‘Nitish Kumar zindabad.’ This was the loudest noise at Ramlila maidan in the capital on Sunday afternoon, as thousands, mostly young men, held green-coloured flags and wore caps that prominently featured the face of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
They had all gathered for the ‘Adhikar’ rally to demand special category status for Bihar.
All through the rally, young men moved in large groups outside the main venue. They shouted slogans and beat drums. A minor scuffle between some supporters and commuters broke out at one of the traffic signals early in the day.
The traffic was choked in areas encompassing Ramlila maidan for as long as the rally went on. The Delhi traffic police had released a traffic advisory in advance asking people to avoid travelling to adjoining areas of Shanti Van, Rajghat, Delhi Gate, Ajmeri Gate, Minto Raod and Paharganj. Police officers at the venue informed that nearly 1000 police personnel, from both Delhi Police and CRPF were deployed at the venue.
But the sheer excitement of the people at the maidan was hard to miss. Nearly 50,000 people were present at the venue.
There was a persistent buzz, as people reacted to what party leaders, most of whom were ministers in the state, were saying. It was an eager audience.
Dr Chandrabhushan Rai, member of State Council of the party, told rediff.com that Bihar was one of the most backward states in the country, as its per capita income was much lower than many other states.
The party had decided to press for the demand of special category status, which primarily meant special incentives like tax rebates from the Central government in order to attract more industries in the state.
“As industrialisation becomes favourable, more people will get jobs, farmers will get better support and will be able to sell their produce,” Dr Rai explained. He said around 40,000 people had come to the rally from Bihar.
A host of leaders of the Janata Dal-United were seated on the dais. The National President of the party Sharad Yadav interacted with other party members freely.
Many of the ministers in the state addressed the crowds, but spoke on almost identical lines.
Parveen Amanullah, the state minister of social welfare informed the audience that the ‘Adhikar’ rally travelled through the villages and districts of Bihar before reaching the capital. Amanullah said it was a rightful demand of the people of the state.
“The entire 10.5 crore population of Bihar wants a special status for the state,” she said, as people applauded.
One after another, the ministers came and praised their chief minister while demanding special category status for Bihar. All ministers followed a strict deadline and spoke for less than 5 minutes.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, the SC and ST welfare minister of the state, informed that under Kumar’s chief ministership, the budget for the welfare of the SCs and STs in the state had increased manifold, nearly 650 crore rupees in the past five years.
“Industries will help us grow and prosper,” he said.
A sankalp patra (a pledge) was released by the Janata Dal-United on Sunday. The Central government recognises certain criteria -- terrain, population density -- to ascertain the backwardness of a state and whether it deserved the special category status.
Bihar does not qualify as per its parameters.
The sankalp patra, which was presented at the rally, resolved to press for the demand, citing an Economic Survey 2012-13 report that stated, ‘the criteria for awarding special category status needs to be revisited.’
Bihar Chief Minister and the face of the rally, Nitish Kumar, took centre stage around noon.
The national president of the party Sharad Yadav spoke and emphasised that demand for a special status for Bihar was a ‘legitimate demand.’
“What Nitish will say will have a deeper effect,” said the party president.
The chief minster came on to address amidst applause. People peered to get a glimpse of him. A second scuffle broke out right in front of the dais, but it was soon controlled.
The chief minister spoke at length about why the state rightfully deserves the special status category. He spoke of the low per capita income of people in the state, the low investment on development per person in the state, and how the state fared poorly on human development indices.
During his speech, he thundered now and then, “Don’t we, the people of Bihar have a right to growth and development?” And the crowd would respond in loud affirmation.
He said, “We are not begging for it. It is our right.”
He said the state intends to bring reforms in agriculture, education and health and needs help from the Central government.
As the rally came to a close, many people huddled back to their groups. A majority of the crowd had come from different parts of Bihar. They were dressed like workers; there were very few women. But they were well aware of their demands.
Priyanka Suman, the president at the Mahila cell of a village in Patori, of district Samastipur, said she fully agreed with the demands. She was with a group of 500 people, who had travelled for almost 24 hours to reach the rally. They will spend the night at gurudwaras and return to Bihar on Monday.
“There are six primary schools in my panchayat, but no high school. There are hospitals, but no doctors,” she said.
Another worker at the panchayat in a village 25 kilometres away, Manpura, Laxmi Devi, too, said that was scarcity of water in the village.
“The hike in prices of petrol and fertilisers has been very hard on us,” she says. “We need help so that we can grow,” she adds.
A few thousands from the capital and NCR region too had joined, mainly to show solidarity. Hussain Anwari, a 28-year-old auto rickshaw driver in the capital had come to the rally.
“If they give us special status and my state prospers, I will go back,” he says.
“I want to go back. Why should I listen to abuses here?” he asks.
Pradeep Gupta works as a security guard in a company in Noida. “I came here to support them,” he says.
People discuss the issues aloud as they leave the venue. The green flags lie in tatters all around the place. One of them read, “Facebook wale kam aaye.”
“We will vote for anybody, be it Congress or BJP, or any other party, provided they agree to our demand for special status,” said Prabhat Chaube Rai, another worker.