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Numbers in council fewer than Atal era

Patna, May 26: With five ministers, Bihar, along with Maharashtra, has got the most number of members in Narendra Modi’s council after Uttar Pradesh, which has eight representatives.

The number is still less than what the state bagged during the NDA regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but political pundits say Bihar could not have asked for more in the present dispensation.

In the first NDA government of Vajpayee, Bihar MPs had got around a dozen ministries, including finance, defence and railways. They had also managed to get key portfolios such as health, civil aviation and textiles.

But, as BJP leaders from Bihar say, it would be unfair to compare the Vajpayee government with Modi’s ministry. In 1999, the NDA had won 40 of undivided Bihar’s 54 Lok Sabha seats. Now, the NDA has 31 MPs from the state.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was information and broadcasting minister in the Vajpayee government, has returned as a cabinet member in the Modi ministry. Ram Vilas Paswan, who rejoined the NDA after over a decade, is expected to get an important ministry, not necessarily a high profile one.

Radha Mohan Singh, the MP from East Champaran, is the surprise pick. Political observers had believed Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who was civil aviation minister in the Vajpayee government, would be selected again. However, Radha Mohan, said to be an RSS choice, has made his way in and is expected to get a plum post.

RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha gets the post of a junior minister in his capacity as an ally of the BJP, which won three seats in Bihar. Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP general secretary, is a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar though he hails from Orissa and is widely tipped to get the oil portfolio as minister of state with independent charge.

The railways, which is the most sought after ministry in Bihar, is unlikely to go to the state this time. After three consecutive terms by Bihari leaders in the railway ministry — Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad — Bihar’s luck has since dried up. The result is that mega railway projects have been left hanging in the balance.

Rail-cum-road bridges over the Ganga in Patna and Munger, the locomotive factory and wheel factory in Chhapra apart from laying of new rail tracks are just a few of them. When Narendra Modi visited Bihar for the first time to address the Hunkar Rally in October last year, the state BJP handed him a wishlist of projects it wanted to be completed if he were elected Prime Minister. That included a special financial package of Rs 50,000 crore. Over Rs 25,000 crore of that amount was for pending railway projects.

Even before the Modi government took oath, former chief minister Nitish Kumar reiterated his demand for a special status category. With Arun Jaitley, a BJP leader with whom Nitish Kumar enjoyed a good personal relationship, likely to get an important ministry, maybe finance, Bihar can hope to expedite the process of implementation of the Raghuram Rajan committee report.

“However, the new Union government is unlikely to take a call on special status category soon,” said a senior BJP leader.

The state BJP would like the agriculture portfolio to go to one of the ministers from Bihar, possibly Radha Mohan. In 2006, the Bihar government pledged to make the state a hub for the production of ethanol. It got a proposal of Rs 20,000 crore from investors for setting up ethanol producing units by taking over sick sugar mills.

However, then agriculture minister Sharad Pawar took a policy decision that sugar mills could produce only 10 per cent ethanol and the rest must be sugar. All those who had submitted proposals backtracked. There is hope now that a Bihar minister would scrap the clause.

“We will have to rely on the words of Narendra Modi when he promised to make Bihar a hub of food processing units,” said a BJP leader.