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47-min read

Not All People of a Caste Vote One Way: Nitish Kumar Says 'Work' Will Defeat Mahagathbandhan Math

In an exclusive interview, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said that while caste plays a big role in society, the people do not have any faith in the RJD or Congress and will judge the government's work.

News18.com

Updated:April 4, 2019, 8:16 AM IST
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Caste dynamics has been the bedrock of Bihar's politics and this time, the opposition Mahagathbandhan has set the social engineering drawing board. The RJD-led grand alliance is counting on the caste calculation with EBC/OBC and Muslim votes to race ahead in the polls, but Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has other ideas.

In an exclusive interview with Network18 Group Editor-in-Chief Rahul Joshi, Kumar says the minorities have lost faith on RJD and Congress, and the work done by his government will speak for itself. In the wide-ranging conversation, the JD(U) chief also weighs in on several key poll issues, expressing confidence that the NDA would win all 40 seats in Bihar.

Edited Excerpts

In the last three-four years, you did not give any media interview, you weren’t seen anywhere, nobody got to ask you questions. Why did you stay silent?

I have not stayed silent. I have just done my work. And whatever work comes in media’s eye; they report and react on it. But giving a separate interview is not a part of my nature. Because I feel one of the reasons people give interviews is to publicise themselves. And I am not interested in publicity. My interest is in work. And it’s not that I stay away from the media. I interact with the people — Lok Samvaad — and media persons are present there. I talk to them then and they can ask any questions they want to. Or in any programme. I don’t do anything that excludes them (the media). Usually they are included; they see, observe and report. But a separate interview is not of much interest to me.

It is election season. All eyes are on Bihar. You have an alliance with Modi. How do you see the atmosphere in Bihar at the moment? How do you see the elections? And who will be the face in Bihar — Modi or Nitish?

See, as far as the atmosphere is concerned, one is the atmosphere in real terms that is at ground level. Second is the atmosphere that people try to create. If you want to know what real atmosphere in Bihar is, then it’s in the favour of NDA. And we are with the NDA, with the leadership of Modi. He has to become Prime Minister again — with that aim, all members of NDA are helping him. So it’s not a separate thing; it is an election for the entire country. This is not a state election, but a national election. This is a Lok Sabha election. And for the Lok Sabha election there is only one leader, and that is Modi. There should be no confusion in that.

So you are saying that election face is of Modi, the election is of Lok Sabha, so you will contest on the basis of his face?

Yes, of course. And every state has its own contribution. That is a different thing. For example, in Bihar, whatever Modi did on a national level, or what his image is, or the conversation around his work and his words, that is the main aspect. But even if you go into any other state, especially Bihar, so any work being done in Bihar is also in front of people's eyes. So these two have come together, the work of the centre and of the state, and created a good atmosphere.

What do you think would be the biggest agenda this election? Will you talk about development or nationalism?

See, the main issue is development. From the beginning of November 2005, when the people of Bihar gave us the opportunity to work, since that day till today, we worked. Work is of utmost importance. And development work. And we don’t talk of just development, but development with justice. “Growth with justice.” That means every region gets developed. And every section of society gets developed. That is development with justice. When we went out on Nyay Yatra in 2005, this is what we talked about and people gave us the opportunity. Our aim was development with justice. And people are seeing its implementation. They are seeing the growth in four directions. This is the most important agenda for us. And the work that Centre has done for the development of the nation and for raising the nation’s stature, too, is in front of everyone to see. So we are running our campaign by combining these two things, and we trust in it completely. From my limited knowledge, I don’t think there's any problem.

We’ll come to Bihar later. You are a national leader, so we want to understand the big picture. If you see in the country, the campaign that is going on is very personal. ‘Naamdaar’, ‘kaamdaar’, ‘damdaar’, ‘daagdaar’ - this kind of talk is going on. After Balakot air strikes, the atmosphere has shifted towards nationalism. So do you feel the election will be fought and decided on the basis of nationalism?

A. See, nationalism is a fundamental thing. Every citizen feels love and devotion for their nation, there's no doubt about it, no matter the ideology they follow. Those CRPF jawans who were martyred in the terror attack, and the atmosphere of the country in the aftermath, and the action taken following Centre’s decision, has left the whole nation satisfied. People liked it. And whenever there's an attack on the country, the whole nation comes together. There is nothing political in that. Political ideologies can be varied, but as far as the nation’s benefit is concerned, everyone’s opinion and mindset is one. It’s for everyone and everyone feels happiness. And those in the leadership, they deserve the credit. And because of this, people have respect for Modi. But if anyone else feels their condition is getting better because of this, they might talk about all kinds of things regarding this. But people don't like that. If anyone speaks against it, or says something that people don’t like, or if nation's strength is questioned, its unity is questioned, people don't like that.

When Modi came to power in 2014, the atmosphere was of corruption and scams. Raising those issues he asked for a mandate and promised ‘Áchche din’. And now also if we see they are talking about the same scams and corruption, even though there is Modi government for the last 5 years. So instead of counting his achievements, the talk is still of the past.

