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Nitish Kumar a 'Modi-fied' chief minister 'refusing' to hark to reason

By Rajiv Shah
Yesterday, I came across an unusual Facebook post by my veteran journalist colleague, Law Kumar Mishra. It recalls an incident which took place when Mishra was posted in Rajkot as the Times of India correspondent during of the worst droughts in the region in late 1980s. At that time Amarsinh Chaudhury was Gujarat chief minister. Currently Patna, Mishra compares how Chaudhary handled drought with the way Nitish Kumar has been handling Bihar floods.
Alongside the Facebook post, Mishra shares a picture (reproduced above) captioned: "This is a picture released by Directorate of Public Relations, Government of Bihar on Sunday. (Encircled by me).CM in serious discussion with chief secretary, principal secretary, disaster management, his secretary etc. on floods, two of them enjoying it,may be cracking jokes".
A middle-sized post, I am tempted to reproduce it:
"During the worst drought in 1980s in Saurashtra-Kutch, the then principal secretary to chief minister-cum-Information Public Relations Department (IPRD), PK Laheri, had requested the media (then private channels were not there) to highlight the plight of the drought-hit people and cattle. He also suggested the media to highlight the loopholes of administration in managing drought relief works. He had arranged media teams from New Delhi and Bombay to visit different districts and write free and frank/true stories.
When Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Rajkot and Bhuj, the government presented albums with photos and reports published in the press -- Gujarati, Marathi, English and Hindi on drought related and water crisis stories.
The PM immediately sanctioned central assistance,Rs 35 lakhs for water-holes for Asiatic lions of Gir, Rs 4 crore for Bhadar dam-Rajkot 45 km pipeline, extra money for more relief works in villages. He told press, 'I am leaving, Sarla ji is here.She will be here for detailed talks with Gujarat officers. Money will be no problem.'
Sarla Grewal was PS to PM. She said, 'PM saw all reports and photos and sanctioned relief projects instantly. PM relied more on media reports than official memorandum.'
On the other hand, in Bihar,chief minister Nitish Kumar says, 'Likhte rahiye, bolte rahiye, humko jo kaam karna hai, hamari sarkar karegi'. It has percolation effects on bureaucrats.
In one of the water starved districts in Saurashtra, a distinct magistrate was quoted in the press, 'Whatever I could do,I have done, rest is on God'. The then Gujarat CM Amarsinh Chaudhary told him, 'When you are depended on God during crisis, you do not deserve to be DM, guardian of the common man.'
Our Bihar CM is putting blame on rain God and Hathia Nakshatra and the meteorology office.
Media must not be PRO of government, at least during crisis. They are expected to be PROs of people during calamities, not of government. There is big gap between claims of government and woes of the people, at least in Patna during the present crisis."
***
During my posting in Gandhinagar, when Keshubhai Patel was chief minister (1998-2001), I recall, lobbying for the state was still a factor, allowed to be used by the then administration. A terrible cyclone hit the Kandla port in May 1998, one of the biggest cargo handling facilities across India. It killed around 2,000 people.
Less than a week later, on a Sunday morning, I was relaxing at my Gandhinagar residence. Suddenly, IP Gautam, secretary to CM, phoned me up and said, "Please come over at Keshubhai's residence."
I promptly got ready and reached there walking -- it took me less than 10 minutes to reach, as my house in Sector 20 was on one side of the J Road, while on the other side were Keshubhai's and other ministers' sprawling bungalows. A small walkway from J Road (closed after Narendra Modi became chief minister in 2001) took you to the ministerial enclave.
Gautam was waiting for me. He began blaming the manner in which the Kandla crisis was being handled by the Centre, pointing out, the port was a Central property. Interestingly, AB Vajpayee was India's Prime Minister at that time. But that didn't bother Gautam. He gave me all the details, including the damage caused to the people surrounding Kandla, apart from the port itself. "Write all this in Keshubhai's or in his aide's name", he told me.
With the story in hand, I rushed to my office in Akhbar Bhawan and filed it. It was taken as a flier the next day in the Times of India. I don't know what impact it had, but surely it was used by the then administration to get Central funds.
After Modi became chief minister in 2001, things turned political. A report would be prepared on the state government's demands to the Government of India as part of the state's representation to the Finance Commission. There would also be an yearly booklet containing a list of "pending issues" the Centre should take up.
Initially, the reports would show Gujarat's finances in poor light in order to elicit more Central help. For instance, there used to be a talk of Gujarat facing a debt trap. As babus would leak these reports, I used to do some exclusive stories after getting them first.
Four years after Modi came to power, post-2004, these reports would contain only a much longer list of "pending" demands with the Centre, which had now Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.
However, as for the analysis, it was all praise on how the state was doing so well on all the fronts! The argument would be: Only those states doing well should be "awarded" with better Central funds, and also that since Gujarat contributed a higher proportion as Central taxes, it was entitled to a higher Central allocation.

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