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Pulling out all the stops

In an apparent bid to raise the stakes ahead of the assembly elections in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a special package worth Rs 1.25 lakh crore for the state. Such a sum, the prime minister argued, would go a long way in propelling Bihar forward on the path of development, if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is voted to power in the upcoming polls. In the high-stakes Assembly election, the BJP is banking heavily on the Centre’s development package to wrest power from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, an ally-turned-rival, who has now joined hands with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal to take on the NDA. Prior to Modi’s anointment as the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the JD (U) and BJP were in a coalition government. Political experts have termed the ‘fund sanctioning’ move as a part of a well-planned strategy to build confidence among the people of the state that funds would speed up infrastructural development works. 

Despite such a statement of apparent intent, political commentators on the other side of the aisle have said that a lot of the funds that will go for various projects were headed to the state anyway. Moreover, the Union Budget had already set aside funds for rural electrification in the state, besides sums sanctioned for fisheries and a Central University in Bihar, among other projects. It may explain why the opposition, led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has dubbed Modi’s announcement to be a promise that he doesn’t intend to fulfill. In his haste to malign Nitish, the prime minister may have forgotten that the BJP had ruled the state for nearly 8 years, along with the JD (U).

At his first Bihar poll rally at Muzaffarpur, Modi faulted Nitish’s DNA for the poor state of governance in the state. Such a personal attack was followed by further inanity, with Nitish shooting a letter directly to Prime Minister Modi, saying that these statements, “beyond questioning my own descent, have disrespected the lineage of our people and have denigrated the great legacy of the state”. Modi has also repeatedly invoked the ghost of “jungle raj”, an epithet used to describe the alleged misgovernance during the reign of RJD chief Lalu Yadav. Modi went on to declare that Yadav, who was convicted in the fodder scam, had spent time in jail. “Does anyone learn good things in jail? In Jungle Raj part one; there was no experience of jail. 

In Jungle Raj part two, there is an experience of jail.” Moreover, Modi went on to rake up the issue of BIMARU (laggard) tag of Bihar and promised to remove it within five years of a BJP-led NDA government assuming the reins. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, however, shot back, and asked Modi to get his “facts right”, while singing paeans about Bihar’s “impressive” 10 percent growth rate during his tenure, besides his government’s performances on social indices like education and health. Instead of debating the “development” claims on both sides of the table, the focus has increasingly shifted to the realm of personal attacks.

Whether such ad hominem attacks will bear any electoral fruit is a matter of conjecture. However, what is evidently clear is that the announcements of large-scale development funds for various states by the current ruling dispensation, like its predecessors, seem to arrive prior to elections. Instead, the Centre could do a lot worse than disburse funds in a timely manner to states that really need it like West Bengal, Odisha, and Karnataka, among others.
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