke about the Bihari who was counting the floors of a tall building at the Chowringhee. A policeman catches him asking how many floors he had counted. Our rustic replies 8 floors and the policeman asks him to pay a fine of Rs 40 for having counted those floors without permission, Once the policeman departs, our man mumbles to himself, but I saved thirty rupees as I had counted fourteen floors by then!

Though not in a very good taste, this was something that one could live with, even make fun when interacting with one's Bengali friends. To be fair, Biharis gave it back to them as well with equally comical stories about the lack of courage of the Bengali and the score was more or less even.

There were also fulsome praise of Bihari leaders like Dr Rajendra Prasad and Syed Ali Imam. Hence one may conclude that the fun poking was done with sensitivity, a bit like sibling leg pulling and without much malice.

Post Independence India

However, Independent India brought in its wake competition amongst the states for development funds. That unfortunately proved to be the undoing of Bihar as Bihar bashing was raised to a different level. There was only so much fund for irrigation and one who could project the image of a more progressive administration could walk away with the cake. There were only five IITs that had to be located amongst the various states, So states started to enlist the services of the journalists to project their image so that you could win. And Bihar govt did nothing of the sorts. Though Bihar started to lose at this stage, the damage was still controllable,

The image started to take a battering of a vicious kind sometime in the sixties when the examinations of the universities started to get delayed due to student agitations. In the state elections, the socialists came to power. Whatever be the merit or otherwise of his policies, Mahamaya Prasad Sinha became a favourite whipping boy of the so called establishment oriented newspapers. The political situation was complex, and it required a very sensitive portrayal by the press. Unfortunately, they chose to play their own game. It did not help matter that there were no media barons who were native of Bihar. If anything, the situation became worse due to lack of press empathy with the ground situation and non-sensitive portrayal.

Days of JP's Movement and Janata Party Days

The situation somewhat improved when the Congress came to power and the "National" press held its gun back. But that proved the legendary lull before the storm. With JPs movement, all the media guns started to blaze in full glory, demonising Bihar to ingratiate themselves to the powers that be. This is the time when MV Kamath, then editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, wrote his infamous "Biharis are not fit to rule Bihar" essay. In many ways, this essay may be called the turning point in vicious journalism for the portrayal of Bihar. It was to the utter dismay of the public of Bihar that no non-Bihari journalist of any standing deemed it fit to rebut Kamath. It was left to the speaker of the Bihar legislative Assembly to issue a rejoinder. Due to the lack of fluency in English, the rebuttal, even though of very sound logic, could not be very forceful and the journal of the powerful editor even used the rebuttal to further demonise Bihar.

It was expected that with the coming to power of the Janata Party, the situation would improve. However, Morarji Desai, suffering from a strange complex, soon sought to assert his 'authority' and distanced himself from JP. I still remember his totally unprovoked speech at Daltongunj asserting JP is not the Government of India as if Jayaprakash Narayan was interfering with the working of the government!!

Somewhere around this time, the Bhagalpur blinding incident was reported by the Indian Express and the 'national' press got a ready handle to start cursing Bihar. It is to the perpetual discredit of the editors and journalists of the time that none of them tried to see the other side of the picture. The same journalists who had earlier defended the police action against Naxals in Bengal or later went out of the way to defend KPS Gill, found absolutely no merit in the police officers who had sought to cleanse the riverine area near Bhagalpur of crime. In their hurry to denigrate Bihar, they refused to examine why the local people of Bhagalpur were so supportive of the police action. In a throwback to the colonial hangover, the 'national' press sought to portray this support of the local masses as some kind of innate love for crime by the Bihari people. There was hardly any mention of the fact that some of the criminals so blinded had committed up to 40 murders and the criminal justice system had utterly failed to bring them to justice. It was left to the deft hands of Prakash Jha a couple of decades later to give us a sensitive portrayal of the build up to the blindings in his movie Ganga Jal.

Sometime later, Belchi happened – an opportunity seized by Mrs Indira Gandhi to ride back to power. Again, the unfortunate caste killings were sought to be portrayed as the innate weakness in the character of the Bihari public. No serious debate on the socio political situation ensued, only denigration of Bihar. Alas, this shortcut has resulted in many Belchis since. It is a result of the limited intellectual capacity of the journalists and the social scientists that to this day, the increase in caste violence is portrayed in the simplistic term of the empowerment of the hitherto un-empowered. Nobody has ever sought to seriously examine the increased social rift and its causes.

