Challenges in Bihar

The NDA’s hard-fought victory over the Mahagathbandhan shows that Bihar’s voters have preferred status quo, no matter how flawed, to change. The verdict has extended the already long reign of CM Nitish Kumar, who piggybacked on the BJP’s remarkable performance to overcome anti-incumbency. With his party, the JD(U), now being the junior partner in the coalition, Nitish’s clout is bound to get considerably reduced. That will make it all the more challenging for him to govern a state that has borne the brunt of the pandemic-induced lockdown in terms of large-scale joblessness and return of migrant workers. It was Nitish who had left stranded Biharis to fend for themselves, citing fears of rapid transmission of Covid-19, after the lockdown was abruptly enforced in the last week of March. By the time the Centre decided to run Shramik trains in May, lakhs of migrants were already back home in Bihar after covering thousands of kilometres on foot or by any means of transport they could find. Some of the forsaken ones even perished on the way as the authorities had no plan to facilitate their return.

Caste politics brought gains to the NDA as well as the RJD-led alliance in the polls, but what the state needs now is a positive agenda to hasten economic recovery and help its residents regain livelihoods. Bihar’s unemployment rate, which had shot up to 46 per cent in April-May, is now down to under 10 per cent. However, much work has to be done to keep most of the migrants gainfully employed in the state itself. The BJP had promised the creation of 19 lakh employment opportunities after RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav vowed to sanction 10 lakh government jobs. The ruling alliance can start off by filling vacant government posts, reportedly running into lakhs.

The Covid-19 crisis has woefully exposed Bihar’s ailing health infrastructure. As the virus continues to pose a threat, the government needs to prioritise healthcare with far higher budgetary allocations. With the Opposition sizeable enough to keep the BJP-JD(U) combine on its toes, there is no room for complacency or laxity. 

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