Books and articles on state’s and regional leaders are being published increasingly at a time when governance at the Centre and the economy of the nation has been sputtering. The states of Gujarat, Kerala and Bihar have received special attention over the last few years either because of the remarkable progress they have made in their economic or social growth. As islands of high growth in a desert of economic or social drought, they have captured the imagination of economists within and outside India and policy planners within the country. There is also interest in the Bihar story with a view on his it could be scaled to a national level.
It is in this background that the book on New Bihar, published by Harper Collins and edited by N K Singh and Nicholas Stern, merits attention. There are some major positives that the book starts with. The starting point is that both the editors are eminently suited for this role: one for having a deep insight and being sort of an ‘insider’ of Bihar who has had a close view of the changes that have happened in Bihar over the last few decades. Nicholas Stern, being one of the outstanding economists of our times globally, brings in the macro perspective to the editing and content of the book.
The pedigree and stature of the editors have enabled the collections of articles from stellar authors who have taken time and effort to research and give their analysis to a complex state. That the selection of essays starts with one from Amartya Sen, who takes you on a historical journey of the state as only Sen can do, is a great starting point. That the rest of the book comprises of authors of the repute from India and overseas only enhances its value. The authors include economists, academicians, journalists and practitioners and bring in a 360 degree perspective.
One of the great ways that the editors have brought in greater readability has been the way in which the book has been structured. Divided into seven sections, it brings in analysis, data, content, perspective, historical background, some critique and the way forward. It covers good ground: from economy, society, various sectors, culture, education and information technology. It also brings in comparison of Bihar with some of the other states.
Despite, all these strengths, the book has some limitations. One, some of the data and content in the book has already been used by the same authors in their past works and sometimes the reader is left without a feeling of freshness in content. Second, it lacks a critical perspective on way forward and the about the future of Bihar. 2014 will perhaps see a whole new political landscape at the national level. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has expressed his ambitions for a larger national canvas if there is an opportunity. If that does happen, what happens to Bihar may not have been fully answered in the book.
by George Skaria
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