Gilbert and Sullivan’s Duke of Plaza Toro was a successful campaigner because he always led his troops from behind, thus demonstrating that discretion is the better part of not only valour but also of being in the vanguard. The comic opera duke might have felt right at home in contemporary India where political leaders vie with each other to lead their constituencies forward by claiming backward status.
A case in point is Nitish Kumar’s ‘Bihar model’ of development which is being projected as a more inclusive blueprint for progress than Narendra Modi’s much-vaunted ‘Gujarat model’. While Gujarat has always been an economically prosperous state, largely thanks to the reputed business acumen of its people, years of misrule and maladministration had earned Bihar the dubious distinction of being the first of the so-called ‘Bimaru’ states, known for their poverty and backwardness.
However, CM Nitish Kumar has laudably turned Bihar’s failure into a success story. Thanks to good governance, the state has achieved a higher growth rate – at 10%-plus – than that of Gujarat. But, as the CM has pointed out, because of the low base that it started from, it will takeBihar some 25 years of high growth to reach Gujarat’s level of development.
In a move that the Duke of Plaza Toro would have applauded, Nitishbabu has turned his state’s ‘backwardness’ into ‘forwardness’ by demanding that New Delhi accord ‘special category’ status to Bihar, which will enable it to catch up, if not overtake, the rest of the country in development. Having been ditched by the DMK, the shaky UPA government seems ready to oblige in order to woo the JD(U) leader away from his alliance with the NDA and bring him over to the Congress-led coalition.
As in the case of caste-based reservations – which have given rise to what might be called the politics of ‘competitive backwardness’, with more and more sections of the polity claiming OBC status – the ‘special category’ status might well prompt competition between states to show how underprivileged they are and therefore deserving of extra aid to help propel them forward. Indeed, BJD-ruled Orissa has already cited Bihar’s case in reference to its own claim to ‘special category’ classification, adding that the state will ‘demand’ this right and not ‘bargain’ for it.
It has been said that in a democracy in order to take one step forward it is often necessary to take a couple of steps sideways. However, with ‘backwardness’ becoming the new mantra for equitable growth, to take one step forward we might first have to take a step or three in the reverse direction. China took its famous Great Leap Forward. Will India’s counterpart to that be a Great Leap Backward?
Source: TOI,March 23,2013.