When the atmosphere of elections arrives, then these kinds of talks happen. People accuse one another, and these things happen. But the main issue is that when you got an opportunity, your achievements are the most important thing for people. Otherwise, for the sake of speaking, people speak a lot.

In the "Mission Shakti" that just happened, where the PM addressed the whole nation, the opposition questioned the need to do so ahead of elections. They asked what was the need to address the whole nation and if BJP and NDA wants to shift the conversation toward nationalism and mislead people from the real issues on the ground.

See, the strength of the nation is increasing. If there’s a satellite in space acting against our country, we have the strength to hit it. And we’re only the fourth country in the world who has this capability. So it’s a matter of happiness. And we should be proud of our scientists. With this, everyone knows that our scientists are very capable and work with dedication. This is another achievement for them. This is also an achievement for the whole nation in the matter of national security. And in that situation if the leader of the country, the PM, addresses the whole nation it should not become a topic for controversy.

Rahul Gandhi congratulated the scientists, but he also declared it a ‘theatre day’...

(Laughs) See, some people have a habit to talk in this manner, to make personal attacks. We don’t consider that right. In 2014, we were against BJP. But we never made personal remarks. Remarks should be ideological. There can be a good way to say things too. But the atmosphere is such in the country that many want to listen to such remarks. And even some media persons also think that if personal attacks are not made, there would be no news. So, people may speak keeping that in mind.

The most important thing though is that people trusted someone and gave them a chance. What work did they do? This is what people see. That’s important. And what’s also important is that it’s natural that there will be an opposition. They have to contest elections too. They too will have their claims for the support of the people. This is a normal thing in a democracy. But you must know, people see that if they handed someone the responsibility, five years later they will observe and analyse and decide to give another opportunity.

But the opposition must also prove that they are the right choice. Look at the other side. What kind of an alliance is it? Look at Bihar. At first they were saying that CPI & CPM would be there. Now see the situation. Look at UP. SP, BSP are in alliance, Congress is separate. In Kerala, the UDF front under Congress’s leadership and the LDF, they have an understanding. But the decision to field Rahul Gandhi from there, it’s creating conflict and Left parties are commenting. So, if you see anywhere, be it South, North, West, East or central region, the parties in opposition, they don’t have a mutual understanding.

But even in 2014 when you were against Modi, so you were also a part of this group, under an ideology. Today, they say that they're coming together because they want to remove Modi government. The conflict is at a fundamental ideological level. That there is an atmosphere of polarization, mob-lynching is increasing, problems related to cow vigilantism. So how do you see that? How do you evaluate five years of the Modi government?

That is right. We were separate in 2014 we ran our own campaign in Bihar at the time of a Modi wave. But the main thing was that an alliance was made in Bihar and we had called it the mahagathbandan. Today, they keep saying mahagathbandhan, but where is it the mahagathbandhan? It can be a gathbandan but not a mahagathbandan. But you should see their relations with one another. There is so much bitterness on every issue. That’s one thing, but the fundamental objective for us was service of Bihar. And from the very beginning, we have said that we can neither compromise with corruption, nor crime or communalism.

On the issue of corruption, we had only asked for an explanation on the charges against you (RJD), but they couldn't explain it. I even told Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to ask them for an explanation so that we could know. But they could not explain and the whole media was showing that I was compromising with corruption. And then BJP’s offer came and our party accepted it, now we've become a new alliance and are doing work. If you'll look at our work, it has remained consistent from November 2005. There is no change in the trend. There has been no compromise with the work. Development with justice. But at a national level, I can’t see a unity (in the opposition). And their agenda is also unclear.

You are talking about crime, corruption and communalism. Opposition accuses BJP of holding a communal agenda. Do you believe that is not true?

No, I don’t believe that because in Bihar, they (BJP) were with us earlier as well; we first split in 2013, and now we’re working together since 2017. We didn’t see (any communalism). And we have a coalition government, but there is no compromise with communalism. If anybody tried to start a dispute, we took action. No compromise in that. So the work people wanted, is being done. Work is fundamental.

But even today, in some ways, their ideological narrative is different from yours. What are your thought on Ram Mandir?

My thoughts are clear. And not just from today. In 1996, when this party used to be Samata Party, George (Fernandes) was the leader, and at that time when the alliance with BJP happened, we had made three things clear: Firstly, that there will be no talk over ending the Article 370; secondly, uniform civil code will not be imposed; and thirdly, the solution to the Ayodhya issue will either be decided by the court or by mutual consent. So our stand remains the same.

And the government has not done anything. People are waiting for the court. A compromise is in the works. And that depends on the honourable Supreme Court. So to interpret this issue in a different manner, it can be a political agenda for someone to gather votes on. But the fact is today, nobody can do anything without the court’s decision. When there was talk of a common civil code, we wrote a letter from our parry’s side, replying to the Law Commission letter. So you must find out what the Congress wrote on it. All these parties, who talk about Bihar a lot, ask them what they had written. Law commission wrote it to every party in every state. How did everyone respond and when? And we were in government, we said on part of the government as well. That this can’t happen, and there must not be any attempt to do so. Nothing should be imposed.

