Pankaj Kumar | September 25, 2015
He has switched sides many a time. From being an ally of the BJP to an adversary in the past, today Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan is a minister in the BJP-led government at the centre. As his home state Bihar goes to the polls, the BJP sees in him a key ally who can change its fortunes. A veteran of many electoral battles, 69-year-old Paswan today swears that prime minister Narendra Modi is the sole factor in the Bihar election; rubbishes his former allies – Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad – tieup as “immoral” and ends up declaring that the “Mandal-Kamandal” (caste-religion combine) politics is passé. He is thrilled at the success of his actor-turned-politician son Chirag. In an interview to Pankaj Kumar, Paswan exudes confidence at the NDA’s prospects in Bihar. Excerpts from interview:
How do you explain your claim that Modi is the only factor in the Bihar elections?
Looking at the voters’ mood, one can easily feel that the magic of Narendra Modi is on. His rallies are attracting massive crowds – the turnout is almost double or treble of what we had seen while campaigning for the general elections. As far as the LJP is concerned, it has about 12,000 to 20,000 votes in each assembly constituency and this will surely go to the party that I support. In 2005, I was in the UPA; we had contested 175 seats and got 15 percent votes. BJP being a bigger party and with the Modi factor we are quite positive. The chief minister will, in any case, has to be from the BJP.
You have been the sole leader of dalits, but is the rise of former chief minister Jeetan Ram Manjhi a challenge for you?
Nitish Kumar had tried to create a division among the dalits by raising the slogan of mahadalits. And people, initially, were taken in by this. However, the way he treated Manjhi (a mahadalit) has dented his image. The mahadalits felt cheated as Nitish did nothing for them. This has made us stronger. My supporters are not bothered about communalism or secularism – they just vote for Ram Vilas Paswan.
Do you think the old slogans of ‘Mandal-Kamandal’ – caste-based or religion-based politics – are relevant today?
Kaath ki handi baar baar nahi chadhti hai (You cannot cook food in wooden vessel twice). Agreed that once upon a time these were the real factors, but they (the Nitish-Lalu combine) cannot use it all the time. Today they are not even considered as caste leaders. Recently, Lalu’s wife and daughter lost elections. Nitish has also ceased to be a caste leader. Issues like Mandal (caste) and Kamandal (religion) are irrelevant. People want development and Modi is the symbol of development.
You had broken away from NDA after the Gujarat riots. At that time you had called BJP a communal force though it was headed by a moderate leader like Vajpayee. What are your views about BJP now?
How long shall we continue to talk on the same lines? The Godhra incident occurred very soon after Modi had assumed office as chief minister. How long will the opposition continue to use the 2002 incidents to monger scare among the minorities? Also remember that no other [untoward] incident happened in Gujarat during Modi’s rule. In fact, 13 years is a long time for us to get over this. Today people are hardly concerned with religion or caste. I am thankful to Chirag for taking the right decision in the parliamentary board (of aligning with BJP, last year). We had gone with Lalu [in the 2010 assembly elections] because we thought he was secular. Is he secular?
You seem to have ruled yourself out as a chief ministerial candidate in Bihar. Why so?
Yes, I am not in the race for the CM post. We have discussed this in the party and have no second thoughts on this. Narendra Modi is the leader of NDA and whosoever he picks as CM will get our support.
Not declaring a CM candidate in Bihar may prove costly for your alliance as it happened to the Congress in the general elections. What do you think?
No, not at all. I also believe that parties should not project chief ministerial candidates before the outcome of elections. This has helped BJP in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand. And, see, what happened in Delhi after BJP had announced the CM candidate.
What hope do you have from the minorities? Don’t you think they will opt for Nitish-Lalu combine who are projecting themselves as a secular alliance?
The minorities have faith in us as we are committed to their security and development. They have seen and realised that they are secure under Modi.
Reports suggest a spike in communal clashes in Bihar in the run-up to the election. Do you see a design in this to polarise the votes?
Not only communal riots but other forms of crime are also rising. Every day around 18 children are kidnapped in the state. Bihar has the lowest per capita income. Cognisable offences increased manifold from 95,000 in 2001 to 1,95,000 in 2015. What can be worse than this?
How do you react to Modi’s remark that “Nitish’s political DNA is faulty”?
The prime minister had made a political statement and referred to Nitish as an individual. Nitish, on the other hand, is trying to gain political capital out of it. He is seeking to link this to Bihar’s pride asking his followers to tonsure their heads and cut their nails as a mark of protest against the PM’s remarks. Really, there is something terribly wrong with Nitish’s political DNA. Why else should he have insulted his colleague Manjhi, whom he had handpicked as CM, only to remove him unceremoniously? He also insulted his mentor George Fernandes. What’s more, he insulted the prime ministerial candidate of his 17-year-long political ally when he cancelled a proposed dinner with Modi in the run-up to the general elections.
Do you think Nitish is a natural ally of Lalu Prasad while both have opposed each other in the past?
Nitish has recently justified this association rather cleverly. When asked about this, he had said, “Chandan vish vyapat nahin, laptat rahe bhujang” (A serpent remains entwined on a sandalwood tree but the tree never loses its fragrance). Here Nitish is likening himself to sandalwood and Lalu to the serpent. If their alliance is a natural one let them praise each other’s regimes. Remember, Nitish used to call Lalu’s regime ‘jungle raj’ and his own as ‘sushasan raj’ (good governance). There is an inherent contradiction in this alliance.
What expectations do you have from your son Chirag? Will he lead the party soon?
When our party was going through a rough patch, Chirag was in charge of the media. I had no idea that he was so good at understanding politics. Now everyone is praising Chirag as a young leader. I feel Chirag has filled a big void in the party by bringing in fresh ideas. His presence has generated a sense of happiness in the party and, as a father, I am really happy about it.
(The interview appears in the September 16-30, 2015 issue)
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