Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced a stupendous Rs 1.25 lakh crore economic package for poll-bound Bihar, raising the stakes in the high-pitched electoral battle, a must-win for BJP after its Delhi decimation.
Conveying a sense of urgency, Modi addressed gatherings at two events in in the key Hindi heartland state, barely hours after his arrival from a two-day visit to the UAE, and unleashed a scathing attack on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, contending he lowered Bihar’s prestige by pleading with the previous UPA governments for a package of a measly Rs 12,000 crore.
Modi also took on Kumar over Bihar’s ‘BIMARU’ tag. But the high point of the Prime Minister’s speech was announcement of the much-awaited economic package of a whopping Rs 1.25 lakh crore, a contentious issue over which he was repeatedly targeted by Kumar ever since he made the promise while stumping during last year’s Lok Sabha elections.
“I am here today to honour my promise. I had said Rs 50,000 crore…how much do you want? Rs 60,000 crore, Rs 70,000 crore, or 80 or 90,0000 crore? I am announcing a package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. The government in Delhi will spend Rs 1.25 lakh crore to change Bihar’s destiny,” he said as an enthusiastic crowd lustily cheered him, chanting “Modi! Modi!”.
He said the package, whose details he did not disclose, will be in addition to the ongoing development projects worth over Rs 40,000 crore already being funded by the Centre. Devoid of a leader with pan-Bihar mass appeal, BJP-led NDA has chosen to bank on Modi’s charisma to wrest Bihar from JD(U), which has been in power for the last one decade, part of it in alliance with the the saffron party.
An economic package for the backward state has always been a key issue during the polls and state’s BJP leaders were banking on the announcement, hoping to reap a rich electoral harvest.
Addressing an event organised by the Ministry of Transport and Highways at Arrah, Modi joined issue with Kumar over Bihar’s BIMARU (laggard) tag. The Chief Minister had rebutted Modi’s claim made at a rally in Gaya earlier this month that Bihar was still laggard and said the state’s performance on social indices like education and healthcare reflected otherwise.
“Our Chief Minister was very angry when I promised that BJP will bring Bihar out of its BIMARU state. He said with authority that Bihar is no longer a BIMARU state. If it is true, then I will be the happiest person. I welcome this.
“But tell me, if somebody is healthy, will he go to a doctor. If somebody’s stomach is full, will he go outside seeking food? I am surprised that on the one hand he says Bihar is not a BIMARU state and on the other he keeps asking for something or the other. Let the people of Bihar decide,” Modi said, in an apparent jibe at Kumar’s repeated insistence on an economic package from the Centre.
The Prime Minister castigated the Bihar government for having failed to fully expend Rs 10,000 crore made available to it by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003 following the state’s bifurcation, and Rs 12,000 crore received from the UPA government in 2013.
Referring to Kumar’s bid for an economic package after walking out of the NDA in 2013, Modi said he went to the ‘Delhi durbar’ and pleaded that the state be given something to “save his honour”.
“For political benefits, he put at stake the prestige of Bihar,” Modi said as he likened the Rs 12000 crore package from the UPA dispensation to “toffee and biscuit given to a child who cries too much”. “He got Rs 12,000 crore and began dancing over it. This package played with the self-respect of Bihar,” he said.
The Prime Minister said unlike the “piecemeal” approach of the erstwhile UPA government, he wanted comprehensive development of Bihar. Kumar, who received Modi at Patna Airport, was not present at the function in Arrah where he inaugurated and laid foundation stones of 11 National Highway projects of 700 km at a cost of Rs 9700 crore. State’s Road Construction Department minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan was present on the dais with Modi.
Later, responding to Modi’s criticism, Kumar hit back, saying,”He (PM) speaks of cooperative federalism, but acts against it. He always tries to humiliate state governments and seeks to portray them as useless.” The Bihar Chief Minister cited data to claim the state had registered remarkable progress over the past decade. “Bihar’s development story is well known,” he said. Later, addressing a rally in Saharsa in Mithila region, Modi targeted the Kumar for forging a secular alliance with RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
“The footfall of ‘Jungle Raj’ is already being heard in Bihar,” he said, citing state government’s crime figures. The ‘Jungle Raj’ epithet was frequently used by RJD chief’s rivals to describe alleged misgovernance during the 15-year Lalu-Rabri rule. Between January and June 2015, heinous crimes have risen by 34 per cent, murders 46 per cent, and riots by 72 per cent, Modi claimed.
“Tell me, are these signs of jungle raj or not. Your life will become difficult or not… You give us power in Patna and we will sort out all your problems,” he said. The Prime Minister said Kumar forging an electoral alliance with Congress amounted to betrayal with socialist leader late Jayaprakash Narayan, who was jailed by the party’s government.
Referring to Kumar returning a cheque for Rs five crore sent by the Gujarat government for Kosi flood victims when he was the chief minister, Modi attacked the JD(U) leader for his “arrogance”. “The people of Gujarat had sent Rs five crore they had toiled hard to earn but his (Kumar’s) arrogance was in the 7th heaven and he returned it.
“Is this behaviour appropriate in public life? People in the Kosi region may die but I will not leave my arrogance. Those who cannot leave their arrogance should be left aside or not?,” he said, without naming Kumar.
Kumar had returned the cheque after posters came up in Patna highlighting Gujarat’s aid, which the Bihar Chief Minister felt was a slight to the state. Kumar had then cancelled a dinner he was to host for top BJP leaders who were then holding a conclave in the Bihar capital, widening further the chasm between him and Modi.