Almost three weeks have passed since November 4 Adhikar Rally in Patna, yet Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has not spoken anything on the special status category for the state.
Five days after the big public gathering he flew to a week-long trip to Pakistan. Since his return to Patna on Nov 17 he got busy in Chhath, which turned tragic on Nov 19. Thus there was no scope for him to talk big on special status. However, the seventh anniversary of his reign may provide him one such opportunity to raise the issue again. But the anniversary is likely to be a low-key affair after the Chhath mishap.
Keeping this in mind Nitish cancelled anniversary-eve dinner (on Nov 21) for MPs and legislators of his party. In fact there was even reports that he may fly to Bhubaneswar on Nov 24 to take part in the Eastern Zonal Council (EZC) meeting to be attended by CMs of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha.
True Nitish may not abandon the demand for special status for Bihar as he had, on Nov 4, already given a call for a big rally in Delhi in March, yet his prolong silence on the issue speaks something aloud. He had repeatedly been changing gear, but would not let the people know about it. From his 2005 Nyaya Yatra (March for Justice), which brought him to power till now he has undertaken Vikas Yatra, Vishwash Yatra, Dhanyawad Yatra, Pravas Yatra, Janadesh Yatra, Sewa Yatra etc with different slogans.
But the month-long Adhikar Yatra which climaxed into a rally on Nov 4 appeared to be the toughest as it was marred by protest by para-teachers and at Gaya and Aurangabad by workers of his own party, Janata Dal (United).
Nitish’s silence on the issue is meaningful. If social justice and communal harmony were the slogans of Lalu Yadav, he always talks about good governance, inclusive growth and lastly––since May 15, 2009 (the day Lok Sabha results came)––the special status category for Bihar. But Nitish knows the importance of social engineering too.
He is aware as to how the ‘development-minded’ two-time chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, was overthrown by Y S Rajshekar Reddy in 2004 election. It was Reddy’s penchant for Yatras––a 1,500-km long walkathon in 2003 and another one on the eve of 2004 election, which brought him to power there. So Nitish, it seems, has learnt something from the Andhra politics.
The slogan of development may be music for the ears of the urban middle-class, but to consolidate votes a better social equation was needed. Today if he is still confident it is on the basis of that very card which he had played in 2006.
If Lalu managed to cement his post-Mandal Muslim-Yadav combination––with some Extreme Backward Castes and Dalit votes––Nitish at the very outset tried to wean away the EBCs and Schedule Castes from him as well as Ram Vilas Paswan. The changes were made at the grassroots level.
The first step he did immediately after coming to power was to increase the quota for women in the rural and urban local bodies from 33 per cent to 50 per cent. Than he reserved 20 per cent seats for the EBCs. The SC-STs already used to enjoy 16 per cent quota. This big overhauling at the lowest level of democracy, to much extent, smashed the stronghold of Yadavs at panchayat-level.
After social engineering he wants to indulge in ‘communal engineering’––that is to woo Muslim votes not just for keeping his Bihar throne intact but also with an eye on the national state. The prime ministerial crown is a prize all politicians cherish but within the NDA, led by the BJP, there is a huge support for Narendra Modi.
Six years after becoming the CM of Bihar Lalu in 1996 deemed himself as a prime ministerial material. The fortunes of ‘the messiah of poor’ was at their peak then. But the slide started at that very point. He became too big for his boots.
(This article was published in Telegraph, Nov 24, 2012)