Rebranding of Bihar
Nitish must do this by forging coalition of extremes, building institutions
Posted online: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 0000 hours IST
On the face of it, Bihar continues to make news for the same reasons â€” another schoolboy was abducted even as an abducted businessman was reportedly freed on Tuesday. But take another look, and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already created a different wave within a short span of barely six weeks both in the provincial and national media. He is possibly the first chief minister of the state since Independence who is trying to build a â€�brandâ€™ for Bihar.
It is interesting that not only the president of India, but even the countryâ€™s prime minister belonging to a rival political formation, are showing keen interest in the development of Bihar. The national middle classes that make and break public opinion have also found an icon who could change Bihar. Nitish Kumar has become a national icon in spite of being engaged with a provincial agenda, that too of a state that is not a front rank sunrise state. All other national political icons have operated on the national spectrum with an all-India agenda. The achievement of Nitish Kumar is, thus, a spectacular one. Adulation for him reached its pinnacle in the recent Pravasi Bhartiya Sammelan in Hyderabad.
Now that â€�brand Nitishâ€™ is trying to build â€�brand Biharâ€™, one wonders about the extent to which these two brands are independent, or synonymous. Brand Nitish was built over years, as he journeyed from being a socialist activist to a JP acolyte to an architect of the social justice renaissance, and finally an able administrator. Now, this substantive brand Nitish is in the business of building brand Bihar, as yet unsubstantive.
In fact, over the years, Bihar has emerged as a counter brand. Bihar is not only at the lowest level of development, it is also the crucible of all plebeian ideologies. It is not only the home of a million mutinies, but it is here that the most subaltern class, unrecognisable nationally, was in the seat of political power, albeit without the road map of governance. Nitish Kumarâ€™s task of converting this counter brand into a mainstream one is an extremely challenging one.
Even an established brand cannot hope to become permanent unless it continuously reinvents itself. A brand cannot be built entirely through propaganda; it also demands substantive content. In history, many brands have once shone, to be thrown away soon, unlamented. The political family brands like the Nehru-Gandhis have a more enduring image. Starting in the 1920s, brand Nehru has traversed a long journey from the folklore of privilege and opulence to Sonia Gandhiâ€™s grand refusal of primeministership. In between, its focus changed from state to market, on the one hand, and from unflinching commitment to democracy and secularism to benevolent autocracy and soft communalism on the other. Brand building and its constant updating is high on the agenda in an increasingly market centric economy.
The brand building of the state by Nitish Kumar, however, must keep to a provincial path. The core strength of the state has to be identified and promoted with full vigour. The Gujarat model cannot be replicated here. The hallmark of a state brand is now determined by the number of SEZs (Special Economic Zone) that have been created which act as the fulcrum of investment, both national and international.
It is erroneous to believe that brand Gujarat has been created by the personal predilections of the present chief minister. In fact, Gujarat was on the threshold of the industrial revolution even before the advent of the British. After the British came, while Gujarat escaped the plunder and extermination of artisans and traders, Bihar was subjected to a systematic de-industrialisation. Later, an open sea front, resources from its non-residents and, above all, Gujarati sub-nationalism created a unique industrial revolution. A similar process for Bihar did not materialise for several reasons, like the absence of authentic indigenous entrepreneurs or due to its landlocked location.
Even in the realm of institution building, another prerequisite of brand building, there has not been any significant effort, other than the contribution of Sir Ganesh Dutt. The first chief minister of the state, Srikrishna Sinha, contrary to the general impression, could not set the agenda of building a modern Bihar. Even if the fiction of Appelby is to be believed, the state was considered to be â€�well governedâ€™ merely because it could keep in check the rising popular aspirations in the realm of policing. Benchmarking in the realm of development had not yet begun.
But when the development agenda was initiated, the chink in the armoury of good governance was revealed. By 1971, Bihar had sunk to the bottom of Indian states. This position remains unchanged though it has been governed by three sets of elites â€” traditional, vernacular or cockney â€” since Independence.
Where others have failed, Nitish Kumar must succeed. He must build the brand of Bihar not only for those who are above the threshold, but also for the rest who are outside the market structure. This would demand that he forge a â€�coalition of extremesâ€™, a difficult task indeed.
At the national level, this was achieved by the Gandhi and Nehru during the struggle for independence. In Bihar, this agenda will also require the building of new institutions, strengthening of existing ones, and also crafting of sub-national cohesion. The strengthening as well as simultaneous dismantling of some part of the state has to be done with a vengeance. Only then can the market expand which in turn will ultimately link the state with the national and international industrial grid.
For this, brand Nitish will need further reinvention. He has to be the â€�Nehruâ€™ of Bihar, not only by co-opting the marginal and the minorities but also by building provincial institutions which can give an authentic ring to brand Bihar. Nehru tried to build India through promoting industrialisation, quite often ignoring agriculture. Nitish cannot possibly do that; he must focus on agriculture. While brand Nehru was of immense help in building the nation immediately after Independence, brand Nitish can act as a catalytic agent for rebuilding the state.
The writer is member secretary, Asian Development Research Institute, Patna