NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar recently let out the genie of Special Category Status (SCS) long after it had become dead wood in the NDA regime. On December 17, he said the government think-tank would shortly look into Bihar’s controversial demand for SCS — a plea that Odisha and Jharkhand, besides Andhra Pradesh, have been stridently pursuing but the NDA government has been consistently turning down.
To revive the 15-year-old demand for SCS by exerting pressure on the NDA, of which his party Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), is a constituent, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sought to take on board rival Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad Yadav. The political establishment in Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, remains unmoved.
The latest discussion on SCS brings to mind the contrast in the political matrix prevailing in Andhra and Bihar. The demand for SCS came to the fore in Bihar after the partition of Jharkhand as a separate State, in 2000. A similar demand cropped up in Andhra Pradesh with the partition of Telangana in 2014, following a promise made in Parliament by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Bihar and Andhra Pradesh — a parallel
Bihar is home to multi-party politics; for the dominant splinter groups of the Janata Dal, the ideologies of secularism and socialism form the umbilical cord. Andhra Pradesh presents a different scene. There, even before the bifurcation, the politics was primarily bipolar, with the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), founded by movie mogul NT Rama Rao on the planks of anti-Congress sentiments, constantly at loggerheads with each other. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress (YSRC) emerged as a by-product of the Congress later, competing with the TDP in the power play.
Both Nitish and Lalu come from the same school of thought, with the socialist beliefs of Janata Party founder Jayaprakash Narayan as a guiding force. Nitish, compelled by political expediency, is sailing with the BJP. But, he and Lalu may come together anytime to kick the BJP out, as seen in the past. Earlier, the RJD and the JD(U) were coalition partners in Bihar.
K Nageswar, who teaches journalism in Telangana’s Osmania University, told The Federal that there are hardly any instances in Andhra Pradesh of Jagan and the TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu rising above sectarian feuds for the common cause of the State. Citing Nitish leading an all-party delegation to the Prime Minister seeking caste census, Nageswar pointed out that neither Naidu, when he was Chief Minister, nor incumbent Jagan has made any such move in AP.
A victim of narrow politics
In AP, the BJP is out of reckoning for now. The turf war is almost entirely between Jagan’s party and the TDP, with the others such as the Congress, actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena and the Left parties being marginal players with no stakes for power. At no point of time, and under no circumstance, have the TDP and the YSRC been willing to cede ground to each other and share power.
In principle, both Jagan and Naidu favour SCS for their State, though Naidu, while in alliance with the NDA before the general elections in 2019, did take a U-turn with compromising stances. Jagan, as an Opposition leader in the run-up to the elections, built a narrative surrounding the SCS only to expose Naidu’s failure in achieving it.
The YSRC leader, as a pressure tactic, asked his party MPs to quit their elected positions over non-delivery of SCS, pushing Naidu into a tight spot. Eventually, the TDP pulled out of the NDA government and went to polls, blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for failure to realise SCS.
Weaving his poll campaign around SCS during the 2019 elections, Jagan said: “I will force any party forming the government at the Centre without requisite numbers on hand to cough up special status if you (people) give me a majority of Lok Sabha seats.” AP voters did give him 22 of the 25 MP seats in that election. But, contrary to his expectations, the BJP registered a landslide victory and formed the government without depending on any party for support.
Politics of pusillanimity
Forced to change his posture, Jagan began to request the NDA bosses to earnestly look into his plea. Mired in a plethora of Enforcement Directorate (ED) cases and heading a government with poor finances as a fallout of the bifurcation, Jagan has his own compulsions to go soft on the Modi government.
Naidu, too, changed his stand vis-à-vis the BJP after the severe drubbing in the elections. Ahead of the Lok Sabha election, he was militant and belligerent in his criticism of the NDA government. He even joined the Congress camp after breaking ties with the NDA, crossing swords with Modi to save himself from the backlash on his botched commitment to SCS. Later, bruised by the poll reverses, Naidu extended an olive branch to the NDA.
At the end of the day, AP lost its due in the bitter Naidu-Jagan turf war.
What SCS means to State governments
With SCS, a State gets funds for centrally sponsored schemes in the Centre-State ratio of 90:10 — that is, the Centre bears 90% of the cost, while the State needs to put up just 10%. For the other States, the ratio is 60:40.
The Constitution does not provide for any State to receive special treatment compared to others. However, for a range of reasons — such as historical disadvantage, difficult or hilly terrain, nature of population (low density or a large share of tribals), strategic location along the border, and economic or infrastructural backwardness — the Centre has, over the decades, extended special assistance to some States.
Since 1969, the National Development Council (NDC), which used to be part of the now defunct Planning Commission of India, had recommended SCS status for 11 States — eight from the North-East, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
The petty YSRC-TDP turf war has taken a heavy toll on the interests of Andhra Pradesh. It has lost its bargaining power with the Centre to realise the pending promises made in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, such as special railway zone for Visakhapatnam, execution of Polavaram as a Centrally-funded national project, steel plant in Kadapa, and financial assistance for capital building in Amaravati and development of backward areas, leave alone SCS. The BJP, with hardly a toehold in AP, is exploiting the vulnerabilities of Jagan and Naidu, observed Nageswar of Osmania University.