After suffering electoral setbacks in 2009 and 2010, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan is hoping to be central to Congress plans in Bihar this time. At this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor D K Singh, Paswan plays down Modi and the ‘AAP effect’ and wonders why the Congress backed AAP. The Idea Exchange was held before Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation and passage of the Telangana Bill
D K Singh: At what stage are your alliance talks in Bihar?
At first, we were in doubt about whether the Congress would align with the RJD or JD(U). After a lot of brainstorming, we decided that we would stay with the Congress and that the Congress would have to decide between the RJD and JD(U), or whether it would fight alone. When we met Sonia Gandhi recently, we realised that the Congress had decided to go with the RJD, and it was decided that the LJP-Congress-RJD alliance would go ahead. We haven’t yet made the announcement as the three parties haven’t sat down together for formal talks yet. Lalu Prasad and Soniaji have spoken to each other, we have spoken to Laluji separately, but the three parties haven’t sat down together. As far as seats are concerned, there has been no discussion regarding that. That’s one reason everyone is a little worried. It’s election time, people from all other parties have begun their work and we are still stuck on the issue of seat-sharing.
Coomi Kapoor: What is the problem regarding seat-sharing?
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No one really knows what the problem is. When we ask Laluji what the issue is, he says he too doesn’t know. When we ask the Congress, they say they don’t know; and if someone asks us, we say we don’t know. I spoke to C P Joshi (Congress general secretary in charge of Bihar), and asked him to call a meeting to find a way out of this.
Coomi Kapoor: The Congress could decide to go with the JD(U) at the last minute.
The way the Congress is giving money in Bihar, or the way the JD(U) supported them during the President’s election, it appeared so. But now, when the JD(U) seems to be attacking the Congress, I don’t think that will happen. Earlier, they used to attack the BJP, now they are attacking both of them.
D K Singh: How far had your talks with Nitish Kumar progressed?
We never had any discussions with Nitish. Neither have I talked to him, nor has any office-bearer of the party. Like the saying goes, jaahan na jaye ravi, wahan jaaye kavi… We have never had any discussion on this. Yes, messages from him kept coming, saying we should have discussions, should have an alliance, but there have been no discussions at any level.
Muzamil Jaleel: With Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, what will be the effect in Bihar?
The Congress, LJP and RJD had fought separately, and in the NDA, the BJP and JD(U) were together (in 2009)… In every constituency, the Congress got the vote we lost out on. The greatest reason was that the Congress was given three seats which, to my understanding, was not right. The Congress should have got more seats… The split that has happened now has given two straight sides — Nitish on one side and on the other is the BJP, which has the local vote. The upper caste or business caste vote is inclined towards the BJP. Our traditional vote base is intact. When the Congress, RJD and LJP come together, all votes — those of Muslims and Dalits — come together. The election card they (the BJP, JD-U) played the last time around was the Mahadalit card, most backward caste card, and Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz card. But there should be someone to take them forward. It is still where it was — be it Modi’s tea-seller campaign or saying that untouchability still exists. That’s why, currently there’s a straight division in the vote.
When it comes to the BJP — and I’m not talking about the entire country because Bihar and UP are caste-dominated — irrespective of all the noise that’s being made, about the BJP getting so many seats — they won’t get so many seats. Yes, compared to all the other leaders in the BJP, there is more craze for Modi, but how much of this craze gets translated into votes, that is difficult to say. And even if you take the entire country, where the BJP has gained a little with Modi coming in, when you see the post-election scenario, there are heavy losses.
There is no third front now, and there’s no possibility of a third front even after the elections. There can be a secular front post-elections to stop the BJP, but in the current circumstances, Lalu and Nitish, or Mamata Banerjee and the Left, or Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, or Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi going together… this isn’t possible.
Shobhit Sujay: A lot of parties say that the agenda is development, no longer caste.
When you look at the development agenda, we all give our own definitions to it. I’m giving you Hajipur’s example — I challenge that development hasn’t happened anywhere as much as it has happened in Hajipur. But when the caste scenario came up, I lost. Take Delhi. Delhi hasn’t seen less development, population has been going up and development has been rising proportionate to that. Let’s suppose the issue is Sheila Dikshit. If anyone has been the chief minister for 15 years, the least that person does is help his or her constituency. When Arvind Kejriwal stood up against Dikshit, everyone was wondering why he did so. And then she lost by 25,000 votes. Nitish used to get all the awards for development till about six months ago. What has happened in the last six months that everything seems to be going down? The development that has taken place earlier, there is no sudden shortcoming in that. So that means it didn’t really happen before. If it had, it is on.
