Bihar Has Big Problems & Sushant Singh Rajput is Not One of Them. What the Election Should Be About

Social Commentary

Bihar Has Big Problems & Sushant Singh Rajput is Not One of Them. What the Election Should Be About

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

At the end of this month, Bihar will go to the polls to vote for a new state government. Like any election, there is a gamut of issues that will influence voters to pick the leaders of their choice. But if the national media is any indicator, the most priority is being given to an issue that took place in Mumbai, thousands of kilometres outside the state’s borders.

Sushant Singh Rajput, a Bollywood actor who left his home state of Bihar to pursue a career in showbiz, was found dead in his apartment – he died by suicide. However, the swirling conspiracy theories surrounding his death allowed it to be turned into a poll plank to seek votes, on the pretext of gaining justice for “Bihar ka beta”. In the bargain, issues that are far more wide-ranging and affect the common man have been neglected, or outright ignored in the run-up to the election. Journalist M Rajshekhar, who has been filing ground reports from Bihar for the last three years, compiled a thread on Twitter documenting the myriad problems in the state that deserve more attention than what is essentially a celebrity scandal.

Most relevant in the time of a global pandemic is Bihar’s flagging healthcare system. A series of detailed reports by Rajshekhar in 2017 found glaring problems, including understaffing, corruption, and bureaucratic paralysis. The reports paint a picture of dangerously high arsenic levels in the groundwater causing abnormal rates of cancer, poor or non-existent public sanitation leading to dengue and chikungunya outbreaks, and a massive shortage of doctors and trained medical staff to deal with the sudden rise in patients during spikes like this pandemic.

Public education is another area where the government is failing to deliver on its commitment to the people of Bihar. Rajshekhar found that private institutions and coaching centres have rushed in to fill the vacuum left by poorly run and sparsely staffed government schools. However, being driven by profit, there is a looming question over both the quality and affordability of the education being made available to students by these private players.

Finally, Bihar’s law and order situation is another area that needs attention. Increased activity by right-wing organisations like the Bajrang Dal has contributed to creating a charged communal atmosphere, which residents claim did not exist in earlier years. This in turn has led to the ghettoisation of certain settlements, to the detriment of their residents.

One would think matters like public health, education, and law and order would play a bigger role in the conversations leading up to the election, but not for Indian TV news. A Bollywood actor’s suicide pulls more TRPs, and is thus one of the defining issues of the upcoming election. As far as Bihar’s netas go, after trying to politicise the actor’s death, they are now busy forming alliances. The common man can wait.