You can keep making it an issue, but what do you do about it? This must be seen. I’d request the media too to find out the response of all state governments and parties to the Law Commission letter on the matter of uniform civil code. The response of Bihar government and Janata Dal United, it’s there for everyone to see. There is a lot of talk, statements, to keep the issue alive in the media. But besides that, they should talk about their actual work.

So the ideology can be different but you can be together on a common agenda? Agenda is development, ideology can be at its own place?

There is no compromise on any issue. What was the problem? When we made the mahagathbandhan, they (RJD) should have stayed together and explained themselves on corruption charges. But they didn’t. So what should I have done? I couldn’t compromise. And we can’t compromise with communalism either. If any such situation comes, we won’t. Look at our actions, analyse them. And we are doing work to improve society, to bring development in Bihar.

So you are not with Lalu because you could not compromise on corruption…

No, I can’t do that.

And you won’t stay with the BJP if there is a communal agenda?

Of course. There is no compromise on that. But I am seeing that today there is nothing like that. As far as Bihar is concerned, I can’t see a communal agenda. The only agenda is development. Development with justice. And they say, “sabka saath, sabka vikaas.” If there is anything lacking I that, we will definitely point it out. But apart from that, there is no communal issue. If anyone, X Y OR Z, is involved in such activity, there is action against them, you can see.

In his new campaign, Modi has said ‘Main bhi chowkidaar.’ Congress, on the other hand says, ‘chowkidaar chor hai.’

Now you think for yourself what kind of language they are using. This should not happen. I am surprised. How can they use such kind of words. To use the word ‘Chor’. There are many other words that can be used. You can say many things against today’s ruling party, according to your ideology. But these words show that there is an atmosphere of bitterness in the country. And what is the work they have done. Congress ruled for so long. What did they do? What did they do for the minorities?

Creating an atmosphere of fear in people’s minds and gathering their support is one thing — you can do anything in politics. But what work have you done? And from 2005 till now, we have worked for every community in Bihar. No community was ignored. We worked on women empowerment, worked for those who are the lowest section of society, Dalits and Mahadalit community, extremely backward class, backward class, and minorities. We worked for everyone. There was a riot in Bhagalpur when Congress was the ruling party. Then Lalu Prasad ji got an opportunity. What did he do for those were victims of communalism in Bhagalpur? When we got the chance to work, we saw that neither people got any relief nor was there any action against the culprits. We've revived many cases and many got punishment. We started a pension scheme there. People can vote for anyone, any community can vote for anyone they deem deserving. Today, people say anything whatever they want, make claims about the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes? But what have you done? You take an example of here. Work must happen. And when election time comes, people will vote with their own will, whatever the atmosphere is. And we ask for votes based on our work.

How would you evaluate Modi’s work? If you had to rate his work on a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you give him?

See, it’s not right to measure it on a scale. Why should I say less than 10? It’s election season, why should I say anything less than 10? We are not an independent analyst - we are partners. And work has happened, there is no doubt about it. And if we look from Bihar's perspective, be it infrastructure, what they said they would do, they worked on it. Anything that was needed. And in Bihar, a lot of work happened that even the central government adopted. Like we had promised under our seven conditions, that we'll give electricity in every household. That became a national scheme. And we provided electricity in every house in Bihar. The goal was to complete it by 31 December, 2018, but we did it by 25 October, 2018. So work has been done, and we appreciate the Centre’s help.

But there must have been some mistakes along the way, like you supported demonetisation even at a time when you were not with Modi. In fact it’s considered a turning point in your relationship, where you supported his work for the first time.

No, no. That is not a turning point. When demonetisation happened, the then President Pranab Mukherjee, who has been a Congress leader and the finance minister, I saw his statement and he said that demonetisation is a great thing. So thought fine, it'll target black money. But from the first day we also said that we should hit Benami assets also. Now, whatever happened, it is touted by the central government as an achievement. I was not in the NDA alliance at that time. We had a government in Bihar, with RJD and Congress. But hearing president Pranab Mukherjee, I thought he is an economic expert, he has worked as Finance Minister and is the President of the country. If he says that it will benefit, we believed it is for sure an attack on black money.

But it didn't happen. Over 99% money came back into the system, and if you see RBI data, due to demonetisation cash generation has increased by 20 % from the time of demonetisation. The economy has also been affected and GDP growth reduced by 2%, which was expected. So on the overall, people were troubled by demonetisation, even in Bihar. Was there an execution failure?

People talk about the trouble they had to go through. I was on a Bihar journey when this happened and people were standing outside the banks, but no one was opposing it. And it was not just our party who welcomed it at that time but others too. Whatever the result is now, but in Bihar I couldn’t see any trouble. At the time of UP assembly elections, we saw a poor person say that they only had coins. Who banned coins, tell me? And how the people suffered due to it have been forgotten? But what the central governments keeps repeating is that they have controlled black money by a considerable margin and tax payers have been increased. There are several benefits. There was an impression at the time that many people will lose their money, but that didn't happen. It’s a different matter how ready the banks were.

