|Nitish Kumar speaks with reporters after meeting the Prime Minister in Delhi on Monday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, March 18: The Congress today gave a tangible indication of its intention to engage with Nitish Kumar by offering to “sympathetically consider” his demand for special status to Bihar although the state does not qualify for it.
Senior leaders refused to elaborate if there was a considered plan to lure him away from the BJP but conceded that fighting with him at a time when he is grappling with the Narendra Modi dilemma would be foolish. Even the Bihar Congress has been asked to go soft on his government and several proposals for agitation have been recently turned down by the high command.
This strategy has, however, not gone down well with some leaders who are convinced Nitish will never align with the Congress even if the projection of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate forces him to snap ties with the NDA.
“This will backfire but it is true our top leadership is trying to woo him at present. We will end up nowhere as Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan won’t appreciate these overtures. We can’t even project ourselves as a true opposition in this state of confusion,” a senior central leader said.
But sources reveal the majority view in the top echelons of the party, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi herself, favours creating an axis with Nitish as the option of aligning with Lalu Prasad is fraught with greater risks and fewer rewards.
Apart from electoral considerations, the short-term objective of blocking Modi’s prime ministerial foray would be served best by instigating Nitish to break away from the NDA even if he stays unaligned like Naveen Patnaik.
Congress leaders were extremely happy with the Bihar chief minister’s political neutrality at yesterday’s rally. A cabinet minister jokingly said: “The media should notice he is not singing the BJP tune; he did not attack our Prime Minister or the Congress president like some other chief ministers do. We like his constructive approach and share his concerns about development of Bihar. Our government should definitely respond positively.”
Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said Bihar did not fit into the category of special-status states but “still our government will consider this demand sympathetically”. Asked why, he said: “This should not be politicised.”
Asked if the Congress wanted to use Nitish against Modi, Alvi said: “Nitish is part of the NDA. If there is a problem between him and Modi, it is the NDA’s internal problem we don’t want to comment on.”
The Congress leadership will obviously not allow the Prime Minister to grant special status to Bihar till the Janata Dal (United) remains part of the NDA but it will continue to encourage him to walk out of the rival coalition.
Alvi even cited figures of development parameters, saying Bihar was better than Gujarat. This comparison, not with other NDA states but Gujarat, is an indication of the Congress gameplan.
The Congress spokesperson had come prepared to prove that the UPA-II had given greater financial aid to Bihar than the Vajpayee regime, an untimely comparison that fits into the party’s gameplan. Giving details, Alvi stressed the UPA had always considered Bihar’s backwardness and would continue to do so while allocating funds.
He said: “Between 1999 and 2004, the NDA government gave Rs 46,723 crore to Bihar while the UPA gave Rs 95,837 crore between 2004 and 2009. An additional Rs 8,400 crore was given to Bihar under the backward regions grant fund since 2004 to 2011. Last year, Rs 1500 crore was given under the same head.”
These details were not used to rebuff Nitish but to convince him that the Congress had always been good to him.