‘Lalu, Mulayam And I Have Put Aside Our Egos’

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Ram Vilas Paswan discusses the post-poll scenario with Rana Ayyub and categorically rules out being a part of the BJP-led NDA alliance

Lesson learned In 2005, Paswan’s refusal to tie up with Lalu saw arch-rival Nitish Kumar seize Bihar
Lesson learned In 2005, Paswan’s refusal to tie up with Lalu saw arch-rival Nitish Kumar seize Bihar

It seems the Lalu-Paswan-Mulayam troika might play an important role in deciding the next government.
Ours is a very strong force that has brought together three main players in Indian politics. Everyone has assumed our alliance is a caste-based strategy to corner Yadav and dalit votes but our alliance is based on ideology

Mulayam once called Lalu a joker. You were upset when Lalu was made railways minister. Isn’t this just an attempt to consolidate Muslim and dalit votes?
The Muslim votes are important. But we haven’t teamed up only to prevent the Muslims from voting for our opponents. They know who has worked for them. We three are together because we share an anti-communal ideology and work for the minorities, dalits and all the poor. We have had ego issues but decided to keep them aside to solve national issues.

Wouldn’t your fight with the Congress divide secular votes and help the NDA?
So whose fault is it? The Congress was not willing to negotiate. We kept waiting for them to get back. They have nominated Sadhu Yadav from Bettiah where Prakash Jha is our candidate. What is Sadhu Yadav’s standing in society?

The Congress was angered because you offered it only three of the state’s 40 seats.
That was negotiable. But here’s a party just not willing to negotiate. I had a word with [Congress President] Soniaji. We were told that talks were going on. If the Congress leaders think they can fight and win the elections alone then good for them. They have put up candidates like Sadhu and Pappu Yadav, who are involved in the worst possible cases. The Congress tried to break our alliance.

You have also said you can do without the Congress.
The Congress should not act as the most important force and try to dominate us. We are a part of the UPA and for that reason we are with them. We believe the UPA will get a majority [in the Lok Sabha].

You and Lalu Yadav have blamed the Congress for the demolition of Ayodhya’s Babri mosque
Isn’t that the truth? The Congress was in power at the Centre when that happened. Why don’t they acknowledge their responsibility? Why does the Congress skip PV Narasimha Rao’s name every time it mentions its prime ministers? They are embarrassed about his rule. They claim the Muslim votes and act as their saviour. We will tell Muslims who their real saviours are.

But weren’t you wooing Muslims, too, by blaming the Congress?
I will be honest to say we were. When the Congress claims to be the Muslims’ messiah without doing anything for them, why shouldn’t we, who have made sacrifices for the Muslims, talk about those sacrifices during the elections?

What is your view of Mulayam Singh Yadav allying with Kalyan Singh, who was UP Chief Minister when the Babri mosque was demolished, into the Samajwadi Party?
We don’t approve of Kalyan Singh. But our alliance is with the Samajwadi Party which works for the Muslims. Kalyan Singh is just one part of the party.

When in power, why didn’t you push to implement the 2006 Sachar Committee’s recommendations for affirmative actions for Muslims?
Why don’t you ask the Congress why it didn’t implement the Sachar report? Mulayamji, Laluji and I have never allowed communal tension in our areas.

What have you done for the dailts?
Many things. My partners like Ramdas Athavale in Maharashtra have championed the dalit cause. We have raised our voice against every atrocity on dalits.

Many say your popularity is declining even among Muslims and dalits, including in your constituency, Hajipur.
That’s the media’s assessment. By just walking on the roads you can’t say nobody is turning up for Paswan’s rally. My support base is deep in the villages where the media does not reach. Everybody wants to project me as a leader with no support. After the elections are over, people will realise that I am a force to reckon with.

It is being argued that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s “development plank” has outwitted your caste-based politics.
What development can Nitish Kumar boast of? His government has failed to generate any revenue on its own. Nitish’s social engineering comes from polarising communities. Bihar is a caste-based and feudal society. He is pseudo-secular.

All the three leaders of your front, including you, have expressed a desire to become the prime minister.
See, everyone has an ambition to become India’s PM. But I haven’t said I want to be the PM now. If Laluji or Mulayamji have expressed such a desire, then that’s their personal wish.

