On July 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bihar and addressed the Parivartan rally in Muzaffarpur, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, campaigning for the BJP. In close to a half-hour speech that Modi made, among other statements he made (on Bihari DNA, his political alienation by Nitish Kumar, etc), he talked about the power situation in Bihar.
It is important to highlight this aspect in his speech because in a situation wherein the PM addresses a political and public rally, chooses a core infrastructure concern, and makes a promise full of rhetoric and very low on a concrete plan, he loses a bit of his stature.
I belong to a village in Nalanda district in Bihar. I left the state in 2004 for my higher education. When I visited my village for a month-long stay in April 2004, summers had begun to fester the day. There was very little electricity. Power used to be there during the days and/or light up the nights with a lot of irregularities, but still, was enough for basic sustenance. This was relief because years preceding that time saw almost negligible electricity in my village. Today, when I visit the village, I find all the houses lit up. Students no longer study next to kerosene lanterns and eye-damaging bottled diyas. Households share hot food at ten or eleven in the night and are no longer forced to have dinner by the time daylight lasts. Farmers in my village use surplus power for irrigation and other activities. Older people watch their religious soaps and young women and men their daily dose of youth-centric serials.
Statistics suggest that from almost zilch production a decade ago to a draw of nearly 3,182 MW now, per capita consumption of electricity in Bihar has increased by 70 per cent. In the past decade, 16,000 additional villages in Bihar have been electrified. Today, 96 per cent of the villages in Bihar have almost 16-17 hours of electricity every day and share the same story as that of Narayanapur - my village in Nalanda.
Albeit slow and "just there but not enough", the improved power situation has revolutionised the social dynamics of rural Bihar. It is important to understand this change from the vantage point of what Bihar was to what it is today. Therefore, for a prime minister to totally discount the merits of development in the past decade by a chief minister who might not have a favourable position in his mind space, is not just an error in administrative judgment by the head of a democratic state, but also a faux pas in political communication, especially when, during his chief ministership, Mr Modi had waxed so eloquently on the need for cooperative federalism and cordial dynamics between the center and state.
A prime minister's promises to its audience (even if it comes from his political position in a party) sound vacuous without a roadmap. Modi shied away from mentioning the reasons behind the "abysmal" power situation in the state. In a state where power production is a major concern as of now, by bringing in a parallel from Gujarat, he exposed himself to making a comparison that denotes a clear lack of understanding of resources available to Bihar and the other problems that plague the power situation here. For citizens aware and ambitious at the same time, what was expected from the prime minister was a clear communication of short, medium and long-term goals towards improving the power structure in Bihar, if at all he chose to address this concern in an open rally.
One expected him to mention that being the third largest user of solar power in India and one of the leading names to experiment with organic methods of farming, Bihar has a huge potential to harness the sun and bio-fuel and bio-mass (from sugarcane and paddy, for instance) for power production. One expected the honourable prime minister to speak about the need to aggressively commercialise the model of power distribution in the state when consumers in Bihar have readily showed interest in upping their expenditure to meet their requirements. One also expected him to go beyond the theatrics of public speech and point out at the loopholes and promise the audience towards taking sincere steps in plugging them, if he so wished to come down heavy on the current political ruling.
In short, the Muzaffarpur rally fell short of Modi's stature as a leader. As a prime minister who addressed a rally in Bihar amidst other state commitments on his maiden visit to the state after 14 months, a visionary roadmap sans fluff was found amiss. Instead, the hashtags on Twitter, such as #ModiInsultsBihar, reek of a grave faux pas as far as political communication is concerned.