Unlike before media is now not so courteous towards Bihar's Nitish Kumar government.

Media’s U-turn on Nitish: Is it a part of a design to keep him in a tight leash?

–Soroor Ahmed

After praising to sky for so many years the so-called revolutionary development brought about by the Nitish Kumar government, especially in the health, infrastructure and education sectors the media has of late been gunning for the Bihar chief minister. Recent ‘surge’ in Corona Virus cases has prompted several private television channels to show the other and the more real side of the Bihar story.

This change has been observed since last summer when a mysterious epidemic spread in north Bihar, especially around Muzaffarpur. At least a couple of hundreds of children–mostly under 10–perished within a matter of two or three days. Unofficial death toll was many times more as the patients could not be brought to the hospital.

This disease was initially named Acute Encephilitis Syndrome but in the local parlance called ‘champi bokhara’. It is not that this epidemic struck for the first time in last few years; only the media reported it so widely in 2019, that is just after the Lok Sabha election victory. The coverage by media exposed the pathetic situation in Bihar.

Three months later the electronic media once again got an opportunity to highlight the fortnight long waterlogging of the upscale colonies of the state capital, Patna. This led to the enormous hardship to the people and property worth hundreds of crores was destroyed.

The visual of deputy chief minister of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi being rescued out of his own house in Patna’s posh, Rajendra Nagar Colony, is still fresh in the mind of the viewers. Since everything has political meaning and more so in Bihar–this change in media’s approach towards Nitish deserves an objective analysis.

True, there had been no Corona Virus like challenge in the past. Yet it is a fact that ever since Nitish became the chief minister on Nov 24, 2005 Bihar had witnessed many similar situation but they escaped the media’s attention for obvious reasons.

In the initial couple of years some works were initiated, but they were largely possible because of the generosity shown by the Manmohan Singh government. The truth is that the media has been giving undue credit to the state government which it never deserved.

A couple of years after becoming the chief minister, Nitish would invite media to highlight how great change his government has brought about in the rural health sector, especially the Primary Health Centres across the state. The media was quick to  shower praise on chief minister for doing something unthinkable.

The reality was that the condition in premier health hubs , for example, Patna Medical College and Hospital, and other medical college hospitals had gone from bad to worse. Take the case of Patna’s PMCH, there were instances when it even lacked toilet soap and basic medicine, yet the media was busy only highlighting the big rise in the outdoor patients in the PHCs in the rural areas.

The truth is that this big change in the villages was possible only because of the central government’s National Rural Health Mission, for which the Manmohan government pumped hundreds of crores annually. Not to speak of doctors’ salary and medicine, even the money for the diesel used in generators in these rural health centres used to come from the Centre.

Instead Nitish was patted on the back for the work which he had hardly done. In contrast the medical college and hospitals, especially the two ones situated in Patna, witnessed repeated strikes by doctors leading to the deaths of hundreds of patients.Once Nitish’s loud-mouthed health minister, Ashwini Chaubey–now minister of state for health in the Modi cabinet–threatened striking doctors that their hands would be chopped off.

The media then conveniently ignored multi-crore infamous Uterus Scam, though the English Service of the BBC chose to send a special reporter to Bihar. A documentary was made on it. Similar was the condition of the infrastructure sector which really saw a big change. But that too was possible because of the central government’s Golden Quadrilateral and East-West Corridor projects.

The National Highway Authority of India too undertook several ambitious road construction projects. Besides, the then Union rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh pumped hundreds of crores under MNREGA and Bihar got generous fund under the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana, which changed the face of the state.

However, it is not that Nitish did nothing on this front. His government did build some state highways and urban roads. But he got many times more credit for whatever he had done in this sector. What the media also overlooked is the massive level of corruption in the construction sector. The recent collapse of a bridge built at the cost of over Rs 250 crore in Gopalganj district just 29 days after its inauguration by Nitish has only exposed this fact.

But this was not the first such case of any newly constructed structure collapsing in Bihar in his government. The media would in the past only underplay them.But Nitish started feeling the heat of the media after he parted ways from the BJP in June 2013. However, he once again started getting favourable media attention once he made a homecoming to the NDA on July 26, 2017.

But after the initial bonhomie one started observing that media started tightening its nose on the Bihar CM. Critics are of the view that this is a part of larger design to keep him in tight leash and not leave him unbridled. Though the media was slow in criticising Nitish Kumar government in the immediate post-lockdown weeks and the massive migrant labour crisis, the journalists, especially in Delhi have woken up that the health sector in Bihar has really worsened.

For this none else but Nitish Kumar and his ministers and leaders, of the BJP and JDU, are to be blamed. While the state government was busy  extending lockdown and cracking down on the people the ruling combination leaders were busy holding election related meetings.

Soon a large number of leaders, office-bearers and workers of these two parties fell victim to Corona. They not only stopped there, but spread the virus in their respective families and localities and villages.This led to the massive surge in the number of cases. There was a big outcry among the masses over this double standards. The media was bound to cover such colossal failure. 

Though both the parties were to be blamed for this utter disregard of rules and norms said by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was Nitish who had to bear the brunt. There are no dearth of people in the BJP camp who are elated in seeing that Nitish is repeatedly being cut to size. This would suit the saffron brigade in the post-Assembly election  scenario.

(The writer, a senior journalist, is based in Patna. The views are personal.)

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