One can travel hundreds of kilometres in Bihar without seeing a factory but one would come across a large number of warehouses, according to Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Member of Parliament from Bihar. He also says that Bihar exports so much labour to the rest of the country that if Bihari workers were to be recalled, India's economy will come to a standstill.
Speaking at AIMA's 52nd LeaderSpeak session, Mr Rudy regretted that Bihar was at the bottom of the development index of Niti Ayog and he promised to deliver a strategy paper - Vision 2025 - to change both the economy and the image of Bihar.
The session was moderated by AIMA President, Mr CK Ranganathan and it was anchored by AIMA Director General, Ms Rekha Sethi. Close to 800 business leaders, executives, academics and management students participated in the session, which focused on not leaving any state behind and making the national growth geographically inclusive.
Referring to a recent NITI Ayog ranking of states on development parameters, Mr Rudy pointed out that more than half the people of Bihar are poor and undernourished; and more than quarter of Bihar's households do not have a single member with more than 6 years education. He added that Bihar has no international airport, no SEZ, no 5-star hotel, and its share in India's FDI is a fraction of 1% of the total. He pointed out that Bihar is projected to have the highest population growth in the country over the coming decades.
"If Bihar cannot grow, the nation cannot grow," he said.
Mr Ranganathan pointed out that Tamil Nadu was an under-developed state 40 years ago, with low education and industrialization, but the state leadership turned it around mainly by improve the state's human capital. They brought children to school through the Mid-Day Meal Scheme and invested heavily in schools, and the state is now reaping the rewards in the form of high quality of workforce and business growth, he said.
Bihar is a state of paradoxes, Mr Ranganathan said, pointing out that many IAS officers come from Bihar while a large number of people in the state remain uneducated. The state provides a big chunk of India's bureaucracy but it also exports cheap workers in huge numbers, he said.
Mr Rudy said that 90% of those who join civil service from Bihar actually get educated in other parts of the country. Growing up in Bihar, they see only bureaucracy and no industry and their aspiration and effort is shaped by that, he said. He pointed out that not many young people in Maharashtra or Gujarat focus as much on civil services because they have industry and commerce and joining bureaucracy does not add much value to their lives.
On using education as the lever for lifting Bihar's economy, Mr Rudy said that the state has picked up good practices from other states over time but it needs a shift in attitude towards the larger world. He pointed out that a past chief minister of Bihar had banned English in schools to promote Hindi and that left an entire generation of students in Bihar without knowledge of the key language for business and learning.
"In Bihar caste politics trumps development," Mr Rudy said.
Mr Rudy argued that asking for special status to get more money does not develop a state, citing the proverb that teaching the poor how to fish is the right option and not feeding them fish. "Development needs vision and policies. You cannot say that give me money first and then I will succeed," he remarked.
On Bihar's inability to attract investment, Mr Rudy said that Bihar was losing because of the perception that nothing can happen in Bihar. Bihar needs political wisdom in order to churn out of the prevailing caste politics and negative perception, he said.