It was in the eighties that the acronym BIMARU was coined to represent the four north Indian states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The economic and political situation in these states was so poor that it was dragging down the rest of the country making them seem constantly ‘bimar’ or ill. Then things seemed to change for the better. UP, MP and Bihar were sliced up and new states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand came into being. It was hoped that the states would now be easier to govern and for some time it did seem that the bad old yesteryears were over.

Ill fated: Deaths of school children due to contaminated midday meals, Maoist violence -- nothing seems to be going right for the beleaguered Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

Just two years ago, Bihar had a GDP growth rate of 13.26% per cent and Madhya Pradesh of 11.81 per cent when the national GDP growth rate was 6.21 per cent. Even Uttar Pradesh played catch up and posted a 6.86 per cent growth. Roads were being built and industries were being set up. Educational institutes were churning out professionals to cater to the job market. But somewhere along the line things have again started unravelling. Goonda Raj has come back with a vengeance in Uttar Pradesh. Brazen attacks on women take place while the young foreign educated Chief Minister maintains complicit silence. In Azamgarh, a former MLA Sarvesh Singh and his guard were shot dead last week and violence and arson spread unchecked within minutes. A police inspector has now been arrested in the case. There is no fear of law anymore in Uttar Pradesh as gangs operate freely with the full knowledge that the over-politicised police are either complicit or tacitly looking the other way.

In neighbouring Bihar, the edifice of good governance is also crumbling. As if overnight, after the political divorce between the BJP and the JDU, a huge shadow has crept over the state. The bomb blasts at Bodh Gaya, deaths of school children due to contaminated midday meals, Maoist violence, nothing seems to be going right for the beleaguered Chief Minister. Nitish Kumar was credited for ending gang warfare and changing the way politics was done in Bihar. The vikas purush transformed equations, defocused caste and laid emphasis on governance. But come 2013, the two-term Chief Minister is now pressing the Central government for ‘special status’ to Bihar ‘for overcoming backwardness’. His argument is that despite having 8 per cent of the country’s population, Bihar’s contribution to the GDP is only 2.9 per cent. And a Special Status is the magic wand that will pull Bihar out from the abyss of darkness.

On his visit to Bihar, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said, “The committee will work on the criteria and submit a report, after which we will have new criteria to determine backwardness. Once we have agreed on the criteria and implemented them, States will qualify under them. From whatever information I have, Bihar will certainly qualify.” Being backward is now a badge to be worn with pride. You have to work hard to ‘qualify’ for it.

Other states like Orissa will have to wait in line for such largesse to come their way. Nitish is the new Blue eyed boy for the Centre. The would-be giant slayer who dared, you see!

As the general elections loom closer, there is nervousness that the erstwhile BIMARU states — with their negativity and divisive politics — will be the main focus of all political parties. Uttar Pradesh, where almost 60 million people live below the poverty line, wields tremendous power as it sends the maximum number of legislators to Parliament. These are the states where the permutations and combinations of electoral politics take place, which ultimately leads to government formation in New Delhi.

All eyes are now on these states. But how are people in these states going to vote in the 2014 elections. They ought to vote in favour of governance and boot out parties that have kept millions of people in an Area of Darkness — all in the name of Secularism, Mandal and Hindutva. But will they? Are they trapped in the tyranny of false choices?

In every election, the voters elect parties and leaders who promise them a better tomorrow. Hope, it is said, is not a strategy. But in a country where two meals a day is a luxury for millions, Hope is the narcotic needed to dull the harsh reality. The search is on for vision, clarity and selflessness in our leaders. But no party or leader seems capable or convincing of lifting the millions out of the abyss of darkness.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash