Janata Dal (United) spokesperson and long-time Socialist leader K C Tyagi is angry that his party has been accused of breaking Opposition unity by voting with the BJP on the presidential elections and sending a representative to the BJP’s midnight “tryst with GST” session in the Central Hall of Parliament on June 30. Excerpts from an interview with The Indian Express
Q : Why did the Janata Dal (United) support the BJP’s presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, when you are part of the united Opposition?
A : When the name of the erstwhile Bihar governor, Mr Ram Nath Kovind’s name was announced, the JD(U) fell into a big problem (uljhan). Mr Kovind is not an extremist type. He never made the Raj Bhavan an adda of conspiracy like Buta Singh had once done. He never once stopped or returned or deferred any ordinance. He never turned the Raj Bhavan into a BJP panchayat – which is what is happening these days in all the Raj Bhavans.
After the BJP announcement, (Bihar chief minister) Nitish ji called Congress president Sonia Gandhi, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, and his main coalition partner, RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav. He told them that it would not be possible for him to oppose his candidature. He also told them that this ‘samarthan’ (support) is not for NDA, but personally for Ram Nath Kovind.
As the party’s spokesperson, I repeatedly told everyone that this is a one-time incident, isolated incident, one-time affair. But we were misquoted, misunderstood, misreported.
Q : Who misquoted and misrepresented you ?
A : Lalu’s party, the RJD, kept saying things about JD(U)…But the most surprise, pain and anguish for us came when senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad issued a statement accusing Nitish ji of political and ideological opportunism.
Azad is the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and we cooperate with him closely there. He is in the top hierarchy of the Congress. He is a sober man, and not known for statements like this.
Lekin us bayan ne hamko hila diya. (His statement shook us.)We began to think that they had another name in mind, which is why they were accusing us.
Q : Why did you think the Congress wanted its own candidate? Didn’t the joint Opposition have a united candidate?
A : When Nitish ji met Mrs Gandhi in April, he told her, you are a big leader, please try for opposition unity. I am with you. Let’s start with presisdential election. So Mrs Gandhi called a meeting in meeting in April and invited all the 17 parties who are part of the Opposition. She announced that there will be a joint Opposition candidate. And we all agreed that if anyone tries to impose a candidate with extremist views, we will oppose ideologically.
Q : Then what happened?
A : Mrs Gandhi spoke to NCP leader Sharad Pawar, Sitaram Yechury and others. The major parties, like NCP, JD(U), JD(S), Trinamool Congress as well as the Left parties were of one view, that instead of a candidate from the main opposition party, the Congress, any person who is a major name in civil society should be named.
Q : Did you discuss any names?
A : One name that acceptable to everyone was Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former governor of West Bengal.
Q : So why didn’t that materialize ? Were there other names?
A : At this point, BJP leaders came to meet Mrs Gandhi. Home minister Rajnath Singh and I&B minister Venkaiah Naidu met her as well as Sitaram Yechury. But they never said even once that they wanted a Dalit candidate.
Q : Do you think the BJP wanted a Dalit candidate even at that early time ?
A : Yes, I think the BJP wanted a Dalit candidate. And so did the Congress party.
Q : What do you mean by that ? If the joint Opposition had almost decided on Gopal Gandhi, then why would the Congress decide to go it alone ?
A : The irony is that as late as June 3, Nitish ji and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and DMK leader M K Stalin and Sitaram Yechury were in Chennai for DMK stalwart Karunanidhi’s 90th birthday. During the celebrations, Sitaram came to Nitish ji and asked him for his ‘razamandi,’ agreement, on Gopal Gandhi’s name. Nitish ji said yes.
Q : So Mr Gopal Gandhi was almost confirmed?
A : Because the Congress had decided from Day One that some Congressman should be made. Taalmatol hoti rahi (the discussions continued for some time), despite this massive Opposition unity.
Q : Did Mrs Sonia Gandhi talk to Nitish ji about this ?
