In the last week, two atrocities have occurred in the northeast Indian state of Bihar: first, a ten-year-old girl’s finger were chopped off for plucking a few leaves of spinach from a vegetable field, and yesterday, a middle-aged woman was tonsured and paraded half-naked on the orders of the husband of a woman village head for allegedly stealing a few bananas (LINK HERE). Both, by the way, were dalits.

For the uninitiated, the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are what one could consider the black hole of India, part of a larger conglomeration of backward states known as BIMARU – BIhar, MAdhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh (Bimaru means “sick” in Hindi). There is a complete lack of infrastructure, education, industry, law & order…in short, civilisation. All located in the northeastern corner of the mainland (the seven sisters – Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh – are an island separated from India by Delhi’s apathy), these states represent the greatest drain on Indian governance and economy, while contributing mainly in the size of their population. Last year, although India’s economy grew at over 8.5%, Bihar’s per capita GDP grew at a negative 0.2% (LINK HERE). Uttar Pradesh, not to be outdone, can boast of 42% of its 166-million people (2001 census LINK HERE) living below the poverty line.

Names like Mayawati, Kanshi Ram, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Shibu Soren live in infamy among many in India. Many of these politicians (from the “black hole”) have criminal charges pending against them and yet serve in the Lok Sabha, India’s House of Commons. Just a few days ago, Shibu Soren, the Union Coal Minister, was convicted of killing his aide twelve years ago (LINK HERE). With this rat-pack leading the black hole, the Indian economy has struggled to maintain its impressive growth. Below-par performance of these states and politicians obviously hurts the rest of the country. Corruption, siphoning off the state treasury, and a drain on Union funds is merely the tip of the iceberg. Populist policies scare away any private investment, and any individual with ambition and potential leaves the state – there is a glut of Biharis in all the major cities of India, working as financial advisers, carpenters, and any other position they can grab.

The complete failure of law & order in the states cause companies to invest with trepidation. Either they become part of the corruption cycle and bribe local government officials or they can wait for months to get a license. As the opening anecdote shows, the lack of implementation of laws has adverse effects on the millions of people in this little part of hell where every positive trend in India is negated – if Hindus and Muslims learn to live peacefully in Jammu & Kashmir, there are huge caste wars in Bihar. If Kerala’s policies achieve zero population growth, Uttar Pradesh makes sure that it stays well above the national average. If illiteracy is being slowly eradicated in Maharashtra, Bihar’s caste lords make sure enough lower caste children are kept illiterate so that the national balance is not disturbed. If Gujarat posts record growth, Uttar Pradesh also posts record growth – in demands for Union funds. If crime is lowered in Karnataka, Bihar hauls it right back up (LINK HERE). The situation is so bad that most organisations treat the two states like lepers – industry sets up huge plants, spending billions, in neighbouring states like Orissa and Haryana, keeping miles away from any taint that could come from the diseased states.

The only solution I can think of when a patient is hovering near death like these states are is some drastic measure. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh should be brought under President’s rule, an emergency should be declared in the two states, and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) should be charged with maintaining law and order – with deadly force if necessary. Of course, this is after two or three years of vigilant detective work by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which would allow us “take out” some of the troublemakers as President’s rule takes effect. This will not heal the little girl’s fingers, nor will it return the woman’s honour, but it will hopefully reduce the number of victims we hear about in the future. At the end of the day, the question is, can we afford to leave these states behind? I don’t think so.

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Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.

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