Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eye on polls, Nitish shifts focus to Delhi

Manoj Chaurasia in Patna

What prompted Chief Minister Nitish Kumar yesterday to announce his plan to hold a rally in New Delhi in March next year? Whom does he want to impress? Is he nursing his ambition to play a key role in the formation of the government at the Centre in the next election?

These questions are being asked here at a time when it sounded fairly “logical” when Mr Kumar decided to hold a rally in support of his party’s demand for special-category status for Bihar.

The people are wondering why Mr Kumar needs a rally in New Delhi, why he wants to keep himself busy with rally-and-yatra politics, and who he is trying to impress ~ the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre or Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who he perceives as his biggest rival in the saffron party.   

The BJP, Mr Kumar's junior coalition partner in the NDA government in Bihar, is planning a similar rally in Patna in April, a month after the JD-U expects to hold two mega rallies over the issue without its partners.  

Why is Mr Kumar keeping this distance from the partner that has helped him run his government in Bihar, and which gave him a sort of “political asylum” as a Union minister in the former NDA government when he, as a leader of the defunct Samata Party, after revolting against his mentor RJD chief Lalu Prasad, was battling for survival in his home state?   

Observers say the answer lies in Mr Kumar’s fast-growing political ambition to keep himself in the national reckoning, since the UPA and the NDA are mired in corruption controversies and facing severe credibility crises.  

They say Mr Kumar is well aware of the fact that any decision on granting special-category status to a state is made by the National Development Council and not by the Prime Minister. Thus, his demand has great political meaning.   

A rally in New Delhi, observers say, will convey to Bihar residents that Mr Kumar is serious about Bihar's development, and win him friends in industry, as special-category status will provide tax holidays to willing entrepreneurs. It will also put him in the national reckoning, with not much time left for the 2014 general elections.  

Mr Kumar has held two similar rallies so far ~ one in New Delhi and a second in Mumbai, the national business capital ~ against the backdrop of Bihar's centenary celebrations this year. Some also say Mr Kumar is trying to hide his “failures” by keeping himself busy in rallies and yatras he says are in the interests of his state.  

If his string of yatras and rallies is not enough, Mr Kumar is also planning a week-long tour of Pakistan, which is said to be a move to reach out to Muslims, whose support in his home state will be crucial in the next general election, and to refurbish his image among the minority class.   

The chief minister made his political intentions clear when he appealed to the people at yesterday's rally to give his party a “huge mandate” in the next general election, to enable him to help form a “friendly” government at the Centre to fast-track development work in his backward state. And, by keeping his partner at a distance, he has tried to signal that he holds the “secular” tag despite being in the company of the “communal” BJP.  

Mr Kumar has also exhorted all landlocked backward states to demand special-category status. Observers say this is primarily aimed at exerting more pressures on the Centre, rather than forming a “group of like-minded states”.   

In most of the landlocked states ~ Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh ~ either the BJP or the Samajwadi Party is in power. Thus, it is unlikely they will support Mr Kumar’s move, as they feel he has grown too big for his boots in recent years. 

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