Bihar portrayal in eighties and nineties

In the eighties, every Bihar ill was attributed by the 'national' press to Casteism and Land Reforms. I did not observe any journalist of the national press examining the serious under- investment in the agriculture of Bihar. Nobody ever sought to question why there has been such rural prosperity in Punjab and Himalayan UP (now Uttaranchal) where there is no land ceiling. Nobody sought to question why our Ministry of External Affairs had failed to engage Nepal for any meaningful solution to the floods of North Bihar. The column-centimetres devoted to Bangladesh's flood problems and India's role in it in the 'national' newspapers would be order of magnitude more than to our own North Bihar's problem!!! There are no central universities, IITs, IIMs, CSIR labs or DRDO Labs in the land of Nalanda and Vikramshila. Yet the 'national' press has failed to see the injustice of it all. The modern highways of the Golden Quadrilateral and the East West corridor would avoid each town and city in the twin state of Jharkhand and Bihar like plague. Muzaffarpur is the only exception to prove the rule that the planners at Delhi consider each Bihari population centres unfit to be served by these modern means of communication. Yet these have never been sought to be highlighted by the 'national' fourth estate.

I have reasons to believe that the national planning commission refused to clear the Ganga Bridge at Patna in late sixties saying it is economically unfeasible. These so called journalists who are so vocal in seeing each transfer and posting done by Govt of Bihar through the prism of caste considerations have never sought to question this. From the power enjoyed by the son of Jagjiwan Babu to that of Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav and now by the family of Lalu Yadav, the national press has always highlighted how Bihar is the fountain head of dynastic politics. Yet they refused to acknowledge the contribution of the brilliant engineer Neel Kanth Prasad, son of former CM KB Sahay, who kept the dream of the Ganga Bridge alive in spite of very limited resources in extremely trying circumstances and managed to execute it successfully. This great hero of Bihar finds no mention in any 'National' press.

In the nineties, the newsmagazines and the electronic media started to gain prominence and the importance of the Old lady of Boribunder and the Virgin Spinster of Chennai started to loose their importance in the National media. For sometime, there was relief as the new media barons sought to portray new ground. However, this was a short-lived honeymoon. Soon the new media discovered the power of denigrating Bihar to further their financial success. If one examines the news related to Bihar in the 'national' English press of this period, one would instead find the three issues of Land Reforms, Casteism and Criminalization of Politics. Like a broken record, each of these three issues was repeated to death. The portrayal became so hackneyed and to a script that one could almost predict the 'news' without going through it. Many journalistic careers were launched over the debris of Bihar by the tried and tested formula of raising these triple issues. Soon they found the success educated Biharis were seeing in various competitive examinations like civil services and officers of the bank and the issue of the corruption in education was added. Among these four, you could cover by far the majority of the articles on Bihar in the 'national' English media. I sometimes wondered if there was a special subject in journalism to indoctrinate the budding journalists in them.

Sometime around this period, the National media discovered Lalu and his rusticity and they had a new stick to beat Bihar. Mind you, Lalu was introduced only as a character in the script, the issues remained the same. None of the issues that Lalu stood for ever got a column centimetre of space. No consideration was spared for what Lalu meant to his constituency. It was either hate Lalu or love Lalu. If the journalist hated Lalu, he lamented what Bihar had become thereby giving full verbosity to his bile. If he loved Lalu, he would lament what Lalu had inherited, again repeating the same three or four points that I have mentioned above. Either way, Bihar came out as the living hell that the two types of journalists took turn to describe. And thus we stumbled into the twentieth century. If this were a joke, one would have had a hearty laugh. Unfortunately, this was the question of the future of so many youths from Bihar who would be joining the job market in days to come.

Modern Times Bihar haters

In this media savvy age, image is as important if not more important than the real stuff. We just can't afford to ignore the image anymore. With the objective to get a fair coverage to Bihar and Bihari, I would now try to analyse the characteristics of the modern Bihar bashers who increasingly operate in the interactive and instantaneous mode. The modern mainstream media is largely TV led since the channels are the ones with the power of money. The visual impact scores over every other way of reaching out to the audience.

