Turnaround of India state could be a model – for a lot of places

Students in Patna

For decades the sprawling state of Bihar, flat and scorching as a griddle, was something between a punch line and a cautionary tale, the exact opposite of the high-tech, rapidly growing, rising global power India has sought to become.

Criminals could count on the police for protection, not prosecution. Highwaymen ruled the shredded roads and kidnapping was one of the state’s most profitable businesses. Violence raged between Muslims and Hindus, between upper castes and lower castes. Its economy, peopled by impoverished subsistence farmers struggling through alternating floods and droughts, shriveled. Its government, led by politicians who used divisive identity politics to entrench their rule, was so corrupt that it required a newly coined phrase: the Jungle Raj.

The name captured everything that was wrong with the old India — a combustible mix of crime, corruption and caste politics in a state crucible that stifled economic growth.

Sounds like the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

So when Bihar announced earlier this year that it had notched an 11 percent average growth rate for the last five years, making it the second fastest-growing economy in the country, the news was greeted as a sign that even India’s most intractable corners of backwardness and misery were being transformed.

If even Bihar can change, then anywhere in India can change,” said Shaibal Gupta of the Asian Development Research Institute, an independent think tank here. “With good governance, good policy and law and order anything is possible…”

Lydia Polgreen concludes that Bihar is a textbook case of how leadership determines development. Mostly, I agree.

There are parallel developments in other states in the Asian world – especially China. After all, the two nations started the modern world after World War 2 in roughly the same dire straits, fighting off reactionary rulers – foreign and domestic. The two nations have had to rebuild and then build anew atop one economy devastated by war and another by colonial rule.

Both have similar tasks to complete, especially corruption. India still labors under the divisive cloud of religious conflict – a minor task in China by comparison.

RTFA. The news looks good. Especially from Bihar.

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