What Makes Bihar an Easy Target of Hate?

Regional fault lines have always existed in this country but what is most depressing is the fact that certain politicians, driven by narrow political motives, seek to exacerbate these divisions.
Keywords: Bihar, Politics, Language, Regional, Development, Aspirations, Economy, Elections
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As someone hailing from Bihar, I find it disheartening and offensive when individuals, lacking sufficient knowledge about my state, make inappropriate and derogatory remarks. Unfortunately, it has become a trend to unfairly attribute the challenges faced by other states to the people of UP and Bihar, which is both unjust and perpetuates stereotypes.

Recently, Dayanidhi Maran, a senior member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, made an extremely distasteful remark about Hindi-speaking people from Bihar and UP, suggesting that they are primarily involved in “building houses” and “cleaning toilets” in Tamil Nadu. Maran’s derogatory comments targeting the people of Bihar and UP are not an isolated incident, it is part of a concerning trend of humiliation and stereotyping.

In August this year when Himachal Pradesh was faced with massive flooding and destruction, the state’s CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu blamed the flaws in the design on “Bihari architects”. 

In a public address in Delhi a few years ago, Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, attributed long hospital queues to people from Bihar, making an insensitive comment that implied individuals from Bihar exploit the healthcare system. He stated, “One person from Bihar buys a ticket to Delhi for Rs 500 and returns after availing free treatment worth Rs 5 lakhs.”

Similarly, in 2018, Kamal Nath, a senior Congress leader, asserted that individuals from Bihar and UP were taking away job opportunities from the youth of Madhya Pradesh.

The attacks on the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Maharashtra in 2008 remain vivid in our collective memory. The violence against North Indians during that period was fomented by the provocations of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray who gave his followers a free hand to assault hapless workers from Bihar and UP.

The list is long!

Regional fault lines have always existed in this country but what is most depressing is the fact that certain politicians, driven by narrow political motives, seek to exacerbate these divisions. However, the issue here must not be solely viewed through a moral lens but rather in a broader context.

The primary root of the problem lies in the evident economic disparity between regions and in flawed policy measures adopted by successive governments that have resulted in uneven development across the country. Poverty is the biggest crime a state perpetrates against its citizens. It represents a profound moral failing on the part of the state, as it constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights to its people. The state, by neglecting its duty to ensure access to essentials such as sufficient food, clean water, shelter, education, healthcare, and meaningful employment, compels its people to endure a life bereft of dignity. This failure to fulfill its most basic responsibilities places the heaviest burden on the most vulnerable members of society, perpetuating a cycle of deprivation and amplifying social inequalities. 

There is no gainsaying the fact that the economically advanced states have derived substantial advantages from the abundant and cost-effective labor pool originating from poorer states such as Bihar and UP. The remarkable industrial progress and consequent economic prosperity in these states owe much of their success to the labor force sourced from economically disadvantaged regions. Furthermore, even states like Punjab and Haryana owe their exceptional achievements in agriculture to the contributions of agricultural laborers hailing from less developed states.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar jointly account for half of total out-migrants. A 2017 report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation stated that 17 districts accounted for the top 25% of India’s total male out-migration, with ten of them being in Bihar in UP, six in Bihar, and one in Odisha. Notably, states like Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Haryana have been among the major recipients of the migrant workforce. The economic advancement of certain states owes a lot to the contribution of economically disadvantaged ones.

When we talk about economic disparity Bihar serves as an interesting case study.

It is noteworthy that until the mid-fifties, Bihar’s economy demonstrated competitiveness, despite challenges such as the regressive land tenure system adopted during British rule and the freight equalization policy introduced in 1952 by Prime Minister Nehru. Despite the latter’s intention to promote equal industrial growth across the country, it inadvertently ended up confining most industries to specific pockets, deeply damaging industrial prospects for several northern states. Nevertheless, Bihar performed commendably on economic parameters during this period. It played a pivotal role in India’s agricultural landscape, contributing 25% to the country’s sugar output and growing 50% of horticultural products.

Additionally, Bihar accounted for 29% of the total rice and wheat production in the country, firmly establishing itself as an agricultural powerhouse in the post-independence era. The pace of industrialisation was also satisfactory during the period between 1950 and 1980 which saw concerted efforts to industrialise the northern half of the state, resulting in significant projects such as an oil refinery in Barauni, the Barauni Fertiliser Plant, Barauni Thermal Power Station, a motor scooter plant at Fatuha, and power plants in Muzaffarpur, Bharat Wagon and Engineering Works at Muzaffarpur, and Mokama.

Bihar had been the biggest victim of economic mismanagement arising from severe political instability. From 1961 to 1990, the state witnessed a staggering turnover of leadership, with 23 Chief Ministers and 5 instances of President’s rule, creating a huge governance deficit. Even in the post-1990 era, when the state reached a semblance of political stability, it continued to grapple with acute misgovernance and administrative paralysis. The poor governance reflected itself in the perceptible decline in the state’s economic fortune. During the 1990s when the country was growing at the rate of 7.25%, Bihar’s economy grew by a meager 3.19%. Per capita income in the 1990s grew by 0.12% in Bihar, as against 4.08% observed at the national level.

Political leadership in Bihar bears ultimate responsibility for persistently maintaining the state in an economically fragile condition, especially when compared to the proactive efforts of other states towards achieving economic prosperity. While other states were taking long strides to bolster their economy, the ruling establishment in Bihar remained entrenched in casteism and a distorted interpretation of socialism. The partition of Bihar in 2000, resulting in the loss of all remaining industries, combined with the unimaginable deterioration in the law-and-order situation during the Lalu-Rabri rule, transformed Bihar into a ‘basket case’ with little hope for the future. The notoriety acquired by the state during the fifteen years of the Lalu-Rabri government still casts a haunting shadow and remains the most prominent factor behind the repeated humiliation of Bihari workers in different parts of the country.

There has been a widespread perception in the policy circle that the Eastern part of India, – particularly states like Bihar, UP, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and MP – is responsible for keeping India backward. After decades of neglecting the imperative for development in historically disadvantaged states, there appears to be a genuine recognition by the central government of the critical necessity to foster economic prosperity in these traditionally marginalised regions. States like Bihar urgently require a coordinated effort to bring about reform involving both the state and central governments. After all, India cannot achieve its optimum growth potential by depriving one-tenth of its people of their development aspirations.

Lastly, political leaders must appreciate our rich cultural diversity and the collective strength that comes from unity. At a time when India is all geared up for a rapid transformation, indulging in unnecessary inter-regional conflicts will only harm our collective aspirations. Leaders must adopt an inclusive discourse and work at bridge-building between regions and communities, steering away from divisive tactics that may yield short-term gains but jeopardise the nation’s long-term progress.

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Abhijeet Sriwastava

Abhijeet Sriwastava is the Head of Policy Research of Bihar Bharatiya Janata Party.

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