| Chief minister Nitish Kumar watches the budget telecast. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
Patna, Feb. 28: Finance minister P. Chidambaram’s budget had more political implication in the state than economic, as it prompted chief minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi to speak in different tones.
Nitish expressed his “heart-felt gratitude” to Chidambaram for promising to revisit the parameters for granting special status to a state and making a commitment on reconstructing Nalanda University — his dream project. Modi, on the other hand, described the budget as lacklustre, disappointing and inflationary that neglects the interest of Bihar.
This is the first time in seven years that Nitish and Modi gave divergent views on an issue in public. Chidambaram’s overture has triggered off speculation that the Congress might be viewing Nitish as a possible ally at the post-election stage. The Congress leaders here recalled Nitish’s statement in public that he would support any combination according special status to Bihar.
Chidambaram getting soft with Nitish’s demand and his dream project landed the BJP and Modi in a tight spot. Supporters of Modi said the BJP — the alliance partner of the ruling JD(U) in the state — is a national party. The deputy chief minister could not afford to praise Chidambaram and stay in the party, one among them said.
After Chidambaram presented his budget in the Lok Sabha, Nitish, for a change, had only kind words to say. “I will speak on the complete budget another day. But today I will express only my gratitude to the finance minister,” he told reporters.
Nitish has reasons to feel ecstatic. Chidambaram in his speech took Nitish’s dream of special category status for Bihar a step ahead when he said: “The present criteria for determining backwardness are based on terrain, density of population and length of international borders. It may be more relevant to use a measure like the distance of the state from the national average under criteria such as per capita income, literacy and other human development indicators. I propose to evolve new criteria and reflect them in future planning and devolution of funds.”
Reacting to it, Nitish said: “It is a victory of principle. The battle for special status has reached a crucial point. The rally in Ramlila Maidan on March 17 has become even more important now. I will demand that the Union government implements its announcement now as it has agreed to our demand,” he said.
Besides, Chidambaram’s assertion that the Nalanda University would be made an international centre of excellence prompted Nitish’s kind words. “Chidambaram has affirmed his commitment for the university. I hope he comes with adequate funds,” said Nitish.
Chidambaram said in Parliament: “The reconstruction of the Nalanda University has gathered momentum. The government is committed to the creation of Nalanda University as a centre of educational excellence.”
Apart from Nitish, Nalanda University vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal hailed Chidambaram. “We welcome the comments of the finance minister on the commitment of the Government of India to the creation of Nalanda University as a centre of educational excellence.”
Cut back to Nitish. He also hailed Chidambaram for the continuation of special grants to Bihar in the form of backward region grant fund (BRGF).
Nitish’s deputy, in sharp contrast, said: “The increase in BRGF is just Rs 500 crore.” He termed the Union Budget a disappointment because it had ignored most of the demands of Bihar.