With all eyes set on the upcoming Assembly election in Bihar, Union Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilas Paswan talks to Varun Bidhuri about his role in the campaign, his son’s career and the strategies of the contesting political parties.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
What do you have to say about the upcoming Assembly election in Bihar?
I have nothing much to say on this. The media has already highlighted the Janata Parivar so much in its daily reportage, so you know all that is happening. Whatever the case may be, I can say that we will win the election by a two-third majority.
Why has the BJP not yet nominated their chief ministerial candidate for Bihar?
Well, I think we should leave it to the BJP whether or not to declare a candidate. However, it is because this is part of the bjp’s new strategy. Even I, as part of the NDA, have asked them not to reveal the nominated candidate before the election. You can see till now that whenever Assembly election has been fought in the name of Modi, be it in Maharashtra, Jharkhand or Haryana, the NDA has managed to win in those states.
The BJP has projected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face for the Bihar election. Would this be enough to turn the wave in BJP’s favour?
Yes, definitely. With the PM’s face leading the campaign in Bihar, the challenge for the Opposition is going to be big. I am sure that the wave will turn in favour of the BJP. We have recently seen the PM hold two meetings in Bihar and the response from the people has been tremendous. We still have another big meeting to go in September.
What do you think of the alliance between Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh?
If we look at Bihar’s history, Nitish ruled the state for 10 years and before that Lalu’s government had ruled for 15 years. In their reigns, the politics of the state was reduced to a mere mockery. The thing to note is that Nitish was never liked by the people of Bihar. It was by creating gaps and introducing other faces — like that of Jitan Ram Manjhi — to his party that he was able to sustain his rule. Nitish has only insulted the people of Bihar. He offended many government school teachers in the state and called on the police to lathicharge them; he opened many liquor shops in rural Bihar because of which people have slowly immersed themselves in alcohol. Nitish has always done politics in the name of caste and community and tried to divide the people. On the other hand, the Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) vote bank is dedicated. I am the leader of Dalits and my voters have confidence in me.
At times when the votes of every community appeared to be shaky, my Dalit voters have stood by me. Nitish has always tried to woo my voters. He has tried to lure them with promises of property and accessories. But, just like the RSS has stuck with the BJP, my ‘Dalit Sena’ has stuck with the LJP. Nitish has also been boycotted and humiliated by his own voters. Lalu, Nitish and Mulayam have already accepted their defeat, they are afraid of Modi, that is why all of them have united. The voters of Bihar are quite smart, which is why they did limited voting in the Lok Sabha election. In Bihar, the Yadav community does not see the future in Lalu and Mulayam Singh. An example of this is Rabri Devi’s defeat in a Yadav concentrated constituency in both the seats she contested on. Misa Yadav lost as well. Nitish has no vote bank left.
Are you saying that you are the big face among Dalit and Maha Dalit voters? If so, then why did the NDA not nominate you as their chief ministerial candidate?
As I am a national leader, I have never tried to be a state leader. I do not want to be a cm, ever. If I wanted to, I could have done it 25 years ago in 1990 when VP Singh asked me to. He even wanted to see me as the prime minister but I said no. Lalu had also won that year but I was the only minister from Bihar at the Centre. Even Nitish Kumar has come to me twice in the past and asked me to become the cm but I have refused. This was when the keys to the government were in my hands. In 2000, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said, “If a government has to be formed and run in Bihar then Paswan should run it”. I had to plead with him to let me remain in Delhi.
Will the LJP play a major role in the election? How many candidates is the LJP fielding?
The LJP is going to play a major role. However, we haven’t decided on the number of candidates yet. It might take a few more days to decide on that. Chirag Paswan has spoken to Amit Shah about this.
Is Chirag Paswan an upcoming chief ministerial candidate for Bihar?
It is up to him. I have never interfered in his work. Let him learn first, as he is new in politics. He has a long way to go but if you ask me, I would not like to see him restricted to state-level politics.
Is it true that during the meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah, LJP vice-president Chirag Paswan was against the associates of Jitan Ram Manjhi seeking tickets from the BJP?
Yes, this was because two of Manjhi’s associates were MLAs from Chirag’s constituency when he was in the JD(U) and they did not support him during the Lok Sabha election. That is why Chirag was against them.
Do you think that Jitan Ram Manjhi was brought into the BJP to counter you? Would Manjhi be able to affect your political career?
No, I don’t think that the NDA will do such a thing. His presence in the party won’t affect me. I am in fact happy that Manjhi has finally come to us.
Arvind Kejriwal is giving his support to the JD(U)? What do you say about this?
Kejriwal is himself caught up in a lot of controversies, who is he to pass a certificate on the JD(U)?
Who do you think will make a better CM for Bihar; you, Lalu or Nitish?
You will get to know this once the election is over.
As we can see, all parties are making use of the latest technologies in order to reach out to voters. What role does technology play in an election?
Well, technology can be used as a supplement but it cannot change the voter’s mindset. We saw this in the Delhi election where the BJP lost despite making use of all the latest technology.
What are the issues that the NDA will take up in the election?
It is going to take up the issue of basic development. There are more than 4,000 villages in Bihar which have no proper supply of electricity. The per capita income is low and industrial development is nil. As the pm said in his Independence Day speech, our main agenda in Bihar is development. The current state of affairs amazes me sometimes, people in the state have no food to eat but the government is spending 600 crore on building a museum.
Will the Bihar election affect the NDA’s performance in future Assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh?
Of course, the Bihar election is extremely crucial. Finally, I believe that the people of Bihar are fed up with Lalu and Nitish. They want change.