As Bihar prepares for second phase of polling on November 3, Union Minister and the BJP MP from Patna Sahib Ravi Shankar Prasad speaks to The Indian Express about why he believes Nitish Kumar-led NDA will return to power in Bihar, dismisses RJD’s development pitch as populist posturing, asserts BJP has made its position clear on Chirag Paswan, and insists his party will never join hands with the RJD.
What makes you confident that the Nitish Kumar-led NDA will return to power in Bihar?
The reasons are very obvious. One is the performance of the Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar, and the commitment of the Prime Minister for that state — without development of Bihar, India cannot grow… From Araria to Supaul, there is absence of fear. People are contrasting (Nitish Kumar’s 15-year regime) to what happened before (during the RJD rule). I ask one question during my poll campaign. Could people have moved freely with their smartphones during Lalu’s rule. Most people say that their phones could have been snatched… People of Bihar have big aspirations and now there is an urge for more. They know who can satisfy that urge.
But does anti-incumbency make the NDA nervous?
Not the least. I am ready to acknowledge that there is some fatigue factor. But while campaigning, I see people connecting very well with us. The PM has made very powerful speeches, comparing the present and previous regimes, asking people if they wanted Bihar to be relegated to the BIMARU status again.
Tejashwi Yadav appears to be banking more on development politics than his father’s plank of social justice politics.
With populist posturing, can you disown your legacy? I would ask a counter question: Why do RJD posters not carry pictures of his (Tejashwi’s) father and mother, who ruled Bihar for 15 years. He knows. He is apprehensive that if he puts up their pictures on hoardings, all those fears, police inaction…would return to people’s memory.
What do you make of Tejashwi’s promise of 10 lakh jobs for residents of Bihar?
During 15 years of Lalu-Rabri rule, only 95,000 jobs were given. In comparison, Nitish Kumar’s government gave jobs to six lakh people and also appointed three lakh teachers. We have 1.5 crore Jeevika workers, and we are planning to add another one crore. In our Common Service Centres, about 2.5 lakh boys and girls are engaged. As we are laying optical fibres across the state, it would create more job avenues… Isn’t there an IIT in Bihar, the Chanakya Law University and Chandragupta Institute of Management? I am talking about comparisons.
But Tejashwi’s rallies have been drawing in large crowds.
His support base does come (to his rallies). I have no problem. There were similar crowds (for the Grand Alliance) in last year’s Lok Sabha election as well, when I too was contesting. What happened? They got only one seat. What is important is that the NDA is a powerful combination in terms of the BJP also being in power at the Centre, and it also has a formidable social combination.
Why do you think Nitish Kumar is facing public anger at his rallies?
If some 10-15 people in crowd of 25,000 creates ruckus it looks like it is part of some design. If 99 per cent people have come to listen to the CM and some are creating problems, and TV channels are focussing it, I am apprehensive that it could be part of some game plan.
Why doesn’t the BJP clear the air on the LJP and Chirag Paswan?
LJP is a Bihar-based party. It has been knocked out of the NDA in Bihar. Nitish Kumar is our CM candidate and it has been made clear by our top leaders, right from the PM to the Union Home Minister to the BJP national president. Nitish Kumar is the CM candidate and LJP is not a part of the alliance which has the VIP and HAM (S) apart from the BJP and JD (U). So, there has been no ambiguity on Chirag.
Can PM Narendra Modi help the NDA win these polls, given that there is anger against the Nitish Kumar government?
I disagree that Nitish Kumar has not been inspiring confidence. PM Narendra Modi is committed to development of Bihar. He often talks about equitable growth and stresses that if India has to grow, its Northeastern and eastern states need to grow faster. Bihar with a population of over 10 crore needs to even grow more. When the PM was announcing optical fibres for six lakh villages of India, I stressed that I want to do it on a large scale in Bihar. He immediately gave the go-ahead for it.
But what about people’s anger over poor management during the early days of the pandemic?
The Central government distributed foodgrains among 80 crore Indians during the lockdown. Covid-19 is a once-in-a-100-year challenge. Still, we tried to measure up to the task. Our Covid-19 recovery rate is very good, especially in Bihar. Bihar government also gave Rs 1,000 each to 1.6 crore people.
Can’t some of the 40 lakh migrants who returned to Bihar be encouraged to stay back?
There are two ways to look at it. If people from Bihar go outside and excel in their chosen fields, it gives us a sense of pride. If people from Banka excel in making Biryani in Hyderabad, can we stop them from doing so? It is a matter of pride. But we are doing a lot for skilling people. Laying of optical fibres would create more job avenues at rural levels.
Is the PM now conducting more rallies than the 12 planned earlier?
It is up to the party to take a call on this. Twelve rallies are also good enough. We are also giving our message strongly through social media and conventional print and electronic media about our strengths and vision.
Do you see the JD (U), RJD and Congress come together in case of a hung House?
No. The way RJD functions, it cannot happen. RJD does not suit Nitish Kumar temperamentally. One has seen how he fell out with Lalu in less than 18 months. But the RJD and Congress can fall out after polls.
Any chance of the BJP and RJD coming together?
(Laughs) This question cannot be addressed to someone who had been instrumental in exposing corruption of Lalu Prasad. So many strange things have happened in politics since 1990 but the BJP and RJD can never come together.
Finally, is Chirag the story of this election, despite how many seats the LJP wins?
Chirag is contesting separately. I have nothing more to say. He has chosen his own path.
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