The long-standing demand for special status to Bihar has been rekindled by a recent report of NITI Aayog that put the state at the bottom and provided the Opposition with fresh ammunition against the NDA, which has been in power here for more than a decade.
The NITI Aayog had last week come out with its latest SDG (sustainable development goal) index placing states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh at the top while Bihar with 52 points out of a total of 100 was at the bottom, a spot it has been occupying for long.
On cue, JD-U leader Upendra Kushwaha came out with a couple of tweets tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi whom he requested to reconsider the demand for special category status, asserting that while the Nitish Kumar government in the state had done all it could to improve the overall economic situation, a real turnaround has eluded Bihar.
JD-U leaders contend that the state was been adversely affected by the carving out of the resource-rich Jharkhand two decades ago.
Notably, ‘vishesh rajya ka darza’ (special category status) has been a pet demand of Kumar, who has been vehemently raising the same since coming to power in 2005 and often made it a poll plank.
He had promised to support any government that fulfilled this demand while the Congress-led UPA ruled the Centre. He persisted in seeking special status, belying speculations that he will tone down his demand, on returning to the NDA-fold with an assertive Modi at the helm. Kumar frequently wrote letters to the Centre highlighting the raw deal Bihar was getting under the new formula for distribution of tax revenue among the states. The BJP, which has been saddled with similar demands emanating from other states since assuming power at the Centre, has however chosen to remain equivocal.
While the Prime Minister has avoided touching upon the subject, late finance minister Arun Jaitley had pinned the blame on the 14th Finance Commission, which had allegedly done away with the system of conferring special category status upon weaker states.
Jaitley’s averment had triggered hopes that the record would be straightened by the 15th Finance Commission.
However, these were dashed when the commissions head N K Singh said it was a demand that could be met only by the National Development Council.
Speculations that the latest demand could be a ploy by the JD-U to flex its muscles, mortified by its diminution in strength in the assembly polls last year, have been dismissed by the party.
K C Tyagi, the JD-U’s principal national secretary general and chief spokesman underscored that special status has been our long-standing demand. The Niti Aayog report is not a reflection on Nitish Kumar’s performance. Rather, it affirms our stand that Bihar has been wronged and must get its due.
Bihar’s score of 52 in the SDG rankings against a national average of 66 and Kerala’s impressive 75, was an eyesore as even Jharkhand which was carved out of it has a higher ranking and score. However, the narrative woven by the JD-U is that lack of resource allocations has made it even more difficult for Bihar to break out of the poverty trap it is in.
The Opposition Grand Alliance, helmed by the RJD, however took potshots at Kumar over the report. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, the Chief Minister’s archrival, came out with tweets laced with his characteristic acerbic wit and declaimed the double engine in Bihar is just a trouble engine.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav, who has taken over the party mantle from his father.
RJDs junior alliance partners like Congress and the Left also came out with statements asserting that the NITI Aayog report was proof that Nitish Kumar’s claims of having ushered in good governance were hollow.