7 min read.Updated: 15 Apr 2019, 12:42 AM ISTAnuja
Modiji’s politics is milawati, dikhawati and banawati. Nitish Kumar’s credibility is over...they are not popular now
When we go to public meetings and I talk about my dad, there is a lot of anger among people and they miss him
Former deputy chief minister of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, is leading the Lok Sabha election campaign for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the absence of party chief Lalu Prasad, who is serving a jail sentence in the fodder scam case. Mint caught up with Yadav at the official residence of his mother and former chief minister Rabri Devi, as he spoke about the challenges for his party. Edited excerpts:
In Lalu Prasad’s absence, the entire responsibility of the party is on you. How big is the challenge?
This is the first election for our party in my father’s absence. So, obviously, the kind of experience he has and his manner of work, he knows things very well. His absence is definitely being felt, both within the party and in the parivaar (family). But definitely, when we go to public meetings and I talk about my dad, there is a lot of anger among people and they miss him. It is visible on their faces that injustice has been being meted out to him. Physically he is not there, but his ideology is with us. With that, we are going ahead in the elections. Not just in Bihar, but in Indian politics, whoever follows social justice and secularism, they are missing him. If there is anyone who has fought most strongly against communalism, it is Laluji.
Do you ever feel burdened with the kind of political legacy that you have to take forward?
I see this as my responsibility and people have faith in me. We have to take forward the battle that Laluji was fighting and we will not step back. It is not a burden, it is my work, it is my duty.
What are the three biggest issues in this election?
Unemployment, reservation and saving the Constitution.
There has been repeated criticism that the opposition alliance neither has a national leadership nor a common agenda. The narratives of the Congress and those of regional opposition parties do not seem to be in sync. What do you have to say?
You see with the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). Nitishji’s views on triple talaq and Kashmir is totally different. Chirag Paswan, his ally, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking what was the benefit of demonetization...In their alliance, everything is out in public. There is a difference between perception and what is happening on the ground. For example, Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY minimum income guarantee scheme, I have supported it, too.
There is a difference between supporting a scheme and making it your narrative…
Even if you see, it is the same with NDA. We used to fight for special status to Bihar, Nitishji also has the same agenda, but the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is not doing it. Why are they not doing it? Bihar’s key demand is to take ahead a backward state, only then can the nation move forward. We need help. But after Modiji came to power, a (economically) backward state like Bihar is facing more burden. After a long time, both centre and Bihar have the same parties, which they call ‘double engine’ in power. But what has happened? Nothing has happened. We should talk about issues. What has been done for farmers? Neither has the income doubled nor have their loans been waived off. The quality of education has completely gone down.
You are pitted against two of the most popular faces of Indian politics—Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar...
You are mistaken, they are not popular now. Modiji’s politics is milawati, dikhawati and banawati, that’s it. Nitish Kumar’s credibility is over. Four years have seen four governments. Nitishji changed sides so many times. Where has the work happened? What happened to the Saat Nischay (seven promises)?
What is the reason behind a successful opposition alliance in Bihar, but not in Uttar Pradesh?
I was not in the scene, so how can I say? I always wanted all of us to be together. But they know better than me. They are all more experienced than I am. I cannot say what happened. But sooner or later, I am very hopeful they will all come on the same platform. Not pre-poll may be, but post-poll.
Do you think Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is not acceptable to all opposition leaders? Is that the reason why a pan-India alliance could not be formed?
What about Modiji? Is he acceptable to everyone in his alliance?...who has said in the opposition that they want to be the prime ministerial face. Has anyone said? When no one has said, then where is the question of accepting or denying?
So, what do you think of him?
He is more capable than Modiji. Rahul Gandhi has been a three-time parliamentarian. He is the national president of one of India’s oldest political parties, which played a key role in the independence struggle.
Your father’s absence has also come at a time when you are having troubles within your family. Your brother Tej Pratap Yadav has revolted against the party, and there are reports that your sister Misa Bharti is also upset...
It is my family matter and we will deal with it. The election is not for my family, right? This is the election to save our Constitution and the nation from the RSS people. My full concentration is on the country. I am not paying attention to these things, which I think, anyone in my position, would have done it.
Are elections in Bihar still contested primarily on the issue of caste?
Why only Bihar?
Because you are a leader from Bihar...
Yes, politics on the basis of caste happens in Bihar, caste is a reality. But, we believe in equality. Who is getting equal rights? We fight for the last man standing and when we do so, are we being casteist? We are not. We are not saying snatch from someone else and give it to them. We are saying give them what is theirs. If a Scheduled Caste man wants to take a marriage procession on a horse, let him do that. If Constitution provides for reservation, give them that.
Who cleans the naalahs (drains)? Who drives rickshaws? Do a caste census, and you will know. If there are poor in upper castes, give them also, who is stopping you. But who will do this work? They are not talking about it. They are talking of mandir, masjid, Pakistan and Kashmir. No one is talking about farmers and unemployed youth. No positive narrative is taking place.
You are a next-generation leader from your state and your party. What do you have to say to the criticism that you are from a party whose stint was dubbed as ‘jungle raj’?
I will say just go through the figures. Whatever happened in the shelter home case, cases against the chief minister, transfers happened, accused in Srijan scam are still at large, I presented evidence against Sushil Modiji in assembly, but nothing happened. With folded hands he asked criminals not to do anything during ‘pitra paksh’. Does that not encourage criminals? And, what does it do to the morale of the police force? The deputy chief minister standing with folded hands in front of criminals.
Go through the data. It is not my data, but from the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau). Are doctors not paying extortion money today? Is everything over? Are murders not happening? Have incidents of rapes not increased? Things continue to happen. There are people of a certain mentality who are spreading canards. If that was jungle raj, this is rakshasa raj.
Is the Lok Sabha election a semi-final to the assembly polls?
Every election is a new election. There is no contest in assembly elections. You win Lok Sabha and you will end up having an edge in Vidhan Sabha…you ask the BJP whether they are sure that Nitish will not change sides before assembly elections. Just after six months, he wanted to come back to us and I stopped it.
What is your development agenda?
I have said it a number of times. Bihar is a backward state. There is issue of migration, unemployment, education, health, infrastructure, transportation—there are lot of sectors in which work is needed. Our development agenda is about providing basic needs. We have a lot more to offer, but we will do it when the right time comes. Bihar polls are distant and our chacha (Nitish) is very intelligent…