Bihar has much to thank 'Atal Bihari' for

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave an "economic package" to Bihar without even announcing it. He would often use a phrase that helped connect with the local populace. " Baki sab Bihari, hum Atal Bihari (The rest are Biharis, I am Atal Bihari)," he used to say.

By Dipak Mishra in Patna
  • Published 17.08.18
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STANDING TALL: (From top) Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the oath-taking ceremony of chief minister of Nitish Kumar at Gandhi Maidan in Patna in 2005; with Sushil Kumar Modi and Nitish Kumar in the Bihar capital and at another rally at Patna's Gandhi Maidan with George Fernandes and Murli Manohar Joshi. Pictures by Nagendra Kumar Singh

Patna: Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave an "economic package" to Bihar without even announcing it. He would often use a phrase that helped connect with the local populace. " Baki sab Bihari, hum Atal Bihari (The rest are Biharis, I am Atal Bihari)," he used to say.

"Bihar has a lot to thank Vajpayee for," said deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi while speaking to The Telegraph before leaving for New Delhi with chief minister Nitish Kumar.

During his tenure as Prime Minister, Vajpayee was always generous to Bihar. "We are talking about Bihar, be generous," he had remarked at a Cabinet meeting when Nitish was finding it difficult to get 3 mega bridges over the Ganga and the Kosi.

It was due to his intervention that bridges came up over the Ganga at Patna and Munger. Also, a rail bridge over the Kosi is on the verge of completion.

But Kosi residents have a special reason to thank Vajpayee. The alignment of east-west corridor was from Barauni to Purnea, leaving out vast areas like Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Saharsa, Araria and Kishanganj. It was because of Vajpayee's intervention that the alignment was changed - despite substantial increase in cost - to include these areas. The east-west corridor has transformed the economy of these areas, once considered the most backward in Bihar.

Roads and bridges apart, the super thermal plants in Barh, the extension of Kahagoan thermal plant and Nabingar-NTPC-railway thermal plants started during Vajpayee's regime. So also, the ordnance factory in Rajgir and the Harnaut coach factory. The foundation stone for AIIMS-Patna was laid during Vajpayee's term.

Vajpayee also was sensitive to local demands. It was during his reign that Maithili was included in the 8th Schedule and the Tharu community in West Champaran was included among Scheduled Tribes.

A lot of this generosity was made possibly because George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan, Dr CP Thakur, Sharad Yadav and Yashwant Sinha were part of his cabinet and held key posts. But every minister from Bihar concurred that Vajpayee was all ears when it came to projects in Bihar. Nitish, who was railway minister, enjoyed a special equation with Vajpayee; some BJP leaders complained that Nitish had greater access to Vajpayee than any leader in their party.

Before leaving for Delhi, even Nitish acknowledged his close association with Vajpayee, declaring that he was a guardian and enjoyed taking his guidance.

BJP leaders also point out that Vajpayee gave so much to Bihar despite Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi ruling the state during his tenure as Prime Minister.

But then Vajpayee enjoyed a cordial relationship with Lalu too. Before 1998, the RJD chief used to jokingly tell Lalu in the corridors of Parliament that if he (Vajpaiyee) wanted to become Prime Minister he should switch sides and he would ensure that he became Prime Minister.

Even after Vajpayee became Prime Minister. despite their political differences, he managed to keep Lalu in good humour.

The RJD says there was a move by George Fernandes to make U.N. Biswas - ex-CBI additional director who probed the fodder scam in which Lalu was an accused - Bihar governor.

Lalu called up Vajpayee to say Biswas had framed him in the fodder scam and it would be humiliating for him and his wife, then chief minister Rabri Devi, to receive him.

"How did you get to know what we are doing, Lalu ji," a surprised Vajpayee asked on the phone. But Vajpayee ensured that the move to make Biswas governor was stalled.