Vandita Mishra: The Aam Aadmi Party says it has transcended caste and community. On the other side is Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi, who is calling an end to caste-based reservations. How do you look at this?
Whatever Dwivedi has said is not right. The society that has been suppressed for thousands of years… you can’t just get them to an equal level. The people who are lagging behind should be provided all types of amenities, and everyone from the Supreme Court to the Mandal Commission has said this. The tradition of caste-based reservation will go on. I have said many a time, to finish this caste-based reservation, leave 50 per cent of the seats to those in inter-caste marriages. There are institutions such as khap where if you marry outside your gotra, you’re hanged. This is the reality… This is a constitutional issue. Probably Dwivedi said this in the hope that it would make the upper castes happy.
The second issue is of Kejriwal. Take the examples of V P Singh and Kejriwal — you will find a lot of similarities. When V P Singh raised the issue of corruption, he become the darling of the entire country. There is no difference in terms of their simplicity. But it’s not just people of AAP who are simple, (for example) the leader of the Communist Party, Indrajit Gupta, who was the home minister… Even now members of the Left parties, they keep about one-fourth of their salaries, give three-fourth to the party. Kejriwal is not the only one. V P Singh was the darling; when he touched upon a crucial issue, the whole country turned upside down. What was that crucial issue? The Dalit issue.
No press person asks Kejriwal about his thoughts and stand on the issue of reservation. Are you talking about reservation according to economic status, caste-based reservation, or no reservation at all? Then there is the Hindu-Muslim issue. If you raise these two issues with Kejriwal, 60 per cent of his vote bank will leave the very same day. Either he won’t say anything, and if he does, it’ll just be a little this way and a little that way. But in these past one-and-a-half months, no one is asking him these questions, that’s why (he talks) ‘always speak the truth’, ‘do not steal’, ‘do not lie’ — who will have a problem with these?
Look at the ground reality, if you have 700 litres of water, then you have free 700 litres of water. But if it is 701 litres, you’ll be charged for everything. There is an old saying: chhoti lakeer ke saamne badi lakeer kheenchte chalo. Now there’s the Jan Lokpal. Ninety per cent people don’t understand what the Jan Lokpal is.
The Congress is a great party — you have got eight seats, begaani shaadi mein Abdullah deewane ho rahe hain! Now there’s a case against Sheila Dikshit and against the Petroleum Minister (Veerappa Moily). Kejriwal is filing a case against everybody, and all we hear is ‘we are supporting you, we are supporting you’. What is the Congress supporting him for?
The state has a Lokayukta, give him all the powers, who’s stopping you? But no, tomorrow we’ll say that the Assembly is also our Parliament, we’ll say that the PM isn’t ours, president is. What is the answer to all this?… The Jan Lokpal is a dangerous thing for democracy.
Does anybody here agree that police can enter somebody’s house in the middle of the night without even a search warrant because somebody has told them that there is a sex racket or drugs or smuggling racket that’s going on? And once you start ordering police about, will anybody be safe? You are a minister, and you are doing such a thing!… You are using a cannon to kill a mosquito. Take the Republic Day, the entire country is celebrating, and there you are at a protest, sleeping with a blanket… You are the chief minister and also an anarchist? How can that go side by side? This is not good for a healthy republic. Whenever he resigns, he’ll say, ‘Neither did the BJP let me work, nor did the Congress’. Stop his publicity in the media for some time. Whenever he gets some work done, speak up then. Let him work according to the law, according to the Constitution. And then the public can judge.
Vandita Mishra: Did you ask the Congress how they ended up in this situation?
Nobody there knows how the support came about. Congress leaders I have spoken to say it’s wrong.
Muzamil Jaleel: What if Modi becomes the PM?
He will not become the PM, so we should stop all talk about that. Which party will support him after the elections? The 275 goal is a very difficult one… Yes, a few seats will be saved, but I believe that the Congress, along with other parties, will stand in agreement. Now after that, if the government is formed, how it is formed, or if there will be an election again, that’s all in the future.
Shyamlal Yadav: The UPA is advertising a lot about the progress made by Dalits and minorities in the last 10 years.
