LJP president Chirag Paswan speaks to DIPANKAR GHOSE & HARIKISHAN SHARMA on why the Bihar elections should be postponed, why he thinks the Nitish Kumar government has not tackled Covid well and the need for a Common Minimum Programme in the next govt. Excerpts
Why are you suggesting delaying the elections? Is there feedback from the ground?
At the end of the day, it is the Election Commission that has to take the decision. Having said that, it is the responsibility of every political party as well, because we are in touch with the masses, to give the correct picture to the EC. Which is why we gave in writing that we cannot put a large population in danger. After the code of conduct is in force, till voting, for four to six weeks, there is election campaigning, nukkad sabhas, rallies. It is beyond my understanding how this can happen with social distancing. Every public representative wants to meet as many people as possible. If in that effort, they do a rally with no social distancing and there is one mistake, then you will be putting a big population in danger. Aap jaan boojh ke logon ko maut ke mooh mein nahi daal sakte.
Have you discussed this with your allies?
Yes, I have discussed this with BJP national president J P Nadda. I told him very clearly that Bihar is not prepared for elections right now.
What did he say to you? JD(U) has said they are for elections, and have said the opposition is running away
Nobody is shying away from elections. Let me say this very clearly that Lok Janshakti Party is 100 per cent prepared on all 243 seats. But yes, we have our concerns because it is our responsibility as well. We are not there just to contest elections.
Do you believe the idea of virtual campaigning disadvantages some parties over others?
It is not about a disadvantage to a party. It is a disadvantage to a huge section of society that is economically backward. If you go to a village in Bihar, how many people have smartphones? How many people have internet access or understand technology? In a virtual meeting today the Bihar government organized to understand what is happening on Covid, only one from four MLA’s from Jamui could attend. And as a MP, I was there. When I asked the DM, he said that possibly they are not comfortable with this technology, so they were not able to join.
There are going to be multiple measures for both houses of Parliament when it opens. Do you believe it is unfair that there are so many precautions here, but that is impossible in an election on the ground?
Of course yes. You cannot do this bhed bhaav. Just because you are a public representative, or you are an MP. Even in the Vidhan Sabha that is being held, there was social distancing. If you are taking so many precautions for MPs and MLAs, and just because they are common people, you cannot put them in risk knowingly. Our constitution gives us ways around this. After all, bypolls were delayed by the Election Commission. Why can’t there be President’s rule for six months?
Lakhs of migrants have walked home, Covid numbers are rising, there are floods to deal with. How has the government tackled this crisis in the last five months?
Could have been much, much, much better. On floods, we see the same pictures every year. The present Chief Minister has an experience of 15 years, and has been seeing this for fifteen years. What has changed? I have repeatedly written about the linking of rivers that we should bring. I can predict that this time next year, it will be exactly the same. On Covid-19, testing is next to nothing, there were terrible reports from quarantine centres. There is not a day when there are not bad images from hospitals.
What would you have done differently? Would you have brought back returning migrants with more immediacy?
To begin with, on migrant labour, I had said very strongly that you have to bring them back. They are people from our state. You cannot see them walking and dying on the street. Our Chief Minister constantly said that because of the lockdown they are not giving us permission. But at the same time, the UP CM Yogi Adityanath was sending buses. Why did our Chief Minister leave people on the streets to die? When he had taken oath fifteen years ago, he had said that his dream was that within four months, every Bihari migrant should come back. Fifteen years later, this was then a golden opportunity.
Will this be part of your campaign?
If you look at Kota. Many of the students there are Bihari, the teachers are Bihari. Why can’t there be more coaching centres in Bihar? Crores of rupees per year go to these coaching institutes. This revenue that we can save, we don’t. IT jobs are going away. That money that is spent outside can be kept in Bihar. But for that you have to open an IT sector, invite investors, give them a one-stop window. That you are not doing. When we talk of the Ram Mandir, why can’t such a temple be built in Sitamarhi? There is so much scope in Gaya that you can make it world-class. Religious tourism can be a revenue generating sector.
All of this that you are saying sounds more like an opposition leader, and less like an ally. What is your reading of your alliance with the JDU and the BJP?
I have always been saying Bihar first Bihari First, and when I travelled through the state, even then my statements are seen with anger. They say I am questioning my own government. First things first, I have no government in Bihar. Let me be very clear. The LJP is not a part of the government in Bihar. We have no minister in the government. Till there was, I had a platform to make my suggestions reach the cabinet. Since our minister fought the Lok Sabha elections and became MP, we have no minister. Yes I support the Bihar government because I have an alliance with the BJP. At the Centre, I am supporting them. But you have shut all windows. You do not answer the phone. You don’t reply to letters. I am only giving suggestions. There is so much crime against women but it is surprising that other than district headquarters, you will find no women policemen in Bihar at all.
How long has communication been shut with the Chief Minister?
Since I started this Bihar first, Bihari first yatra. I started in October, November last year. Since then, I have not spoken to him. On the Sushant Singh Rajput matter, for the first time after so long I spoke to him for ten minutes. But that was only on Sushant.
So can we see a new CM face in Bihar?
Honestly, I am not looking at who becomes Chief Minister. My concern is that whatever government is formed next, if an NDA government is made, or a government is made where the LJP is part of it, then there needs to be a Common Minimum Programme. This is the tradition of every coalition government. This time it hasn’t happened because overnight the Chief Minister left Mahagatbandhan and joined NDA. The agenda is the one of the Mahagathbandhan that is operating. That is a reason to worry for me. If work is happening on ‘saat nischay’, then whose agenda is that? An agenda made by Congress, JDU and RJD. I want my own agenda. Even on CAA-NRC, whatever the Centre proposed, he (Nitish Kumar) passed a resolution against that in Vidhan Sabha. Tomorrow, in another government if I am ignored, or no agenda of mine is included, why would I be part of that government?
So a Common Minimum Programme before the polls?
Of course before polls, post polls who has seen. If nobody is asking now, who will ask then?
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