Who is your candidate for PM? Is it Manmohan Singh?
Yes. If the UPA comes to power then Manmohanji certainly will be the PM.

It is widely projected that the UPA might not gain a majority. Would you then favour the Third Front?
We are confident of a UPA victory. We are not a part of any Third Front.

Will you sit in Opposition if the UPA doesn’t get a majority?
We are willing to support the government from outside.

Will you consider joining the NDA if they offer you a good ministry?
Never. Joining the NDA was my life’s biggest mistake. That alliance hurt my party. The NDA is perhaps the most communal alliance. I won’t join them even if they offer me the PM’s job.

You once said you will accept any candidate nominated as PM by Sonia Gandhi. Do you still stand by this?
I don’t remember making any such statement. We respect Soniaji but we are hurt at the way she has spoken of this [Lalu-Mulayam-Paswan] alliance.

Would you support CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat as PM?
When I am not supporting the Left now, why should I talk about it?

What about supporting NCP President Sharad Pawar as PM? Your partners have endorsed him.
That may be their personal opinion but that is not the decision of our alliance.

What about supporting UP Chief Minister Mayawati for the top job?
It would be difficult to be in the same government with Mayawati.

Bargainers all The Fourth Front leaders believe their composite bloc will prove critical
Bargainers all The Fourth Front leaders believe their composite bloc will prove critical

What stronghold does Mayawati have? She is nothing outside Uttar Pra – desh. This time she will also fail miserably in UP. And why should I be insecure of Mayawati? She is not a national leader.

THE NEW brotherhood of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, dubbed the ‘Fourth Front’, aims to alter political equations once the results of the 2009 General Election come out. Major political parties such as the NCP and this Front — earlier important constituents of the UPA — are tight-lipped about the post-poll scenario. But all speak of the likelihood of a new coalition emerging from it. 

This Front is, in fact, yet another alliance floated just before the elections. Strange bedfellows that they are, Lalu-Paswan are hardly expected to bring any dramatic voter swing for Mulayam in Uttar Pradesh, or Mulayam for them in Bihar. Clearly, then, this Front’s main goal is to bargain as a strong bloc of seats in the new Lok Sabha, with whichever combine that will look to form the government in what will, by everyone’s reckoning, be a hung Parliament.

There is no doubt that this is an alliance of opportunism. Samajwadi Party (SP) President Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have openly traded barbs earlier. Now swearing opposition to the BJP-led NDA, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) supremo Ram Vilas Paswan had spent nearly three years as a minister under former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee before he resigned following the mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

But, as Lalu admits in his interview , the three leaders have learned from their mistakes that if they stay divided they will suffer. For example, in February 2005, Lalu and Paswan refused to come together after the elections threw up a hung assembly. When a second election was called in October the same year, both were defeated and their archrival, Janata Dal-United leader, Nitish Kumar, seized power in Bihar. This was especially painful for Lalu, who had ruled the state for 15 years at a stretch from 1990, first directly and then through his wife, Rabri Devi.

Paswan is also threatened by the emergence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati as an iconic dalit leader of the country. That is a status that Paswan has long craved in a political career of more than 30 years, but one that has always eluded him.

Lalu’s boast that their Front will sweep the 134 Lok Sabha seats it is contesting in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand is certainly farfetched. But the three leaders reckon that if they can garner upward of 55 Lok Sabha seats, they will get a handle to bargain for key ministerial positions in the new government and will have a role in deciding who becomes the PM.

Indeed, the past few weeks have revealed how nearly all of the UPA constituents have shown little faith that the Congress, which led the coalition for five years, will return with its numbers intact in the Lok Sabha. With a similarly dismal future predicted for the rival BJP, it is open season for former UPA and former NDA constituents. In fact, sources in the LJP and the JDU admit that Paswan has, on more than one occasion, sought to coax Nitish Kumar into an alliance with him. For the moment, though, Nitish Kumar has professed his loyalty to the NDA.

Lalu-Paswan-Mulayam say they still are a part of the UPA and will back Manmohan Singh as PM again. The Left parties, too, have not ruled out a renewed alliance with the Congress, though they say they won’t accept a Congress PM. And the Fourth Front, too, says it will be open to tying up with the Left-led Third Front. Go figure.

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