Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam, the party’s sole star campaigner from Maharashtra for the Bihar Assembly elections, speaks to Sandeep Ashar on how the reverse migration during the lockdown, actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and the Narendra Modi factor will play out in the polls.
Congress says the BJP is using actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death for Bihar polls. Has the case had an impact on the ground?
The actor’s death case has nothing to do with politics or Bihar elections. Unfortunately, parties are trying to exploit it for their own reasons. It is wrong. Prima facie it seems that the actor died by suicide. Even the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS, New Delhi) panel has said so. Nobody should make his death a part of electioneering. This is against basic election principles.
You were yourself critical of the way the Mumbai police handled the case.
I still feel that Mumbai Police should have shown more speed and created a perception that they were serious about the investigation. From an outside perspective, it did seem as if they were not serious about this. The actor’s followers took advantage of this and said it should be handed over to the CBI. I always said the Mumbai Police is the best force in the country when I spoke about it, but it looked as if they were under some pressure, whose I don’t know.
The stubbornness on the part of the Mumbai Police and (the Maharashtra) government initially, to not hand the case over, was not right. But the manner in which the Bihar’s top police officials tried to malign the Mumbai Police and tried to create a conflict, a standoff, wasn’t needed either. Both sides made it into an ego clash, which was avoidable and unexpected. It looked like a political battlefield and the police were fighting it out.
Mumbai Police recently arrested a Delhi-based lawyer for spreading fake news on the Sushant case. Congress has said it was a concerted political campaign. How do you see this?
This is a major challenge in front of administrators and investigation agencies. Eighty thousand fake accounts were created, YouTubers said whatever they wanted. At the end of the day, Sushant was defamed in the name of political benefit and those 80,000 accounts were responsible. These things can happen again. All parties should come together to nip these things in the bud. This should be investigated properly.
The elections appear to be a contest between regional satraps and the BJP. What role does the Congress see for itself?
We do not have any unrealistic expectations. We are not the prime contenders. You can say we are the number 2 party for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and will remain so till we rebuild the organisation. We are hoping to win 50 out of the 70 seats and play a role in the government formation. It is very difficult to predict Bihar elections, but the voter seems disenchanted.
Migration continues to be a major factor in Bihar.
A person like me had to migrate because the then Congress government didn’t focus on development. Then Lalu (Yadav) came in and migration rose further. Nitish came to power on the promise of development, but under his regime, Bihar’s per capita GDP has only slipped to the lowest in the country. Unemployment has risen. Migration hasn’t stopped. Industrialisation is slow. This is his biggest failure.
Post (coronavirus-induced) lockdown when there was reverse migration, the Bihar government reacted most irresponsibly. Nitish didn’t want people coming back. People were forced to walk for days, take auto, or cycles. The Bihar government had the worst record when it came to helping migrants.
How hurt is the Bihari migrant by all this?
The poor man is hurt. Even the Maharashtra government didn’t do much for them. But the Bihar government was most apathetic towards them. They (migrants) are also upset with the Centre. So many died during the reverse migration and this pain will come out in the form of votes and will go against those in power. The BJP and Nitish will face the brunt of this. There is also anger over mishandling of the floods.
How big a factor will PM Modi be?
This is a state election. Honestly, the Modi factor shouldn’t matter. But if they (the BJP) do bring him (Modi) in, it may even help us. This is first state election post the coronavirus lockdown. The past six months have been disappointing on the economic front. People are hurt. This election is as much a referendum on Modi’s post lockdown policies as it is on Nitish Kumar’s misgovernance.
What is Congress’s election strategy?
Underemployment and underdevelopment will be our main plank. Nitish Kumar had come to power promising change and development. But he has done nothing in the past 15 years. People want change. It will depend on how we capitalise on it. We will run a joint campaign with the RJD. A district-level coordination will be set up between the two parties and the Left to mobilise voters. The Congress star campaigners will visit constituencies of all our candidates.
After being side-lined post your Lok Sabha defeat, you now find yourself as a star campaigner, the only leader from Maharashtra.
Over the last year, there were some issues that had come up and I was vocal about it. But this is the beauty of Congress, it is a party with internal democracy and everyone can say things and yes, at times they say one shouldn’t say all this publicly, maybe I was too vocal but that was because I had no forum, no one was telling me anything or asking me anything, so I voiced what I could in the interest of the party.
The LJP has walked out of the JDU-led alliance but Chirag Paswan says he is Modi’s ‘Hanuman’. There is a talk that LJP is BJP’s B-team, how do you see this factor?
He is trying to be politically clever. But this does not work in Bihar’s politics. Voters want clarity. There is too much confusion here, he has quit and he says he is still with Modi. He will face a major loss. Numerically also, the LJP doesn’t have so many votes, it enjoys the support of a community. I feel it will be important to see whose votes they will undercut.
Why did the party go with Tejashwi Yadav as the face of the alliance?
The RJD is the main party of our alliance. The Congress and the Left have joined it. It was for the RJD to choose the chief ministerial candidate. They chose Tejashwi Yadav and the Congress has no issue with it. It is a fact that Tejashwi is not as strong or charismatic as his father (Lalu Yadav), but he is popular among the youth. Our party is 100% with him.
The RJD has an assured community vote. There is a definite demographic advantage.
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