Over the course of last year, the Centre gave several assurances and took steps towards conceiving a special assistance package for Bihar. However, the Congress-led UPA government appears suddenly to have changed tack over the State’s long-standing demand for special status.
The alacrity, with which the union government decided to confer the status on Seemandhra, came as a rude shock, especially to the ruling Janata Dal (United) government in Bihar.
“Look at the sequence of events. Last year, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram made a unilateral statement that Bihar will give special status. The government needed to create a basis for that, so the Raghuram Rajan committee was constituted. Special status was not part of the terms of this committee. The body worked on parameters for backwardness. There was an informal understanding [that these parameters would the Centre’s decision]. The files moved after the committee’s report,” Shaibal Gupta, economist at the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) told The Hindu.
“The Congress suddenly scuttled the process. At no stage did Andhra Pradesh ask for the status. When we made our case for Bihar, the Centre would dismiss it saying what benefit would accrue to Bihar because of the status. So what benefit will Seemandhra get as well?” Mr. Gupta, who represented Bihar as a member of the Raghuram Rajan committee said.
The demand for special status was first raised through a joint resolution of the State Assembly in 2006. Then it gathered momentum in 2013 after Mr. Chidambaram’s assurance in his budget speech. Last May, while addressing a joint press conference with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna, Mr. Chidambaram said Bihar would “certainly qualify under the new criteria” for backwardness.
The JD (U), for whom the issue is its chief poll plank, staged ‘Adhikar’ rallies on November 4, 2012, and March 17, 2013, in Patna and New Delhi respectively.
Mr. Kumar said that an all-party delegation had also sought an appointment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but was not given time. The JD (U) also submitted a memorandum to Dr. Singh with 1.18 crore signatures. Despite all these efforts, the Centre chose Seemandhra without any criteria, but ignored Bihar’s pending demand.
The Congress rejected the charge of giving the short shrift to Bihar. “When Jharkhand was separated from Bihar [in 2000], Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government was at the Centre and Mr. Kumar was a Union Minister. Why was this demand not raised then? That was the appropriate time. Even Congress was part of the all-party resolution passed by the Bihar legislature, but it is a matter of timing. Seemandhra has been given the status now because of the bifurcation. Moreover, the Centre has given a package of Rs. 12,000 crore for Bihar,” Congress spokesperson Prem Chand Mishra told The Hindu.