You were with Modi on stage at the Vijay Sankalp rally, where you said you might win all 40 seats in Bihar. How do you have this confidence?

It’s not a question of confidence. I truly feel that. People are satisfied with the work that has happened in Bihar, and the work done by Centre. And when they are satisfied, we should definitely win.

What are the three or four issues that you are going to raise with the public?

I am just going to take to take to the public the work that I have been doing. We have no other agenda. And secondly, the social welfare work we did, we keep telling that to the people. And apart from that, when we are celebrating 150th anniversary Mahatma Gandhi, we are spreading Gandhi ji's thoughts. When we completed 100 years of Bharat Satyagrah, we had spread Gandhi ji’s thoughts then as well. We tried to spread through schools as well. And even today, when we go for a meeting, we talk about Gandhi ji’s thoughts. He said it was a crime to run politics without principles, and we can clearly see what principles are left in politics today. There is an ongoing is a conflict of words in order to create bitterness.

And another social evil Gandhi ji talked about was money without work. And see what is happening today. People want to get rich without working for it. Whether you get political power, executive power, somehow you get some responsibility for a work, instead of working, you start earning money. People do not talk about it. I do not want to talk to Rahul ji about anything else.

Raghuram Rajan is an advisor to them and they have made a minimum income scheme named NYAY. They are saying the poorest population of the country, the bottom 20 per cent, will receive an amount of Rs 6000 per month. Can this be seen as a game changer? Can this be seen as a masterstroke?

I know Raghuram Rajan, he was the Governor of RBI bank, we also kept meeting him, and when he had got the responsibility under then Finance Minister Mr. Chidambaram during the time of UPA. We talked about the special status of Bihar. So I know this very well and it does not matter whose advisor he is, what scheme they have discussed or not. I am not concerned about that. But I just want to say one thing, the scheme is not really there now, it is just an announcement. And secondly, they can only make the scheme when they get the opportunity. They can’t make the scheme. And even if they make it on paper, they can’t execute it. Because how would you understand? First you will have to fix the system. There is no survey, there is no numbers, and there is only a talk.

There is no actual data on who is earning what and how much, there is no real statistics of that. There is not even an authentic figure available, it is just an assessment. The people aren’t there. Who will you give this money? And one more thing, first that you will not be able to execute it and secondly when you will start giving, suppose, then the one who is the poorest will not receive the money, the one above him will bribe and take that money. That is why when you think about a scheme, you must think of the execution. And I do not claim anything, but whenever we think of a scheme we think of the execution.

So are you saying that if this scheme comes out the execution will be very difficult?

No, perhaps the execution is not that difficult but undue advantage will be taken out of it.

So the money will not reach the right people?

No, the money may not reach the right group of people. Before talking of such a scheme, see if it is actually possible or not. Rahul has not become the PM yet. I heard that Manmohan Singh wanted to execute this, but it didn’t happen. I had once said in 2009 that one should learn about responsibility. Sitting at centre doesn’t guarantee work. Actual execution happens in the state government and you should experience that. Once you experience of execution in the state government, then only you will be able to do something at the centre. They don’t have experience in executing such schemes. The people will give the responsibility, then what will happen? Remember that the people of the country keep an eye on these things. That is why I don’t think there is any danger to Modi.

How many seats do you hope to get it Bihar? If we see the mahagathbandhan, Yadav and minority votes are with them, that is about 30 per cent. So they have a head start. What is your votebank that is with you?

I want to tell you something, the minority community of Muslims that you are talking about, the figure is also available, every 10 years the census takes place and that figure is available. For the number of people from different communities, there is a caste survey of SC and ST also. But what survey is there for rest of the communities and castes? When you say that one caste has a certain amount of population on what basis do you say that? The last caste-based survey happened in the year 1931. We have in fact demanded that there should be a caste-based survey and the PM has given us a positive response on that. So the next census which will take place, then only we will get to know the population of all the communities. Then we’ll know what the population of all sub-castes that come under SC is, which groups come under ST, how many are there that follow a different religion. Yes, right now we know the population of the Muslim community but we do not know the same for other communities. There is no consensus but in different media, people make up their own statistics.

What is your assessment?

We have no assessment, see the data of 1931 and on the basis of the same you can make out about the growth whatever you wish to. But this is not caste census and you must understand that when people think that this is there equation, I don't think the minority community in Bihar have any faith left on them anymore. They are thinking that we should judge by the work — what happened before and what is presently happening.

So you are saying that after supporting BJP, the minority will vote for you?

You must see the work. If we support BJP today, if we have an alliance with them, then what difference did it make? What was the difference in the work? We did all sorts of work. We don’t have enough time to discuss all of them. I want to ask them, what they have (RJD and Congress) actually done for the Schedule Caste and what have they done for the ST community? What did they actually do for the Dalits and the oppressed? What have they done for the extremely backward class? What work have they done for women empowerment? We have worked for each and every one. We do not leave out anyone, all our schemes are universal. I have full faith that people in Bihar will vote on the basis of work. So how do I say if we will lose any seat? But, the public is the boss; they will decide.

