Patna: Bihar remains a backward state. It continues to require special assistance from the Centre for its development just as it did five years ago and earlier. But this issue is missing entirely from the campaigning around the Lok Sabha elections that are underway.
The much-hyped demand by the ruling JD(U) of a special category status to Bihar is neither on the election agenda nor did chief minister Nitish Kumar raise it once while campaigning this time.
For more than a decade, Nitish Kumar has vociferously demanded the grant of special category status to Bihar — a demand he projected as being indispensable to the state’s development.
What a surprise, then, for the people of the state that Nitish Kumar remained silent over this topic during dozens of election meetings. It appears he has deliberately kept this issue out of the poll campaign so as to not embarrass its ally BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the BJP-led NDA government last year had repeatedly denied the grant of special status to Bihar.
This is, however, contrary to what was expected nearly two years ago when Nitish Kumar and BJP got back together. The JD(U) leaders themselves had made it sound as if it was now only a matter of days before the Centre accorded special status to the state.
“We have not heard the demand of special category status to Bihar raised by Nitish during the campaign. He seems to have brushed it under the carpet,” said Gajender Sharma, a school teacher at the government school in Arwal district.
Sharma said Nitish has been more busy parroting Modi in the ongoing polls than focussing on his own party’s agenda, including special category status to Bihar.
According to local political activist Ranjeev, Nitish Kumar has not referred to this old demand on any platform in the past six to seven months.
“This year till May first week, Nitish touched on all issues except the special category status to Bihar. The last time Nitish was heard raising this issue was in October last year. So one can understand how serious he is regarding this much-discussed demand.”
Also Read: As BJP Readies to Dominate Bihar, Nitish May Give Up Special Status Demand
Ranjeev told Newsclick that Nitish Kumar had been forced by political compulsions to keep mum on this issue in order to keep its ally BJP and Modi comfortable.
“It was Nitish Kumar who had raked up the issue during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and made it one of the major election planks in the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls,” he said.
Anish Ankur, a Left-leaning political watcher, said Nitish Kumar was by now known for taking U-turns on his earlier stands, whether on the issue of joining hands with the BJP or the special category status to Bihar.
“People are no more surprised by his stand to keep mum on poll issues created by him only, in the service of the political interests of Modi.”
He pointed out that, in the past, Nitish Kumar had done everything from launching a signature campaign to taking out rallies in Delhi an Patna to staging dharnas to push for special status for Bihar.
The Bihar CM has repeatedly stated that the state would take at least 25 years to touch the national average of economic growth, if the special category status was not accorded to it. He used to remind Delhi that Bihar’s per capita income and investment is the lowest in the country. It lags behind on all human development indicators. None of this has changed.
“How has Nitish Kumar abandoned his own stand, even when it is a must for the development of Bihar?” said Rajesh Kamal, a Hindi poet.
In fact, this is the first election in the past one decade where the demand for a special category status to Bihar is not an issue for Nitish.
In 2010, Nitish Kumar launched a campaign for special category status to Bihar saying it was a right of the people of the state. After that, his party JD-U set a target to collect one crore signatures and submitted 1.25 crore signatures in support of the demand in 2011 to Manmohan Singh, who was then PM. In 2012, he took out the ‘Adhikar Yatra’ (Rights March). He organised other rallies in Patna and Delhi, all in support of the demand.
Special status for Bihar was his party’s main poll plank for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the 2010 Assembly polls, and then the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2015 Assembly polls.
Nitish Kumar had repeatedly accused Modi of betraying the people of Bihar, as the PM had promised special status to the state during his 2014 Lok Sabha polls campaign. He had raised the issue at the Inter-State Council meeting in Delhi in July 2016.
Also read: Elections 2019: Nitish ‘Magic’ or Nitish ‘Factor’ Missing in Bihar
Two months ahead of joining hands with the BJP, Nitish in May 2017 again pressed for the special status and assistance to Bihar in a three-page letter submitted to Modi.
In the letter, the CM highlighted that even after achieving double-digit growth rate over the past many years, Bihar was still behind the national average on major developmental parameters, such as the poverty line, per capita income, industrialisation, and social and physical infrastructure.
“A new policy framework is needed to uplift Bihar from backwardness and bring it to the national mainstream. Special category status would ensure further growth because of greater availability of resources due to increased central share in the centrally sponsored schemes and incentivise private investors,” he had said.
After Nitish Kumar dumped the BJP in 2013, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi in March 2014 had launched a campaign to woo voters by promising that the state would be accorded special category status if Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. At the time BJP leaders had said it was an attempt to counter Nitish Kumar’s ongoing ‘Sankalp Yatra’ over the denial of special status to the state by the Congress-led UPA government.
In fact, BJP leaders had claimed it was only Modi who could fulfil the special status demand. “If Modi becomes Prime Minister, Bihar will be accorded special status by him,” CP Thakur, the party's national vice president then, had said during the last polls.
However, Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav last month dared Nitish Kumar to demand the special status for Bihar from Modi during the NDA's election rallies where he shared the dais with him.
“Modi had promised the special category status for Bihar, but till date the promise has not been fulfilled. Nitish ji should demand this from Modi now,” Tejashwi had said, advising Nitish to not be afraid of Modi and “demand the genuine rights of Bihar.”