This election season in Patna, the writing is on the wall in the form of banners and advertisements — not of political parties, but of private coaching centres exhorting people to “change the world through education” and “ensure your own victory”.
Nearly every building on Boring Canal Road is masked behind a sea of billboards for these coaching centres, with “mathematics gurus” selling a dream that comes with a potential ticket out of Bihar and maybe even India.
Pamphlets, with school subjects written in bold and contact numbers of tutors, are everywhere — from cycle rickshaws to telephone poles. The posters even find their way to villages 20 km away, in Panrepur and Neoraganj.
Six years ago, as a 15-year-old in Gopalganj, 150 km from Patna, it was one such poster that prompted Vivek Rai to leave his home for private school and coaching classes. Now 21 and preparing for his civil services, Rai isn’t voting this election since his exam is coming up this week. “I want to be in the Indian Police Service and go to Naxalite areas — Chhattisgarh, Bengal,” he says.
After a siesta, he sits at the ground floor canteen of his hostel, just off Boring Road, drinking cola with Kaustubh Anand, 18, from Purnia and Sourav Kumar, 20, from Dhanbad, Jharkhand, both preparing for law entrance examinations.
“The thinking back in the village is that one must get a government job. But now there are no more government jobs,” says Anand. While his vote went to the JD(U) in his home constituency (Purnia voted in the second phase on April 18), he has one lingering concern. “One thing I want to say is that if the BJP comes back, they need to focus on employment. People say there are still no jobs in Bihar.”
But he’s confident that after his five-year law course, he will find a job in his home state. “There are still five years to go. A lot can change in five years,” he says.
In a state where aspirations have surpassed the capacity of mainstream schooling, a parallel system of coaching institutes has propelled Patna, much like the famed Kota in Rajasthan, to become a hub for the private academy business.
Two years ago, the state’s then education minister, Ashok Choudary, had estimated that about 2,500 private coaching institutes operated in Patna, admitting that attempts at regulation, such as the Bihar Coaching Institute (Control and Regulation) Act, 2010, had fallen short.
At the centre of this discourse are students at these coaching centres who have a question for political parties: “Will there be a job for me in Bihar after my education?”
Ranjeet Kumar, administrator of CIMAGE, one of the oldest “career catalyst” institutes in the city, is upset that neither of the two candidates in Patna Sahib — Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP and the Congress’s Shatrughan Sinha — is answering this question while they indulge in “irrelevant talk”.
With 10 years of experience under his belt, Kumar is “proud” that the coaching industry is “bringing wealth” to his city. But still, he says, most students are leaving the state for work outside.
“Big companies nahin hain, factories nahin hain. Malls are opening, telecom jobs are opening, but more work needs to be done,” he says. “Which party is talking about these issues? What sort of an issue is nationalism?”
Down the road, at a girls’ hostel, the students are more optimistic.
“Just because somebody says Patna is not good enough, the education isn’t good enough, jobs not good enough… what do we do? Go to Delhi? Or Bombay? Not me. If I get everything, I want to be here. I want Bihar to be better,” says Priyanka Pai, 20, from Munger who is doing a six-month coaching course for the Staff Selection Commission exams.
Priyanka hopes to become a “businesswomen” and set up a school in her village, but admits that “for now, the situation is such that whatever job I get, I’ll take it”.
She regrets applying for her voter card too late. Had she got it, her vote would have been for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Mummy ka kehna hai ki pehle make India strong, phir Bihar ka ho jayega (Mummy says make India strong, then Bihar will be strong).”
Back at the boys’ hostel, Rai scoffs: “In Purnia, where I come from, what does national security have to do with anything? Or defence policy?”
The three boys go on, debating the government’s “failure” in Pulwama, the “lack of calibre” in RJD leader Lalu Prasad’s children, the NSSO data on jobs, the Aam Aadmi Party’s ideology, and inflation. Though Rai says he would have voted for the JD(U) had his exams not come in the way — “because Nitish brought electricity and roads” — he says this election is not being fought on the issues that matter to him.
The hostel’s warden warns the students to finish the discussion so they can prepare the tables for dinner.
As he seeks more time from the warden, Rai says, “Everyone wants to live with their family, stay happy together. If Biharis can find employment in Bihar, then what can bring them more happiness?”