So you are saying Non-Yadav, OBC EBC, women voters all of them will vote for you?

Do all people in a single caste go one way? But people who analyse and make their vote bank just on the basis of caste, what does that mean? If you make your vote bank on the basis of a certain caste then do you not have any concerns for other castes? And the caste on whose basis of which you make a votebank, what have you actually done for that caste? What have you done for your own caste? You have just manipulated them. Caste has big impact on society, and on minds of people. That is human nature. But you want that to continue? And now there are inter-caste marriages. When intercaste marriages will keep increasing, caste will be eradicated. But still there are some people who just talk about caste. We don’t have any qualms with any caste. But yes, voting is each citizen’s personal choice. We will ask for votes on the basis of our work. If you are satisfied with the work, then vote for us.

You took a very big initiative which was the ban on liquor, and you are taking this matter forward. So what do you see the impact of that?

There is a very good effect of this. There are a few people, who connect it with their liberty. That it is my personal choice, I am free to drink anything or eat anything. There is freedom to eat, but there is no complete freedom on the matter of drinking, according to the Constitution of India. It is very clear. It is not part of our fundamental rights, neither is the business of liquor a fundamental right. So it has no link to liberty and it is a very bad thing. The upper classes may not feel the adverse effects of alcohol as much, but it destroys entire poor families.

The home atmosphere keeps deteriorating. Men spent a big chunk of what they earned on alcohol, come back home and fight. Wives and the children were suffering. But after prohibition, they are happy. Yes, there are a few who have a problem with this. A WHO report detailed the number of deaths, and the types of diseases that occur due to alcohol consumption. People, who are aware and educated, they should realize this. We campaigned about this as well and it has shown good results. But, there are a few defaulters. And they also get caught based on information. But no one can claim that if you implement a law it will be followed cent per cent. Section 302 is there for long, but still murders happen. Some people have that mindset and it will keep happening, but the campaigns should continue, so that slowly, it impacts the minds of defaulters as well. We should show them how they are dying. Don’t drink.

Our campaigns focus on these things, on banning child marriage, against the dowry system and we keep doing. We run social campaigns as well. But we do not compromise with our development scheme. Connecting each village with roads, providing electricity in each home, providing tap water in each household, toilets in each home; we are working fast on these issues and it looks like we will be successful soon. We should finish by Gandhi Jayanti this year. That is our aim. Every village should have concrete roads and lanes. We are working for women empowerment. Bihar is the first state to bring 50% reservation for women in Panchayati Raj and Nagar Nigam in 20116 and 2007 respectively. Three rounds of elections have happened and over 50 percent elected officials are women. That is women empowerment.

There is a boost in the consciousness of the people and there is an increase in their income as well. We did that. Only BPL families got pension after the age of 60, but we brought pension for all over the age of 60 and we working on this scheme. We are doing all the necessary verification, and we will implement it by August.

It’s in regard to these schemes and ideas, in 2005, that people called you as ‘Sushasan babu’. The crime rate has increased in the last few years in the area and you are not able to say much on it, you could not do a lot in past years.

Crime is not increasing, but the reporting of crime is increasing. Crime is decreasing in every aspect. Today media has space to report on crime, earlier they did not. Electronic media has 24-hour work. And now there is social media too where anyone can highlight anything. Don’t believe the reporting, there has been a reduction in crime rate. Nobody can say that it is a crime-free society, but we are trying and that is the goal that we are trying to achieve. But to reach there you have to work tirelessly.

Not just legal action, but a social campaign is needed. The majority of crimes taking place are linked to land disputes. Why does that happen? Because land records are not updated. That needs to be fixed, and there needs to be fresh settlement and survey and we are working on it. By 2021 this will happen, and automatically crime will reduce. Secondly, people used to divide assets among family, but it was still registered in name of their grandfathers, which leads to the internal conflicts between the brothers. So the reasons of the crime needs to be assessed and acted upon. There should be a solution in order to prevent crimes from happening. The liquor ban can help these situations. If you publicise yourself but don’t work, what is the point of that?

When you sat down with the BJP over seat sharing, then how did you arrive at 17 seats each? How did BJP agree on 17 seats, after they won 22 seats in the state?

I did not say anything on this…

You only won 2 seats in 2014…

So what, there was a wave at the time and we were not in alliance as well, still we got 16% votes at that time. It is not like our party will get eliminated. It’s not possible. When we made the alliance with the BJP, they said they will respect us. We didn’t say anything. They themselves decided on equal seats. I did not even share this with my party till the time the 17-17-6 formula was formally decided.

And you accepted it? There was no negotiation?

