Only a day after Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee withdrew support to the UPA, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar created a political ripple by declaring that he was ready to support any party to form government at the Centre if it granted special status to his state.
While the timing and content reflected an open offer to the Congress, it rang an alarming bell within the BJP. Later he, however, clarified that the statement should be considered in the context of 2014 general election. Kumar’s party, Janata Dal (United), has 20 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
The Bihar CM is currently on ‘Adhikar Yatra’ for mobilising mass support for his proposed ‘Adhikar rally’ to be organised at Gandhi Maidan in Patna on November 4. This would be first ever major political rally by the JD(U) in the capital city.
At present 11 states fall in the special status category—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand. These states get central assistance to the tune of 90 per cent as grant and only 10 per cent as loan whereas others get only 30 per cent as grant and rest 70 per cent as loan.
Kumar had first demanded special category status for Bihar on the eve of 2009 Lok Sabha election result declaration. He had made the demand as a pre-condition for his party to support formation of government at the Centre. Incidentally, Congress and its allies got majority and he lost his bargaining power. But when Kumar met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with an all-party delegation, Singh recommended the case of Bihar to an Inter-Ministerial Group which looked into the matter and later rejected it saying “Bihar’s case for special category status is not made out on the basis of five specified characteristics for providing such a facility”.
Kumar, while slamming the Centre for rejecting his demand, suggested that the Central Government should frame new criteria to accommodate his demand.
The Bihar CM, who became the darling of both national and international media for giving so-called fillip to the state’s economy, soon realised that ground realities were not as rosy as it had been projected particularly by a friendly media. The number of poor has drastically increased; hardly any major investment has come in; rampant corruption in government offices has created resentment and frustration in the masses that reflected in protest by villagers in different yatras of Kumar.
Being a wily politician, he planned to throw the ball in the Centre’s court. If the Centre rejects his demand, he would blame it for all his failures. This would also help in activating party organisation before 2014 parliament election. The election is crucial for him as his name for the post of Prime Minister has already been floated in the political circles.
Kumar’s arch political rival, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, dismissed the political mobilisation on the issue of special category status as political gimmick. He said it was the Rabri Devi government that in 2002 had raised the demand in the light of bifurcation of the state, for which an all-party delegation had met Union ministers, including Kumar, who was then in the Vajpayee cabinet. Prasad said it was Kumar, who had then opposed the demand for special category status to Bihar, saying the Union government had already sanctioned a number of projects to the state. Now, the same Kumar is singing a different tune, Prasad added.
“Bihar does not fit in the criteria for special status. NDC (National Development Council) has rejected the proposal. Will the Nitish government now change the criteria for fulfilment of the demand?” Prasad asked. The RJD chief said the state would do better by seeking special package for all-round progress. He said Kumar is befooling the people of Bihar, ahead of the parliamentary polls as he wants to hide the failure of his government.
Interestingly, RJD was also the part of an unanimous resolution adopted by the state legislature to seek special category status for Bihar in 2006. The party later joined an all-party delegation in 2011 to meet the Prime Minister for granting special status.
“Being at the lowest in most of the socio-economic parameters, Bihar definitely makes a strong case for some major intervention in governance but the larger question is only resources which are the only prerequisites for sustained equitable development,” says N K Chaudhary, a Patna-based economist.
The issue is not only linked to the skewed development of the state but it also carries the weight of emerging sub-nationalism in the state particularly in current changed environment.