From special status to praises on Modi: Nitish keeps the world guessing

Nitish Kumar - The Federal
Nitish Kumar. File Photo/PTI

Moments after returning to the BJP’s company in July 2017, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was quick to state how the same governments in Bihar and New Delhi would fast-track development works in the state. Strangely, never during its two-year association with the BJP, did his party ever raise the demand for granting special category status to Bihar. Instead, the Chief Minister went on to lavish praises on the Narendra Modi government all through the month-long poll campaign for doling out enough funds for carrying out development works in the state.

Raking up an old demand

Now with the six phases of polling getting over and the elections drawing to a close, the JD(U) has suddenly raked up its old demand for special status, triggering fresh speculation about the next move of the Chief Minister, barely a week ahead of the last phase and the election results.

“If we win 15 seats or more, then our first priority will be to force the new government grant special category status to Bihar though the 14th Finance Commission says it has basic problems in granting this status,” JD(U) general secretary KC Tyagi told the local media this week.

Then, he went on to back Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik’s demand for special status to the coastal state, demanding that both Bihar and Odisha be granted that status for its backwardness.

Tyagi said Bihar was left with little or no natural resources and industries post bifurcation in the year 2000. Likewise, Odisha also faced devastating cyclones like Fani, Hudhud, Phailin, and Titli in recent years, causing extensive damage, he said.

All these bring to fore the actual intentions of the Chief Minister. The main causes of the doubts could be three: one, the JD(U) is contesting in only 17 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats this time. So, even if the party wins all the 17 seats, it may not be able to exert enough pressure on the new government to get the demand fulfilled. Two: why did the party remain silent on this in the past two years. Three: how would the state get the status when Bihar doesn’t fulfill the criteria as fixed by the government?

The states seeking special status must fulfill certain conditions. The state should be in a hilly or difficult terrain, it should have a low population density or sizeable tribal population, and it should be strategically located along the borders. These apart, the state should be weak in terms of economicy and infrastructure. Bihar fulfills just one.

‘Secular’ image

So, is the Chief Minister simply looking for ‘excuses’ for his next political move? What has given rise to this speculation is the fact that the issue surfaced alongside remarks from JD(U) lawmaker Ghulam Rasool Balyavi that the CM should be projected as Prime Ministerial candidate if the NDA wants to form its government at the Centre. “The NDA will not be able to form the government after May 23 and if it wants to, Nitish Kumar should be projected as the as the PM candidate,” Balyavi said.

What he means to say is that Kumar’s ‘secular’ image could garner support of many parties if the NDA falls short of majority. While the BJP and the JD(U) rejected it as being ‘personal observation,’ the chief minister has not spoken a word. It’s worth mentioning that Balyavi is considered very close to the chief minister.

The fresh development came shortly after BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said in media interview that that NDA may not get majority this time. “The raking up of special category demand by the JD(U) explains two things —firstly, it was not getting enough seats in the elections and secondly, the chief minister is playing with various options to exploit the current situation.

Flip-flops are not new to Nitish Kumar. “He ditched the BJP which kept him afloat after his idea to float the Samata Party failed in the 1995 state elections and joined hands with his arch-rival Lalu Prasad when none could believe an image-conscious Nitish could do that. And then, in a sudden move, he returned to the company of Modi over whom he had quit the NDA in 2013. So, everything is possible in the dictionary of Nitish Kumar,” a political observer said.