The biggest disadvantage of a system with excessive checks and balances is that passing on the buck becomes super easy. Nitish Kumar understands it fully well. Without having an iota of hindsight into his own failures, he is constantly raising the demand of special status for Bihar.
Demand for special status
The demand is not new. It surfaced just after Nitish first came to power in 2005. To put pressure on the centre, his Ministers and officers handed over memorandum after memorandum to the centre. When it went through deliberate deaf years of the Manmohan government, Nitish resorted to popular support.
JDU organised state wide rallies for it. All of them met at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. Nitish then went to the infamous Ramleela Maidan regarding his demand. Nothing could bring the desired result. Instead, the headache doubled for the central government when several other states joined the special status bandwagon.
Apart from the multiplier effect of demand, the problem for the centre was that Bihar didn’t strictly stand on the criteria for special status. These were outlined by Gadgil Formula. Bihar does not have much hilly terrain, nor is its border with Nepal strategic. Additionally, the tribal areas of the state have gone to Jharkhand. The only two criteria on which Bihar could claim special status were (are) economic and infrastructure backwardness and nonviable nature of state finances.
When Nitish came to power, Bihar’s per capita income had tanked to less than 33 per cent of national average. Its industries had collapsed, roads were broken, school buildings had exceeded their viable age. Government didn’t have enough money to build or rebuild them. By the end of FY2005, the debt on Bihar was worth Rs 42,484 crores. It was nearly 50 per cent of GSDP of Bihar at current prices.
Even detractors would concede that special category status was the need of the hour for the state. The movement was justified to a certain extent. Despite that, the state performed well in the initial years of Nitish government. Between FY2005 and FY2009, Bihar was second only to Gujarat in GDP growth rate. The difference was a meagre 0.02 per cent. It added credibility to Nitish’s demand for special status.
However, Centre did not buzz and later, the Narendra Modi Cabinet even abolished the very concept itself. The 14th Finance Commission asked the Centre to increase devolution of tax revenue by 33 per cent to states. It has been implemented since 2015.
Despite that, Nitish is continuously raising his demand. The reason behind it is that, in the last 10 years, Nitish has undone everything he did between 2005-10. Crime rate is rampant. Bihar’s per capita income is little less than 60 per cent of national average. Percentage of salaried employees has gone down. It is dependent on migrants’ remittance for 35 per cent of GSDP. Urbanisation is not seeing the light of the day and why not. Lantern is back in Bihar.
All these failures have only increased the frustrations of Nitish Kumar. Even then, he is using it as a political tool. Nitish has floated a special category status for all backward states as a pitch for 2024 General elections. Only he gets to define backwardness.
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