We are working together and last time, BJP won the elections. So it was even difficult for BJP. Out of the 22 seats they won, two lawmakers ran away and one died so they were left with 19. In those situations it is difficult to take decisions. Our party also agreed on the equal seat sharing. Everyone wants more, but generally people agreed. BJP also had to make sure to give seats to their old allies and deal with them as well. Some people even left the BJP, but that is a different topic. This has nothing to do with my Party. We supported BJP keeping in mind the service for Bihar, its development. And that we couldn’t compromise with corruptions. And today, there is no atmosphere of communalism. So in these conditions, work has happened in Bihar and the state has moved forward. And you can see, the growth rate of Bihar today is 11.3 percent, which is the highest. We have the highest density of population, not just in the country, but the world, barring Singapore. And there is growth happening. Basically, the work is happening, but some people only want to play politics, by just talking. I don’t have any interest in that. They say a lot about me, but I don’t reply. If you feel speaking ill of me is in your advantage, go do that. What can I do?

You brought Prashant Kishor into your party and he was given the Number 2 position as well. People said he will be your successor, but now we see him sidelined and not taking charge of the campaign.

No, he has not been sidelined. He is in the party and he is still among the party’s campaigners.

Is he number 2 then?

He is the vice president. Calling someone number 2 or number 3 is analysis, but he is very well respected in our party. But if he has assumptions or illusions in his own mind then that is a different issue. My relations with Prashant ji are excellent. I completely trust him. He likes me a lot as well, no doubt about that. But sometimes in politics, there are many kinds of talks.

He has been a strategist till now, but being a political activist he knows every political leader and party in the country. He has friends in the media. That is one aspect. Another aspect of a political activist is on the ground level. Any party, our party is not a big party, it’s mostly in Bihar and has units in other states and people work. Yesterday, in Jharkhand Salkhan Murmur joined the party. He has done so much for tribal people. And he wants to work with JDU. Who doesn’t know Prashant Kishor? He could have gotten work anywhere he wanted? He worked with BJP, Congress, and is now working with us. He has a team that is working in Andhra Pradesh, another is working with Shiv Sena too. That is different. That’s his team.

Personally, Prashant is in my party and he is a campaigner. Currently, his father is very ill and he is busy with his care in Delhi. We keep communicating, there is no problem. He had all those connections as a political activist, but he still felt that he hails from Bihar and he should align with a party according to his wish. That should be appreciated. There are so many people who talk to them, they all keep saying different things. Even Lalu ji talks to him. Even while staying in jail he keeps talking, no matter the rules. But everyone knows the fact. So Prashant talks to everyone, but who will say what to whom, it will take a bit of time for someone who is new to understand. It won’t take long. We didn’t get him as a strategist. He only came with us after the NDA alliance. He came to us when we left the old alliance and came with BJP. He feels JDU is similar to his ideology. But this is just a beginning as an activist for him. We don’t see him as a strategist.

So Prashant works with other parties, there is nothing fishy there?

He has good relations with everyone. And he is with our party and he has no illusions about that. But since you asked, he has only just started as a political worker, as a political activist. The strategist way of doing things will have its presence for a while, people will meet him and say things and how it will affect minds, he’ll understand slowly. He will stay with me and slowly he will become the perfect political activist. Of course, if it is not to his liking, then that is a different thing. But I trust him.

In UP, Congress has brought in Priyanka Gandhi. How do you see the Priyanka factor affecting the elections?

That is an internal thing for the party and the family, I don’t have anything to do with it. I see she gets even more publicity than Rahul in the media. Why that is, they only must know. But everyone knew this from the beginning that she is active in internal functioning of the party. And I got some information about this from Prashant Kishor as well. Because he has good relations with them and has worked with them. She entered politics formally, but we knew she had a role in political decisions before as well.

How do you see Rahul’s candidature from two seats? It is being said that the fight was against Modi, but he is contesting against the Left there.

Left parties don’t like this that he is contesting in Kerala. That is natural. But that is his decision. He has to lead his party, so he must listen to opinion within his party or maybe he has to see his own condition — suppose he isn’t successful from his UP seat, maybe he will win from Kerala. There can be many reasons, but I don’t think much about it. It’s his own wish.

You used to ask for special status for Bihar and talked about it a lot. What’s the state of that now?

Our request remains the same.

Have you talked to the PM?

Yes.

What did he say?

About special status, an interpretation was done on the basis of the 14th Finance Commission report. But we kept our request in front of the 15th Finance Commission that this interpretation is done and it must be cleared. We presented our stance strongly. Now some people feel that I must keep giving statements. But the way we have gathered support — we have over 1 crore signatories — and we had submitted the document to then honorable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A committee was setup after that as well. But they didn’t do much. If they had, today’s politics would be different. Today’s situation would be different. But who will tell this to the Congress party? Their thoughts, their understanding. They have their own interpretation in the matter of special status to a State.

