Sushil Kumar Modi, who maintained a moderate face in the BJP for the last few decades, earned his stature while taking part in the JP movement. Years later, he was attending a function in Rajkot when current BJP chief Amit Shah travelled all the way from Ahmedabad only to collect Sushil Modi’s autograph. Today, it is under Shah’s strategic guidance that Sushil Modi is leading the Bihar election. The Bihar BJP leader gave this interview in Patna.
Are we talking to a potential chief minister?
That’s a hypothetical question. There are dozens more capable leaders than I in Bihar. We are not a one-leader party. There is a number of leaders representing various sections of society.
Leaders from your own party have said no upper-caste leader will become the CM; one of them said only an OBC or an EBC will be the CM.
See, our state president will not decide who the CM will be. It is the BJP parliamentary board that will decide. If Mangal Pandeyji (Bihar BJP president) has given an opinion, the board will take cognisance of it, and of many others’ opinions.
The BJP usually says the elected representatives will elect the CM.
Yes, they will elect him but the final authority lies with the parliamentary board. I want to say one more thing. Any Bihari will be the CM. That is true. No leader from UP or Gujarat will become CM, nor will anybody born in Italy. Every leader in the state BJP is a Bihari; NDA leaders such as Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi are Biharis. They are not bahris (outsiders). And, who is Sharad Yadav? The JD(U) is a regional party. The president of the party is a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar but he is not a Bihari. Who was George Fernandes? Nitish Kumar is insulting the legacy of Madhu Limaye, Fernades and Acharya Kriplani who nurtured their ideals here. The grand alliance is devoid of issues. They are now talking of Bihari versus bahri. Nitish and Lalu Prasad are so frustrated they are talking of forwards versus backwards, bhitari (insider) versus bahri, and about DNA… If Sonia Gandhi, who is of Italian origin, is entitled to campaign in Bihar, then Narendra Modi is the PM of India; he has all the right to campaign for his party… Will Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi be stopped from coming because they don’t belong to Bihar? Who is Pawan Verma? He isn’t from here. Nitish gave two Rajya Sabha tickets to non-Biharis. In Maharashtra they want Biharis to be respected and here they talk about Biharis versus bahris.
You have been a member of J P Narayan’s Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti, the face of the BJP in Patna, and filed the case against Lalu in the fodder scam. Yet you have not been made a CM candidate.
It is the right decision. Our party didn’t declare any CM candidate in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana. There were lots of Sushil Modis there too. We decided not to project anybody. We found that this would be a better strategy. We wouldn’t like to share why we did so.
Is Nitish hinting at you too when he talks of Bihari versus bahri? Your ancestors were not from Bihar.
I don’t know what he means by bahris. I was born in Bihar. Who says I am not a Bihari? A person who is born and brought up in Bihar, how can you term him an outsider? It is very painful to see the level to which the debate has fallen.
Will the election see a caste vote or a development vote?
The BJP believes in development. They (grand alliance) have divided their work. Lalu is playing the caste card and Nitish will talk of development. Lalu is talking of forwards and backwards and the census, but he is living in the 1990s, Bihar has moved ahead… The kind of casteism he is spreading, taking the name of a particular caste and appealing to them, is not acceptable. The EC has taken cognisance of it. The youth of Bihar want development. I am not saying caste does not affect polls. That’s a reality in all states. But development is for all, backwards or forwards.
Do you agree that proportional representation should be given to all castes? You have not done that.
We have tried. There are 250 castes who need proportional representation. There are 34 castes amongst the Dalits. No party can satisfy every caste. We have given 30 seats to extremely backward classes while the grand alliance has given only 22 seats. There are 140 EBC groups in Bihar. We could only manage to accommodate some six or seven of them.
Out of the BJP’s 160 seats, you gave 65 to upper castes.
Where is it written that we have to give tickets according to population? It is not possible… The EBC population in Bihar is 25 per cent. Which party has given them 25 per cent of its seats? In our party, seats are given to people who support the party and its ideology. In the RJD, Lalu has given more tickets to Yadavs, who support him more. The BJP has tried to accommodate more and more castes. We have tried our best. Nitish has not given any Teli a ticket. They are among the EBCs. We have given tickets to nine Telis, two Charasias and three Kanus. We gave tickets to 12 Nishads and one Mehtar. We have a Mehtar MLA. The Chandrawanshis are a powerful community and we have given them a ticket. Nitish has not given any ticket to a Chandrawanshi. We look at a candidate’s reach and popularity more than caste. Caste is just one of the factors, not the main factor.
