Bihar: BJP workers all at sea over 'Modi’s guarantees’

Bihar fared manifestly better during the UPA years under Dr Manmohan Singh as prime minister

Narendra Modi's 12 May roadshow in Patna
Narendra Modi's 12 May roadshow in Patna

Soroor Ahmed

Lalu Prasad Yadav recently reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a promise he had made in 2014. Not only had he pledged to ensure the reopening of the state’s sugar mills — closed for four decades — he had also promised to come down for a cup of tea made with the sugar produced there. When pray, he asked, would Modi have that sweetened tea, given that the mills were still closed?

An aggressive Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has been relentless in reminding the prime minister of his past guarantees. What happened to the special economic package he had announced for Bihar, asked Lalu Prasad Yadav’s daughter Misa Bharati. What about the special category status to the state? What have you done after winning the last two elections in 2014 and 2019?

Such questions are making it difficult for BJP and RSS workers to defend ‘Modi’s guarantees’ in the state. The very mention of those magic words leads to derisive laughter and lewd jokes. On his roadshow on 12 May, the PM made a bad situation even worse.

In an interview to NDTV’s Marya Shakil, he declared that while the NDA had won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar last time, this time they’d win all 40: “Shayad iss baar hum ek bhi nahin harenge (perhaps this time we won’t lose even a single seat)”. With most observers convinced that the NDA could lose as many as 15–20 seats in the state, it’s the ‘perhaps’ that pricks the PM’s bombastic bubble.

This was Narendra Modi’s first roadshow in Patna (indeed the first for any national leader). The litmus test has always been to address rallies at the historic Gandhi Maidan, as the INDIA bloc leaders did in March. More funereal than celebratory, the PM’s roadshow also caused massive public disruptions with the closure not only of air-space but also Patna junction. No trains were permitted to stop at the junction that evening, and passengers had no choice but to board from Danapur station, 12 km away. Missed flights and traffic jams marked the day.

The PM’s expression was glum and his body language listless and mechanical. Standing by his side was the even more downcast chief minister Nitish Kumar, holding the lotus in his hand.

Old-timers recalled the predicament of his mentor George Fernandes, when he had insisted on contesting the 2009 Lok Sabha election as an Independent. Once a redoubtable leader from Muzaffarpur and one of the architects of the National Democratic Alliance, Fernandes had ended up fifth. Together, Nitish and he had helped mainstream the BJP.

The NDA cannot afford to lose too many seats in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh in the remaining three rounds of polling till 1 June. While Uttar Pradesh was clearly favoured by the PM, Bihar received a relative cold shoulder. For 13 of the 19 years since 2005, Nitish Kumar has been the BJP’S oldest ‘secular ally’, though he did break away twice (in 2013 and 2022).

Work on the ambitious Ganga Expressway was inaugurated by Nitish Kumar on 11 October 2013, four months after snapping ties with the BJP and when UPA-II was still in power in Delhi. The blueprint of the Patna Metro was also prepared before 2014.

Bihar fared better during the UPA years under Dr Manmohan Singh as prime minister. Neither NDA-I under Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004) nor the UPA (2004-14) were discriminatory towards a state governed by a different alliance. This was partly because neither the RJD nor the JD(U) were pushovers, and did not have to plead for grants and aid from the Centre.

Since 2014, however, Nitish Kumar has not been able to remind Narendra Modi that he had publicly promised a special package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for the state while campaigning during the Assembly election in 2015. Union ministers from the state have been reduced to being the PM’s cheerleaders.

RJD and JLP (Lok Janshakti Party) leaders who were ministers in the UPA government did not oppose or stall grants for Bihar. On the contrary, Bihar received generous grants from the Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF), created by the Manmohan Singh government in 2006. The state government received Rs 8,753 crore during the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) and Rs 12,000 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).

Be it the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, the East-West Corridor, the Golden Quadrilateral (work on which actually started during the Vajpayee era) or other National Highway projects and Centrally-sponsored schemes, Bihar received its due share.

As railway minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav brought projects worth several thousand crores to Bihar including the Rail Wheel Plant in Saran and the electric locomotive factory in Madhepura. The then Union rural development minister late Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was equally generous in granting funds for rural roads in Bihar. MGNREGA was also introduced by the UPA.

Nitish claimed credit for construction-driven projects during that period, but New Delhi did not seem to mind and Union ministers from Bihar were not hostile.

Despite the development of road and rail infrastructure and the near total electrification of Bihar by 2014, industrialisation failed to take off. The only exception were the breweries following the new excise policy which aggressively promoted liquor vends in large numbers. (In April 2016, Nitish Kumar took a U-turn and implemented total prohibition.)

Even during the Vajpayee years, Bihar witnessed considerable development, despite the carving out of the mineral-rich region into the separate state of Jharkhand in November 2000.

Despite legendary tussles between the Rabri Devi government in the state and the NDA government at the Centre, 11 Union ministers from Bihar were instrumental in ensuring several significant projects such as the NTPC plant in Barh, a rail project in Harnaut, doubling and gauge conversion of various rail routes, the Koderma-Hazaribagh connection, rail bridges over the Ganga between Patna-Sonepur and Munger-Khagaria.

The UPA years also saw the Central university of South Bihar come up in Gaya and a Central university of North Bihar in Motihari, besides the off-campus branch of Aligarh Muslim University in Kishanganj. Initially, the project to revive Nalanda University as an international university also received the Union government’s attention, with Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen as chairman of the mentor group.

Nitish Kumar took a keen interest in opening the Chandragupta Institute of Management in Patna and the Chanakya National Law University. The Aryabhatt Knowledge University was formed to administer all the technical institutes in the state and an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)was established in Patna. All this before 2014. The Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bodh Gaya began functioning from 2015.

Come 2024, with very few exceptions, they are all languishing. Amartya Sen was chucked out unceremoniously, presumably because he was critical of Modi as chief minister of Gujarat. “Today, nobody knows what is happening in Nalanda University and in the off-campus branch of Aligarh Muslim University,” pointed out Basant Kumar Mishra, who retired from Patna University and writes regularly on education, adding that not much can be said about the rest either.

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