It’s a special relationship in the making. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has made it clear that his party’s outside support to the UPA in the Lok Sabha would be dependent upon his state getting special category status. However, the fact remains that the status has to be cleared by the National Development Council (NDC) and given the present political situation, that appears a remote possibility.
Armed with 20 MPs in the Lok Sabha, Nitish said he was hopeful that the state would be accorded special category status soon on the basis of a special committee report.
The Finance Ministry appointed a six-member committee headed by former chief economic advisor Raghuram Rajan to create a composite development index. Last week, the committee met in New Delhi with a 11-point criterion to assess backwardness of states. But the question in Bihar is that how could Nitish, a seasoned politician with long experience in governance, ignore the fact that special category status could only be accorded by the NDC? The hunch is that it is a political tool to create pressure on a weak UPA and mobilise other backward states under one banner to suit Nitish’s agenda.
Senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi accused the chief minister and Union finance minister P Chidambaram of fooling the people in the name of special category status to Bihar. In a statement he said the demand was nothing but an election stunt. The BJP and JD(U) parted ways after 17 years recently.
Modi accused Nitish and Chidambaram of misleading the people. Even the constitution of a panel under Raghuram Rajan was an eyewash, since there was no mention of special status in its term of reference he said. He added that special category status was neither mentioned in Chidambaram’s Budget speech nor in the Economic Survey.
He said Chidambaram had only stressed on revisiting the criteria for Backward Region Grant Fund and devolution of funds.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard, member of the special committee Shaibal Gupta said, “The Central government can take a decision to help backward states like Bihar on the basis of the recommendations of the committee.” He agreed that the matter of special status didn’t come under the purview of the committee.
The demand of special category status for Bihar would help the state get more funds from the Centre and some tax incentives particularly for investment in the state.
Nitish made it clear that his party would leave no stone unturned to make this issue as an important poll plank. He organized mammoth party rallies for creating pressure on the Centre on the issue.
Political observers feel that besides economic incentives, Nitish may consolidate his electoral base on “state sub-nationalism”. This is the major reason to keep aside other political parties from this initiative.
“Rabri Devi was first to demand special status for Bihar in 2002 when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, then Nitish opposed this demand to deny credit to her” said RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Also read: Too many advisors, few ministers