New Delhi: After Cyclone Fani became the fourth major storm to ravage the state of Odisha in the last five years, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik raised the demand for special category status (SCS) for his state. This makes Patnaik the latest in a string of Chief Ministers who have raised the demand for SCS along with Nitish Kumar of Bihar, N Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and K Chandrashekar Rao of Telangana.
As counting day approaches and coalitions get their government formation strategies in place, SCS may become a silver bullet in case regional players emerge strong next Thursday.
Together, the states seeking ‘Special Category Status’ — Odisha (21), Bihar (40), Andhra Pradesh (25) and Telangana (17) make up 103 Lok Sabha seats. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP is seen as a minor player; in Bihar, it depends on its alliance with the JD(U); and in Odisha, it is hoping to unseat the Biju Janata Dal.
A senior National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader, on the condition of anonymity, said, “These four states are the states to watch out for. The BJP is expected to do poorly here and regional players will be in a position to dictate terms. These are 100 seats the BJP cannot ignore and therefore, will have to buck under pressure.”
Sources said that the leaders of the JD(U), YRSC, TRS and BJD are considering a scenario where the NDA comes up short of the majority mark. In such a scenario, the regional demands for special status in Bihar, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh may be the crucial trump card for government formation after May 23.
Another NDA leader added, “While we are expecting the BJP to become the single largest party, what happens when they don’t cross 200 on their own? Things aren’t looking good for them in Uttar Pradesh with the Mahagathbandhan on a strong footing. In such a scenario, even with support from NDA partners, they may not cross 272. The YSR Congress, TRS and BJD will be watching this development closely and when the time comes, they will have the JD(U) on the inside of the alliance to turn up the heat on Narendra Modi. If he has to form the government again, Modi may have to grant special status to these states.”
Special Category Status (SCS), while not a constitutional provision, is way for the Centre to provide financial assistance to states that were struggling economically. In SCS states, the Centre funds 90% of centrally-funded schemes and the state government pays for only 10%.
In other states, this ratio is 60:40. Among the regional players in Andhra Pradesh, there is political consensus on the demand for SCS since they claim the state’s economy took a hit after the former capital of Hyderabad went to Telangana in the bifurcation.
While the Manmohan Singh government had announced a special package for Telangana, the setting up of the NITI Aayog by the Modi government took away the discretionary power of the ruling party at Centre to grant SCS to a state.
SCS is now effectively limited to northeastern states and hilly states. As a compromise, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely promised the TDP the “equivalent” of a special package but it wasn’t enough to save the TDP-BJP alliance.
Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress then announced that after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he would support whichever party gave special status to Andhra Pradesh. This prompted TRS leader T Harish Rao to say if Andhra Pradesh received special status, so should Telangana.
In 2015, the JD(U)-RJD alliance had made special status a key issue in the assembly elections. But now, with the JD(U) back in the NDA fold, the dynamic has shifted. Rahul Gandhi has already announced that the Congress would grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh. In this context, the four regional satraps are feeling confident that the BJP will have no choice but to do the same after May 23.