Union Minister for Communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad predicts a BJP victory and possibly a two-thirds NDA majority. Excerpts from an interview
BJP chief Amit Shah had projected a united NDA against a “collapsing” grand alliance. But the seat deal indicates there is discontent in the NDA too…
On the contrary, with time it [NDA] will get stronger. Some degree of clash of expectations is there, but that is natural. But the BJP as the principal pole of the NDA is walking the extra mile in coordination with allies. This is part of a legacy — when we came to power, (PM Narendra) Modiji himself took the initiative in keeping all constituents together even when the BJP had a majority. This was the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Every ally in the NDA is saying we are solidly with Narendra Modi.
Why is the BJP leadership, which took a hard stand with its allies in Maharashtra and Haryana, now walking the extra mile and making compromises?
We are confident of winning Bihar. But having said that, once they are part of our alliance we have to take them along, for there is a larger commitment to free Bihar of the present misrule, where Lalu Prasad is calling the shots and Nitish Kumar is just a mask.
Jitan Ram Manjhi was not part of the alliance initially. Is he in because you wanted the caste combination right?
I would put it differently. The way Manjhi as a Mahadalit was discriminated against by Nitish has become an issue. He has called Manjhi Vibhishan; such expressions are not used in politics. Nitish sometimes takes personal dislikes to extreme levels… Once Manjhi has volunteered he would work under PM Modi in Bihar, he is most welcome.
Your colleague Rajiv Pratap Rudy says the BJP won’t win without its allies.
The NDA led by the BJP will get a comfortable majority. Don’t be surprised, it may be close to two-thirds. There is a powerful yearning for change… I know Bihar very well.
Will the BJP win a majority of its own?
I am very sure that too will happen. The people of Bihar are going to vote beyond caste considerations. A large number of people will foresee Bihar as a state with good governance… Has any industry come up in the last nine years under Nitish? I am promoting the electronic manufacturing sector; proposals worth Rs 1,18,000 crore have come up. I approved 20 clusters across India and was very keen on my state. I wrote to Nitish, spoke to him, but land was not given. Manjhi gave the land for software parks in Darbanga and Bhagalpur, but Nitish sat over it. (Former finance minister) Chidambaram, at your persuasion, gave Rs 12,000 crore of which Rs 8,000 crore was given by our government. You had nothing against it. But when Modi gave you Rs 1,25,000 crore, you started questioning it. Now you say you will raise Rs 2,70,000 crore. Then what was the issue with the package?
The NDA has not projected a face as CM. Do you see yourself leading the state?
I am not in the race, nor am I interested. I will continue here. I’m a party worker; whatever work the party gives, I will do it happily.
Many of the schemes announced by the Modi government are still in process. How will you convince people?
It is good that development is becoming the agenda. Lalu is talking in the language of 1990. In 2015, Nitish is trying with his almost unbelievable promise of a Rs 2,70,000 crore package. Leave it to the people to decide which idea is capable of being implemented. Once it’s there, the record of BJP governments in states, the record of the Modi government in Gujarat, and one year-plus in New Delhi are more than enough. But do not forget it’s Bihar’s election, not the country’s, and people should seek accountability from the incumbent government.Of Jan Dhan’s 18 crore accounts, 90 lakh are in Bihar, of the seven crore Jeevan Suraksha accounts, one crore are in Bihar. People see that work on highways has started, the way I am working in Bihar or not being allowed to work. They will assess the keenness and commitment. Whatever credibility Nitish Kumar had, he has forfeited the moral credibility when he aligned with Lalu Prasad.
How easy or difficult is it to centre the polls on development rather than caste?
We are not denying the existence of caste politics. But Bihar has a unique record of moving beyond caste. We won in 2005, 2009, 2010 and the extraordinary result of the last Lok Sabha election in which BJP won 31 of 40, Nitish Kumar reduced to two, Lalu Prasad to four with the so-called M-Y (Muslim Yadav) combine. This time, a number of young Muslims and Yadavs will vote for the BJP. Because it’s going to be an election of aspirations.