The instantaneous nature of coverage by TV ensures there is little time to verify what is being reported. The visual appeal ensures that anecdotal evidence scores over well researched material. The debate format of coverage ensures that one can use casual language to bring home one's point. This also affords the opportunity to hit below the belt and draw instant conclusions.

This then brings us to the examination of the types of the modern era Bihar bashers whom I prefer to call the Oye Bihari Brigade or OBBs for short.

The most influential of the OBBs are the pseudo liberals. They are very fluent in English and are educated at a particular college of Delhi University. Many of them also have a degree from UK. They are a throwback to the days when going abroad itself was an achievement. Acquiring a degree abroad was the equivalent of being blue blood, even if the degree was in some obscure subject from some obscure university. They use a language that is quite peculiar, let us call it OBBLISH. It has heavy usage of terms like Biharisation, or Biharism as if these have already replaced terms like hopeless, dregs of the society and uncouth from the lexicon of English. It is as if the editorial board of the Oxford English Dictionary had already adopted this OBBLISH term into its latest edition.

Then comes the OBB category of the Bully. They are the unabashed Bihar haters. Not very sophisticated, the intensity of their hate is the highest. They were probably beaten by a Bihari in whatever pursuit they had undertaken in their younger days and carry that to this day. They are most likely to have a Bihar connection, though the connection is often tenuous, like marriage to a Bihari or posting of the parent in Bihar when they were kids. Short on self confidence, they have to denigrate something to feel better, and Bihar and Biharis are the easiest targets. Usage of OBBLISH is the highest in this category since they are always in the race with the pseudo liberal described above. They are also the easiest to spot. Due to the high intensity of their hate towards Bihar, they lose their influence pretty fast and are consigned to the dustbin of history. However, there are always new ones joining rank ensuring an unbroken chain of this variety.

The next category is of the prodigal child – he comes in two varieties: One who altogether denies his Bihari roots and clings on to his Cal/Noida/Mumbai/UK/US education or upbringing. In the Delhi Univ of the seventies, they were called the Harrys. The second variety of the prodigal son is loud in his proclamation of Bihari roots, but feels if he can be equally stringent in his criticism of Bihar, somehow the 'sin' of his Bihari roots would be washed away. Insensitivity to Bihari sensitivity is rather conspicuous in his demeanour as he is well aware of the Bihari sensitivity in the first place. A variant of this type is the eternal moralist who was born to find fault in the Bihari culture. From usage of Khaini to consumption of Sattu, he can find fault in the most innocent of situations. He can always find an explanation as to why Biharis are not doing well. If you want to provoke this type, criticise someone who is criticising Bihar and watch the fun.

Radio Raghav - Illegal Yes, but Who is Culpable?

On March 27th 2006, a team from the I&B ministry accompanies by local district authorities swooped down at Mansoorpur and closed the three year old FM radio station run by Raghav Mahto. The community radio station which was spreading socially useful messages like Pulse Polio programme besides providing entertainment was shut down.

A grassroots innovator had nurtured a dream in spite of very severe lack of resources and not having much formal education, improving his radio station month by month, where it could be heard in a radius of up to sixteen kilometres. He could have been a role model for innovation and social entrepreneurship. However, our system chose to condemn him to illegality.

A reading of the Indian broadcasting law indeed renders the running of the radio station illegal. The moot question still remains, who is culpable?

Low cost FM broadcasting technology suited for community radio service that can be used over a small local area has been available for decades. However, how many FM stations do we have in India outside major cities? Absolutely none. It is a tragedy of unparalleled proportions that in spite of almost sixty years of democracy, elitism of the “Dilli Darbar” coupled with a totally misplaced sense of national good has prevented our masses from benefiting from such technology. Gandhiji had said that ‘The soul of India lives in its villages’. Our rulers continue to destroy that soul with an impunity that would have done the former colonial rulers proud.

