New Delhi: Signalling his intentions of playing a bigger role in national politics, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar on Sunday addressed a huge rally at New Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on Sunday and declared that his fight for a special status to the state would continue till the Centre accepted it. Buoyed by the cheering crowd which numbered over 50,000, Nitish Kumar delivered an impassioned speech and in a well-crafted move also exhorted other backward states to demand special status.
He hinted that he would not hesitate to support the party which helped him achieve special status for Bihar. The call for other backward states to join his struggle is being seen as Kumar trying to position himself as a leader of a possible non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party led political front in 2014.
Even though there was a minor commotion just before Nitish Kumar started his 25-minute speech when a man waved black flag, shouted slogans against him before he was overpowered and beaten up by the JD(U) workers, the Bihar Chief Minister did not deviate from his main plank. Pointing out that when Bihar was divided and Jharkhand carved out of the state in 2000 the then BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government had assured help to make Bihar a developed state but it was never done.
The statement can be seen as a warning to the BJP, which incidentally is his ally in the Bihar, to not take him for granted. Kumar also tried to position himself as a possible rival to Narendra Modi by taking a potshot at the Gujarat Chief Minister, who has been claiming that he has set a new benchmark by turning Gujarat into a developed state. Kumar said that he had turned around Bihar during the last seven years of his rule and his agenda was to ensure that all sections of the society were able to reap the benefits of development. He went on to add that only those who had an inclusive developmental agenda would be able to rule India.
Special status was Bihar's right and Biharis were not begging for it, instead they were demanding it and the state must get it, he said amidst thundering applause. Even as the crowd cheered on, Kumar issued a veiled threat saying that only a political formation which could help Bihar and other backward states would be able to rule Delhi after the 2014 elections. He said that the Adhikar rally was a warning to those in power at the Centre and they could ignore it at their own peril.
Expressing satisfaction that Finance Minister Finance Minister P Chidambaram had in his Budget speech shown concern for Bihar, Kumar said the state had never got a fair treatment from the Centre. He said that even though a panel set up by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government had admitted that Bihar needed special help, yet the Centre had denied any special assistance of status to the state as it did not fulfill the criteria laid down for such a help. He said that even though the Centre has been saying Bihar does not have hilly terrain as so cannot be granted the special status; he said that the floods caused by Himalayan rivers wreak havoc in the state year after year.
Trying to establish himself as the tallest leader of the state, Kumar kept on harping on the Bihari pride. He criticised the Centre's refusal to give rehabilitation funds to help those affected by the massive Kosi flood in 2008.
The Centre must take note of Bihar's potential and the agriculture sector in the state has seen tremendous progress, he said. The agricultural road map has been prepared to make sure that those associated with the sector and allied activities are able top reap the benefits of development. The President has praised Bihar's agricultural programme. Many states get Central assistance, but not Bihar. Why is it so? Bihar is not against other states getting help. Bihar will support such a demand by other states, but Bihar shouldn't be ignored," he said.
India will develop faster if all the states develop and this could only be achieved if the Centre did not discriminate between states. "Bihar has the right to be a developed state. Bihar has been discriminated by the Centre since Independence even though it is the cradle of civilisation and was the foremost state during the ancient and pre-Independence era," said Kumar. He added that Biharis had been discriminated against and humiliated in other states but they have helped develop those very states and now it was their duty to do something for their own state.
While Kumar's speech indicated that he was not averse to entering into an alliance with a political group which favoured his struggle for special status to Bihar, he steered clear of outlining his future course of action. The Bihar Chief Minister along with party president Sharad Yadav, who had also highlighted Chidambaram's Budget speech, tried to strike a balance by ensuring that they sent enough signals to both the BJP as well at Congress that 2014 could well see a highly fractured mandate and hence they could not afford to ignore the JD(U) and its views of major issues.
The crowd was also an indication of Nitish Kumar's man-management as the JD(U) had left no stone unturned in making the rally a huge success. Several senior party leaders had been camping in the national capital for the past couple of weeks to ensure a big turnout for Adhikar rally. Almost all trains coming from Bihar had three-four special bogies for the rally and some leaders claimed that more that 30,000 people had come from Bihar to take part in it.
Even though it was an impressive rally, but despite the indications Kumar would struggle to remain the force that he is in Bihar without the BJP's support. While the JD(U) is clearly the bigger partner, the BJP with a well organised and committed cadre has ensured that the two parties together have not allowed their rivals to claw back into the equation.
The Congress is almost non-existent in the state and the JD(U)-BJP combine faces little threat from the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal or Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshhakti Party. The BJP-JD(U) combine has 32 Lok Sabha seats out of 40, one of which is vacant due to the death of the sitting MP who belonged to RJD, and is unlikely to improve its tally by a big margin in the next Lok Sabha elections. While the JD(U) has 20 seats, BJP has 12 Lok Sabha MPs and also has a better strike rate and the two could repeat the performance only if they stick together.