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Honeymoon over, burden of hope

- Greater expectations trigger protests

Patna, Dec. 30: Chief minister Nitish Kumar, perhaps for the first time in his seven-year tenure, saw people hitting the streets across the state seeking better health services, education, infrastructure and security in 2012.

The year 2011 was, apparently, a year of “honeymoon” with the unprecedented electoral victory that he had secured in November 2010. People turned up enthusiastically to greet him in the first phase of his Seva Yatra that concluded in January 2012. But the murmur of protests surfaced as he embarked on the second phase of Seva Yatra from April 20 this year. Some motley crowds blocked roads, waved black flags and even shouted slogans during his visits to districts to inspect the delivery mechanism under the Right to Service Act.

The real trouble began with the murder of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Mukhiya. The supporters of Mukhiya — visibly unruly and wild — invaded the state capital the next day after his funeral procession reached the city. They indulged in arson, violence and vandalism, reminding the “lawlessness” Bihar was synonymous prior to the Nitish era.

The wild supporters of the slain Mukhiya virtually obliterated the famed susashan (good governance) that Nitish had painstakingly established in the state in one stroke, re-igniting the fear among the Dalits and weaker sections and bolstering the confidence of the lawless elements.

Despite its promises, the police are yet to take any noticeable action against the vandals who torched a Dalit hostel at Ara and indulged in arson and wild protest on the city streets.

With the fear of law dissipated — to an extent if not wholly — the lawbreakers who had gone subdued in the wake of the law enforcing agencies sending most of them behind the bars and putting them on speedy trial in the first five years of Nitish’s rule began raising their heads. As a result, the law and order relatively deteriorated with the state recording 60 cases of kidnapping for ransom till October 2012 against 57 in 2011.

The number of other cognisable offences, including rape, murder and dacoity, too showed an upward trend, according to official records of the police department.

While the law and order situation deteriorated to a certain extent, the economy continued to grow this year — over 13 per cent at current price. The state got all its blocks equipped with hospitals. The government’s annual report (2011-12) showed over 9,000 patients visited the government hospitals in a month against only 40 during the Lalu-Rabri regime. There has been a sharp decline in the child mortality rate.

The government appointed over two lakh contract teachers to man posts lying vacant in the schools across the state and is in the process to make more appointments. Midday meals have become a routine in the schools.

Nitish, arguably, has been making honest efforts to improve the power scenario. The modernisation of Barauni and Kanti Thermal power plants is near completion. Work is on to build the 3,960 MW super thermal power plant at Nabinagar.

The agriculture roadmap, which President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurated in October, promises marked improvement in irrigation, storage, seeds and fertiliser facilities. The government continued to be vigilant to improve upon the roads and bridges it has built.

Still, the murmur of protest against the state government turned louder. Nitish had to face violent protests at some places he visited. He had to defer his Seva Yatra in Bhojpur district after the Mukhiya’s death for fear of violence.

Protesters — most of them contract teachers — attacked on his cavalcade in Khagaria in September. Some agitated people pelted stones, shouted slogans and waved black flags at his Adhikar Yatra cavalcades at Darbhanga and other places in north Bihar. The chief minister skipped Adhikar Yatra at many places in central Bihar in the wake of violence during his previous yatras.

After closely watching the protests and visiting the hinterlands of the state, The Telegraph found that greater expectations of people from the government prompted the demonstrations. New school buildings, improved health centres, good roads, relatively better electric power scenario and better law and order situation were — people got all these in Nitish’s first regime.

With the facilities in place now, people are apparently looking for quality teachers, quality education, more efficient and corruption-free block and panchayat offices to deliver them goods and services, hospitals with more doctors and medicines to take care of patients, far better security system, more power and irrigation facilities and employment.

Nitish in his conversation to The Telegraph recently admitted that the “level of expectations has gone very high”.

The people’s protest has, probably, for the first time given space to his archrival Lalu Prasad to operate in the state after his exit from the scene in 2005. He has been carrying out Parivartan Yatra throughout the state and even drawing a responsive crowd.