In caste-dominated Bihar, Nitish Kumar has upper hand over Narendra Modi, luckily JD(U) chief is on NDA's side

Patna: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated and laid the foundation for projects worth Rs 33,000 crore on 17 February this year, he must have been aware that pumping funds for infrastructure development is not a mantra for ensuring electoral victory. After all, on 18 August, 2015, he announced an economic package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for Assembly-election-bound Bihar from Ara. The promises of roads, bridges, medical colleges, and power plant weren't enough. The NDA crumbled as the Grand Alliance won 179 of the 243 seats.

In caste-dominated Bihar, Nitish Kumar has upper hand over Narendra Modi, luckily JD(U) chief is on NDAs side

File image of Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. PTI

"There is a difference between the role of an enabler who brings social change and a provider who builds up infrastructure. The political sway of the enabler is much more lasting," remarked Shaibal Gupta, a social economist and member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI). Gupta pointed out that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has built roads, bridges, hospitals and roads in Bihar.

"But, along with it, he has also introduced 50 percent reservation for women and quota for the Extremely Backward Castes in Panchayat and local bodies. Quota for women in government jobs more incentives for the EBCs have led to social changes at the ground level," he added.

Politicians declare that development has never been an issue in the caste-ridden society that exists in Bihar. In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls Nitish lost from Barh parliamentary seat (now non-existent after delimitation) despite the fact that as Union railway minister, he introduced 12 pair of trains, brought in the Barh Super Thermal Power Station project, a coach repair factory and many other projects.

Nitish, however, did win from the other parliamentary seat — Nalanda — that he had contested during the 2004 polls. But his defeat led to politicians believing that development and votes are incompatible in Bihar.

"Votes are all about people's perception. They must trust you. If they do not trust you they will not give you their votes. Chandra Babu Naidu made a sea change in Andhra Pradesh during his first tenure. Yet, he lost and was in the political wilderness for a decade," remarked Shivanand Tiwari, national vice president of RJD, stressing that issues like insecurity among the backward castes due to the reservation will matter more in the upcoming election than economic and infrastructure development in the state.

JD(U) points out that Nitish has survived in Bihar's caste-dominated politics despite the fact he belongs from a caste (Kurmis) which is less than 2 percent of the population. "The people of Bihar have trusted him and he is known to deliver. He is known to be the man who pulled Bihar out of total anarchy and ensured Bihar is not in the news for the wrong reasons. The people trusted him with the BJP and they trusted him with the RJD," remarked JD(U) legislator Neeraj Kumar.

The big difference between NDA in 2015 and 2019 is that it has Nitish on its side.

Poll-bound Bihar is not talking about economic packages and foundation stones. It is speaking about castes and efforts to woo them. Incidentally, the delay in the implementation of the 2015 economic package has not helped NDA. Over 54,713 crore of the prime minister's economic package was for roads and bridges. About three and a half years later, only 5 of the 72 road projects have been completed. Forty are in the process while permission is yet to be granted for 19 projects.

There were seven bridges — five over Ganga and two over Kosi — to be built, however, till now work is under progress in only one bridge to be constructed parallel to Gandhi Setu.

Besides, around Rs 600 crore was earmarked for the development of tourism in Bihar. Till 15 February 2019, only Rs 105 crore has been spent on that. The promise of Vikramshila University at a cost of Rs 500 crore is in limbo as the state government is yet to locate 100 acres of land for the same in Bihar. A Thermal power in Buxar at the cost of over Rs 13,00 crore is in limbo too for the same reason.

Though the IIM has come into existence in Bihar, it is still to get its own building.

"Land acquisition is a big problem in Bihar," said deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. In fact, in the past, Union minister Nitin Gadkari has complained about the slow land acquisition delaying Union government projects. No wonder many people are wondering how soon they would see the Patna Metro, one of the mega projects Prime Minister Modi launched on February 17. The project will be built at an estimated cost of over Rs 13,400 crore.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2019 07:30:37 IST

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