Bihar package: A slap in AP’s face

S Madhusudhana Rao

When it comes to politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party is no different from Congress. They are the two sides of the same coin. The only difference is which party heads or tails the government. This analogy has never been as starkly real as in the case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bihar package announcement.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

A day after wowing Indian expats in the United Arab Emirates with a slew of welfare plans, Modi announced an aid package of Rs 1.25 lakh crores to the poll-bound state on Tuesday. Dates for the State Assembly elections are yet to be announced, but they are expected to be sometime in October. As the battle for ballot is heating up and as the contesting parties are finalizing their strategies before throwing their hats into the ring, BJP and its one-time ally Janata Dal (United) led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar have entered a do-or-die phase. While seat-sharing and alliances are yet to be formalized, the main stakeholders in the fray are BJP and its allies and Lalu Prasad Yadav-Nitish group.

Stakes are high for both sides: After losing Delhi to Kejriwal, BJP can’t afford to ride on Modi wave that brought the saffron party to power at the centre and in many states last year. For Lalu and Nitish, the past and present chief ministers of Bihar, the poll will decide their political future. Therefore, it’s no surprise that all the key leaders are investing time in Bihar even before the poll campaign kicked off.

Against this political background comes Modi’s largesse to one of the most backward states in the country. Known as a sick state for decades, Nitish Kumar was at one time credited with lifting Bihar from the dump. He had been the chief minister from 2005 to 2014 and resigned in May that year following his party’s rout in Lok Sabha elections. However, he returned to power in February this year after a political crisis that also witnessed bitter political enmity between Nitish and Modi. Though the feud was largely attributed to personality and ego clashes, its shadow is visible at every political meeting and rally leading to Assembly polls.

Before Nitish-led alliance steals a march over its opponents, BJP wants to checkmate the chief minister and there is no better way to do it than dangling an aid package before voters. Modi has waited for an opportune time to announce the development fund for various projects that will change ‘the face and fate of Bihar.’

Clearly, the unveiling of the package is a poll sop but doesn’t come under the Election Commission’s watchful eyes as the poll dates have not been announced. Still, BJP can’t absolve itself of attempting to woo voters through its Rs 1.25 lakh crore package. Note, it is not ‘special,’ although the amount announced under each category is mind-blowing. Look at these figures (in crores of rupees): National highways and roads: 54,713; rural roads development under central-sponsored schemes: 13,820; Oil and gas projects: 21,476; Airports and aviation-related schemes: 2,700; universities and skills development: 2,550; Agriculture development: 3,094; Railway projects: 8,870; Power sector: 16,130; Digitalization: 449; Tourism: 600; and medical colleges upgradation: 600. The grand total is Rs 1, 25,002 crores!

Can we think of any state getting such staggering amount for development from the central government? This is apart from Rs 40,000 crores approved for the ongoing projects. Although most of the funds for the projects announced under the ‘package’ come from centrally-sponsored/financed schemes, still the amount is eye-popping and if it is spent as planned, it will change the face of Bihar.

But doubts remain. These were election promises and if we go by the previous governments’ record, most of the poll promises have remained on record. Their materialization period is long or zero. And, there is no guarantee that people would vote for BJP even after its government has pledged lakhs of crores as development assistance. We have many examples, from panchayat to national elections, where poll sops, including inducements in cash and kind, had not changed voters’ resolve. In Bihar case, unless the BJP government commits itself to allot the promised funds through proper legislation, they face the same fate as oral assurances given by Congress and BJP before the bifurcation of the Telugu State.

In fact, Andhra Pradesh’s case for special status which has been turned into a special package on various pretexts by the central government is stronger than Bihar. Having lost a huge chunk of revenue, the capital city and without infra and a solid industrial base to support the bifurcated state, Andhra Pradesh is in dire straits. Its Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has been knocking on central doors almost every day for funds to develop the state from scratch. But for over a year, the BJP government has been either dodging the issue or giving a few hundred crores which are peanuts for A to Z development of AP.

Now, on what basis the Modi government can justify its bounty to Bihar and deny similar assistance to AP whose need is much more than the poll-bound state? What we can infer from the step-motherly attitude of BJP government is it will wait until election time to shower crores of rupees on the poll-going state to garner votes and gain power. If that’s the strategy of BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi, then, God forbid, AP has to wait for four more years to realize its dreams.

While we wait and watch what will be the TDP government’s response to Bihar package, pressure on Chandrababu is bound to increase. AP will not be alone to feel cheated. There are many more states, including Telangana which was also promised more funds at the time of bifurcation, whose demand for increased central aid will snowball into a blizzard.

By singling out Bihar for special treatment, Modi has opened a Pandora’s Box. Worse, he has undermined the government that is supposed to keep the overall interests of the nation in mind before taking major decisions has made party interests pivotal for a state election. How can he inspire people’s confidence in him and take other states along with him?

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