Yatra sans seva, media cringe

P. N. Pandey

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has completed a whirlwind tour of Bihar. And this ‘seva yatra’ (service voyage) afforded him an “opportunity to meet janata, the common man, and listens to their first hand perception about the sushan (good governance) and ordered spot redressal of their woes”, as the Chief Minister has rightly said.

Newspaper reports have vividly depicted as to how Nitish Kumar ‘reprimanded and pulled up’ the ‘guilty’ officials, who harassed the ‘masters’ (the electorate). This is a good step for any political leader and government to look into the people’s woes and take corrective steps. Most of the complaints pertained to police atrocities. Police has ever remained the most corrupt arm of the government. Sadly, corruption among the men in the uniforms has assumed alarming proportions in the Nitish government.

Common man has mostly to do with police and block offices, the grassroots wing of the government. If the yatra feedbacks are used to take corrective steps, the Nitish voyage could be useful and good for the people and the state. Past experiences have, however, shown that lessons are forgotten once the yatras are over. No body bothers to see and tell people about steps taken to correct the sushan distortions and mend ways of the grassroots governance. Mere policy decisions at the headquarters level cannot cure the ills and allow fruits of good governance to percolate to the common man.

Nitish Kumar, who was once known as Chankaya of Lalu Prasad government, had taken good initiative in embarking upon this novel measure. And mercifully he is continuing his trips to the ‘common man’ through length and breadth of the state. He is the one and only political leader since Independence to undertake such yatras to districts and selected villages at regular intervals. These yatras can be quite productive if proper lessons are learnt from them. They have been yielding good dividends to the leader. And precisely for this reason Nitish Kumar continues to remain as popular as ever, despite mounting corruption and people’s anger. His popularity has even overshadowed his NDA alliance partners. Neither the BJP nor JD-U is talked about when it comes to governance. The biggest loser in this game of politics is the Bihar BJP. The tragedy of this national party that gave a prime minister of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s stature is that today it is in a Catch 22 situation. While credit for good deeds of the government goes to Nitish Kumar, the administrative blues go into the BJP account. And its leadership is at sixes and sevens and has no time to look into this aspect of politics.

Corruption in Bihar is rising as fast as the prices of essential commodities. No concrete steps are being taken to minimise people’s miseries in Bihar. The Union government is blamed for all ailments that maim the state. Centre, no doubt, has been giving a step motherly treatment. But the state government cannot absolve itself of the blame. Bad governance and corruption and corrupt officials have eaten into Bihar like termites. Even now no effective measures are being initiated to stem the rot. Mere window dressing of new enactments and promises cannot correct the scenario. There is an urgent need of creating a foolproof mechanism to monitor whether announcements, decisions taken and enactments are allowed to percolate down to a common man.

Nitish Kumar has rightly been saying, day in and day out, that people’s ‘unprecedented’ mandate has cast ‘unprecedented’ responsibilities on the NDA government to come true to the electorate’s expectations. Bad government and gimmicks of Lalu Prasad and comical role of Ramvilas Paswan have already robbed the state of a strong opposition. There is none to raise voice against government misdeeds. The Fourth Estate in Bihar is playing the role of pied pipers. Media and media persons seem to have abdicated their prime duty of being eyes and ears of common people. All newspapers have made special arrangements to give widest possible coverage to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s seva yatra. Every bit of Nitish acts and utterances is highlighted, even at the cost of day’s most important events or news. Prime place is allotted to spot action taken by Nitish Kumar on people’s complaint. But no reporter could take pains to talk to individuals coming to the Chief Minister’s durbar and report their reactions and problems.

The Chief Minister’s visit has, however, raised a pertinent question here. If the Chief Minister has to visit district towns to review and monitor progress of schemes himself what the ministers of assigned districts are doing? It may be noted here that all ministers have been given charge of a particular district for a close look on schemes being implemented in that zone. They are expected to hold review meetings with officials and others every month. But sadly nothing is being heard of such monitoring. People must be told about such reviews and progress thereon. And, if the reviews are not being done what is the use of having ministers-in-charge and spending money on such futile exercises?

The seva yatras are good step to gauge people’s mood and feelings about the functioning of officials at the lowest level of administration. If no lessons are drawn from such visits and interactions with people, the yatras will remain an exercise in futility. It will be better if newspapers take pains to review the changes the Nitish visits have been able to make in the local governance. Besides incurring heavy expenses on these yatras, administrative machinery remains numbed (for general people) for almost a month prior to the Chief Minister’s visit to that particular area. All high and low government employees ‘remain busy’ in preparing ‘report cards’ for the Chief Minister’s visit. Such a scenario has cast greater responsibility on Nitish Kumar. He has to play the dual role of governing the state and donning the opposition’s robes. Media should also play its assigned role of a fair and impartial critic. That will afford best opportunities to the government to correct deviation in time. The advertisement cakes of the state government should not be (mis)used to deter the Fourth Estate from painting any darker side of governance. Healthy and fair criticism will help Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to fulfil his vow of providing best government and taking Bihar to the exclusive club of advance and developed states.

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