21 May 2019 04:53 AM

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MOHAN GURUSWAMY | 14 MAY, 2019

Modi Starts to Cobble a Coalition, Special Status For Possible Allies Post May 23

Andhra, Orissa and Bihar - SCS for very dissimilar states.


Word is that the BJP, anticipating a lesser than majority outcome for the NDA, is seeking new allies to cobble together a majority.

It has zeroed in on the YSR Congress leader with a promise of a Special Category Status (SCS) for Andhra Pradesh. It was the NDA government’s denial of the SCS to AP that ostensibly led to the falling out with Chandrababu Naidu.

It is also learnt that the BJP is now dangling a similar lolly to Orissa’s Biju Janata Dal government.Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already revealed his hand a bit when he went out of his way to applaud Navin Patnaik for evacuating Orissa’s coastal population from the harms way of Cyclone Fani.

How this will be seen in Bihar is the big question? For if there is any state that deserves and demands a SCS, it is Bihar, India’s poorest and least endowed state.

Aristotle very famously said that it is an injustice to treat equals as unequal’s, just as it is an injustice to treat unequal’s as equals. We are generally agreed that inequality is an injustice, but inequality is inevitable. But the redress of inequality between people and between regions has always been a driving concern. Though the achievement of a greater equity between people and regions in India was not explicitly stated in the Constitution, the very notions of a socialistic society and democracy implies a determined thrust towards just that.

Unfortunately, from all available data, it is obvious that this did not happen. In fact the divisions between regions and people only deepened, a fact detailed in many studies. The notion of conferring a SCS is to engender equality between regions. It is this very notion that resulted in policies such as the freight equalization policy of 1952 to make steel available at the same cost in every corner of this vast country, but which ended up impoverishing Bihar even more. Today the disparity between states is huge. The richer state in India like Punjab or Kerala have per capita incomes that are six times more than Bihar’s Rs.34, 000.

The Andhra Chief Minister, N Chandrababu Naidu, is up in arms against the Modi government for denying the state the SCS and with it the extraordinary funding that will go with it.

It is another matter that the Constitution does not provide for a SCS status. But by recognizing that some regions, entire states or parts of states, SCS funding was given to such regions by the erstwhile Planning Commission and National Development Council, by considering the historical and cultural factors and geographical factors resulting in backwardness. Where does the residual Andhra Pradesh stand in relation to this?

Andhra Pradesh, even after it got delinked from the milch cow of the unified state, Hyderabad, is still among the more economically well off areas in the country. It has a per capita income of Rs.142054, against the national average of Rs.112764.

The other state that off and on asks for special status is Bihar, which has a per capita income of Rs.34168. Bihar has been asking for SCS for decades. Bihar too, like Andhra Pradesh, lost its milch cow when Jharkhand was made a separate state. While Bihar’s case depends on the distance from the median, Andhra’s is based on promise made in Parliament by the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

Today Bihar stands alone as a vast ocean of poverty and hopelessness. Its sends one of the larger contingents to the Lok Sabha (40 MPs), while the other claimant, the truncated Andhra Pradesh send 25 MPs. Yet Andhra Pradesh has managed to stall the winter session of parliament, while Bihar still hesitantly holds out for a similar central largesse.

Andhra Pradesh has also aroused the entire political spectrum to rally behind its demand for a special status, to compensate it for the “loss” of Hyderabad. As a Hyderabadi I am somewhat uncomfortable to be seen by a bunch of politicians are little different from an oil well or iron ore mine, as just a source of revenue. I have no doubt the present political dispensation in Telangana also thinks of Hyderabad not much differently.

Like all our other metropolitan areas, Hyderabad too is a pocket of relative wealth. It has a per capita income of Rs.2.99 lakhs, and the adjacent largely urban Ranga Reddy district has a per capita income of Rs.2.88 lakhs. The other districts are not very different from most other largely rural areas in south and western India. All the largely rural districts like Warangal, Nizamabad, Adilabad and Mahbubnagar have per capita incomes of around Rs.80,000 give or take a bit, but still more than two and a half times that of Bihar.

But why was Bihar in this parlous condition was still the big question? The answer was not difficult to seek. Economic growth in India, then as it is now, is State driven. The money the central government spends has a direct bearing on the economic outcomes of states and on the well being of their people. The evidence was very clear. Right from the First Plan, Bihar and UP, suffered from underinvestment by the Central Government. If there was per capita development expenditure for each plan, Bihar was always furthest from it.

When I computed the investment foregone, by getting so much less in every consecutive Plan, Bihar has been shortchanged by as much as Rs.180,000 crores. The Plans are now dead but the Niti still continues. Bihar is still last in terms of per capita development expenditure, and industrial and infrastructure investment. The highest-ranking states in terms of government investment get as much as six times more than Bihar in per capita terms.

Whatever be the reasons, we have over time come to accept certain stereotypes, such as the relative prosperity of the Punjab is due to the hard-working and innovative peasant, while the poverty of Bihar is due to the deep divisions in its society, corruption and lawlessness. Like most generalizations these too are seriously flawed.

Clearly Punjab prospered as India made huge investments in the state. These investments were often at the cost of other regions. Take the year 1955. In this year the total national outlay for irrigation was Rs 29,106.30 lakh. Of this Punjab got Rs 10,952.10 lakh or 37.62%. In contrast Bihar got only Rs 1,323.30 lakh, which is only 4.54% of the irrigation outlay.

The Bhakra Nangal dam, one of Jawaharlal Nehru’s grandest temples of modern India, planned at an outlay of Rs 7,750 lakh, alone irrigates 14.41 lakh hectares. Even after excluding this from Punjab’s irrigation plan; we see that its outlay is almost 2.5 times that of Bihar. Consequently Bihar which has three and a half times more arable land than Punjab has just about the same acreage of irrigated land as Punjab’s 36 lakh ha.

Bihar is still the third largest state in India. It is in many ways the heart of India. It is certainly the cradle of Indian civilization, which evolved on the banks of the Ganges. And it is clear India cannot go forward leaving Bihar behind. But this is just what we have been trying to do. Not only our national politicians have failed us, but also more importantly Bihar’s politicians it sends to New Delhi have failed. They have failed to articulate Bihar’s sufferings and the gross injustice done to it. They seemed to be mesmerized by the power and pelf national government offered.

In the past few years, the present CM of Bihar has been raising this issue intermittently and has demanded a Special Status for Bihar and a huge inflow of capital to set Bihar on the path of equalization with others. He asked for just Rs.60, 000 crores, just a third what Bihar should rightly claim, but even that was fobbed off. Now that he is in bed with the powers that be in New Delhi I wonder if that is even pillow talk now?
 

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