We said all this to the new Finance Commission and we maintained that Bihar must get special status. We are growing, but no major industry comes to us. Private sector doesn’t come here, because we are a land locked state. If they get tax rebates, then only someone will come and setup industry in a landlocked state. And secondly, the development work we are doing in our state, the state share in central schemes will also reduce. So we would be able to implement more schemes, faster. And we would also be able to adopt better schemes. So that’s why the special status demand for Bihar is there. It is not just my demand, but the demand of the entire state, the Vidhan Sabha and Vidhan Parishad both have passed it unanimously, and it is already submitted to the central government. People keep saying what they want from their side but the efforts are on.

The future of JDU is linked with you. What future do you see for the party and for yourself? Suppose there is an NDA government at Centre tomorrow, will you try to shift toward Centre?

No, I don’t think about myself; I think about Bihar or about the party outside Bihar as party national president. As far as JDU is concerned, many young people are joining it. There is no problem.

So you have a succession plan?

That happens automatically. You don’t need to think about that. It’s not a dynasty (laughs). Here the entire party is a family. Our party is not led by one family so we don’t have problem.

The seat sharing of 17-17 seems to have displeased Shahnawaz Hussain. What do you think about that?

He should ask his party, he is the election committee member. He should ask his party. Did I ask for the Bhagalpur seat? He should go and ask his party. Why doesn’t he ask his party president? Why doesn’t he talk to the party in charge of the state before talking like this? And do you know when BJP gave a ticket to Shahnawaz Hussain (from Bhagalpur in last elections)? When the government was formed here, I was an MP too, and Deputy CM Sushil Modi was an MP as well, he had won from Bhagalpur. And it was a bypoll. You can go ask Arun Jaitley ji or Sushil Modi ji.

Who insisted that Shahnawaz Hussain should contest elections from Bhagalpur? I’m not a member of that party, I’m in alliance with it. We had good relations with each other. They accepted my word and gave him a ticket. What was his connection to Bhagalpur? But he could still win. But to talk this way, it seems as if the man is not even aware of internal matters of his own party. When did we ask for a seat? If one seat which we insisted on in Bihar, it was Darbhanga. I’m telling you the internal matter.

What happened?

They didn’t agree! That is wrong. But the kind of talk that has happened, BJP should set this right clear things up with these men. Unnecessary. We didn’t ask for Bhagalpur seat; they gave it to us. On all the seats they didn’t win, nine seats, except Araria, they gave them to us. And we had won two among those: Purnia, Nalanda. Now if you were the candidate from Bhagalpur, you should have fought. He should have asked for a ticket from the seat then. We didn’t say anything. We respect our alliance partners a lot. We see that this party has little internal conflict. And on the basis of that they took this decision. And we accepted it since we are with them. But this kind of statement is not right. And I want that the BJP should explain it as well and that person should not give this kind of statement. This statement will only hurt them. They should not speak like this.

People say that you don’t maintain steady relations with one party or one person. You had once said you will never take BJP’s side. Then, you were with Modi, then you separated. And now you’re with him again, Lalu Prasad came in the middle as well. People say you can take a U-turn anytime. They even call you ‘Paltu Ram’. What do you say about that? Is your relation with BJP steady?

Under the leadership of George Fernandes, Samata Party was formed in 1994. It later became JDU. We were with the BJP since 1996. We separated in 2013. And we allied again with BJP. In middle, we formed the mahagathbandhan. Now, you just think, when the issue of corruptions came there was no way to compromise with that and that’s why we decided to separate and then BJP’s offer came which was acceptable to our party members. And now when it has happened, work is happening. There is no problem. Work was being done earlier as well. So those who say this about me, why don’t they talk about the leaders of Andhra Pradesh. The one who was with NDA and left for the other side, why isn’t he questioned? That is considered an achievement and I am called a “Paltu”. Fine, be happy with that. You’ll call me “Paltu”, but you will be the one who will change sides. There is no future for this kind of language, nobody likes it. People just look at your work. If I’d compromised on that basic commitment that would have been called changing sides. And what is this alliance? Have you heard Lalu ji’s speech from 1990? When he was in Janata Dal, you can read his Lok Sabha speech, he spoke in BJP’s favour. This is coalition politics.

See the state today. What were Left parties saying - Non-BJP, non-Congress front. Today they are with Congress everywhere. And see what’s happening in Kerala. There’s conflict there again. Chandrababu Naidu is talking about special status and I’m talking about corruption. And that translates to me changing sides, and him going straight? (Hum palat gaye, aur vo salat gaye?). What is this analysis? What is this interpretation? Someone left one side to join another, and that’s a big achievement? That is not changing sides? What should you do about that? Who all have done what with me? They got respect by staying close to me, then they left and now talk about me. I don’t say anything on anyone. But some people have fun by talking this way. If you get vote by this means, very good. I don’t have a problem. The people are the boss and they’ll decide whom to vote for. People want us to serve, we’ll serve. If they don’t want us to serve, what can we do then? We are just serving! At least, we’re not profiting in the name of service (Seva ke naam pe meva to nahi kha rahe hain). We are not earning. Earning money without working is not our objective. So those who think they are outside, that they are not earning, they abuse me. Fine, abuse me! If it gets you vote, great. If the people will want so, I’ll hand over the governance to you. I don’t have any problem.

