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Last Updated : Sep 24, 2020 04:31 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

As NDA rolls out infra schemes to woo voters, Bihar moves from Mandal politics to development discourse

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched around 30 projects worth Rs 4,366 crore in five phases starting September 10, including construction of mega bridges across Ganga, highway projects, landmark railway bridge over Kosi and petroleum gas pipeline projects among others.

A sort of competitive bidding in terms of economic package and infrastructure schemes has been unleashed in Bihar with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar launching a slew of mega infrastructure schemes in a bid to influence the voters.

It will be difficult to say whether such economic packages will cast an impact on the voters but it is certainly an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (U) to alter the track of political discourse in Bihar from the hackneyed Mandal politics to politics of development.

Political parties have the tendency to roll out measures before the polls to woo the voters and both PM Modi, since his days as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and Kumar have used pre-poll measures as political tools to get votes.

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PM Modi has launched around 30 projects worth Rs 4,366 crore in five phases starting September 10, including construction of mega bridges across Ganga, highway projects, landmark railway bridge over Kosi, and petroleum gas pipeline projects, among others.

Some of these projects are part of the special package announced for Bihar a few years ago. The special package given to Bihar had 10 big projects related to petroleum and gas worth Rs 21,000 crore. Of these, the seventh project was dedicated to the people of Bihar recently while six have been completed earlier. He also inaugurated the Durgapur-Banka section 200-km long gas pipeline for which he had laid the foundation stone about a year-and-a-half ago.

The Prime Minister has laid the foundation stones for nine highway projects worth Rs 14,258 crore, including a ring road around Patna, a mega bridge parallel to the Mahatma Gandhi Setu, the optical fibre internet services covering 45,945 villages of Bihar and an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Darbhanga ahead of the state assembly elections scheduled in October-November in the state.

The Prime Minister also patted Kumar’s back for playing an important role in taking Bihar forward on the path of development. His praise sets to rest the speculations about possible rift between the BJP and JD(U) over suitable accommodation of the Lok Janshakti Party – the third ally of the NDA.

On his part, Kumar has launched a slew of small, medium, and major schemes besides offering sops to contractual teachers and doctors in the last month. He has launched schemes and projects worth Rs 67,700 crore in rural development department, road, power, water resources, education, and his flagship ‘Saat Nischay’ programme to present his government’s development face before the Assembly polls.

Some of his vote-catching measures announced during this period include upgrading of schools in 3,304 panchayats up to Class 9 to ensure presence of schools in every panchayat. He also announced benefits for 3.5 lakh contractual teachers appointed by the Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies, hiking their pay by 15 per cent besides providing benefits of Employees’ Provident Fund.

Bihar, under Kumar, has tactfully used the central schemes to his favour in delivering basic services especially to the extremely poor by increasing social sector expenditures to launching schemes focusing on health, education and welfare of the extremely backward castes, scheduled castes and tribes.

In fact, the substantial increase in the budgetary allocation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Bihar from Rs 900 crore in 2005 to Rs 7,800 crore in 2014 had major share of the central fund.

Though Bihar has been one of the largest recipients of the centrally sponsored scheme fund, especially for health and education, it has been one of the poorest performing states as far as utilisation is concerned.

Kumar’s purpose behind such announcements is to project that his agenda of development, which continued unabated in the past 15 years of his tenure, will continue in the next term also if he is voted to power again. He is trying to push the poll narrative to the 15-year dark phase of the Lalu-Rabri duo versus his 15-year rule of good governance and development.

However, the opposition leaders described the infrastructural packages as skillful jugglery of different schemes to deceive people once again in the Assembly polls. “People were misled by false promises last time when the Prime Minister had announced a package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for Bihar. Nearly 87 percent of Modi’s Bihar package involving Rs 1.08 lakh crore was actually a bundle of old projects while Rs 10,000 crore worth of projects were only on papers,” senior RJD leader Mritunjay Tiwari said.

But the politics of packages does not appear to be a legitimate tool to muster support in the elections as it does not provide a level-playing field for the opposition parties. It institutionally disturbs the level-playing field as the ruling party in power has greater manoeuvring space than the opposition parties.

While it definitely gives an edge to the ruling party or the coalition in a battle of perception, the opposition has nothing to offer but to corner the ruling party in power over its alleged failures in the implementation of the schemes, burgeoning unemployment and so on and so forth.

The timing of announcement of projects is questionable as it is made right before the elections are announced by the Election Commission to skip the violation of the model code of conduct. The Election Commission cannot do anything as there is no legal binding in making such offers.

When schemes are announced in course of the government, they are part of the normal policy-making process but when they are announced just before the elections, they have direct political context aimed at alluring the gullible voters.

The politics of direct packages is a recent phenomenon beginning about two decades ago. It has been successfully exploited by several political parties or leaders in power. But the efficacy of such packages depends largely on the past track record of the political party in power. It pays when the perception of the political party is overall better and has the image of performing in its last tenure.

However, there is no direct link that the promise of electoral bonanza will result in electoral success. For, there is a substantial time lag between announcement of the schemes and their implementation. The opposition parties play the spoilsport by portraying it as a suspicious move and questioning the timing and the intent behind announcement of the package.

Earlier, the political parties used to float crisp, pithy and catchy slogans that created an imprint on the minds of the people and yielded electoral benefits. Some of the watchwords prompting high recall value include opposition’s ‘Indira Hatao’ to Congress’ ‘Garibi Hatao’ in 1971. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP’s high-octane campaign ‘Abki Baar, Modi Sarkar’ had cast immense impact on the people leading to installation of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

Source: News18
First Published on Sep 24, 2020 04:31 pm
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