Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose party the JD(U) rules the state in partnership with the BJP, is said be upset at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's reported remark in Rajkot yesterday that "festering caste politics" in Bihar is the main reason for what he calls that state's backwardness. Mr Kumar today said, "People should think about their own situations. Bihar has overcome obstacles and has launched itself on a path of progress. We don't comment on others."
Mr Modi, a senior BJP leader, was speaking publically at a party meeting yesterday. He said, "Bihar, at one point of time, was a political and spiritual leader of the country, but it slipped into socio-economical backwardness ever since casteist leadership took centrestage."
Rejecting Mr Modi's statement, JD(U) Spokesman Neeraj Kumar said Bihar had made rapid strides in terms of economic development under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's leadership since 2005 and presented a different picture of the state, its people and polity. "The state government has attained a consistently high growth rate - even better than Gujarat and is on course to become a developed state in due course of time," he said.
Mr Modi and Mr Kumar are at two opposite ends in the BJP-JD(U) alliance. Both ambitious leaders who have been feted for their achievements as administrators, they are also said to be rivals for that one slot - a future Prime Ministerial candidate of the National Democratic Alliance. They have baited each other often, publically, and make no bones about their differences. Mr Modi recently came in for criticism even from Mr Kumar's deputy, BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, for his insistence that long-time rival Sanjay Joshi be shunted out of the party.
In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, which ruled Bihar before Nitish Kumar ousted it, too has taken umbrage at Mr Modi's remarks. The party said Mr Modi had "no business to cast aspersion on others even as he is himself accused of unleashing terror on religious minorities in Gujarat."
But Mr Modi found rare agreement from the Congress. Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee president Chaudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser said Mr Modi was "right in his perception" that casteist leadership and caste-based polity in Bihar had dented the stock of the state. The Congressman said all other political parties in Bihar had used and nurtured various caste groups for political and electoral benefits.