Published: 20th October 2020
Having private universities more important than reviving Nalanda: Manish Barriarr, Patna teacher and Oxford grad contesting Bihar Elections 2020
He is not the babu from Oxford but the Patna boy who connects to people on the ground level, says Manish Barriarr, a teacher-turned-politician
Politics in Bihar is turning over a new leaf. While the regular violence, showmanship and corruption are all there, the educated appear to be taking more of an interest in the elections. The Bihar Assembly Election 2020 will see people from a Masters in public policy from the London School of Economics to a former financial adviser to the IDBI to an Oxford graduate contest. While some have a lineage to back them up, people like Manish Barriarr have no political background. All he has is a frustration about the system that he finds dysfunctional. After completing his MBA from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, Manish went on to complete his PG Diploma on Organisational Leadership at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. But he came back to teach at a private institute in Patna. The teacher has now turned into a social servant and is making his journey towards being a politician with his own political outfit, Voxxs. We spoke to the candidate from Bankipur about his political plans and whether he will survive in the tough tides of Bihar politics.
Excerpts from the conversation:
You have said that your inspiration to join politics came from watching a dysfunctional system fail as an aam aadmi and that's the case with a lot of educated people joining politics. They are frustrated. But they disappear from the picture sooner than they had emerged. What is your long term plan?
Let me start by telling you why the system is dysfunctional. The value of an elected representative has come down a lot — not just in Bihar but pan-India. The value of the brand of the party has increased — it's become like a Pepsi or McDonald's and people do not care about what is inside. Even if you put a dog under that banner it will win. The well-educated civil servants realise very soon that the elected representative does not understand investment, industries or education policies and take them for a ride. The power is consolidated with the top ministers, leaders and the bureaucracy. The rest of the ministers, MPs and MLAs do not have any real power and they are unhappy. We have quite a few very powerful but eccentric leaders who have a huge following. What we need now is an old-fashioned party led by someone like Atal Bihari Vajpayee who will listen to people around him and also have educated and sensible people in his party to advise him.
Coming to the question you asked. One of the reasons why I did not join a political party because I realised that I am a complete misfit in all of these parties. I planned to create a party with socialist ideals where people come together — a good mix of socialism and investments is what Bihar requires. We are at the bottom of the chart and there's so much to do that I don't think I will be able to finish it in three lifetimes. I want to be an inspiration to young Biharis as well. I have a fundraiser running where I am collecting funds for my election campaign but one can even put in Rs 10 or Rs 20 and be part of the campaign. This will engage more youth and make them feel a part of it. I have received around Rs 18,000 till now and I hope to raise around Rs 40,000 from this. I have been moving on foot all around the city. I don't know how much this translates into votes but I am understanding the people, earning their goodwill and in whatever way, I can be a voice of theirs I would like to do that because politics is not just about being elected it is also about being the opposition voice which is now non-existent.
The Indian voter has been blamed for not voting for issues but for the names on the banner. How do you think you can highlight the issues to trump the big netas?
One good example, although not everyone would agree, is Arvind Kejriwal. He had a good team of people. It is always good to know that 6-7 people like that will raise their voice. I want to be one of them. My emphasis will be on the social representation of people. I also want a good mix of people from the panchayats working on the ground level. I am not a big fan of highly educated people. I think people working on the ground have a different kind of education that we need to understand the real problems. So a mix of both kinds is necessary. The problem with the people working at the ground level is they often lack the long term vision as they might not have a good sense of economy or policies but that is where the formal education comes in. I am still experimenting and the reason to launch the party right before the elections was to understand the response of the people and thankfully that has been great till now.
We have seen more educated people come into politics. Bihar elections have seen several candidates who have either got good education abroad or in India. Do you think a good higher education is needed to revamp Indian politics?
Yes, educated people do make a difference but only a high level of education will not suffice. People like Manohar Parrikar, who was from IIT Delhi or Arvind Kejriwal who is from IIT Kharagpur also had spent a lot of time in social service. I think that is important. But education does not give you the right to become a leader until and unless you connect with the people and their problems. But yes this is a welcome change. Hopefully, this will change the image of Bihar in front of the rest of India.
How does an Oxford grad connect with the janta of Bankipur? Is there a gap somewhere? You might be from Bihar and more connected to the masses that some of your other rivals but do people see you as the boy from Bihar or the educated babu from the UK?
