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Bihar Elections 2019: Patna is missing a whole generation of millennials

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Patna Municipal Corporation has decorated the city walls with Madhubani paintings. Lata Jha/MintPremium
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Patna Municipal Corporation has decorated the city walls with Madhubani paintings. Lata Jha/Mint

  • Bihar’s capital is safer but the transformation hasn’t led to opportunities for private investment and job creation
  • Anyone who has a chance to move out, does so. The only ones who stay are preparing for civil services or bank exams or run family businesses

There’s no occasion, but Patna is all decked up. Under the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission, the Patna Municipal Corporation has decorated the city’s walls with Madhubani paintings, depicting the state’s rich heritage. Irrespective of whether people are alighting at Rajendra Nagar Railway Terminal or strolling around Gandhi Maidan and AN College, they cannot miss the attempts at social messaging—the need for cleanliness and women’s education, besides themes such as Chhath and Krishna worship.

The paintings are part of the first phase of the Smart City project in Patna, with a total plan outlay of 419 crore. The establishment of one-stop utility centres, or Jan Suvidha Kendras, an open theatre at Gandhi Maidan, and installation of CCTV cameras and solar panels on government buildings, besides a new airport terminal by mid-2022, for which the Union government has approved 1,217 crore, are only a few examples of the steps the city has taken to showcase its rapid transformation at the national level. Until now, the city was known largely for the fact that it delivered IAS toppers year after year.

At Patna Central Mall, one of the three malls in the city, international brands such as Chambor, L’Oreal, Guess, DKNY, Ferrari, Aramis, Ralph Lauren, Vero Moda and Giordano fly off the shelves as fast as domestic labels such as Global Desi, Morpankh and Cover Story, pointing to a clear market opportunity that companies are capitalizing on.

“Our average sales can go up to 40-50 lakh daily, and around 2 crore during festivals," said a senior sales executive at the mall, adding that fashion-savvy and affluent customers can spend up to 2 lakh on one-time purchases. The outlet that completes five years this September gets most of its consumers from the 18-40 age group with equal demand for western and ethnic brands, though Cover Story, Wills, Morpankh, Mineral and Vero Moda dominate sales.

Bihar’s capital city has come a long way from the early-2000s, when kidnapping-for-ransom was a low-risk-high-gain business, averaging 300 abductions a year and yielding close to 50 crore. That was when Lalu Prasad was the chief minister.

“People (in the city) are no longer scared to display their wealth and don’t have to downgrade their lifestyle for fear of extortion anymore," said Captain Ajay, an officer in the merchant navy, referring to the single-most important change in Patna over the years. He explained that the city was far safer, especially for women and children, since the government of Nitish Kumar and Janata Dal (United) came to power.

“I grew up in Patna at a time when not many people would venture out. A considerable change has been seen, and people are occupying more public spaces and at all times of the day. I have also noticed many young girls walking on the roads carefree. These may seem non-issues, but to me they are symbolic of larger signs of change," said city-based lawyer Shrishti Singh, who had moved out of Patna to pursue her graduation at the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru but is now back home for work. An added incentive to stepping out of home has been the many green spaces across the city, and ride-sharing services such as Ola and Rapido bike taxi.

The choice of eateries and a lone multiplex, Cinepolis India, haven’t been able to cater to Patna’s youth population. For one, the ban on liquor in the state limits options while going out. Unlike cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, Patna has never had an active cultural scene.

People like Singh are rare, the only youngsters staying back in the city are more often than not, preparing for the civil services or bank examinations, apart from looking after family businesses.

A local steel manufacturer, who requested anonymity, said that the present government seems to have serious trust issues with the business class, considering the number of compliances required and restrictions on cash flow.

Though a couple of startups in the city have started recruiting freshers from the Indian Institute of Technology-Patna, lack of investment by private companies and multinational corporations has resulted in limited job opportunities. Therefore, anyone who has a chance to move out, does so, and an entire generation of millennials are missing from the city.

“People who have received some sort of formal or higher education usually do not have plans to stay back," said Srishti Sinha, business associate, OYO Rooms, who works out of Gurugram. “I would consider going back only for my family, if at all. Career-wise, returning to Patna would be a no."

The growth in commercial spaces also doesn’t seem to be very well planned. While new stores and restaurants compete for space on the congested, narrow streets, traffic continues to be chaotic and there isn’t enough space to park though the number of vehicles is rising. The youth in Patna are insistent on better civic management, and it doesn’t just end with the disappearing Ganga.

“Garbage collection has become regular post Swachh Bharat though there seems to be close to zero waste segregation," Singh said. “Even after so many years, we can see open sewage canals. Many apartment blocks have come up, but they do not have good, decent drainage systems. It’s not uncommon to find overflowing sewage chambers, even before the rainy season begins. An overarching policy identifying issues and implementation of these are urgently required," she said.

Expectations from government have greatly reduced over the years, and in many ways, the option is to vote for “the lesser evil". Given the choices available, it would probably be more than enough if there were a transparent and accountable government in place, many said. Perhaps expecting corruption and divisive politics to disappear in the next five years would be naive, they added.

Many of the youth have their hopes pinned on the Modi government, and policies such as demonetization are seen as minor glitches.

The idea that the children from the lowest strata of society are able to cycle to school, albeit lured by the promise of a free meal, is good enough for many.

As Rajesh Kumar, a local factory employee, said: “Jo koshish karte hain, ghalti bhi un hi se hoti hai (only those who work make mistakes)."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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