The survival or stability of a government that is dysfunctional may not mean anything. Bihar, therefore, had little cause for cheer when the chief minister, Ms Rabri Devi, last week completed six years in office. It was perhaps symbolic of the state of things in Bihar that the event coincided with a section of bank employees striking work to protest against the kidnapping of one of their colleagues. Not long ago, doctors and businessmen in the state did the same over similar incidents. Kidnapping for ransom has come to symbolize both the collapse of law and order in the state and the insecurity and helplessness of its people in the face of endemic lawlessness. In a larger sense, though, Ms Rabri Deviís assumption of office itself signified the failure of the system. A housewife who had no exposure to public life, she was catapulted to the office by her husband, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, in his anxiety to evade arrest in the fodder scandal case. He could not escape a jail term eventually but saved his government by installing his wife in his place as chief minister. Although she was later elected to the state legislature, it was small compensation for Mr Yadavís cynical subversion of democracy by which he continued his rule by proxy. It is a measure of the systemic failure in Bihar that Mr Yadav, and not his wife, remains the de facto ruler of the state.
But the real depth of the failure is to be found in the manner in which the state administration surrendered its collective will to the ambitions of an overreaching politician. The state bureaucracyís failure to stand up to Mr Yadavís challenge is not just appalling; it is an ominous signal for the administration anywhere in the country. It may not be the first instance of the bureaucracy surrendering to the political masters. But Biharís is an extreme case in which the administration seems to serve, not the people or the law, but a politician and his personal and partisan interests. No wonder there is hardly any administration worth the name. The stateís disastrous finances, coupled with the administrative collapse, have led to the slow death of most economic activities. The police and the bureaucracy cannot simply pass the blame for the stateís all-round failures to the machinations of a self-serving political class. Such is the climate of despair that even Mr Yadavís political opponents and the civil society seem to have lost all hope of Biharís return to the rule of law and to a semblance of economic recovery. But that can only plunge the state into a deeper abyss. Not New Delhi, but the people themselves have to come to Biharís rescue.