From Churchgate to Champaran

From Churchgate to Champaran

I wonder what it means when a south Bombay girl like myself who has never been to Bihar decides she really likes the state’s chief minister Nitish Kumar. That he is her favourite politician. I wonder if it’s even good for Kumar’s career if members of the country’s most politically apathetic constituency start thinking of him positively and publicly declare the same.

Some of you cynics might even call it the Bhojpurization of politics. You probably expect us Bombay girls to admire “lookers" such as Rahul Sipahi Gandhi and India’s youngest chief minister Omar Abdullah. Well, I’m not sure I subscribe to leadership that pits rich India against poor India. Or a CM who recently showed that he doesn’t believe in getting his hands dirty.

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Mumbai is driven by business and many of my city’s most influential industrialists have, in the past couple of years, indicated that Narendra Modi is their favourite politician. They enjoy doing business in his state. They believe he’s the only chief minister with a vision. Let’s just say that some of us don’t subscribe to that vision.

From a Bombay girl perspective, Bihar was always another, scarier India. It was a place where teenage girls rarely wore jeans to college; jeans were regulation dressing where I was growing up, the tighter the better. Champaran existed in my universe only thanks to director Prakash Jha’s acidic stories brought to life on the big screen. And in Churchgate where I grew up, the best known thing about Bihar was Lalu Prasad’s bovine-centric humour. His party misruled Bihar through my 20s and half of my 30s.

Mumbai’s (and the Ivy League colleges’) fascination with Lalu’s cool quotient hit a high during the years when he supposedly turned around the Indian Railways and replaced plastic teacups with traditional kulhads. He made the journey to Harvard but Bihar remained trapped in itself.

Five years after Nitish Kumar took over, Bihar still has the lowest literacy rate in the country; it remains one of India’s poorest states. Its recent growth figures can be unravelled by any smart economist. The Lok Sabha may have passed the Nalanda University Bill in this session—the official go-ahead to resurrect one of India’s best known ancient universities—but currently, Bihar’s educational institutes wouldn’t make it to the top of any list.

Yet, Kumar’s hard work has ensured that we no longer use the dreaded “ungovernable" when we refer to Bihar. Thanks to Kumar, in the eyes of people like me, Bihar is an even bigger rebranding success than Gujarat. After all, the latter has always been one of India’s best performing, most industrialized states.

Unlike Lalu Prasad’s Bihar, Kumar’s Bihar is firmly part of New India. Make that Under Construction India. Crime has crash-landed and these days Patna’s policemen sound more efficient than their counterparts in Mumbai. The city even has a night life. Improving access to education is one of Kumar’s priorities. More media space has been dedicated to positive stories about the state than ever before.

Of course, this worries Lalu Prasad. The Asian Age newspaper recently quoted him on Kumar: “This matchless chief minister of yours, flattered by the media for his good governance, is a magician like those who can turn pigeons into mice and vice versa. He has been a hypnotizer."

Personally, I’m happy to be hypnotized by any man who believes India should pin its hopes on the girl child. Kumar knows that our future depends on how well we educate and safeguard our girls. His cycle scheme—giving girls in classes IX and X a free cycle or Rs2,000 to buy one—has driven numbers of schoolgirl enrolments dramatically higher.

Currently, Bihar’s cool quotient is higher than Lalu’s ever was. If Kumar wins a second term in November’s assembly election, I know one Churchgate girl who will celebrate noisily.

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