A : Mrs Gandhi never once sent any feelers to Nitish ji that she wanted to make former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, or any other Dalit leader the presidential candidate.
The trouble started when the BJP put forward Ram Nath Kovind’s name. Now we think that both mainstream parties, the BJP and the Congress, wanted to take electoral mileage through the candidatures of Meira Kumar and Ram Nath Kovind.
Q : But why didn’t you support Meira Kumar? After all, she is a “Bihar ki beti” ?
A : If Meira Kumar’s name had come up before Kovind or Gopal Gandhi’s name had been decided, then JD(U) would have agreed with the rest of the joint Opposition on that name.
Q : You say you want to keep Opposition unity alive. Then why did you send a representative to the midnight session of the GST in Parliament as requested by the ruling BJP?
A : Neither Nitish ji nor party president Sharad Yadav went. We only sent Bihar’s finance and revenue minister Bijendra Yadav. You have to understand…We have been part of GST deliberations since this economic reform was launched at the time of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, when the JD(U) was a partner of the BJP, and have supported it through the Manmohan Singh years.
When the Congress took the GST forward, (Bihar BJP leader and former deputy chief minister) Sushil Modi was the the chairman of the GST Council. We continued to supported it because Bihar is not a manufacturing state, but consumer state – we believed its revenue collections would go up.
That is why the JD(U) continues to support the GST today. We don’t believe anything has changed materially to warrant a change in our position.
Q : So you agree with the BJP’s position that the time is ripe to introduce GST in the country?
A : The JD(U) believes that the ruling party should have given the traders some more time to get used to the massive change that is around the corner. Yes, there has been “jaldbaaji” (extraordinary rush) in implementing it.
Q : But why did you not boycott the midnight session like the Congress party ?
A : We did not agree with the BJP’s decision to have a midnight session in the Central Hall of Parliament, which evokes memories of the midnight session on August 15, 1947. We did not think this is a good comparison. That was the independence of India. We don’t believe June 30 constitutes economic independence.
Q : But the fact remains that you sent someone to attend the midnight session…
A : We still have many differences with the BJP on its economic policies, for eg the disinvestment of Air India. But it’s not as if the Congress party’s economic policies were very different from what the BJP is today. Even when Manmohan Singh was in power and GDP was 8.3 percent, the disparity between rich and poor was at its maximum.
Q : But the fact remains that the JD(U) has been coming close to the BJP for some time now. Are you going back to the BJP?
A : This is totally untrue, these rumours are being spread by friends in other Opposition parties. But you have to ask yourself, why did we leave the BJP after staying in it for 13 years under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee? At that time George Fernandes was the NDA convenor, Ram Vilas Paswan was there too. We had all agreed that all the controversial issues – Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute would be decided by the court, Uniform Civil Code wont be applied and Article 370 wont be changed.
We left the BJP in 2013 because under the new leadership, we did not get these assurances. We felt they weren’t committed enough.
Q : Have things become better or worse?
A : These questions have become even more important as the situation in the country deteriorates everyday. Everyday the RSS and BJP put out new dates for the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Kashmir’s suffering hasn’t been so bad ever before. While the Law Commission chairman BS Chauhan has sent a questionnaire to state governments, asking for their views on triple talaq.
Under this BJP, cow vigilantism has been added. Lynching Muslims, Ghar Vapasi and Love Jihad are their new motifs. We are now told what to eat. Most dangerous of all are the statements by RSS leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Manmohan Vaidya promising to review the Constitution and abolish quotas for the backwards and poor.
We are deeply worried about this BJP.
Q : But the fact remains that you are supporting the BJP in many ways…
A : Truth is that unlike the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, the era of blind Opposition politics is over. Both in India and abroad. Stalin is dead, and so is blind Stalinism. The Cold War is over.
These decades were extremely confrontational in India, a time when ruling parties never did anything right – our own major Opposition leaders also believed this, whether Ram Manohar Lohia, Charan Singh or Jyoti Basu.
