Updated: February 20, 2015 10:19:47 am
Ahead of Friday’s trust vote in the Bihar assembly, the political spotlight has shifted back to Nitish Kumar, former chief minister, who had installed Jitan Ram Manjhi in his place nine months ago. Nitish now seeks to return but Manjhi has dug in his heels. In this interview in Patna, Nitish describes what went wrong in their relationship and why he holds the BJP responsible for the crisis, about the Narendra Modi government’s nine months in power and the resonance of Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi victory in Bihar.
What do you think will happen on Friday?
The BJP is choreographing the crisis behind the scenes and the governor has given it the opportunity to do so. But there are only five parties in the assembly — JD(U), RJD, Congress, CPI and BJP. Of these four are on one side, against the BJP, which is batting for Manjhi. But which party does Manjhi represent? Which is the party in government in Bihar? After all, ours is a parliamentary democracy, and the party is at its centre. The JD (U) has already expelled Manjhi.
The BJP is only blocking a smooth transition of power in Bihar. They want a crisis-like situation and President’s rule. They won’t be able to do it, but that’s what they want. I have got support from parties even other than the Janata Parivar. Mayawati has given a statement, and so has Mamata Banerjee and the Shiv Sena. There is widespread opposition to the BJP gameplan, even its own allies are against it.
What was the breakpoint? Did you finally ask Manjhi to quit because he fired two of your favoured ministers?
No, these are not turning points, they are minor, ordinary things. I finally got ready to come back (as chief minister) because of the events on February 7, when the JD(U) president called a meeting of the legislature party. I met Manjhi that morning and asked him to attend the meeting in the evening to discuss the performance of his government. He expressed unease, said that the rumour in the political marketplace was that he would be asked to step down. I assured him he would not be replaced and asked him to take an hour, think it over. He called a cabinet meeting and took authorisation for the dissolution of the assembly. That was the moment of decision for me. I had won the mandate but I had given him my government. But he also wanted the party. He wanted it to do as he says. It’s not wrong to trust, Manjhi’s is an unprecedented betrayal.
It was said that you held the remote control in the Manjhi government.
There were only three occasions when I asked Manjhi to do something as chief minister [including asking him to attend the legislature party meeting]. I had asked him to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as PM, and then, when the Yojana Aayog was being targeted by the Modi government, I asked him to advocate its reform instead of dismantling. Before that, when I made him chief minister, I told him there is a roadmap of governance in place, he should work on its implementation. And that he should keep his family away from the government. But he began behaving as if there is no continuity in government, as if he was providing an alternative. And everyone knows what happened on the second count.
Has Arvind Kejriwal’s victory in Delhi encouraged your bid to return as chief minister?
There is no link between the two events. The AAP is a new political party that is trying to work with a new political culture. It has won a historic victory, defeating the BJP in its own bastion. Kejriwal and his team worked and won the people’s trust while the BJP ran a negative campaign and, in a panic reaction, put up Kiran Bedi. In Bihar, however, the mandate was for me in 2010. After I separated from the NDA, I still had the majority. But after the Lok Sabha polls, I felt hurt, I gave up. But then I saw that the government was deteriorating, Manjhi was making controversial statements, and law and order was worsening. The BJP was putting all the blame on me. Even the people were saying, we voted for you, why did you leave? There was pressure on me from the BJP, the party, and the people.
I began to feel that if there is no change of leadership now, even the [Janata Parivar] merger will not help. The mandate was mine, so I accepted that though resigning as CM was a sentimental decision then, it was not a good decision in today’s context. I had thought my mandate was weakened [by the Lok Sabha setback’ but I have realised that it was my samajh ki chook, a misperception. And then the BJP started to play mischief. The governor gave more time for the floor test even though earlier he had accepted the JD(U) demand that it should be held early before the budget session. Manjhi met the PM, the pressure came from Delhi and now the BJP is openly supporting Manjhi even though not so long ago, the BJP used to say that he presides over Jungle Raj 2.
You had walked out of your alliance with the BJP in Bihar because you said, then, that Narendra Modi’s elevation as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate was a threat to country’s secular fabric. This week, Modi made a speech in which he promised that his government would protect the freedom of faith. Does it signal a new moment?