The central government is frequently being blamed for rising prices in the last 15 months. Dal is Rs 160 a kilo.
It is not an issue. Dal is imported in India. The government is importing it. The high price of dal is a seasonal thing. The WPI and the CPI (wholesale and consumer price indices) are at their lowest right now.
How far is Bihar changing?
In the last 25 months Nitish has ruined Bihar. He has put the brakes on development. Not a single new scheme has been announced in the last 25 months; I challenge him to show me one. We had taken Bihar out of Lalu’s misrule. He has gone back to Lalu and the Congress. Lalu is so much the discredited neta of Bihar that except for some from his community, no one will vote for him. Once upon a time he had the entire vote. A leader once capable of winning 150 seats was reduced to just 24 in the last election.
His vote share rose in that last election.
Seats matter. He has not won a respectable number. People of Bihar will not tolerate Lalu Prasad, he has been losing his clout in the last 25 years, day by day, and in this election he will be wiped out further. People want change. They think we have a government at the Centre and if we elect a government here, Bihar will benefit more. People want to give a chance to the BJP.
If you look at the Yadav, Muslim and Kurmis votes, they add up to 35 per cent.
That is an argument that means nothing. Can Nitish transfer his votes to Lalu? Or can Lalu do it? In politics, can you make one plus one equal to two? It is not possible. Those who want to remain with this arithmetic, let them. Nitish got so scared of the BJP, he accepted 100 seats when he had contested 140 in the last election. In all elections, people align to stop the ruling party returning to power but here the parties are ganging up to stop the main opposition party from coming to power. It is a historic thing… Nitish is ready to lose even his identity to resist the BJP. Lalu thinks ‘I have become old; before I bow out let my daughter, sons, wife establish themselves so that the Yadav legacy can carry on’. That is his life’s only wish now. He wants to hand over the Yadav legacy. His aim is not to make Nitish CM but to secure his family’s political future.
People look at you as a moderate face in the BJP. Why could even you not win Muslims into the BJP fold? You gave them two seats.
This is not a serious question. I have held iftars for the last 25 years. More Muslims attend my parties than Lalu or Nitish’s iftars. As the leader of the opposition and as an MLA, I have raised the highest number of questions for Muslims. I tried to uplift madrasas. In Bihar, the BJP’s image is not anti-Muslim. In 2010, our sole Muslim MLA won from a Muslim area. A large number of Muslims voted for us; this time too, many Muslims will. In five Lok Sabha bypolls, we gave tickets to two Muslim candidates and they got 40,000 votes, largely from Muslims. The NDA has given 10 seats to Muslims. In some other states, maybe, the BJP’s image is anti-Muslim but in Bihar our image is not anti-Muslim nor a communal one. As deputy chief minister, I have ensured that for issues such as women’s education or burial grounds or Bhagalpur Commission, enough money was given. You won’t find one instance where the Bihar BJP has discriminated against Muslims. In Bihar, we have a different image! We have given more tickets to Muslims than before.
Haven’t RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement and MP R K Singh’s allegation about sale of tickets got you defensive?
We have made our stand clear. Where is the confusion? We have the three biggest leaders — Paswan, Manjhiji and Kushwaha. We are for reservation. They want to divert the issue. We would have been worried if we had been anti-reservation. We are not. We gave reservation to EBC in Bihar. You should note that Lalu refused to give reservation to Dalits in the panchayat elections of 2003.
Will there be communal polarisation?
The grand alliance may attempt it. Nitish said on Saturday ‘Jallad raj se achcha jungle raj hai’. Nitish and Lalu are trying to polarise voters. Why should we polarise voters when we are getting votes from all sections of society? All this is old, stale talk — that BJP is communal, that the BJP is urban, that the BJP is upper caste. Show me just one instance when the BJP tried polarisation in Bihar. Had we effected communal polarisation, we wouldn’t have lost the last poll to the Katihar Lok Sabha seat. The JD(U) gave a ticket to a Hindu, Hindus got divided, and we lost. We didn’t do negative politics there.