But today the world has changed, especially after 1990 economic reforms. After all there is very little difference between the economic reforms and policies and liberal ideas of (Congress finance minister) P. Chidambaram and (BJP finance minister) Arun Jaitely, except for their dress code. One wears a lungi and the other wears a safari suit, that’s all.
Both blindly support disinvestment, privatization. Whether Manmohan Singh or Narendra Modi, whether finance minister Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, or Chidambaram, there’s no difference btween them. They are all pro-industrialist and pro-corporate.
Q : But the JD(U) supported demonetisation…
A : Yes. Once upon a time, we, Socialists, believed that to end black money we needed to finish the big notes, like 1000 rupees and 500 rupees. When Morarji Desai became PM, many Socialist leaders like Chandrashekhar, Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes, Madhu Dandavate, Raj Narain, SM Joshi who were in his Cabinet, supported getting rid of the 500-rupee note.
So Nitish Kumar thought demonetisation would end black money and thought it was a right step. But he also told the PM that this wasn’t enough, that now you have to ‘halla bol’ on benami wealth as well.
Q : So to return to the old question, is the JD(U) coming closer to the BJP ?
A : Not at all. But when there was farmers unrest in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and six died in firing in MP, we felt as if a peasant uprising was taking place in the country. Opposition leaders met and planned to undertake a Bharat Bandh, demand the implementation of the MS Swaminathan report and bring Parliament to a halt in the monsoon session.
But then what happened? It was the biggest protest in the three years of the Modi government. It was a big opportunity to gherao the ruling party on this issue. We had never got such a big issue in three years.
We kept waiting for the Congress to take things forward, but there was no news from them.
Meanwhile, things just got worse in this period. So many lynchings began to take place. When Junaid was murdered, why didn’t no one from the Congress go there? Bahadurgarh is only one hour from here.
Why are there no Opposition meetings on mob lynchings or mob violence that has taken over the country? Why only a meeting on a presidential candidate to bring us together?
Q : So you’re not joining the BJP?
A : The BJP has a communal agenda. Modi wants a constant debate between the BJP and the Opposition on issues of religion, which is how he hopes to take political advantage. But he doesn’t want an argument on economic issues, like the farmers issue. But the question is, why didn’t we, the Opposition, do something about it?
Q : But it is the JD(U) that has broken Opposition unity..
A : The Congress party accuses us of breaking Opposition unity, but cant it see what’s going on in the country?
We are very upset with the behavior of the Congress party. The character assassination of our leader, Nitish Kumar, has also happened at (its) hands.
Q : You think the Congress had a problem with Nitish Kumar?
A : Perhaps they didn’t like it when the media started talking about Nitish Kumar’s acceptability, respectability and liking across the country, that he is a man who will give a reply to Narendra Modi – but we never claimed that, it was only the media that was saying so.
Q : But why not carry the Congress along?
A : I want to tell you today that this Congress party is not the Congress party of 1952, 1957, 1962 or 1984.
It is not even a legitimate Congress party.
Q : That sounds like the end of Opposition unity?
A : We still are committed to the cause of Opposition unity. After the presidential polls are done, after July 17, we want to raise the situation of the minorities, farmers questions, we believe we should start a big andolan. The Congress party has to take everyone along, take these core issues forward.
I want to tell you that we, the JDU, have really sacrificed for the Bihar alliance. We gave the Congress 40 seats to fight the elections, which allowed it to grow to 27 MLAs (it had 4 MLAs earlier). Today, when Bihar Congress leader Ashok Chaudhury sometimes says that the Congress is growing in Bihar, we smile. The RJD had 22 MLAs in the previous Assembly, today they have 82.When we were with the BJP we had 22 MPs, today we have 2. We had 118 MLAs in a house of 242.. We were very comfortable in the NDA. Today we have 71 MLAs.
It is the JD(U) that has suffered the greatest loss, we cut the tickets of 50 sitting MLAs, which was a brutal act.