Alas, we have several parallels of equally misplaced priorities and ill conceived policies. If we wind back to the eighties, older readers would recall how much of a hassle getting a telephone was. One could easily have to wait for up to five years to get one. Rulers of the day felt telephone was a luxury and hence made inadequate investment into it. Private parties were not allowed to invest in it. When Sam Pitroda tried to revolutionise the telecom sector, he had to face many challenges. Ludicrously, when he came up with the idea of public call offices (PCOs) so that hee could take the benefits of whatever infrastructure was there to the masses, responsible guardians of the society actually opposed it saying criminal and antinational activities may go up! Life was made so difficult for him that he had a heart attack and ultimately had to leave India a second time sometime around 1990.

Mercifully, the wireless revolution happened in the telecom sector and now India can boast of the cheapest telecom service anywhere in the world.

Television was kept in a similar vice like grip. A large state like Bihar was without a single full fledged television studio (or Doordarshan Kendra) during the heydays of Doordarshan. To be honest, the situation was somewhat better because of the farsighted I&B minister Vasant Sathe who had ushered in the low power transmitter (LPT) revolution during the Asian Games of 1982. The successor of Sathe, Ajit Panja thought it fit to vandalise the Upgraha Doordarhan Kendra, Muzaffarpur when he wanted a “Metro” studio at Calcutta. Equipment and staff were transferred out without any regard to the local sentiments.

The revolution happened when STAR (Satellite Television Asia Region) of Hong Kong started beaming four free to air channels to India via satellite. Soon we had indigenous programming by Zee TV due to the vision of Subhash Chandra and a new industry was born. Again, Indian cable TV is the cheapest in the world where we get more than 100 channels for the princely sum of Rs 200 per month. Sadly, till date, terrestrial television continues to be a preserve of the government machinery and therefore continues to languish.

Twice within twenty years, technological innovation came to the rescue of the masses when the elitist “Mantralayas” of Delhi tried to stifle progress. Is it too much to expect that the ministry concerned shows better sense this time around? Can we expect some changes in the laws which make community radio stations like Radio Raghav legal and commercially viable? We had learnt at school that Democracy is a government by the people, of the people, and equally crucially “for” the people.

With an economist as a PM and a good man as a CM, let us hope we would be third time lucky.

Patna Rice, a Killer Geographic Indicator

Rice is the most popular grain in the world, even more than wheat. It is consumed by most of Asia as the main staple and is used as a side dish in Europe, Africa and America. Thus it is a commodity with tremendous potential in world trade. And Patna Rice can be a huge geographic indicator with tremendous business potential.

For the purposes of all the readers, let me explain the term Geographic Indicator or GI for short. GI is used for produce of a particular geographic area. For example Champagne for the sparkling wine from the eponymous district in France or Scotch for the whisky distilled in Scotland. Near home, we have Darjeeling tea and Basmati rice. Over a period of time, the term gets associated with high quality and sells for a much higher price than a similar produce from another area. For example, world renowned sommeliers admit on record that sparkling wine from other areas is equally good, but Champaign continues to demand a premium pricing. These geographic indicators are guarded very zealously and produce of other place cannot use the name.

Readers would recall the controversy over Basmati rice that erupted a few years back and the Government of India and Pakistan got together to thwart the attempts of Texan farmers to use the name. Thus now only the rice grown in the foothills of Himalaya can be sold by the name of Basmati rice. While it is commendable that the Govt of India took this step for Basmati, it is really sad Patna rice as a GI continues to languish.

Like so many other good things from Bihar, I myself was unaware of it till quite late in my life. Though having been born and brought at Patna, I heard about it for the first time in Germany. For me it was a wonderful experience to be associated with an exotic merchandise rather than the patronising attitude that one faces within India when one utters the word Patna.

To tell a little bit about rice, there are some 40,000 varieties of rice under the same botanical species: oryza sativa. The most common classification is by the length of the grain: Long Grain, Medium Grain and Short Grain.

Long-grain rice, as the name suggests, is long and slender. The grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking. This is the best suited for rice served as a side dish, or as a bed for sauces.

Medium-grain rice is plumper and the grain is shorter. It is considered good for paella and risotto.

Short-grain rice is almost round, with moist grains that stick together giving it a gooey appearance when cooked.