If he has spoken after nine months, it’s because he has been forced to speak, because of international pressure. US President Barack Obama came here and spoke of religious tolerance and then he went back to Washington and talked of how Gandhi would have been shocked by the intolerance in India today. Modi’s speech is a post-Obama visit phenomenon. The question is, why didn’t he speak so far? His ministers have been saying “Ramzadon vs haramzadon”, and there has been talk of “love jihad” and “ghar wapsi”. Yet, all this while, even after churches were attacked in Delhi, Modi said nothing.
As far as the constitutional framework is concerned, what he has said now should have been his position as PM on Day 1. This is raj dharma, not any personal favour or a matter of discretion. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has again defended the ghar wapsi campaign at a shivir in Kanpur. Till the Sangh Parivar keeps stoking religious intolerance, there is no meaning to what Modi says.
Modi’s vote in 2014 was made up of two components. One, an aggressive Hindutva ideology. Even in the Delhi election, 70,000 RSS cadres worked openly for the BJP. We know how they work at ground level, stoking religious polarisation. The second part of Modi’s vote was made of the dream he sold —of vikas or development, jobs, the return of black money. But the mainstay of his appeal was the division along religious lines and the propaganda that Hindus are divided and have somehow been cheated in their own country. The rest is only jumlebaazi or empty wordplay. What does “smart city” mean, or the “NITI aayog”? How will it work? What will be the new institutional structure, mode of decision-making? Do you want to import a failed model of a market economy and do away with the planned economy? How will you ensure justice and inclusion with growth?
Kejriwal’s victory in Delhi is being portrayed as a breakthrough, as one outside the traditional political frameworks of “secularism” or “social justice”. Do you think it is a portable model?
Kejriwal has said he will concentrate on Delhi. So we will see his politics in action there. It is premature to draw larger conclusions, we should not overanalyse the AAP’s victory. I wish the AAP good luck but Delhi is a different case. The AAP raised everyday issues of bijli and paani and it resonated with the people because away from the good roads and flyovers, there is a different, dirty city — even our villages are not as bad as the slums in Delhi. So, they raised issues that affect people’s daily lives and cutting across castes, they got the vote. There was also the issue of dual control and full statehood.
And the Anna movement against corruption had set the stage, which had also appealed to the middle classes. They were also helped by the BJP’s personal attacks during the campaign. It is a new type of politics but it remains to be seen whether it will last, how far it will go. If they think caste and creed doesn’t matter, it will take more than one election victory to prove it. Look at how the Dera Sacha Sauda turned the election in Haryana. One of the factors in the Delhi polls was also that the BJP alienated the Jats by choosing a non-Jat as Haryana CM.
What has been the stumbling block in the merger of parties of the erstwhile Janata Parivar?
In principle, all of us are agreed on the need for a merger. But everyone needs time to build a consensus within their parties. The merger is also an emotional issue, not just a political one. Parties have established structures and dismantling them will not be easy. We face a bigger threat today. We need to come together against the BJP. We need floor coordination in Parliament on three issues: black money, employment, and protecting farmers’ rights over their land. The land acquisition ordinance must be supposed for doing away with the consent clause for more categories and social impact assessment. All this — smart city, industrial corridors — is only a real estate business. I did not even allow an SEZ in Bihar because it will only benefit middlemen and the industrialists.
You have been a longtime critic of the Congress. Yet, at a time when it seems to be in clear decline, you have tied up with it in your state. The crisis is there, but there is maturity too. It is such an old party, it will survive. They are undergoing a fundamental manthan or organisational churning. It would be a mistake to rule out the Congress, they are still a force. Today, the BJP has replaced the Congress, and we have to fight the BJP. The Congress action was not as per its ideology, and its economic policy went astray. But the BJP’s basic ideology is divisive. And now that it is a ruling party, it can cause more damage. This is the time to be alert.
You tied up with Lalu Prasad last year. How has it been, being together after so many years of fighting each other?
Because we face a common threat from the BJP, we have to unite, make compromises. In 20 years of being apart, we have developed different habits. We are habituated to criticising each other. We have to change our habits.
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