For once, the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, has chosen not to challenge Niti Aayog’s conclusion. Last month, the Centre’s public policy think tank released its first report on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which ranks Bihar as the poorest state in India, estimating that nearly 52 % of its population does not have access to required health care. , education and standard of living. While the report has one notable flaw – its data reference period is 2015-16, meaning its assessment is based on five-year-old data – Nitish chose to accept the results. Going further, he also used the report to revive long-standing calls for Bihar to receive “special category” status.
The chief minister of Bihar first raised this demand in 2006, but found that successive governments in the Center were turning a deaf ear. Political observers say its acceptance of the findings of the MPI report is a smart strategy to increase pressure on the BJP-led government at the Center using a report released by its own think tank. It also allowed him to refute a statement by his own deputy chief minister, Renu Devi of the BJP, who previously described his request for special category status for Bihar as “insane”. The chief minister turned the tables on December 13, saying his deputy did not have detailed information on the rationale for Bihar’s request. BJP leaders in Bihar, including Renu Devi, have largely maintained a studied silence since then.
A state’s “special category” status, first introduced in 1969, allows for preferential treatment in the form of central assistance and tax breaks to disadvantaged states. Initially, three states – Assam, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir – were granted special category status. Since then eight more have been included: Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand. This status was granted to these states due to difficulties such as weak resource bases or a demonstrated inability to mobilize resources for development. Some of the characteristics required to achieve Special Category status are rough and difficult terrain; low population density or large tribal populations; a strategic location along international borders; economic and infrastructural backwardness; and unsustainable public finances.
“[The ‘Niti in Niti Aayog’] stands for National Institution for the Transformation of India. Now how would you transform India? Without transforming a backward state, how will you transform the whole country? Nitish asked. He offered the answer himself, suggesting it was time to give Bihar special status. Oddly enough, Nitish Kumar posed his question in English – a rarity for Hindi-speaking media in Bihar – giving credence to speculation that the chief minister wanted to get his argument across in a language that can be easily assimilated by those in charge of the public policy. -tank in New Delhi.
Nitish is seen as both a politician and a development mascot for his state, a combination he epitomizes with verbal eloquence and political acumen. At the heart of calls for justice for Bihar, as the chief minister cited economic figures as easily as details of public policy or demands for social justice, he injected a sense of justification into his demands for action . Speaking to the media, he also cited figures to show his government’s progress in developing the state despite the difficulties. He said Bihar’s budget increased from Rs 23,885 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 2.18 crore in 2021-2022, and per capita income increased from Rs 7,914 to Rs 50,735 between 2004-05 and 2019-20. He added that if Bihar, which Niti Aayog judged to be a poor state, had a higher average development rate than other states, then the efforts of the state government should be recognized and supported.
While the chief minister was ready to accept Niti Aayog’s assessment of Bihar, he also gave his own reasons for the state’s delay – the disproportionate population. With 9% of India’s population but only 2.9% of its land area, the state’s resource base is under extraordinary pressure. Bihar’s population in 2021 has been estimated to be nearly 124.8 million, with a population density of around 1,307 people per square kilometer.
“Nitish Kumar’s sincere argument on obtaining special status for Bihar is consistent with the realities,” said a senior IAS official. “Bihar once again ends the year by climbing several notches on the development indexes, but will remain a backward state due to historical disadvantages and increasing pressure on state resources. It’s a situation where we slide back two feet for every three feet we climb.
As the leader of Bihar, who wears his Bihari pride on his sleeves, Nitish looks like the perfect messenger of the state. However, his pleas for help – or perhaps just a fair allocation of resources – often meet with jargon, dead ends and a shallow slap on the head from Indian policymakers.
For now, Nitish’s strategy has forced the opposition RJD to back his request for special status from Bihar and alliance partner BJP is simply silent. With Nitish set to embark on a statewide tour starting December 22, it will be interesting to see if he raises the stakes further.