Development research pop

Sep 01 2013, 10:42 IST
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SummaryIt seems Chetan Bhagat is born again, as Bihar Breakthrough: The Turnaround of a Beleaguered State is a pure delight for the uninitiated, neo-literate and wannabe post-reforms policy generation that has grown ambitious and aggressive in just one night at the call centre, in Bihar or elsewhere

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 Ripleys 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 Chakrabartis 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 Masters Voice (HMV). We dont 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 Patnas 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 ethnographyit 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 of criminals worked without a single written order! This explains why the book is shorn of the usual trappings of social science research such as academic referencing, end notes, sources of data and appendixes. There are only 17 references in the entire book as small mercies for methodological pundits! So

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