Once upon a time, there was a state called ‘barbaric Bihar’, a ‘dying state’ and ‘heart of darkness’! And now aka John Houlton, ‘Bihar’ might dobara become the ‘heart of India’ argues Rajesh Chakrabarti in his book Bihar Breakthrough: The Turnaround of a Beleaguered State. It sounds like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, but a dysfunctional state can be transformed if you are led by Nitish Kumar, “a very special individual”, and his five intelligent, honest and committed bureaucrats, contends Chakrabarti, a policy academic at the Indian School of Business. All your ‘special leader’ needs to do is ‘empower’ his elite team of bureaucrats by giving them an elusive ‘free hand’. In return, individually responsible bureaucrats ensure out-of-the-box governance solutions and strictly ‘monitor’ outcomes. Personal supervision by the leader solves not only frequent ‘ego-conflicts’, but also mitigates rent-seeking opportunities among bureaucrats. This is the crux of Chakrabarti’s so-called ‘partial model’ of Bihar, a disturbingly neo-utilitarian theory of a developmental state. Consider this: In an ingeniously anecdotal account, the author tells us how the phone rang, conversations began between Nitish Kumar and his trusted bureaucrats and Bihar got reinvented! Is this so simple? Or the author lets down his guard against lurking dangers of listening to only “His Master’s Voice” (HMV). We don’t know yet!
At the outset, the author admits that the book is only about the “first term of the NDA rule from 2005 to 2010” and he is a newcomer and spent only a year in Bihar. But he also politely avers that he has made “countless trips down Patna’s Bailey Road and spent hours pouring over government, media, NGO and multi-lateral agency reports” to produce “a document in public policy” rather than a “purely academic historical account”. Treat it as a folly or an advance in ethnography—it is up to you! The author concedes the challenges of documenting policy changes, as the most crucial changes in the selective areas of administrative intervention were guided by the superior intellect of the key bureaucrats and effected by informal and personalised channels. For instance, “the speedy trial”