Bihar is again the talk of the town, and as usual, for all the wrong reasons. This time for the unprecedented waterlogging in its capital city that has arrested national attention. 

The incessant rain for a week brutally exposed the State’s capital drainage system. And remember, if this happened in Patna, the State’s capital, imagine the plight of other cities of the State. The situation of other prominent cities of Bihar such as Muzaffarpur, Hazipur, Darbhanga, among others, was no less horrendous, but these cities didn’t get the identical National Media attention that they deserved. Patna is just a tip of the iceberg.

The State’s Chief Minister Mr. Nitish Kumar may bizarrely claim that such situation has arisen as a result of constant raining in ‘Hathiya Nakshatra’ but the fact of the matter remains that the situation has brought to the Nation’s eyes an elephantine failure of his administration and governance model. How can a Chief Minister hide behind ‘Hathiya Nakshatra’ or ‘Ghodwa Nakshatra’ for the blatant failure of the State’s capital drainage system?

This is not only an outlandish statement to make in the first place but to a great extent shameful too. Had it been made by any random illiterate politician, it could have been snubbed, but the same coming from a State’s Chief Minister makes it entirely unacceptable for any prudent mind.

I currently reside in Odisha, a State considered poor on many counts, but the world saw how efficiently it dealt with some of the worst cyclones such as Fani and Titli that it faced in recent time. Around 11 lakhs people were successfully evacuated before Fani could hit the Odisha’s cost. The same alacrity and caution was displayed during Titli cyclone by evacuating 3 lakhs people before the cyclone hit the State’s shores.

The internationally reputed leading American Daily ‘The New York Times’ too showered praise for Odisha’s handling of these potentially catastrophic cyclones that could bring a devastating consequences for the State inhabitants if proper precaution and care would not have been taken by the State. Most recently, the State of Gujarat, much hyped in terms of development, had to seek assistance of Odisha for evacuating people during Vayu Cyclone that had hit the Gujarat’s shores in June 2019.

One is a poor State like Odisha that can so efficiently handle such potentially disastrous cyclones that eventually garnered the praise of the International Media and one is Bihar whose Chief Minister tends to hide the elephantine failure of the State’s drainage system behind ‘Hathiya Nakshatra’. The Nation saw live that how even the Deputy Chief Minister of the State Mr. Sushil Kumar Modi had to be evacuated by the NDRF team.

As per reports, around 1400 villages in 15 districts of the State are affected. Dead animal carcasses are still floating at many places in Patna. Several diseases are expected to spread. Already, around 400 people are being treated for dengue in Patna alone. 55 deaths have been reported from all across the State. The situation is not only pathetic but chilling too.

Not only Nitish Kumar has made astonishing claims but he got infuriated at Media too, a trait that is ordinarily alien to his personality. Lambasting at a reporter’s question on Bihar’s flood, he even went on to say that the reporter doesn’t understand even the ABCD of the issue. A generally calm and Cool, Mr. Kumar’s fulmination at Media highlights his impatience, nervousness and fear, may be for his political future.

In the past one year or so, Bihar’s brutal reality of its administrative and governance failure on some of the vital State’s functions have hit the National headlines.

Take for instance, Muzaffarpur Shelter home case, it has exposed the failed law and order situation of the State. So many mighty and moneyed are expected to be involved in this sordid and chilling episode but even the names of most of them have not come to public light yet. Had the Supreme Court not intervened, the matter would have been silently buried in all probability.

The law and order situation in Bihar is continuously deteriorating. Murders, extortions and rapes are again becoming mundane affairs in the State. I would not equate the present situation with the RJD’s real Jungle Raj, as that would be an exaggeration and injustice, but it has certainly deteriorated a lot if it is to be compared with Nitish’s first term.

It appears that Nitish is not paying adequate attention to law and order issue now as he had paid during his first term and to a great extent in his second term too. The fact of the matter remains that he got seated at Bihar’s Chief Ministerial throne in 2005, by vehemently opposing RJD’s Jungle Raj, a term used to signify the then blatant failure of law and order machinery of Bihar during RJD’s rule.

Similarly, again this very Muzaffarpur exposed the horrendous health care facilities offered by the State to its people. The encephalitis outbreaks in the city took hundreds of small children lives. The issue attracted not only National Media attention but the international too. Despite an unprecedented public and Media outcry, very little could be done to save the dying children. The whole State’s government machinery appeared helpless like it appears now in the Bihar’s flood situation.

The Centre also couldn’t do much except paying customary visit by the health minister Dr. Harshvardhan and posting some tweets by its senior leaders. Mangal Pandey, the top BJP leader and the health minister of Bihar was caught on camera asking the cricket score during a press conference organized to address the issue of dying children because of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Mr. Ashwini Kumar Choubey, the Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, another prominent BJP leader, was meeting and greeting his supporters in Bhagalpur during this time of extreme healthcare crisis in his home State. He was later recorded on live camera taking a nap during a Press conference organized to address the encephalitis issue.

In January 2017, a boat got capsized in the Ganga River in Patna in which 25 people died, including a boy from my neighbouring village. Now, one may say such incidents happen at other places in other States too. But, what differentiates this incident of Bihar is, it happened because of a lack of even ordinary arrangement by the State government to avert any untoward incident that even the most sluggish administration would have taken care of.

The tourism department of the State government had organized a kite flying festival on the occasion of Makar Sankranti in Sabalpur diara (riverine) on the other side of River Ganga. The people went in big numbers and enjoyed the whole day. In the evening, there were no enough boats for the people to return. As the evening got darker, the people started panicking for their return. The anxiousness of the people to return was obvious and genuine. There should have been arrangement of sufficient number of boats for people to return if it was organised by the tourism department of the State, but it was not. As a result, around 40 to 50 people boarded a small boat despite operator’s protest. The boat capsized just before it was to reach the bank as a result of which around 25 people died.

Now, the simple question is who is responsible for these deaths? The obvious answer is the great mismanagement of the State. There are multiple instances of such mismanagement and the failure of the governmental machinery in the past few years. Bihar’s current flood is an extreme extensions of such intermittent episodes of mismanagement and failure already occurring in the State.

The most vital question that comes to people’s mind is what options the people of State are left with, in political and electoral terms? To my understanding, the memory of RJD’s Jungle Raj still haunts the common men’ minds. The people of Bihar are tolerating all this nonsense of Nitish Kumar only because of the fear of return of RJD’s Jungle Raj.

The fact that Nitish Kumar has remained the State’s Chief Minister for three consecutive terms has made him bit arrogant. Surrounded by sycophants, he doesn’t like to accept the brutal reality of the State failing in all its major functions and on all major counts. This is why he is getting infuriated at questions posed to him. During encephalitis outbreak too, he had evaded questions of the Media.

As I see the present political situation of the State, the people of Bihar are stranded between the devil and the deep blue Sea, an unmatched Catch 22 situation. Only the upcoming State elections can determine which side they prefer to tilt towards to suffer next.

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Rohit Kumar

Rohit Kumar is a law graduate, an RTI activist and a former SBI Youth for India Fellow (2017-18) Batch.