Just hours after returning to Delhi from a whirlwind 48-hour visit to the UAE, Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Bihar and announced a massive Rs 1.25 lakh crore package for the poll bound state.
The package, which came as a bombshell for the combined rival group led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has sparked off a fresh offensive for the elections scheduled later this year in the politically sensitive state.
The importance of Bihar polls for the Bharatiya Janata Party, and for Modi personally, can be gauged from the fact that he has held three rallies in the state in less than a month. Even while Parliament was in a turmoil, Modi was conspicuously absent from Parliament, but missed no opportunity to visit Bihar. Since Parliament was in session, he waited for it to get adjourned before making the announcement regarding the package in Bihar. He also knows very well that such announcements can not be made after election schedule is announced and model code of conduct comes into force.
Vowing to change the fate of Bihar, Modi said Bihar will get a grant Rs 1.65 lakh crore if the total unutilized Rs 40,000 crore is added to the Rs 1.25 lakh crore package he announced on Tuesday.
He also laid foundation stones for 11 projects of national highways and inaugurated the 83 km long Muzaffarpur-Sonbarsa national highway after its conversion into two-lane road.
Rubbing it in where it matters most, Modi said : “I had said Bihar is among the Bimaru states (Abbreviation for Bihar, Madhya Pardesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh considered to be laggard states) and that we have to get it out of there but the Chief Minister (Nitish) took offence and said Bihar is no longer a Bimaru state.” Turning the Janata Dal United’s strategy of alienating the BJP for denying special packages for the state on its head, Modi asked the gathering, “if Bihar is not among Bimaru states, why is the Chief Minister persistent in his demands for special package for the state?”
A sharp reaction to the package and the claims made by Modi was only expected from Nitish Kumar. He declared that the package announced by Modi looked like “an auction of Bihar was being held”. Holding out Bihari pride, he said that Modi had “humiliated” the state government and asked “what kind of cooperative federalism is this ?” in which a chief minister seeking central aid is depicted as a beggar.
At one of the rallies, Nitish Kumar said that if Biharis in Delhi decide not to work for a day, it will come to a standstill.
The chief minister said that several projects which found mention in Modi’s speech were already pending with the Centre while Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said Modi was in the habit of making such promises on the eve of elections which are forgotten later.
While the JD(U), RJD, Samajwadi Party, NCP and the Congress combine has projected Nitish Kumar as the CM candidate, the BJP is yet to decide its chief ministerial face. Modi is BJP’s star campaigner and the party is focusing on the developmental agenda. The Nitish led alliance is also banking on caste equations along with its claim for ushering in major development in the state.
The Election Commission is yet to announce the dates for the high profile elections but both sides are already gearing up for the battle, which was recently described as the ‘mother of all elections’ by the chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi.
The BJP is looking at increasing its tally in Rajya Sabha if it secures a win in Bihar. Currently, the party has 4 members from Bihar in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in minority. BJP’s good performance in the Assembly election will help the party in sending in more members to the Upper House to counter the Congress-led Opposition, which has been blocking the NDA government’s move to get important legislations passed. Bihar has a quota of a total of 16 seats in the Rajya Sabha.
Bihar election results would also be a matter of high stakes for BJP’s master strategist Amit Shah. The man, who is credited for his party’s overwhelming success in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, had played a pivotal role in the party getting huge numbers in Uttar Pradesh.
The elections are vital for the BJP as a victory in Bihar will come as a morale booster for the saffron camp ahead of the assembly polls in West Bengal, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. West Bengal goes to polls next year whereas the elections in politically more significant UP and Punjab are scheduled to be held in 2017.
As Hindustan Times in its editorial put it : Amid caste alliances, coalition dynamics, modernizing rhetoric and personality clashes, few know what the next few weeks would bring, let alone discerning the outcome.