From Backwater to Trailblazer in India

Article excerpt

Byline: Jason Overdorf

For years the rural, densly populated Indian state of Bihar has been synonymous with epic dysfunction. Once the seat of one of the world's most glorious empires, Bihar by the 1970s had fallen prey to government neglect, feudalism, corruption, and class conflict. State services ground to a halt, highways and bridges crumbled, and crime flourished. According to the travel writer William Dalrymple, however, Bihar was not so much backward as forward: an omen for what would happen to the rest of India under incompetent management.

Dalrymple may well be proven correct in saying that Bihar is a trendsetter, but the trend has suddenly become an uplifting one. In January the state posted some stunning statistics that paint an almost unbelievable turnaround under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Despite the economic crisis, Bihar grew 11 percent annually over the last five years. In what were once impassable badlands, the administration laid 4,200 miles of roads and built 1,600 bridges and culverts. Banditry and kidnappings declined; the number of foreign tourists rose from 95,000 to 356,000 over the past two years. "Things have dramatically improved" under Kumar, says Shaibal Gupta, an economist in Bihar. …