Nitish Kumar addresses the rally at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi on Sunday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, March 17: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has sent out a bold-point feeler that would tremble his BJP allies and tempt the Congress ahead of the 2014 power grab.
What he said between the lines — and what he left unsaid — at a rippling show of strength on the Ramlila Grounds was lost on very few: Nitish’s support is on the table for the 2014 stakes, he who gives Bihar special category status, takes it.
To the ruling UPA, this is as clear a come-hither call as it can hope to get from an NDA constituent. To the BJP, it was a laconic dare against promoting his bete noire and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to the poll forefront. Nitish Kumar has a Plan B, and today was its poker-faced unveiling. Should he fetch the right purchase from the UPA, Barkis is willing to switch.
“Budget mein vitta mantri ne jo kaha hai usmein hamein aasha ki kiran dikhayi deti haiÖ We see a ray of hope in what the finance minister has said in the budget,” Nitish said. “Humko apna haq abhi de do, nahin toh Dilli kiske haath me hogi, iska faisla yeh apar janshakti kar degiÖ Give us our right, else people’s power will decide who will rule Delhi.”
He was talking as much to the green-capped swathe he surveyed from the stage as to UPA bosses, who are on the lookout for new allies in their quest for retaining power a third time.
That an NDA chief minister chose to see a “ray of hope” in a government the alliance flays daily as “the most corrupt and ineffectual” was itself a statement of no mean significance. Nitish went further. He said nothing critical of the Manmohan Singh government or the Congress, not a sniff — no mention of corruption, nothing about policy paralysis, not so much as a whimper over price rise and inflation. Here was the BJP’s biggest ally purposefully refraining from any censure of its chief adversary.
Today’s rally must rank not merely as the biggest gathering of Biharis in the capital by far; it must also rank as probably the only Opposition show not to pick on the government whose doors it was knocking. Nitish seemed to have summoned his massive audience not to blame the UPA but almost to beckon it.
“You have said you will change the criteria for special category status,” Nitish said, addressing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P. Chidambaram directly. “This is not a promise made by individuals but by the government of India. I implore you to change the criteria, I implore you to give Bihar special status, this huge congregation of Biharis implores you.”
Before he departs for Patna tomorrow, Nitish has lined up three top-of-the-shelf engagements to push his plea personally — meetings with Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Sources in Nitish’s secretariat told The Telegraph that the chief minister was likely to carry along a re-drafted memorandum on Bihar’s case for special status as iteration of his case.
An earlier plea had been summarily rejected by an inter-ministerial committee in 2011, a snub that became the spur for Nitish’s elaborate Adhikar Yatras across Bihar. The new document was drafted after the Adhikar Rally in Patna last November.
“It is after that rally that our re-drawn intellectually compelling economic case began to influence Delhi’s mandarins differently,” senior JD(U) leader and Rajya Sabha member N.K. Singh said.
“Today’s rally is the first time a province has congregated on the national capital in such large numbers,” he added. “It is also no less historic for the fact that Bihar, known till recently for its deep caste and class divides, has forged unprecedented unity on the overriding issue of development.”
But it is the tangential political takeaway from the rally that resounded long after the crowd had dispersed this afternoon. Not once did Nitish even bother referring to his political partner of a decade and a half. The BJP did not figure; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P. Chidambaram figured half a dozen times.
“We have a right to feel proud when the Prime Minister and finance minister laud the Bihar government’s achievements. The Prime Minister has tweeted praise for our growth rate, the Planning Commission has said very good things. But the time has come for them to do more, I want to tell them that if they give special status to Bihar, we will ensure the whole country returns to 8-9 per cent growth rate, we will ensure we leave China behind.”
Nitish cautioned, though, that the battle for “genuine rights of Bihar and all backward regions” may be far from over. “This is just the first battle cry, but we must vow not to rest till we get justice,” he urged. “Nyaya milega, nyaya leke rahenge. We will get justice, we shall grab justice.”
A roar rose from the crowd, and Nitish fed more rhetoric into the fired up ranks: “Hum Dilli pahunch chuke hain, Dilliwale jaan lein, hamara haq nahin mila to yeh taaquat haq chheen legiÖ. We have arrived in Delhi, be warned, Delhiwallahs (meaning the Centre), if you do not grant us our rights, we shall snatch it with the power we have displayed.”
The roar turned into uproar. “Hamara haq dena padega, dena padega, dena padega, dena padegaÖ Our rights, you’ll have to grant, you’ll have to grantÖ.”
Strong as his advocacy was for Bihar, Nitish appeared keen to be seen as campaigner for a larger cause, for all states that have been left behind.
“We cannot accept this division into India and Bharat, we want one Hindustan,” he railed.
“And let me tell you, India will not make the big leap if the backward states are left behind. It is only when you bring up those that you have neglected and exploited all these years that you can hope to achieve the inclusive growth that the Prime Minister talks about all the time. Bihar jaag gaya hai, desh ke upekshit log jaag gaye hain, dastak de rahe hain satta ke darwazon parÖ Bihar has arisen, the neglected and ignored have arisen, they are knocking at the gates of power.”
Having so roused the crowd, Nitish hastened to put a close to the festive assault he had called on the capital. In a mosque abutting the Ramlila Grounds, the faithful were gathering for the afternoon namaz and Nitish wasn’t about to heap cacophony on prayer.
Half his colleagues lined up as speakers — many cabinet colleagues and JD(U) big-gun among them — did not get an opportunity at the lectern in deference to mosque timings, but where was Nitish to lose the opportunity to make another subtle statement that set him apart from Narendra Modi?