I am the leader of Dalits and Mahadalits of Bihar: Ram Vilas Paswan
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Union minister and chief of Bihar-based Lok Janshakti Party Ram Vilas Paswan asserts that he is the leader of Dalits and Mahadalits in Bihar and prime minister Narendra Modi is the leader of the backward classes. On the new alliance between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, he says that there is no common ground between the two. Edited excerpts of an interview:
What are the key issues in the upcoming Bihar elections? What is the main theme of the National Democratic Alliance campaign?
Our main issue is development and growth. We are going to elections with the issue of development. There is no other issue.
The election is seen as a direct contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. How do you look at this contest?
There is no contest in this. You cannot compare Narendra Modi to Nitish Kumar. One is on the top and the other is at the bottom. He (Kumar) is trying to show off. When the prime minister’s events happen, he (Kumar) gives his reactions and gets coverage in the media. We also give our reactions, but there is no direct contest.
There (in Bihar) is nothing like a contest because a contest requires a ‘meeting of hearts’ between the two (Kumar and Prasad) and it is not happening. There are three partners, including Congress, which has the sympathy votes of minorities from across the country. If the Congress contests separately, the minority votes will go neither to Nitish or Lalu.
Nitish Kumar has no vote base of his own, neither of Mahadalits nor of extremely backward classes and the vote base of his caste, too, is hardly 1.5%. Lalu Yadav considers that the Yadavs will vote for him and there too a lot of leaders have come up such as Pappu Yadav, Dadan Pehalwan and Ranjan Yadav. The assembly and Lok Sabha elections have shown that Lalu Yadav has no effect on Yadav votes, he does not have a full grip… and two of the main causes are that Lalu Yadav has no one in his family who are chief ministerial candidates and the Yadavs have been most harassed by Nitish. They may say that they are ready to ‘drink poison’, but the Yadavs are not ready to do so. While Nitish does not have a vote base, he tried to project himself as pro-development and honest. But by going with Lalu, he has erased that issue also. Both don’t have a solid voter base and their voters will ditch them at the last moment. We have been with them, so we know that their votes never got transferred to us where as ours did. Wherever there is a Yadav candidate of the RJD, the Yadavs may vote for them, but there too there is a doubt.
When you say that development will be an issue, there have been systemic problems in Bihar whether it is electricity, law and order, industries etc. Does the NDA have a plan?
Yes, we have a plan. Parliament is on right now and the moment the session ends, we will go ahead with our plan. The law-and-order situation in Bihar is bad, there are murders and rapes every day. There is nothing called development... bridges are broken, you can take a helicopter but you cannot go via road. So in 10 years, they could not make roads and it is not like there was a dearth of money… people realize this, they see other states and the condition of roads is bad. Nitish said if until 2015 there is no electricity, then no votes. Today, Bihar is the worst state in terms of electricity. Even if it has reached some places, the supply is poor. Malnutrition is a problem, kids are dying. Teachers and ASHA workers are getting lathi-charged. Nitish said for cheap popularity that he would hire lakhs of teachers, but we have seen that more than half of those teachers resigned when the high court ordered a probe into their appointments. Now he (Kumar) has his pictures everywhere with his hands raised. Why doesn’t he have photos of Lalu Yadav, Sonia Gandhi? Why his photos alone? And now the high court has stopped that campaign also. He took an interval in between in the name of Jitan Ram Manjhi, thinking people will forget everything.
The BJP has claimed its share in the 10-year government under Nitish Kumar. In such a scenario, how will the NDA convince the voters of its development story?
He has been the chief minister and everyone knows that it is the chief minister who is the head. In parliamentary democracy, people elect MLAs (members of legislative assembly) and they choose their leader, who becomes the chief minister or the prime minister (by members of Lok Sabha). The one who is the prime minister forms a cabinet and ministers work under him and in the other case, the chief minister’s decision is the cabinet’s decision. You can say that the BJP was a part but the last 25 years have been the rule of Lalu and Nitish.
Janata parivar parties are struggling on the issue of seat distribution. Is there clarity in the NDA over how the seat sharing will happen? How many seats is the LJP looking to contest?
We will sit together and do it. The process has not yet begun.
The NDA has decided not to announce any chief ministerial candidate. Is there a fear of internal fight given the large number of leaders claiming the post? Would you be interested in leading the state?
Firstly, I would like to clarify that I am not interested in becoming the chief minister of Bihar. If I was interested, then I could have become the chief minister in 1990 when V.P. Singh asked me. Then former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also asked me to become chief minister. Even Nitish Kumar had asked me to become chief minister in 2005; he offered the post to me twice. If I wanted to become chief minister, I would have accepted the offer then. There is no question that I will become the chief minister. Nobody can point a finger at any of the leaders of the BJP, the LJP, the RLSP or Jitan Ram Manjhi. No one can say that any leader of the NDA is corrupt. So, anyone from the NDA can become chief minister, what is the big deal in that? It is not a big issue in the NDA. It has never been an issue. Was it an issue when government was formed in Jharkhand, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir? These people are trying to make it an issue but it is a non-issue.
How is the NDA looking to woo the OBCs and Mahadalits? With Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and the Congress being in the same fold, do you fear that the Muslims will not vote for the NDA?
The leader of Dalits and Mahadalits is Ram Vilas Paswan and I am with the NDA. The support for me is not divided on caste lines, people of all castes like me. The votes of Dalits are 100% transferable, they always vote en masse for a particular candidate. The voters of Ram Vilas Paswan in the entire country are with me, they are not bothered about secularism or communalism. Dalits and Mahadalits are not with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is a leader of backward classes; these people have made him the leader by calling him a chaiwala. Voters of upper caste don’t support them, which section is supporting them? They are only talking about Yadavs and Muslims. Minorities are angry, and they will not vote for Lalu Prasad this time because he didn’t give a single ticket to minorities in the recent MLC elections. This is why I have repeatedly said that first they should agree on seat-sharing. The unity between Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and the Congress is superficial.
How do you view the two-week washout of Parliament session?
The opposition is adamant but how feasible is it that a Union minister and two chief ministers should resign first and only then they will let Parliament function? What can be the answer to this? Government is ready for a debate in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha; let the truth come out before everyone. Since they have numbers in Rajya Sabha, parties with 10-15 members are able to block proceedings.
The BJP, for the first time, held a meeting of its allies before the monsoon session. Do you think the majority mandate of the party has reduced the importance of allies?
The Prime minister said at the meeting that NDA meetings should have been called earlier. He also said that from now on, meetings will be held at regular intervals. Meetings will be called not only of NDA representatives but also of leaders, party presidents and chiefs of different political parties which are part of the NDA. Now, regular meetings will be held.