Do you think that the BJP will get complete majority by itself? Is the Modi wave that was in 2014 just as strong today?

See, the situation then was different. That time, there was severe anti-incumbency against the Congress-led UPA government among the people. They were angry. That’s why a single consensus formed in one person’s favour. Today, there isn’t much anger against Modi government. Now it is, you can say, a normal election. Some are trying. But that won’t affect anything. People will take their own decision. And I feel the alternatives to Modi don’t look strong enough to give a formidable challenge across the country.

At one time, you too were considered an alternative to Modi.

You tell me, I’m in Bihar. Are we people ever anybody’s alternative? I never had that dream. This I can’t even think of. I felt that they were making fun of me (when they talked about me as an alternative).

Many parties wanted to raise you as an alternative national leader…

That is a different thing. I have never misbehaved with anyone, be it in language or behaviour. Even if you are not with me, I respect you. I have been a parliamentarian six times. I have been a union minister. Whatever was possible, I tried to serve everyone. You can ask any party leader. If any party leader’s words are right, I work on it.

How are your relations with Lalu Prasad now?

What personal enmity could I have with him? I stay worried about him.

You both were called brothers…

This he kept saying. When Lalu won the Student Union elections in Patna University, do you know how much I supported him? And when Jananayak Karpuri ji passed away, then what was my role in making him Lok Dal, Vidhyak Dal leader? When the leader came in opposition, what was my role in making him Chief Minister? People have forgotten all these things.

Do these things, in some manner, hurt you?

When I saw that I can’t go on with him, I split from the Janata Dal under George sahab’s leadership and formed a separate path. We did come back together one more time. I had hoped that he (Lalu) would be more careful now. We were running a government. You can ask anyone. People used to tell me, that if Lalu ji’s old style continued, the government would not stay in power for more than a year or year and a half. And when that style was beginning, a lot of people said many things about me. Even the leaders of his party, what did they say about me? And still, I kept working. But when the issue of corruption came, I folded my hands in namaskaar and bid adieu. But, I am not his enemy. I have no kind of hatred against anyone. Many would feel that way about me. But not me. What would I have personally against him (Lalu)? But he’s inside now and he’s running things from there.

You talked about George Fernandes. You were a part of Atal government as well. Do you feel when he was NDA convener, the BJP of then that walked with everyone, was different form the BJP of today?

As time moves forward, situations change. There’s no big deal about it. That is nothing special. Allies are being looked after now as well. They have only respected us when they talked to us. I am confined to Bihar in the alliance, so I don’t have a problem. I don’t think there is a problem and people’s mandate will come according to that, I feel.

A few personal questions. People say you are a loner — that you like to stay alone. Even those close to you get separated, then come back again. But in a way, you are person who lives within himself.

I don’t know why that interpretation exists. I just do my work and I work with everyone. I go in the middle of people and interact with them. But after finishing work, when the time comes to eat, or relax for a few hours, what will you do in that? I do my work all day and if there is a political activity, I talk to people. You tell me? If you finish all your work, do you go sit with someone else? You relax by yourself. But I don’t know why this impression exists about me. There is nothing like that. I respect everyone, maybe people don’t know that well. If I come to know about a person’s ill health — you can as anyone — it’s not that I’m confined within myself. In fact, I’m very minimally confined within myself. I walk, I exercise, I do yoga, I read the newspaper; that is the limit of my confinement. Except this, there is nothing that I do just with myself except sleeping! And that is natural. Other times, I’m with people. But some people have a habit of talking to others unnecessarily. I don’t have time for that. I kept getting responsibilities since 1998, that I never got a chance to talk or do something without a reason. People have given you an opportunity. So you must work. But it isn’t like I’m a loner or that I like to be alone.

One last question. Shatrughan Sinha, you used to say, is Bihar’s pride. Will you campaign against him? He is standing opposite to you.

See, he is a big film artist. And he is a Bihar resident, a Biharu babu. And for that, I have great respect for him. But as far as politics is concerned, that has nothing to do with it. That has nothing to do with his films. It is not about a film hero. You go to people to ask for votes and win and become a parliamentarian. That is a political matter. So, in politics, he will be on the side of the party he is aligned with. And I’m not on his side, so I’ll have to campaign for my side right? But that is a political matter, not a personal one.

Any other interests aside from working? What do you do when you don’t work? How do you spend your time?

I’m absorbed in work (laughs)! I have so many interests that I don’t get time. I am interested in environment, greenery. In Bihar, the green cover was less than 9 percent; now it’s above 15 percent. My goal is 17 percent. Because it can’t be more than that because of our high population density. I am interested in history; the culture of this place; our great ancient institutions and historical centres. So I’m interested in a lot of things, and we’ve made that a part of our governance. Archaeology, conservation. We have a proud history, and I say to people, that I want to take Bihar back to heights it once was. That is why I’m working.

Nitish ji, you gave us so much time. You gave your first interview in four years to News18 network, for that I thank you very much. I’d like to say all the best for upcoming elections.

Thank you very much.

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