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Nitish Kumar should work with PM Narendra Modi for Bihar's development

Bihar is one of the poorest states in the country, and needs the Centre's support to click the growth trajectory.


Anilesh S Mahajan, Associate Editor

Riding on the wave of its landslide victory in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) is seeking the role of a sheet anchor to unite the opposition against Prime Minister Narendra Modi . They see Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as Modi's new national competitor in 2019.

Amidst the cacophony of Nitish's historic victory in Bihar 's Vidhan Sabha polls, this looks natural, but the way JD (U) is positioning itself, it may create more problems for Bihar than offer solutions.

Bihar is one of the poorest states in the country, and needs the Centre's support to click the growth trajectory. This includes improving infrastructure like road and power connectivity. In the past 25 years, the state has always been governed by an opposition party government (vis-à-vis the Centre), and it will continue for some time. You just have to sit with bureaucrats working in the state government to realise their angst when they say "We got this project after a lot of 'agitation'". But this should not be the future.

JD(U) is also altering its stand on GST to take on PM Modi's reforms agenda, and is seeking more opportunities to disrupt the Parliament. The NDA already stooped by fielding the PM in 40 odd rallies and this defeat only added to its wounds. But if JD(U) gets into retaliation, the common Bihari will be the loser.

Politically, Nitish will take the CM's oath again, but his party's strength in the assembly is not as strong as it was in the previous assembly. In the 2010 assembly polls, JD(U) won 115 seats; this time, its tally is 71, and it is heavily dependent on Lalu Prasad Yadav's party RJD to run the government.

RJD, too, has national ambitions. The party had the highest strike rate in these assembly polls, and comes back after facing a decade long drubbing. RJD won 80 seats out of the 101 it contested. JD(U) managed to retain most of its seats, but RJD won most of its seats from BJP's strongholds, and is likely to get maximum number of ministerial berths.

A clash of ambitions is obvious here. And the Janata Parivar is known more for splits than for working collectively. All this is good enough reason to work for progress than to play perception games. Good examples here are Tamil Nadu and Odisha CMs J. Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik.

A major issue for JD(U) is that it should not be seen as anti-reforms if it wants to project Nitish Kumar as an alternative to Modi. Most analysts would be watching his work in Patna; if he has to succeed, he would require the support of the Centre.

Bihar gets major chunk of its income from liquor sales, the per capita land holding is smallest in the country. The efforts to get private investments in the state have failed in the past. In last few years, the state's growth has largely been a result of public spending on roads and bridges.

In one decade, the capital outlay has swelled from Rs 1,205 crore in 2004/05 to Rs 21,151 crore in 2014/15. This, at a time when neighbour Madhya Pradesh's capital outlay rose from Rs 4,951 crore to Rs 18,027 crore.

But unlike Bihar, MP managed to attract private investment in roads, power and other basic amenities. Both these states were part of the erstwhile category of BIMARU, a group of underperforming states, and started economic reforms simultaneously. Now that he has RJD as his ally, Kumar will have to go the extra mile to bring in private investment.

Both BJP and Kumar promised 24X7 electricity supply in the state. And to ensure this, he would require support of the NDA government. His distribution companies are not only bleeding with annual consolidated loss of more than Rs 177 crore, but also accumulated losses of Rs 2,500 Cr. Nearly 40 per cent of the state doesn't have any access to electricity, roughly 2,719 villages.

It is not possible for Nitish to provide 24 X 7 electricity to every household in next five years unless he takes help of the NDA government. Today, Bihar's consumption is just 203 KWH per person as against the national average of 1,010 KWH.

NDA extended a green branch a day after its humiliating defeat in the state polls - the Ministry of Railways issued the letter of award to set up two locomotive factories in Bihar. The American major GE and French conglomerate Alstom will set up a factory each to manufacture 1000* diesel and 800 electric locomotives, respectively.

Railways has already acquired the land and once the capacities are up and running, it will improve revenue receipts of the state. These are not only part of the Rs 1.25 lakh crore package announced by PM, but are also the biggest private investments in the state. PM Modi also promised natural gas pipeline infrastructure, LPG plant, road and railway network and two central agriculture universities. To make all this happen on the ground, confrontation may not work for long.

(*Footnote: An earlier version of the story had erroneously mentioned that Alstom will set up a factory to manufacture 100 diesel locomotives instead of 1000.)

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