Nitish's social media pitch for 'special' tag for Bihar

New Delhi, March 6 -- Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is set to raise his pitch for a "special status" for his state with a planned rally in Delhi on March 17 and by leveraging the social media, now being increasing used by India's officialdom.

The state will unveil a re-branded campaign called, "Bihar ka haq" or Bihar's Rightful Cause. To step up the campaign, the Janata Dal(United), Kumar's party, has also roped in a public relations and lobbyist firm, GreyMatters Communications, a tool gaining popularity with many chief ministers, such as Raman Singh and Narendra Modi.

"Social media is an important tool of political articulation. We are happy to use it constructively," the chief minister told HT. Kumar is also likely to make use of platforms, such as "Google+ hangout", having already launched an official Facebook page on the issue.

Struggling against an image of having been a basket case, Bihar is looking at a dramatic turnaround. It has been blighted by years of caste-ridden politics and low productivity. Much of the period before the present government assumed power, crime and corruption were rampant, as economic growth nosedived.

The state has had double-digit growth rates - 15% and 13% - in the last two years. But these high rates - partly because of "base effect", or a statistical phenomenon that can sometimes make growth changes appear big because they had previously been low - need funds to sustain, according to the state.

A special economic status will get Bihar higher allocations. In 2012, the Planning Commission had suggested "special category status" for some states with growth potential. This has set off a competition between many states.

According to the plan panel's recommendations, some of India's states are characterisd by a number of features necessitating larger grants. These include those with hilly or difficult terrain, low-population density, a sizable share of tribal population, strategic locations, such as those sharing international boundaries, infrastructure backwardness and poor state finances.

States under this category have a low resource base and are not in a position to rally funds for development.

Bihar's per-capita income is one-third of the country and about a seventh of Delhi, the nation's capital.

By population terms, Bihar is nearly equivalent of the Philippines, while its per capita GDP, the lowest in the country, is as worse as in Eritrea, an African nation wedged between Sudan and Ethiopia.

For better incomes, many Biharis tend to migrate to other states, working in various fields, from construction sites to public transport. "If I could make a decent living, I would go back (to Bihar)," said Gyanesh Mishra, an autorickshaw driver who came to Delhi a decade ago.

The development deficit was so acute after the state was split up to form a separate province, Jharkhand, in 2000 that a case for special grants began to gain traction.

"The government has setup a unit in planning commission under the direct charge of Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission to deal exclusively with the matter relating to the development of rest Bihar consequent upon formation of Jharkhand," according to The Bihar Reorganization Act 2000, (Statement of Objects and Reasons).

Kumar has been credited with changing the poor state of affairs. He first launched a police crackdown on criminal gangs, gradually shifting the focus to infrastructure, such as roads and schools. A scheme for bicycles for schoolgirls could boost mean-schooling years for girls.

With enormous challenges ahead, the chief minister can't depend on public funding alone. He will have to look to private investments, which could help bring jobs and keep growth rates high.

On the upswing

2007-2008*

7.50%

2008-09

15.24%

2009-10

10.84%

2010-11

15.08%

2011-12

13.52%

*Bihar's growth rates; Source: Planning Commission

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.