Nitish Kumar’s silence on the CBI’s raids on properties linked to Lalu Prasad’s family, has given the BJP hope of wooing back its old ally. The JD(U) chief’s endorsement of demonetisation and his party’s support for the NDA’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, have only worked to strengthen those hopes. BJP leader and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who has worked extensively with Nitish Kumar, is closely watching his former colleague’s every move, and waiting to see if he breaks away from the Grand Alliance
LIZ MATHEW: Is your mission in Bihar complete now?
In politics there is no rest. We have exposed many things but I think, at least, 40 per cent still remains to be exposed. I know Lalu Prasad for the past 45 years, we were in the same university and students’ union. From the very beginning, corruption, criminals, anti-social elements… he feels much more comfortable in the company of such people. Nailing Lalu Prasad in a corruption case is not very difficult. He is very casual in his approach.
LIZ MATHEW: So did people from the JD(U) help you in getting documents against Lalu Prasad?
Some people in the JD(U), who are in the present government, helped us with papers; also some bureaucrats. See, if people from inside the government do not help, so many things would not have been revealed. (Modi had recently levelled serious allegations of corruption against RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his family, which was followed by a CBI FIR and raids on properties linked to them).
LIZ MATHEW: Many in your party do not seem to be in favour of your move to isolate Lalu Prasad. Even in the Bihar unit, many of your party colleagues do not seem to be happy about it.
That is not true. Without the support of the Central government, nobody can go to this extent. I have held more than 30 press conferences in the past three months and I still have enough material to hold 20 more. Like I said, it is not very difficult to nail Lalu Prasad. He may not even remember the official names of his children. He doesn’t know how many properties he has. About one dozen properties have been gifted to his family members.
RAVISH TIWARI: Lalu Prasad has said that the CBI raids are a political witch-hunt, and that the BJP is colluding with the CBI in the case.
All the documents are in the public domain. The CBI has also accessed them and is doing its job.
LIZ MATHEW: But the perception is that since Lalu Prasad was the main reason behind the BJP’s defeat in the Assembly elections in Bihar, you are now working to break up the Grand Alliance between the JD(U), RJD and the Congress.
The BJP never tries to break any alliance. They (Grand Alliance) have a mandate for five years and if they want to continue they can. Who are we to break it? But, if the alliance breaks due to corruption and criminals, then we are not responsible for it. As a responsible political party, it is our duty to expose the misdeeds of the party in power. We got some documents that informed us about some corruption cases. Should we then remain silent? So we began to expose it.
RAVISH TIWARI: So what is your position? Are you in favour of giving outside support to Nitish Kumar?
Lalu Prasad will be the last person pulling down this government. The Congress is not going to leave the alliance, and Lalu Prasad is not going to leave the alliance, then where is the question of the BJP coming to support from outside or inside or anywhere else? If there is such a situation, then the party will think. But according to me, this government will not fall.
RAVISH TIWARI: But was it you and the BJP that showed the way to the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI to investigate Lalu Prasad and his family?
There are a lot of paths where they have not gone yet. In 1996, when the fodder scam was exposed, Lalu’s favoured government was at the Centre. If the high court had not given the CBI orders to investigate, then Lalu would have been set free.
Now the NDA government is at the Centre, and they will pick up the case when such documents are revealed. The important thing is that whatever action is taken, it is done on the basis of merit. And who will see the merit in the case? It has to be me, right? Lalu Prasad will only say vendetta, that I have been framed, Dalit ka beta (son of a Dalit), gareeb ka beta (son of a poor man). He will only give these responses because he has no other answer.
VANDITA MISHRA: Nitish Kumar supported demonetisation and the surgical strikes. More recently, he backed the NDA’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind. How do you read Nitish Kumar?
Whether it is Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu or Mayawati, at some point in time they have all worked with the BJP. And when they separated from the BJP, there must have been many different reasons for it.
The same Nitish Kumar, in 1974, when the RSS and the ABVP (were fighting against the Emergency), was in the JP movement and worked along with us. He was working with the Jan Sangh (predecessor of the BJP) movement between 1974-80. He went away in 1984 but returned in 1996… When they want to go away, they cite secularism. They have nothing to do with ideology, it’s a politics of convenience.
I think Nitish Kumar supported demonetisation because the public sentiment was in its favour. Then the BJP supported the alcohol ban in Bihar. To implement it is next to impossible but the public sentiment is in favour of prohibition.
The reason he (Nitish Kumar) supported Ram Nathji… You never know who will be of help and when. Even Lalu Prasad, when he became the chief minister, he could do so because of the BJP’s support.
COOMI KAPOOR: You have worked very closely with Nitish Kumar. What was the experience like?
I will write about the experience after 20 years because if I explain right now, it will give rise to much confusion. The only thing I will say is that Nitish Kumar was always comfortable in the company of the BJP and he was most comfortable when he was the railway minister under Vajpayee (in the A B Vajpayee government from 2001-2004). That was the golden period of his political career.
He was with the BJP for 17 years from 1996 to 2013, whatever he has achieved, either as a CM — now he is not a good CM, he is losing ground — or whatever he has achieved because of his good governance, was from his working with the BJP
LIZ MATHEW: Was he comfortable with you as deputy chief minister?
He was not only comfortable with Sushil Modi, he was comfortable with the BJP. We never created any obstacle for them in running the government. There was convergence when it came to issues… anti-Congressism is in his blood. His father was in the Congress but he left it (to join the Janata Party). Nitish’s entire politics has been anti-Congress, and he separated from Lalu Prasad after a fight in 1993. When he became the chief minister, he worked against Lalu Prasad. He knows Lalu Prasad, the Congress and BJP. Who will join whom, only the future will tell us.
