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India Politics: Never Say Never

Another short trip to India and I came away with a wonderful whiff of the new political scene. Which is to say, the return of a past political scene.

Two items of note and progress –

First is the astonishing resurgence of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. They gave the ruling BJP party a massive trouncing that was as unexpected as it was sweet (to some of us). It was kind of a reverse of the trouncing the AAP had received during the general election (never mind the sweet part; that was so not sweet!).

For those of you who may be interested, the NY Times had great coverage yesterday of this landslide victory, summarizing comprehensively the context, the current political situation, what it means to Delhi, India, AAP, BJP (Modi) and Congress.

That AAP would win such a stunning majority – 67 of the 70 seats contested in Delhi – was something that no pundit or follower had dreamed would happen. Overused as the word is, this comeback is what I can truly call awesome.

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Second was a piece of news that was buried among all the news coverage of the Delhi elections. Quietly first and now not so silently, Nitish Kumar is working to take back control of Bihar. However, clearly this is not going to be easy, as those in power at the Center throw all the roadblocks they can to prevent his comeback. If it happens, the state should be ever so thankful.

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Both pieces of news give hope. It’s never pleasant to see good people lose in politics, no matter what government or country we are talking about. It’s always great to see them come back. As James Bond said (or was it Sean Connery?), never say never again. This time I can say it in the most positive sense.

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Two More Wins for Bihar (that’s right, BIHAR)

Bihar continues to surprise

Just when I thought it cannot get better, I find out something new that is fascinating. Trust me, if anyone told me that as an US expat in India, specifically Mumbai, I would be writing about some backward northeastern state – not once, not twice, but three times in the span of a few months, I would have said you were crazy. Bihar is not exciting. I have only been there the one time, and while that visit was a fun-filled one, it did not give me any illusions about the state.

Frankly, for me to write about it at all, you better believe that it is because of something extraordinary or innovative or unusual or amazing.  That’s why, I hope you read on about what I consider Bihar’s “wins”. 

Win #1: From Loot to Schools

Over the weekend, the government of Bihar seized the mansion of a government IAS officer who is accused of corruption. This has been happening in the state whenever an official’s assets are disproportionate with respect to his sources of income (as I had written earlier). Yesterday’s paper talked about this house (worth some $1.25 million) being illegally acquired through bribes; the plans are to now turn this into a school.  Bold move!  And what a statement-making one to all the others who might be thinking of taking a bribe.  It says:

1.  Don’t fool yourself, this government is very serious

2.  If you take a bribe, you will pay for it dearly

3. Not just monetarily, but in full view of the public

4. Therefore, just DON’T do it. 

Setting an example can’t get more sharp and resounding than that!  It is expected that this would be the start of Bihar’s Chief Minister fulfilling his promise of converting illegal properties into much-needed schools in the State. Simply brilliant.

Win #2: Basic Rights. Delivered On Time.

On August 15th of this year – Independence Day for India, the government of Bihar introduced a new act – the Right to Public Services (RTPS) Act. Implemented both online as well as manual (where online is not available yet), a citizen can expect mandated services in a timely manner.

Yes, I know this would be a standard expectation from any government. But this is India, and that has never been the case. To get anything, you have to run around the block a few times, then grease some palms, and then maybe you will receive what was your due all this time – after a long wait. 

The ultimate stated objective of the State: Transform governance within Bihar

The objectives of RTPS: Be transparent; deliver essential services to people efficiently.  

A crucial, beneficial side-effect: Curb and/or eliminate corruption

Services – anything from getting a ration card to registering a property deed, would have to be provided in a stipulated time. For example, say getting a ration card will take 10 days (this is just an example, but specifics such as this are provided to the public). It is the responsibility of the named official to provide this service within that 10 day time period. In case this does not happen, the citizen can appeal to two different named levels both for correction and to issue penalties to the officer.

In the initial phase, RTPS covers some 50 services to citizens from 10 different departments. Just during the first two days after activation, there were some 40,000 applications received across Bihar. Within five days, as of August 20th, the number of applications swelled to 280,000! This clearly showed the pent-up demand and expectation of people. An idea whose time has obviously arrived!

RTPS – the why and how – was yet another superb brainchild of Chief Minister Extraordinaire Nitish Kumar. Since June, he has been promoting it widely through a series of advertisements across the state. Even better, check out this facebook page for Right to Public Services!  The main website is here.

Undoubtedly, there will be some pain during the initial execution, but what a great move by the state government.

Could this state known for its sluggishness in the past, turn out to be a model for others across India? Indeed, it could!

Win #3 (Bonus): He’s the Man

Last month, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stated that RTPS was another way to curb rampant corruption at the State level.

He then asked the Anna Hazare team to help draft a Lokayukta (State level ombudsman being proposed as part of Jan Lokpal) for Bihar that covers the Chief Minister as part of its scope.

I am full of admiration for this leader! All I can say is that India could use a few (!) more Chief Ministers and political leaders like Nitish Kumar. Indeed, that is what voters and political parties alike should aspire for!

Credentials for the job:

  • Honesty and transparency
  • Political will and savvy
  • Strong beliefs about service to and uplifting of people
  • Bold action and solid execution to turn these beliefs into reality

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Frankly, I believe he is really Bihar’s biggest win. Lucky Bihar.

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Map of India: By Created by user:Maverick.Mohit.Maverick.Mohit at en.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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