Migration crisis wasn’t handled well by Nitish government: Shaibal Gupta

Shaibal Gupta, social scientist at Asian Development Research Institute, spoke to DTE on Bihar polls and its national importance

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Tuesday 10 November 2020

It is D-day after the first election in India amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The process of counting the votes cast in the Bihar Assembly elections started November 10, 2020 morning. But an increased number of electronic voting machines have slowed the process down and only about a quarter of the votes could reportedly be counted by early afternoon.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance dominated the trends, thanks to several leads by the Bharatiya Janata Party; but Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) was not being able to match up.

On the other hand, main challenger Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal was running second with little support from chief ally Congress though the Left parties were putting up a stellar show.

After long, these state elections were about issues of the common man — jobs, education, health, etc — in which Bihar has lagged behind considerably. Down To Earth spoke to social scientist Shaibal Gupta, who has been known to have advised Kumar earlier, on the issues that matter. Edited excerpts:

Imran Khan: How are the state assembly elections going to be critical for Bihar and its development?

Shaibal Gupta: The polls are significant for we were experiencing an economic slowdown well before the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic struck. There was a general decline in India.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process of decline. The critical question is how we are managing the pandemic as well as India’s most severe economic slide.

The most important question in the election is whether the new government would be able to bring economic resurgence. Until and unless that is done, we would not be able to make a breakthrough.

A lot of welfare measures have been initiated and implemented in Bihar by Nitish Kumar. His government did a lot of work, but a sense of ownership is absent. There needs to be a sense of economic empowerment.

IK: What do Bihar polls mean for the country? How will its outcome impact the country?

SG: I don’t think Bihar elections will mean anything for the country. This is not a popularity test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In most elections held in the Hindi heartland in recent years, people were furious at the incumbent government and not at the PM.

Some impact, nonetheless, may be felt in the Hindi heartland.

IK: Bihar witnessed a wave of reverse migration after a lockdown was imposed in the wake of COVID-19. The state has not handled it properly. How do you see it?

SG: It’s true that the migration crisis was not handled properly by the state government. There is anger among the migrant population.

IK: Is it not true that rojgari (employment) or berojgari (unemployment), an agenda of election campaign, was set by opposition chief ministerial face Tejashwi Yadav this time?

SG: Employment is a general problem and not Bihar-specific. But in Bihar unemployment is much higher than in other places

The present government has done a lot of things, but it has not ensured a general economic development.

Tejashwi’s promise of one million government jobs during the election campaign is not financially feasible. I don’t know as an economist, and I don’t know where he will get the funds for the things he has promised. Government posts do not get filled up due to lack of resources.

Bihar has a small market and little revenue.

IK: Till early October, national experts predicted easy return of Nitish Kumar-led government; but by October-end, the situation changed.

SG: Things changed when Lok Janshakti Party president Chirag Paswan started abusing Nitish Kumar with the sanction of the BJP. The BJP wanted to cut the size of Nitish Kumar.

The abuse was like a self-goal that was the doing of the BJP; its leaders maintained total silence over Paswan.

IK: Do you think an Opposition victory in Bihar would be a morale booster and make any difference at the national level?

SG: It would be a morale booster but would not make any difference. The Opposition is divided; it will not be able to take on Modi.

Nitish wanted to do a lot on the basic development front such as water to all agriculture fields; he pushed the agenda of development, but several things still need to be done.

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