ANAND MISHRA: In 1996, when you had raised the fodder scam, Nitish Kumar became the default beneficiary. Now it is being perceived that if Lalu Prasad gets cornered, it will be easier for Nitish Kumar to run the government. Why are you helping Nitish Kumar so much?
We are not helping anyone or opposing anyone, we do straight politics and when issues and documents surface, we expose them, irrespective of who will lose or gain. Nitishji has not benefited, the BJP has benefited. When Nitish Kumar became chief minister in 2005, both the BJP and JD(U) had exposed corruption and fought together. And, it wasn’t just Nitish Kumar who benefited from the fodder scam, it was also the BJP. With all that is happening in Bihar right now, the BJP will be the biggest beneficiary.
Look at the crimes in Bihar — there is land grabbing, exploitation of the poor… A large number of RJD supporters are troubling people, so there will be polarisation against Lalu Prasad. There will be only one kind of news coming out of Bihar in the next two-three years – benami land, CBI case, chargesheet, jail, bail, release. There will a series of court dates; Lalu Prasad will have to make trips to Ranchi and Tejashwi Yadav and Rabri Devi will have to go to Delhi and explain things. These things will go on and that is what is going to make the image of this government.
ANAND MISHRA: Is there a realisation in Bihar’s BJP unit that you have reached the maximum votebase in the state and, without an alliance or face, the BJP can’t come to power on its own?
That is not the case; the BJP can come to power on its own. If we get an ally — Ram Vilas Paswan, Jitan Ram Manjhi — why not? In fact, there was a JD(U) meeting a few days ago where only two people opposed the prospect of an alliance with the BJP. We received the information through the media.
JD(U) workers and supporters have been with the BJP for years and have seen how amicable and comfortable the relationship is. Now that they are working with the RJD — the Congress is nothing — it is difficult for them to stay, work and survive. But the call has to be taken by Nitish Kumar.
There are no talks of the government collapsing and, according to me, this government will survive for six-eight months to one year, but it can’t complete its full term. If the situation arises, the BJP’s Central Parliamentary Board can deliberate and take a decision. The state BJP doesn’t have any opinion on this. When the situation arises, we will see.
Being the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar has not come out to defend Lalu’s family. Lalu’s supporters — we have got feedback from the ground — are angry with the BJP, but they are angrier with Nitish Kumar. A fight has started. Will Nitish Kumar wait for the chargesheet to be filed? We will have to wait and see.
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: In the past few months, there has been turbulence in two major non-BJP states, Bihar and West Bengal. How do you see the next two years unfolding before the 2019 general elections?
I won’t be making any comment on what is happening in Bengal, even though it is our neighbouring state.
We are preparing for 2019 everyday, that is our job. If we hold meetings or organise protests, it is all to prepare the ground for the next election — whether it is the 2019 (general elections) or 2020 (Assembly elections).
AAKASH JOSHI: If you come back to power in Bihar, will the BJP put its ideological issues aside to work with the JD(U) again?
If I have to say it in one line: Nitish Kumar was with the BJP after the Godhra riots. It was a big issue and was covered by the media as well. At the time, he was the railway minister and Godhra riots started due to an accident in the bogie of a train. He was with the BJP then and even after that. I think this is enough to understand his position.
VANDITA MISHRA: Before the 2014 elections, Yogi Adityanath was spearheading the love jihad campaign. I remember talking to you and you said, and we had reported that too, that the kind of things he is saying in UP, we won’t say those kind of things in Bihar. Now that he is the Chief Minister of UP, how do you see him?
I have been observing him for the past three months and his performance has been above expectation. I have seen his mass appeal. He has had only one public meeting outside UP, in Darbhanga, recently. It was a test for both Yogi Adityanath and the BJP, to see what kind of crowd comes for it, what is the response like etc. More than 40,000 people came despite heavy rain. The whole ground was full of water and they were chanting ‘Modi, Modi’ and ‘Yogi, Yogi’.
In three months, he has worked without triggering any controversy. He is an experienced person, has been in the Lok Sabha, and I feel he is one of the best performing chief ministers of UP.
RAVISH TIWARI: Do you want to shift to national politics?
I have been a Lok Sabha member from Bhagalpur in 2004, and had won by over 1.5 lakh votes. I was also the BJP’s national vice-president, and national secretary in 1996. Who works where is decided by the party, it is not based on our ambitions. Wherever the party wants one to work, he works there.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: The present atmosphere in the country — there have been controversies over eating beef, there have been lynchings over alleged cow-slaughter — if this continues, will it be advantageous for the BJP in 2019 or will it damage the party’s prospects?
The Prime Minister has condemned it and the BJP too has taken a stand on mob lynchings. These things cannot be justified and no political party can do it. Whichever government is in power, it does everything in its capacity to prevent such incidents.
During the anti-Sikh rights, there were lynchings… No government wants this but the administration failed to contain the sentiment of the people and 1,000 people died. What can one say about that? Whether it is in the name of the cow, beef or a theft — mob lynching cannot be justified and it shouldn’t be.
There hasn’t been any such incident in Bihar. I don’t know about the impact it has had on the rest of the country. The BJP is against such lynchings, it has never encouraged such politics. There are some bad elements in society who are doing this in the name of gau raksha; that is what the Prime Minister said.
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: You said that the Prime Minister and the BJP have condemned lynchings in the name of the cow, but many BJP members can be seen justifying and promoting it on social media.
I use the social media but I haven’t seen anyone using the BJP’s name to say such things. I haven’t seen statements by any district head or state head of the BJP. If that is the case, please inform us and we will investigate. We have crores of members.