Specially from Bihar

If Modi comes to Delhi, can Nitish be far behind? But 'backwardness' plank will need to be handled with care

This is certainly not the first time Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has demanded special status for Bihar. He has presided over several attempts to mobilise support for the demand in his state ever since he came to power in 2005, be it by writing a letter to the prime minister, through the passing of a resolution in the state assembly and then the legislative council, or a state-wide signature campaign led by his party. Yet the JD(U) show at the capital's Ramlila Maidan on Sunday was different. It squarely linked the demand to the 2014 elections. It also sought to make it the nucleus for a new pressure group at the national level — of "backward states", all of whom, Nitish emphasised during Sunday's rally, would benefit if Bihar's demand was met — which would arguably play a decisive role in the formation of the next government at the Centre.

Some other political signals were also blowing in the wind at the maidan on Sunday. In contrast to Nitish's other public outings, anti-Congress rhetoric wasn't prominently on display. Even as he blamed niggardly Central policies for Bihar's development deficit down the years, he was careful not to target the current regime at the Centre. In fact, he repeatedly mentioned the hope offered by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's assurance — made during the presentation of the Economic Survey and the Union budget in Parliament — to reconsider the criteria for backwardness. It was also clear that this was a JD(U)-only show of strength in Delhi. The BJP was conspicuous by its absence at the Ramlila Maidan and Nitish chose not to refer to the NDA. Bihar's chief minister did not mention Narendra Modi by name either, but his challenge to the man who has recently anointed himself the BJP's undeclared prime ministerial candidate rang loud and unmistakable: Bihar's development model was inclusive, he said, it would carry everyone along. This was the real development model for India, Nitish claimed.

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