Since the NDA split in Bihar, former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi has been playing on Narendra Modi’s image and background to take on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. In this interview, the BJP legislature party leader discusses the party’s election strategies:
How is the BJP so confident of outperforming Nitish Kumar, unchallenged as he has been for eight years?
All poll surveys have indicated as much. Nitish may be dismissive of these surveys, but the fact remains that the people want a stable government at the Centre under the leadership of Narendra Modi. They have largely started believing that voting for the JD(U) will mean little in the Lok Sabha as Nitish is at best working as a B team of the Congress.
Why do you feel the stock of Nitish Kumar, the face of development until recently, has fallen so sharply in the eight months since the NDA split?
This is not an assembly election where Nitish could have flaunted his development image. This is the Lok Sabha and Nitish is not a PM candidate. The majority of voters are unconvinced by his image of “secular on second thoughts”. After all, he had been with us for 17 years. There is a general feeling among the people that Nitish has betrayed the 2010 mandate by snapping ties with us.
Does the spurt of communal clashes since the split signify a polarisation?
There is no clear hint of polarisation yet but Nitish has been trying to vitiate the atmosphere by instilling a sense of fear in the people. He rakes up secularism at every public speech and attacks Narendra Modi, whom he is afraid of. The recent rise in communal clashes (87 incidents between June and December 2013 as against 24 during the corresponding period of 2012) shows how he has lost control after parting ways with us.
But it is Nitish who has been playing up the demand for special-category status for Bihar.
It is a charade. I want to ask why the state has been able to realise investment only of Rs 5,000 crore in eight years when we had received proposals worth Rs 3 lakh crore. So many prospective investors have returned because we were unable to provide them land. So, special status alone is not enough. We too support that demand but have gone a step further by demanding special assistance of Rs 50,000 crore.
Is the BJP seeking to bring caste politics back by playing up Narendra Modi’s EBC and tea vendor backgrounds?
We believe people from all sections will vote in Narendra Modi’s name. It is true we have been talking about his humble background, his tea vendor roots and how his mother washed utensils for a living. It is true OBCs and EBCs constitute a large section of Bihar, and there is nothing wrong in talking about the majority and trying to find a connect with them with moves such as NaMo tea and chai pe charcha.
So you think the EBCs (32 per cent of the vote) can play the decider?
I am not saying that. But it has been a trend that most of the 130-odd EBC castes have voted against the establishment . That said, we are looking at an umbrella of voters beyond caste and religion rallying behind NaMo.
Whom do you see as your main challenger?
It is certainly the upcoming RJD-Congress-LJP alliance. That combination will have an advantage over the JD(U) in trying to get the so-called secular votes. Lalu Prasad, whose vote base has not completely eroded, will try to reap the benefits of a triangular contest. As for Nitish, he cannot convince the minorities about his secular credentials. And if he tries to take credit for launching welfare schemes for Muslims, we will rush to claim equal credit.
What have you been doing to market the Narendra Modi factor?
At every public meeting, we ask people who have worked in Gujarat to raise their hands. We call one of them onstage; they talk about Gujarat’s good roads, employment opportunities, law and order. We have been also telling people that since neither Lalu nor Nitish is going to be PM, they should vote for Modi rather than waste their vote.
What is your view of the proposed third front and Nitish’s role in trying to build it?
This front is also coming up to help the Congress. Eight of its 14 parties have supported the Congress in the past and there is no guarantee they will not do so again. It is important that voters assess the JD(U)’s role in the next government. The third front is a last-minute union of disgruntled leaders with high personal ambitions.
Do you see the Aam Aadmi Party cutting into your votes?
I do not see any AAP effect in Bihar. It takes some time to set up an organisational structure. The party does not have a Bihar face either. Former minister Parbeen Amanullah has just joined and will need time to create an impact.
No. We don’t want this government to fall. We don’t have the numbers to form a government. Nitish is attacking the Congress, which stands exposed by continuing to support the JD(U).