Few people seem happy with BJP’s rule in Gujarat, yet the party still controls the state. Why?

In April 2017, Scroll.in’s Ear to the Ground project reached Gujarat. Each of the other states covered by the project thus far – Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Bihar – showed one democratic malfunction or another. What about Gujarat?

Gujarat is unique in our subset of six states in having been under the rule of one party – the Bharatiya Janata Party – for 22 years. Particularly under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi, which lasted 12 and a half years, Gujarat saw extraordinary centralisation of power. As the human rights lawyer and activist Girish Patel said, one man’s word was final. As for the Assembly, Patel said, it was called only when constitutionally required. Between 2007 and 2012, the Assembly convened for just 31 days every year.

As Gujarat’s people vote for a crucial Assembly election, the first after Modi moved to New Delhi as the country’s prime minister, five trends characterise the state’s political economy…

And that, drumroll, is the wrap of all our Gujarat reporting. We are now done with all states reporting for ‘Ear To The Ground’. What remains is the all India wrap. Which I will pick up after some time.

One last thing, though. These articles have popped up at sporadic intervals. And so, there is a real possibility that Scroll.in readers will have missed some of them. And so, links to places where you can see them all — clumped together like scummy algae, so to speak — Scroll’s Ear To The Ground page; this twitter thread which contains links to all stories plus a small introduction to each (Twitter has this habit of not showing all tweets. It shows some and then bunches the rest as “xx more replies”. You will need to click on each of those to get the whole list of articles); this page with links to all my Scroll.in stories — including non-ETTG stuff like the DeMonetisation reportage.

Do see sometime. Thanks so much. And have a good end to the year.

Update: Since that post, I have exited Twitter. A long overdue decision. A version of that twitter thread I mention, here.

What’s common between coaching classes in Bihar and its bahubali leaders?

Career Plan Coaching Centre is not much to look at. It is a tiny room, tightly packed with benches and desks, housed in an unplastered brick structure, one half of which is a garage.

A board advertises the services offered by the centre, located in Geetwas, a small village near Araria in northeastern Bihar: tuitions for students between class 8 and class 12.

But, as Gautam Kumar, a mathematics graduate in his mid-twenties who runs the centre, explains, he does not merely provide supplementary education to students lagging in one or two subjects – he teaches the entire school curriculum.

Career Plan is a homegrown response to the larger crisis of public school education in Bihar.

The third — and concluding — article in our series on government functioning in Bihar looks at the aftermath of a state absenting itself.

Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has been in power for 12 years. Why has he failed to change its fortunes?

Kanwar jheel is a freshwater lake spread over 6,311 hectares in Bihar’s Begusarai district. Till the 1970s, the lake used to attract as many as 100,000 freshwater birds each year. But, in recent decades, it has been under attack. Landowners from the Bhumihar caste have been draining Kanwar jheel to farm on its lakebed. This has resulted in protests from local fishermen, belonging to an extremely backward caste called the Sahnis.

What is telling, said Arvind Mishra, an environmentalist who lives in Begusarai, is the government’s reaction. Despite an order by the Patna High Court and appeals from the Sahnis and environmentalists, it has not intervened.

The fallout: Sahnis, who are seeing their fish catch fall, are hunting birds instead. Between that and the habitat loss, the number of birds coming to Kanwar jheel has fallen to 4,500-5,000 each year, he said.

What explains the lack of government response?

The second part of our trilogy on why Bihar underperforms on the welfare and development front.

Bihar is struggling to improve the lives of the poor even after 27 years of backward caste rule

The district hospital of Muzaffarpur, 100 km north of Patna, Bihar’s capital, is struggling with a shortage of doctors.

With 160 beds and an estimated inflow of 500-600 new patients each day, the hospital should have 48 full-time doctors and 52 nurses, said one of its administrators. What it has, instead, is 12 full-time doctors, 24 part-time doctors and 28 nurses. The Intensive Care Unit should have four doctors but has just one. The unit for newborn babies, which should have four pediatricians, is managing with just one.

Given such understaffing, the hospital doesn’t meet the district’s healthcare needs.

When Madina Begum, a resident of Ratnauli village, took a neighbour with a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit to the hospital, she said, “All the doctors did was give her a bottle of saline. Nothing else. No medicine.” The woman’s companions had to put wet clothes on her all night to cool the fever down.

That is the story across Bihar. Seventy years after Independence, the state’s healthcare infrastructure continues to be grossly inadequate. Seventeen of the 38 districts in the state have no more than three government doctors for every 100,000 people. One district, Siwan, has just one doctor for 100,000 people. The highest, Sheikhpura, has eight doctors per 100,000 – or one for every 12,500 people. To put that in perspective, the WHO-prescribed level is 1:1,000.

In the same way, while the Right To Education law mandates student-teacher ratios at 30:1 in primary schools and 35:1 in upper primary, the ratio in Bihar districts hovers between 43:1 and 96:1. As a result, learning outcomes are poor in the state.

All of which echoes what we saw — in relatively greater detail — in the state’s remarkably inadequate response to both arsenic contamination of groundwater and the rising incidence of dengue. Embedded in all this is a paradox. In the last 12 years under chief minister Nitish Kumar, as the article says, Bihar has notched up large improvements in law and order, road connectivity and electricity supply. But its performance on issues crucial for the poor – like health, education and land redistribution – remains weak.

Which is odd. In the last 27 years, the state has been ruled by backward caste leaders, who rose to power by appealing to the poor. Given that, why is Bihar’s track record on crucial issues that most affect the poor so underwhelming?

Out today is the first of a three-part answer to that question.

Why Tamil Nadu is erecting cages around statues (hint: it’s linked to caste)

Two statues stood on a road between Pondicherry and Villupuram.

On the right was CN Annadurai, the first Dravidian chief minister of Tamil Nadu. On the left, Bhimrao Ambedkar. Together, they made an arresting tableau. Annadurai’s statue stood on an open cement plinth, with a red and black flag of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam jammed into its left hand. Ambedkar’s statue, no more than ten metres away, also stood on a cement platform, but inside an iron cage.

Statues in cages aren’t an uncommon sight in Tamil Nadu. Sometimes, it is Ambedkar, sometimes, Annadurai, and occasionally, others like the reformist leader Pasumpom Muthuramalinga Thevar. A relatively recent phenomenon, they started coming up about ten years ago, when the followers of the leaders felt the need to protect their statues from vandalism by other caste groups. In other places, the police, wanting to minimise riotous assembly, got the ironwork done.

The cages are instructive – they suggests caste tensions in Tamil Nadu are running high. A slew of other changes in the state point in the same direction as well.

Do read. A fundamental undercurrent here — using caste to bolster a sense of self — is what we saw in Punjab as well. There, as writer Desraj Kali had said, “Log jaat ka ghamand liye ghoom rahein hain.” Something similar here. Unity amidst diversity, huh.