There’s something called ‘act’, something called ‘fact’, and something called ‘tact’. A lot has happened in the act part, but the fact is far from it. Now how the government tactfully deals with this is completely up to the government. The people who have benefited from the reservation — the tribals, other classes — they haven’t benefited much. They’re zeroes in business, zero when it comes to land, they have no concrete houses. So, in total, the actual benefit they have received is in the form of government jobs. In that too, they haven’t got as many seats as they were supposed to.
D K Singh: Corruption is a national issue. Lalu Prasad has been convicted in the fodder scam. Are you wary of aligning with him?
It’s not a question of risk, the biggest thing is perception. After much thought we decided to go with the Congress because it was Rahul Gandhi who tore up the ordinance (protecting convicted leaders). They brought the Lokpal Bill.
D K Singh: Will the conviction of Lalu harm you?
It won’t harm us in Bihar, nor will it mean minus points.
Shyamlal Yadav: Do you think the time has come for the children of Dalits, especially those in Group A services, to be considered the creamy layer?
Even now there is a creamy layer. When we used to study, 100 per cent SC/ST children used to get a scholarship. Now even the son of a peon, who earns Rs 5,000-6,000, doesn’t get a scholarship. Suppose there are 12 seats and there are 15 contenders, then you could apply the creamy layer. But if out of the 12 seats, four seats are empty, then where is the question of creamy layer?
D K Singh: What should the government do on Telangana?
If the government has made an announcement on Telangana, it should get it passed. But the biggest thing is that the House has to be brought to order and the government has to guarantee that.
Y P Rajesh: Do you think there will ever be reservation in the private sector?
I don’t think so. Tell these private sector people to go and see all the channels. If there are four Whites, there will always be one or two Blacks. Look here, you will not find .001 per cent of SC people. There may be some in print media, there may be minority or backward class people… There’s no shortage of educated youth. They say that by employing them, their efficiency will go down and their system will face losses. Does that mean SC/STs are responsible for all the losses or for all the corruption?
Y P Rajesh: Did you talk to PM Manmohan Singh about this?
In every Cabinet meeting, we would fight with him. No one has any problem with this, but no one has any answers about how this should be achieved.
Rohit Alok*: Has your opinion of Raj Thackeray changed?
Nothing has changed. As far as Raj Thackeray goes, we don’t even consider him a political element. A man who creates havoc at toll booths or says something against the people of Bihar or Uttar Pradesh — all he wants is to court controversy and appear in the media. Let me talk about when I first became an MLA in 1969 and went to Mumbai for the first time. I wanted to see two things — one the people of Mumbai and the other the people of Kashmir. I used to feel both were unique. I used to think then and even now that it was a model place… In Mumbai, whichever road you took, there were crowds of people, men and women, everywhere. It was like a mini-India. No one used to be aware he was a Bihari, and whoever didn’t have a job used to run to Mumbai. Now once he reaches there, you raise questions about whether he is a Marathi or a non-Marathi and extinguish his drive to achieve, for petty political gains. This is despicable and I hold the state government responsible. It’s a Congress-NCP government and it has never taken bold action on this. I don’t know the reason for this. Bihar boys are killed and there is rowdyism there.
D K Singh: Until 2004, you were part of most of the non-Congress governments at the Centre. What changed?
Earlier, the state government and Central government would both be the Congress. The result was a non-Congress movement… Today, there is no BJP, there is the RSS. Today the RSS is backing Modi. If there was no BJP or RSS, the country’s politics would have been different. Then corruption would have been tackled in the right way. Are Muslims not fed up with high prices or corruption? Wherever the BJP has a government, aren’t the people fed up? But when elections come and you tell people that Modi is coming, and that Modi means anti-Muslim… Then when you talk of Hindus, is it a religion or a way of life? And it has castes… These things have helped the BJP and that is why there are two paths before the people. That is why there are fights among the regional parties, the Left, the Trinamool, the SP — all of whom say they are part of the secular front. So earlier the fight was between the Congress and non-Congress, now it is secular versus communal.
D K Singh: How did the Manmohan Singh government lose credibility?
A government is like an elephant. As long as someone is showing it the way, it travels the right way. But if the mahout is weak, the elephant goes its own way. Earlier, the Left was with UPA I and we were all playing the role of the mahout. In 2009, all the mahouts went away and the elephant started going its merry way… everyone pulled it towards its own direction. So whether it was Right to Food or Right to Information, good rules were made but others started taking credit for them.
Shyamlal Yadav: What are your plans for son Chirag?
Chirag will contest the Lok Sabha elections.
(Transcribed by Shantanu David and Nikita Puri * EXIMS student)