Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bihar, To Thee He Now Sings

For long, the purported travesty of democracy in Bihar proved potent for Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, as he denigrated Nepal’s parliamentary system and described the Maoists’ vision for a new Nepal.
So it was hard to miss the irony behind Prime Minister Bhattarai’s one-day visit to Patna to inaugurate the Global Bihar Summit, where he praised the progress the bordering Indian state has recently attained as well as the man who turned things around.
Maila Baje doesn’t want to deny Dr. Bhattarai his inherent right to tailor his outlook and opinions to the ground realities of the day. Thus when our prime minister hailed Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as a visionary leader, it is likely that Dr. Bhattarai himself was awed by the transformative leadership that can emerge with little forewarning.
Until not too long ago, after all, Nitish Kumar was considered part of the cabal of coalition-driven chaos that lay before India’s central politics amid a crumbling Congress party. Retreating from the boisterous climes of New Delhi, Nitish Kumar settled in Patna.
Now, bolstered by an impressive reelection as the chief minister of a state once lamented within the Indian union as its most lawless, Nitish Kumar is on his way towards the league of N. Chandrababu Naidu and other people of action unconstrained by life at the provincial level.
In an effusive overture, Nitish Kumar asserted that Nepal could emerge as the richest country in South Asia. While suggesting the development of more hydroelectric power plants, Nitish also sought water management in a way that could lead to better irrigation in the fertile lands in Bihar and Nepal.
The water issue is critical to Bihar, where more than two-thirds of its farmland is vulnerable to floods from rivers originating in Nepal. Several villages were wiped out during the 2008 floods, some of which are still believed to be buried under layers of sand. And who knows what sorrows seasons in the future might reap.
By harnessing Nepali rivers, Bihar could expect to rid itself of perennial devastation, while hoping to solve the power problem as the state continues to grow. Water is already a sensitive subject in Nepal and is likely to become more so when individual Indian states start handling the matter.
Nitish Kumar seems to be doing his best to woo all sections of Nepali political opinion. He recently welcomed the Nepali Congress’ Pradip Giri, winning quite a few minds in a party where skepticism of India has grown in direction proportion to the period of its exclusion from power. The acquittal by a Patna court of 11 Nepali Maoist leaders, too, is seen as having come after much lobbying by the chief minister.
Praising Dr. Bhattarai’s inaugural remarks at the end of the two-day event, Nitish Kumar described the summit as having added a new chapter in India-Nepal ties. How Dr. Bhattarai will fit this camaraderie into his wider criticism of the open Nepal-India border as the cause of Nepal’s economic impoverishment will be interesting to watch – both for style and content.