How Nitish Kumar Failed Bihar

Jaideep Mazumdar

Feb 05, 2024, 01:01 PM | Updated 02:41 PM IST

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Nitish Kumar, whose frequent political somersaults have earned him the ignominious ‘Paltu Ram’ sobriquet, has also been a complete disaster as the Chief Minister of Bihar. 

Kumar, who has ruled the poverty-stricken and backward state almost uninterruptedly since November 2005 — except for the 278-day stint of Jitan Ram Manjhi (from May 2014 to February 2015) — has failed to pull Bihar out of the mess that the state found itself in after years of misgovernance under the RJD governments led by Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi.

Kumar had undeservedly been given the sushasan (good governance) babu tag by the ‘left-liberal’ media after he severed ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in June 2013 over his opposition to BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. 

That sushasan badge had, inexplicably, survived even though Bihar continued to wallow in poverty and backwardness, its healthcare and education infrastructure remained in shambles and even as its lakh of unemployed young men and women continued to migrate out of the state in search of mostly menial jobs. 

A look at numbers will be enough to bust the myth about Kumar’s so-called good governance. 

1. Bihar’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) has continued to be the lowest among major states of the country. In fact, over the years, Bihar’s GDP has been declining as compared to other major states. 

For instance, in 2011-2012, Bihar’s GDP was 34 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s GDP, 43 per cent of Gujarat’s GDP and 41 per cent of Karnataka’s GDP. 

Ten years later (2021-2022), Bihar’s GDP fell to 32 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s GDP, 35 per cent of Gujarat’s GDP and 33 per cent of Karnataka’s GDP. 

Economists contend that Bihar’s economy has remained stagnant and even declined while that of most other states have improved a lot. 

2. Bihar’s per capita income (PCI) is the lowest in India. Bihar’s net state domestic product (NSDP) has always been much below the national average — it was 70 per cent of the national average in 1960-1961.

But this figure fell to 33 per cent of the national average in 2005-2006. In what should make Nitish Kumar hang his head in shame, Bihar’s NSDP continues to hover at just one-third of the national average even now. 

Thus, Bihar’s per capita income has remained stagnant under the reign of sushasan babu

3. While the agricultural workforce has been declining sharply across major states of the country due to dwindling returns from agriculture, Bihar’s agricultural workforce increased by nearly 50 per cent from 12.5 million to nearly 19 million between 2017-2018 to 2022-2023. 

While the Covid-induced pandemic forced lakhs of workers to return to their native states, this has been much higher — proportionately — in Bihar. 

Also, due to closure of many industries and enterprises in Bihar over the years, and loss of jobs in the informal sector in the state, many Biharis who had blue-collar or menial jobs in industrial units and business enterprises went back to farming which yields subsistence or below-subsistence returns in the state. 

Bihar’s manufacturing sector registered a negative growth rate between 2017 and 2022. This rate fell by 1.1 per cent, and not just because of the pandemic. 

The number of industrial units — major, medium and small scale — operating in Bihar account for a measly 1.32 per cent of the total number of industrial units in India. 

Worse still, the net value added of the industrial units or factories in Bihar is a pathetic 0.5 per cent of the total value added by factories in the country. 

4. Other statistics and ranking also paint a very gloomy picture of the state. In the NITI Aayog's Ease of Doing Business rankings, Bihar was placed at 26 out of the 29 states. Naturally, Bihar receives very little investments: in 2021, the state received a miniscule 0.29 per cent of the total FDI flow into India. 

Bihar’s export basket is nearly empty, save for petroleum products from the Barauni refinery which makes for more than 60 per cent of the state’s total exports. 

Bihar’s current share of the total exports from states is a nearly negligible 0.52 per cent. NITI Aayog ranked Bihar ninth among 10 landlocked states in terms of export preparedness in 2022. 

5. Social indices: The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council ranked Bihar 35 among 36 states and Union Territories on the Social Progress Index (measuring social progress across basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity) in 2022. 

Nearly a third of Bihar’s households don’t have access to toilets while only 13 per cent households (the national average is nearly 36 per cent) have piped water connections. 

NITI Aayog put Bihar at 18th place among 19 states in its Health Performance Index for 2019-2020. 

Bihar ranks lowest among all major states in terms of the rates of neonatal mortality and infant mortality. 

The shortage of healthcare providers — doctors, paramedics and nurses — in public health facilities is the most acute in Bihar among all major states. At last count, nearly 60,000 posts of doctors and paramedics in public healthcare facilities were lying vacant in the state. 

NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index 2019 ranks Bihar at 19 among 20 major states in terms of quality of education in public schools. There is an acute shortage of teachers and non-teaching staff not only in schools, but also in colleges and universities across the state. 

The Good Governance Index (GGI) compiled by the Union Government’s Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances put Bihar at 15th place among 18 major states in 2021. This, more than anything else, busts the big lie about Kumar being sushasan babu

These are only a fraction of the statistics that go on to show that Bihar has continued to lag behind almost all other states of the country in terms of poverty alleviation, social and human development, ease of living, employment, creation of assets and many other indices and parameters. 

To be fair, the only creditworthy achievement of Kumar was to restore the rule of the law in Bihar when he came to power in 2005. He ended the jungle raj of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) regime under Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi. 

Kumar put an end to gang wars, dacoities, extortions, kidnappings for ransom and murders that were rampant under the RJD. He gave the police a free hand to crack down on criminals and ended lawlessness in Bihar. 

But a lot of that came under cloud when he joined hands with the RJD, first in 2013 and then again in 2022. 

In terms of development, however, Kumar has been a spectacular failure. He has failed to improve the state’s economy, create jobs, bring in investments and end poverty that Bihar continues to wallow in. 

That is why Nitish Kumar must realise that his rule has been quite disastrous and he needs to step down. The sushasan babu tag that he flaunts is an ill-deserved one. 

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