The terms "Indica" and "Japonica" could be taken to mean "long grain and non-sticky" and "short grain and sticky" respectively and represent the two ends of the spectrum. The westerners, either in America or in Europe including UK, find long grain rice suitable for their style of cooking. Within these broad categories there are innumerable varieties and I would deal with some of them in this article.

The western cook books usually mean American long-grain rice when they refer to long-grain rice. Carolina Rice is considered the best among the American Long Grain. Intriguingly, rice is no longer grown in Carolina. The name indicates to a past when the British gentry wanted to savour rice but found it rare and expensive. Some British merchants dealing in Patna Rice took the grain from India to Carolina which was then a British colony and grew it there. They made a rather decent job of it. To this day, the best American rice is called Carolina rice though its cultivation was ceased there at the end of the American Civil War. Most of American long grain in now grown in Arkansas, California, Texas or Argentina and Brazil in South America.

When I recently did a search on Google for Patna Rice, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very large number of hits at fairly credible sources. A similar search on Basmati rice had fewer results and there were almost none for Dehradun Rice or Doon Rice.

In Bihar, we use terms like Parimal or Rani Kajal and Badshah Bhog for good quality rice. However, a wonderful opportunity awaits us by way of the name Patna Rice which has instant recognition the world over.

In popular global perception, Patna rice has a robust, long and narrow, opaque grain that keeps its shape well for curries. It has a mild fragrance and has been grown for millennia. Basmati rice is found referred to as a close relative of Patna Rice, having a nutty taste and a stronger aroma. describes Carolina and Patna rice as “the most esteemed in England and the United States. The grain of the first is round and flat, and boils soft for puddings; the latter has a long and narrow grain that keeps its shape well for curries”

Website :

Authentic “Patna” is considered the king of rice. It is described as “The most expensive long-grained Indian rice, aged for two years to enhance its fragrance and texture. Worth the extra money.”


Westerners erroneously do not differentiate between Carolina Rice and Patna Rice and use the term interchangeably. Please see website :

American long-grain (which includes Carolina rice) has a somewhat bland flavour. The popularity could be due to the price and availability since long grain from India is rather rare and expensive. The situation should be considered analogous to Wine. While Wine from say Napa Valley is quite good, it is not quite the same as the wine from France.

Patna rice is considered the best for use with curries. (

The craving for genuine long grained rice with decent flavour that a westerner feels can be gauged from the question put up by an expatriate British in Thailand:

Observe the surprise of a gourmet when he finds the rice he is served is authentic Patna “It's really Patna!"

There are so many legends that exist around Patna rice that a nice story can be woven around it.

The earliest written reference to the rice grown near Patna is in the Buddhist literature at the time of Gautam Buddha himself. Rice gruel is referred to as offerings to Lord Buddha when he went around asking for daily alms. Reference can also be found about varieties of rice being superior and inferior quality.

There is reference to the rice from the region in the travelogue of Hiuen Tsang, the seventh century Chinese traveller to India. He spent considerable time at Nalanda. He was served a strain of Patna rice called Mahasali rice. He describes it as “grain was as large as a bean, and when cooked, was aromatic, and shining like no other rice”
Source :

Yet another reference to the rice of Patna is in Ain –I-Akbari written by Abul Fazal, the court historian of Mughal king Akbar. He collected various strains of rice grown around Patna and reported that even if one grain of each strain was taken, it would fill a large vase.

Europeans took to the rice of the region in a big way in the seventeenth century. Fortunes of several merchants were built by dealing in Patna rice. The most celebrated is the case of William Fullarton of Skeldon UK. Having made his fortune by dealing in Patna Rice, he returned to the UK. He started a coal mining business in Scotland. He felt so obligated to Patna that he named the hamlet he built for his miners as Patna. To this day, this town in East Ayrshire, Scotland is called Patna.

Source: area/patna.asp

There was a town in US also which was called Patna but the name has now been changed. I have not been able to authenticate whether that also has a rice connection, but I suspect it would be so.

Since at one time, most of the rice sold in Europe came from this region, Patna Rice is also sometimes loosely used to mean any long grain aromatic rice.

Let me end with a poser: What can we as a community can do to unlock the value of this goldmine of a Geographic Indicator? Can we attempt to come up with an action plan?

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.