I will tell you the good news. A major section of the people I am meeting have not heard of Oxford. Yes, for the middle class it does matter but for the lower-income group, it hardly matters where I am from. It matters more that I am a teacher and that earns me respect. The issues are still roti, kapda and makan (food, clothing and shelter) — it does not matter where I studied but whether I can use that education to solve these issues is the question. I speak in Maghi and I have been in Patna almost all my life so they do take me as the Patna boy.
Education is being made an issue in politics after 70 years in this vibrant democracy. The NEP has been in focus since it was released. While experts have agreed that it is a good document, they are also sceptical about its implementation. What are your views on the NEP?
Implementation is an issue. The primary schools are all in shambles and it's not like the government can't do a good job. Look at all the elite institutions, they are all government institutes. It's only a lack of intent. Another thing is the education of women. If you want the kids to be educated you must ensure that the mothers are educated and post-election, my campaign will be for 100 per cent education in Bihar. I am also against English being taught in Class 5 or 6. I think children should learn English right from their nursery years. The same set of politicians who have come up with the NEP will send their kids to Doon School and abroad while the others suffer when they apply for jobs or aspire to study abroad. English is an empowering language. I am an advocate of children learning more languages. European countries teach six to seven languages at school. Especially North Indians need to learn more languages from the southern parts of India. This will also help in national integration.
But where will you get a Malayalam or Tamil teacher in rural Bihar?
People in central schools get posted all over the country I have people from Bihar teaching in Arunachal Pradesh. Indians have gone wherever there are jobs. If you give them facilities and good salary, why won't they come?
How do Indians hold lawmakers responsible for the implementation of policies?
By defeating them or embarrassing them. I think that is the way to get their attention. Right now it is a very cosy situation. Even the opposition is very comfortable with the system. The top leadership aspires to become the Chief Minister or part of the cabinet but the rest of them are lazy and do not raise their voices. If, someday, I am in a position, let me put it on record, I will spend 20 to 25 per cent of the GDP on primary education because that's a must. Kerala is a very good example. Even on a pan-India level, the Prime Minister should talk about 100 per cent literacy. Technology is a huge enabler. The students can be given smartphones and if they are not performing you take the phones back. A carrot and stick method is needed.
Education has been a serious issue in Bihar for quite some time. While the state has given us a lion's share of civil servants, university education still seems to be riddled with inefficiency and corruption. Whenever there is an exam you see students resorting to unfair means, students waiting for years to even graduate. What is your plan to revamp the education system?
The problem stems from the problem of jobs. For a peon's post, you need to be a school graduate (12th pass) but at the same time, there are hardly any schools in villages. There are no teachers there if there are some schools. I am not justifying what they are doing but look at their desperation and journalists are reporting it without understanding the story behind it. They do not care about their degree. I would blame the system. You do not need to pass Class 12 to do a peon's job, you need to be literate. This is discrimination of a different order. The centre is also to blame for this. It is not like the Prime Minister is not aware of these issues but he comes here and says he has done great things for Bihar. I am very critical of the chest-thumping he does. There has been no work done on the ground.
The central government keeps talking about Nalanda and Takshashila. Will Bihar get back to those glorious years? And if you are elected, do you have a plan for that?
Those glorious days are over — as a country and as a state. You need to look forward. Bihar can achieve what the rest of India has achieved in the next 20 years. We need universities, industries and employment in Bihar. There is a problem of hunger, lack of pucca homes. These are the real issues. It is more practical to have an SRM University or any other private university which will give students a basic education along with government educational institutions which can give extraordinary education at a nominal rate.
Unemployment is a more serious issue now more than ever after the Coronavirus pandemic. Workers from Bihar who were working in different parts of the country have come back home. While a section of them have started returning, the others are not sure when and how they will get back or even if they should. With more unemployed people in the state, what's your plan to deal with employment?
Bihar is an agro-based economy but with very small landholdings. It's so small that it cannot feed even the family. The youngsters are thus sent to work in different states where they already have a relative working. The educated class too moves out of Bihar because there are no industries or corporates here and thus no jobs. The PM goes across the world to ask for investment. What about Bihar? The CM still says that there are no industries here because Bihar is landlocked and has no ports. The BJP-JDU government does not want to empower the people and wants to make sure that they are poor. GDP and per capita income are the worst in Bihar. That is why we need some people who understand the economy and help put it on a path of revival.