Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's campaign for special category for the state received a firm rebuff today from NK Singh - the chief of the 15th Finance Commission and the man who had helped the Janata Dal United frame the campaign. The Finance Commission, Mr Singh told a press conference at Patna today, was not empowered to provide special category status, since it "doesn't figure in the term of reference of commission... it is outside our ambit".
The remark from the Finance Commission chief is seen as a loss of face for both Mr Kumar and his ally the BJP, which also rules at the centre. Mr Kumar has long been chasing special category status - which involves a host of financial and other benefits for a state. It was also repeatedly promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the assembly elections in the state in 2015.
But since then, the demand has not made much headway and the centre's refusal to grant a similar demand from Andhra Pradesh has held out little hope for Bihar.
The centre has never formally responded to Bihar's request. But regarding Andhra Pradesh's demand for special status -- one it said was promised during the bifurcation of Telangana -- the centre said the 14th Finance Commission has effectively removed the concept. Special category status, Union minister Arun Jaitley had said, can now be granted only to states of the northeast.
NK Singh's comment came as a boon for the opposition leaders, who instantly remarked that it exposed the hollow promises of the BJP and the Chief Minister.
Shivanand Tiwari, a senior leader of Lalu Yadav's party, said, "We knew Nitish Kumar and Bihar will never get special status and this double engine government is a farce".
Leaders of Nitish Kumar's party said while NK Singh might be factually correct, if Nitish Kumar and leaders of the other parties urged him, "it shows there is unanimity on this issue." KC Tyagi, JDU's general secretary admitted that it would affect the standing of the ruling allies in the eyes of the electorate.