All backward states in the country will be granted special status if non-BJP parties form the government at the centre after the 2024 general election, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced today.
"If we get an opportunity to form the government, we will surely give backward states special status. I am not just talking about Bihar, but also about other states that should get special status," he told the media in reply to a question.
This comes against the backdrop of Mr Kumar recent visit to Delhi, during which he met leaders of several Opposition parties to explore the possibility of stitching together an Opposition front to take on the BJP's election machinery in the next general election.
Mr Kumar, who parted ways with the BJP last month and formed a new government in Bihar with support from Tejashwi Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, has been demanding special status for Bihar since 2007. The issue has been strategically raised by the Janata Dal (United) leader, sometimes to score political points ahead of elections and at other times, to put pressure on ally BJP.
If a state is granted special status, the centre-state funding ratio for centrally sponsored schemes is 90:10, much more favourable than the ratio for other states.
Currently, there are 11 special category states in the country -- Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir (now a Union Territory), Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
The Constitution does not have a provision for any special category for states, However, a body called National Development Council that was part of the now-defunct planning commission had recommended a special status for these 11 states based on a number of factors.
A 2018 reply by the government in Parliament listed these factors as hilly and difficult terrain, low population density and /or sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries, economic and infrastructural backwardness
and non-viable nature of state finances.
The concept of special status for states disappeared after the government accepted the recommendations of 14th Finance Commission. However, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand have persisted with the demand, citing backwardness and poverty.
Politically, Nitish Kumar making such an announcement shows that while he may have said that he has no Prime Ministerial ambitions, he does see himself as a prominent voice in any Opposition front that may come together to take on the BJP.