Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar organised a massive “Adhikar rally” in the national capital’s Ramlila Maidan on Sunday and reminded all political parties that his support would be crucial for the installation of any government in 2014. Ostensibly, it was a pressure tactic to demand a special package for the development of his backward state, but the wily Kumar was also sending a subtle message that he is open to exploring options outside the BJP-led NDA.
Kumar said: “Either you give it (special status) now or after 2014, you will have to give it. You will have to accept the demand in circumstances that will be there after 2014. Only one who feels about the backward and the backward states will occupy the seat of power in Delhi (centre).” It was an exemplary show of strength with Nitish proving a point that he might not exactly be a propagandist like a few vocal chief ministers but his Bihar development model does suggest that he had accomplished quite a lot in a brief period.
Interestingly, both the Bihar unit of the BJP, a key ally of the JD(U) in Patna, and the central BJP leadership had been kept out of the Ramlila platform, making it only a JD(U) show of strength. And it followed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s equally enthralling speech in the national capital at a conclave on Saturday evening. Kumar looked as though he was eager to pitch his Bihar development model with the same vigour as Modi hawks his Gujarat development endeavour. Kumar said without referring to anybody that his province pursued the right development model because it tried to reach development to everybody and left out none.
Referring to union finance minister P Chidambaram’s budget statement, Kumar welcomed the centre’s proposal to change the criteria for backwardness as well as granting special status to a state. He demanded that this proposal be implemented without delay and that his struggle was “not only for Bihar but also for other similar backward states”.
In his speech, Kumar invoked Bihari asmita and highlighted his many grievances against the centre’s policy of depriving Bihar of crucial development assistance. But it was clear from the speech that Kumar had already started charting out a path of his own, now that it is getting more and more clear that the BJP will not ignore the intra-party chorus for making Modi its prime ministerial candidate. Kumar has already said that he would oppose Modi’s candidature and if the BJP ignored his warning, he would walk out of the coalition. The tension between the BJP and its key partner JD(U) was quite palpable at the Bihar Adhikar rally.
In an apparent hint at a possible realignment, Kumar said the time has come to bring together people of all backward regions so that the “real development” of the country can be ensured. Kumar will also be meeting prime minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram on Monday to press his demand for special status to Bihar. Kumar has not exactly thrown his hat in the ring and declared himself as a keen contestant in the prime ministerial race. But Sunday’s rally has proved beyond doubt that he is not going to be held back by coalition compulsions and willing to part ways with the NDA if it becomes necessary.