New Delhi, March 2: Ahead of an “Adhikar Rally” being spurred by Nitish Kumar to the Ramlila Ground mid-March, a prominent aide has said the Bihar chief minister’s championing of special status provisions is a cry for all backward pockets of the country.
“India is an organic whole and it cannot leap ahead if large parts of it are made to lag behind,” Pavan Varma, recently appointed culture adviser to the Bihar chief minister, told The Telegraph. “Nitish Kumar’s is not a personal or merely party-political demand, he is speaking for all backward regions of this country, the destiny of one part influences the destiny of the whole and that is what he wants the Centre to understand.”
Varma, who chose premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) to join Nitish this January — his last assignment was in Bhutan as India’s ambassador — called for existing special category criteria to be amended to bring relief and concessions to underprivileged areas.
“The Centre has been stuck on parroting mechanical criteria,” Varma complained. “Its approach to Bihar in particular has been perfunctory. An inter-ministerial group was set up to examine Bihar’s case and pronounced its rejection in 2012. I know that state officials were consulted only once, and a mere four days before the report was presented. It is clear they never intended examining the worth of Bihar’s case honestly.”
Varma was speaking a day ahead of the Union budget in which finance minister P. Chidambaram hinted at tweaking some of the criteria, especially related to per capita income and development index issues, for backward regions.
Nitish has welcomed Chidambaram’s revised intent but remains convinced that the battle for “special status” is not done yet.
The March 17 rally in Delhi, an exclusively Nitish show, is part of amplifying his demand closer to the ears of decision-makers.
Chidambaram’s offer to amend existing criteria and Nitish’s prompt applause could, in fact, contain a tangential political spin-off. Given Nitish’s strong reservations about Narendra Modi’s possible surge to the BJP’s prime ministerial pick, Chidambaram could well have made a timely come-hither gesture.
Although Nitish’s political and ideological bias has consistently been anti-Congress, he is on record as having said he would go with anyone who grants special category status to Bihar.
“It is time for the Centre to act,” Varma asserted. “We cannot have two republics of India, one which is developed and is helped along with largesse, and the other which is locked in underdevelopment and gets further marginalised because of the Centre’s discriminatory policies.”
He took particular exception to provisions that help areas with low population density and high income figures.
“I find both criteria absurd, to say the least,” Varma argued. “In a country like ours, high population density areas are the ones that suffer most, and I cannot see a logical reason why states with low per capitas should be singled out for lower allocations. Per capita central spending in Punjab and Haryana is four times that of Bihar and in Tamil Nadu, three times. The opposite should happen. The current policy hurts doubly and it ought to be immediately done away with.”
As illustration to his point, Varma held out Bihar’s growth rate figures from recent years in relation to the state’s overall ranking.
“Bihar’s average growth rate over the past seven years has been 11.8 per cent with a high of 16.7 per cent in 2011. But even so, after topping the national rates year after year, it will take Bihar a quarter of a century to come up to the national average, that is how deep the setback of current policies to Bihar is,” he said.
Varma said Bihar has been looped in a vicious cycle and the Centre bears a moral responsibility to pull it out.
“It is having to constantly thresh water as it tries to swim forward. The ‘Bihar quagmire’ has become a fashionable economics metaphor for good reason.”
Bihar qualified eminently for special category concessions even on existing criteria, Varma held.
“If hilly terrain states can be specially treated, why not Bihar? It is chronically flood-prone, in fact 28 of the 38 most flood-prone districts of the country fall in Bihar. Assam and Himachal have 530km and 201km of international boundary respectively, Bihar has an international boundary extending 729km. And it is easily verifiable that the state lacks badly in infrastructure facilities like power, tele-density and even roads. If any state is qualified, Bihar is.”