Aasha Khosa | December 14, 2015
What is the significance of the Bihar verdict for your party?
The Bihar election is a triumph of the Nitish government’s policies on all fronts – political, economic and good governance. For the country, this is a significant development, because it has halted the march of BJP as the most powerful national party. The Bihar election has changed an environment in which the BJP was continuing to win the state elections and the principal national opposition party – the Congress – was weakening day by day. With this India seemed to be heading for a one-party rule, which is not good for a democratic country.
Earlier Delhi also gave a crushing defeat to BJP. However, Bihar was a personal defeat of Narendra Modi’s aura and persona. Bihar results have broken the myth of Modi’s invincibility.
So, JD(U) sees Bihar as a personal defeat of the PM...
BJP had used all its money, managerial skills, time and effort to win Bihar. But the people of Bihar voted for Nitish mainly because he had, for 10 years, given them good governance, a corruption-free regime and a rule of law. Nowhere in the country have special courts been set up to expedite the trial of criminals. As a result, about 55,000 criminals have been jailed making Bihar crime free. Also the police have been given powers to protect witnesses in these cases till deposition and even later. People of Bihar have valued this and voted for Nitish.
There is a lot of talk about the Bihar model of development. How would you sum it up?
Nitish had introduced some simple yet effective steps to make the state a better governed place. Bihar is the first state to come up with the citizens’ charter. Imaginative administrative reforms had led to almost zero ‘political interference’ in government. Infrastructure was strengthened with construction of 65,000 km roads, 600-plus bridges and culverts.
However, the most enduring picture of Bihar under Nitish rule is the morning scene in any village – a row of girls going to schools on bicycles. The Nitish government provided bicycles and school uniforms to girls to encourage girls’ education and also give them freedom and security. A bicycle makes a girl confident. It also sends a signal of her empowerment and changes the gender equation. The 50 percent reservation for women in civic bodies and panchayats also made them fully representative and also empowered women. This is why there were long queues of women outside polling booths during the elections. Women have hugely voted for Nitish.
So, the Bihar model of development is different from...
Yes, the Bihar model is different from the Gujarat model. The Gujarat model of development (under Narendra Modi) was exclusive – it benefited only industrialists, corporate and big businesses. The Bihar model is inclusive. It is about changing the face of agriculture, empowering women and creating opportunities for all. Bihar had a unique problem after its bifurcation: while the natural resources and industries went to Jharkhand, Bihar was left with agriculture, floods and poverty. Nitish worked on this and during his regime, Bihar broke all records of per hectare production of wheat and rice. The agricultural growth was in double digits and the highest in India. Bihar had opened functional primary health centres where on an average 10,000 to 15,000 people would be treated each day.
But isn’t it a sorry state of affairs that in spite of a viable and successful model of governance, Nitish had to resort to the caste-based politics to win election?
Honestly, we had planned to focus only on the achievement of ten years of Nitish Kumar’s rule till RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made those remarks (seeking a review of reservations). We have to speak about caste because the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backwards in Bihar total about 70 percent of the population. This population believes that reservation is their constitutional right. After Bhagwat’s remark they were feeling threatened and insecure. We – the Janata Dal (United) and RJD (Lalu Prasad’s party) – are inheritors of the socialist movement of (Ram Manohar) Lohia and are committed to protecting the rights of the socially and educationally backward people. We were left with no option but to rise in their defence. We make no bones about who we stand for – the marginalised people, and for that we had to change the narrative of the election campaign after Bhagwat’s remarks.
Good that you clarified this, though my question was about the caste-based alliances that Nitish had to seek out with Lalu Prasad.
What you call the caste-based issues, for us these are ways of social empowerment of the marginalised and the backwards. Bihar is the only place in India where a PM was forced to flaunt his backward status. Speaking in Muzaffarpur, Modi said that BJP was no longer a party of Brahmin-Bania. He claimed that BJP was now a party of the backwards and to buttress his claim he even flaunted his status as a backward caste person.
Besides, caste is a reality of India: look at the matrimonial advertisements in newspapers – grooms and brides are sought on caste basis. There are at least dozen caste-based political parties in the country, be it TDP and TRS in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, AIDMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu, Akali Dal in Punjab or Samajwadi Party and BSP in UP. All of them are caste-based. However, the elite in India changes the vocabulary of caste to their convenience and equates it with pride – like we get to hear a lot about the Maratha pride, which in fact is a camouflage for caste dominance.
What is next big thing in Nitish’s developmental model of Bihar?
Creating livelihood opportunities and jobs for the youth will be the government’s next priority. The government will provide interest-free loans for creating job opportunities in agro-processing. Providing round-the-clock uninterrupted power supply to each household, construction of toilets for each family and making drains and paved lanes in villages will change the face of Bihar. As we have already laid a network of roads, it has started creating jobs and business opportunities for people.
What about women?
Yes, giving 35 percent job reservation to women will be our next big-ticket reform. This alone will change the face of Bihar’s society and make government more inclusive in the real sense. You will see more women in the police force and more women-exclusive police stations in Bihar in coming days.
People have already started talking about the major challenge that Nitish faces – keeping his ally Lalu Prasad’s ambitions and temper under check.
You have to give at last six months before passing a judgement on this coalition regime. In six months, you will find a changed Laluji and also see how efficiently his sons would perform under Nitish’s leadership. The mantra of development is going to change everything and everyone. Also, don’t forget Nitish has already said that he will not compromise on ‘sushasan’ (good governance).
Nitish is being touted as the next prime ministerial candidate from the opposition. How soon can he assume that role?
Nitish is happy serving the people of Bihar. Neither he nor his party has expressed the desire to see him as prime minister. Having said that, I want to put it on record on behalf of the JD(U) that Nitish is a real PM stuff. He has shaped Bihar for ten years, played his role as minister in the centre with efficiency and had now defeated BJP’s invincible leader. What more is required of a prime minister?
After Bihar experience, what is the opposition planning for the coming elections in UP and other states?
We have elections in West Bengal, Assam and UP. We are trying to work out opposition unity in these states on the lines of Mahagathbandhan that we forged in Bihar. The mantra is that all leaders end their personal fights in favour of a broad-based political alliance. It is a simple thing that we did in Bihar and it worked. Laluji and we had a lot of differences but we decided to sort them out and work together. The message of Bihar is clear: earlier you may have been able to defeat BJP but now you can even defeat Narendra Modi. The opposition will have to take this option.
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