Monday, September 25, 2006

Go to Patna, young man

By Suhel Seth
The author is CEO of Equus Redcell Advertising and also a well known businessman.



For starters, it is a better-looking city than most I have ever been to in India. It is certainly better than most parts of Delhi; there are more schools and colleges which have first-rate syllabi and students than the ones run in Delhi and Mumbai: most of which with dubious ownership! The Bihari people are more large-hearted and far brighter than we would have ever believed, and in many ways Bihar today is at the cusp of what I would imagine will be a boom time in its rather sordid history.

I don?t know how much real progress Lalu Prasad Yadav is making with the Indian Railways, the IIM sojourn notwithstanding, but there sure is a silent revolution taking place in Bihar under Nitish Kumar. I never ever imagined that I would visit Patna. For anything. But I did just that last week and am delighted I did. For starters, it is a better-looking city than most I have ever been to in India. It is certainly better than most parts of Delhi; there are more schools and colleges which have first-rate syllabi and students than the ones run in Delhi and Mumbai: most of which with dubious ownership! The Bihari people are more large-hearted and far brighter than we would have ever believed, and in many ways Bihar today is at the cusp of what I would imagine will be a boom time in its rather sordid history. And much of the blame for that must rest with people who?ve governed Bihar.

I sincerely feel that the rulers of Bihar have consistently damaged the cause of Bihar more than anyone else has or will ever do. There are perceptions about it being a mafia state, which are completely untrue. I saw Bihar?s chief secretary drive in a Tata Indigo without any escort, whereas in Delhi and Mumbai every third-tier secretary also uses a silly red light atop his car with fancy escort vehicles. There was none of the red tape that Bihar is so well-known for. I had gone for some work and the presentations that were made by some officers of the Bihar government were first-rate; and it was only then that some interesting trivia about Bihar became all the more relevant.

Bihar today consumes pharmaceutical drugs worth Rs 1,500 crores per annum: the largest consumption amongst any state, and yet the tragedy is, there is no pharma company in Bihar ? an outcome of the negligent manner in which Bihar was run at the state-level and the treatment that was meted out to it by the Centre. Bihar today sends more people to the administrative services than any other state in the country. Of the 47,000 odd medical professionals working in the United States, 50 per cent are from Bihar. Bihar contributes 50 per cent to the patient inflow at AIIMS in New Delhi and so on and so forth.

The attitude of the Bihar government has also seemingly changed and it was no surprise that in the week gone by they?ve had Ratan Tata, Ashok Ganguly, Analjit Singh visit them, with people like Anand Mahindra and others expected this week. There is the obvious influence that the well-regarded N.K. Singh wields over the corporate world in India which plays a large role in getting these corporate honchos there. But having said that, one must applaud the changes that are being slowly brought into the very fabric of Bihar. And with N.K. heading the Planning Commission in Bihar, expect some more miracles.

The fact that you finally have a chief minister who is not a clown but a serious politician also helps, aided by people like G.S. Kang, the chief secretary whose integrity is unquestioned. I guess what Bihar now needs to do is cleanse itself of the past it so remarkably engendered and entrenched into people?s minds. In the serious talk for creating better infrastructure, for encouraging medical tourism, optimising the value of the hot sulphur springs in Rajgir, not to mention religious tourism in Bodh Gaya, you have a blend that just might work.

I believe from a marketing point too there is a lot of potential in Bihar that most of us, sadly, have not woken up to. I saw stretches of markets, not some odd number of shops, and I saw for myself the pattern of frenetic consumer buying: much more than what happens in our malls in the metros. I sometimes wonder why people have missed the Bihar bus.

Finally, the fact that the families in Bihar continue to lay a lot of emphasis on education, augurs well. I feel there may also be some merit in Bihar also becoming an important destination for the services backbone that Eastern India so desperately needs. I know Patna sounds a very incredible destination, but I guess this is what Incredible India is all about. We are so consumed by what we see and what we are fed by the so-called urbane media that we fail to observe the silent changes that are occurring right under our noses.
Go to Patna and see how India is really changing.
Post a Comment