The people of Bihar are frustrated at having to grapple with its mounting law and order problems such as kidnappings and extortion, when they see the rest of the nation making giant strides in different fields. The last thing they need is a spat between two important State functionaries.

Rasheeda Bhagat

TORCHING of buses, gunning down of people, kidnapping for ransom and extortion threats continue to plague Bihar. Considered with horror elsewhere, especially in the South, such things have become passé in the State.

Even as the United Progressive Alliance Government has cleared the decks for the extension by another six months of President's rule imposed in March one wonders what people in the State feel when they hear the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, saying how his recent US visit had filled him with a "deep sense of pride" at the kind of respect India gets from the developed world.

Or, when they read the innumerable stories about the economic, scientific, technological, educational and other strides India is making.

From all accounts, the four months of President's rule, which some quarters hoped would relieve Bihar from the stranglehold of 15 years of Lalu Prasad rule, have hardly changed the ground reality.

The President's rule was clamped under controversial circumstances, and when it looked like the National Democratic Alliance would after all manage to cobble together a government as it had all but split Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party.

The accusations of horse-trading notwithstanding, there was reason to believe that the UPA had scuttled the chances of a legitimate government being formed in Patna, and mainly to pacify its ally Mr Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The dissolution of the Assembly has been challenged by the NDA in the Supreme Court and some Bihar watchers believe there is a good chance of the Apex Court restoring the Assembly. Election dates are yet to be announced for fresh polls in Bihar and, hence, the need to extend President's rule.

But, right now, the Bihar Governor, Mr Buta Singh's controversial decision to transfer 17 senior officers has had its fallout, with the Chief Secretary, Mr G. S. Kang, proceeding on leave in protest.

With many of the State's IAS officersbacking Mr Kang, the Governor had to rush to New Delhi on Monday to meet the Union Home Minister, Mr Shivraj Patil. Mr Patil reportedly advised him to act with restraint and prevent the situation from snowballing.

According to media reports, Round 1 has gone to Mr Kang, with the Governor visiting his house to request him to return to work.

Right now, Bihar holds an important position in the national scheme of things, and the NDA has smelt blood in terms of getting a court order restoring the Assembly, which would give it an opportunity to stake a claim to form the government. And, if that fails, in the event of a fresh election, it looks as though it is better placed than the RJD to emerge victorious.

So important is Bihar to the NDA, particularly the battered BJP, that the RSS has put on hold its demand for the ouster of Mr L. K. Advani from the BJP's leadership, till the elections to the State are over.

But while the BJP, aided undoubtedly by Mr Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United) not to mention the disarray in Mr Paswan's camp, is moving in for the kill in Bihar, the Congress(I) is showing no signs of getting its act together.

Having played second fiddle to the RJD, and then committing the fatal error of not having a full-fledged alliance but only an informal understanding with it during the Assembly polls, perhaps with the dream of forming a coalition government with the LJP, the Congress emerged with a mere 10 seats.

Much much-chastened, it quickly gave a letter of support to Ms Rabri Devi, who had 75 MLAs, and had got the support of some other MLAs from the NCP, the Left and the Bahujan Samaj Party. But she still fell short of the magic number of 122 in a House with a strength of 243.

With Mr Paswan stubbornly refusing to support a government that had either the RJD or the BJP, there was little hope of seeing a stable set up in Patna.

As the frustrated LJP legislators showed the first signs of cracking, the party was almost split by the NDA, which harboured hopes of forming a government, till Mr Buta Singh nipped things in the bud by recommending the dissolution of the Assembly.

On the performance of the administration during President's rule, Dr Shaibal Gupta, Member Secretary of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), says that in the first two months of President's rule, the citizens could see "marginal improvement in the administration, primarily because the IAS officers, who for long years had taken no ownership in the government, now did so." Because they took "full ownership" of the administration and became "pro-active", the positive results of this move could be seen at the ground level.

He thinks this was made possible by the Congress(I), the main party in the UPA coalition, which saw in this development an opportunity to assert itself and "tame Lalu".

This strategy worked; administrators in key positions were given a free hand, and this translated to a "marginal improvement" in the State.

"But when the Left parties started attacking the UPA government on its divestment policies, the Congress thought it necessary to drop the plan of taming Lalu and felt that, on the other hand, it should make all attempts to get Lalu's total support to strengthen its position at the Centre.

This practically made Lalu the ruler in Bihar, and all the confusion you are seeing now the tussle between the Governor and the Chief Secretary is a result of this development," says Dr Gupta.

On how the present impasse could end, he says that, "It all depends on New Delhi; if Mr Buta Singh gets support from New Delhi, then the IAS officer lobby will have to step back, because IAS officers can take a stand on an issue up to a certain point, but have to capitulate beyond that."

On Lalu having his hands full with legal cases and courtroom battles and their likely outcome, he says, "That will again depend on the Centre, whether we like it or not, court cases in our country are not only legal but also political issues."

Dr Gupta raises an interesting point of debate when he says that in India today, "we have two kinds of politics sunrise politics and sunset politics.

In States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, we have sunset politics, where the agenda of the State is much more important. But in States such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka, you have sunrise politics, where the markets are more important.

Unfortunately for Bihar, at a time when sunset politics are shrinking on the national landscape, we have to reckon only with this kind of politics."

Concerned about the future of Bihar, he says that many people like him feel frustrated when they see the rest of the nation making giant strides in different fields, even as Bihar has to grapple with its mounting law and order problems such as kidnappings and extortion.

On the prospects of the major political parties in the Assembly elections, whenever it is held, Dr. Gupta says: "It is still too early to hazard a projection on that count. But as things appear now, both the NDA and the RJD will improve their position at the cost of the Congress(I) and Mr Paswan. As of now it appears that the NDA has a better chance but I doubt that anybody will get the magic figure of 122 that is required to form the Government."

If that happens, the "sunset" politics of Bihar, already in a dark and murky phase will only get worse, as politicians of political aspirations of all hues start fishing in the State's troubled waters.

At the end of the day, the real disappointment is that the hopes of those who thought governance in Bihar would see better times once released from the RJD's stranglehold have been belied.

The last thing a tottering administration needs is the Governor having a spat with the Chief Secretary. But, then, Mr Buta Singh, has done just that, adding to the dismal record of some other Congress-appointed Governors in States such as Goa and Jharkhand.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 3, 2005)
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