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Monday, November 23, 2020

Shaktisinh Gohil interview: ‘Jungle raj comment shows PM is rattled… Tejashwi has no baggage, he is not a baggage. Bihar has accepted him’

Senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil tells The Indian Express his assessment of Phase 1 voting, dismisses LJP, AIMIM threat to Grand Alliance votes, explains why the party is raising Munger violence issue emphatically in Delhi and Patna, and believes Congress will do well despite getting tough seats.

Written by Manoj C G | Updated: October 30, 2020 10:39:27 pm
Old hand, trusted by both Rahul, Ahmed Patel, is Congress choice for BiharSenior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil.

The first phase of voting is over in Bihar. What is your assessment?

The people of Bihar are very angry with the JD(U) and BJP. They want change at any cost. People have decided that the grand alliance will fulfil their hopes and aspirations. So, there has been positive voting. Those angry with the JD(U) and the BJP, a large section among them have not come out to vote…their voters… That is why the voting percentage has not gone up. But the voting has gone well for the Grand Alliance. We will do well in the first phase… The hardcore BJP voters, who were disappointed with the party, did not come out to vote. People who voted for the BJP last time and want change this time…they came out to vote in favour of the Grand Alliance.

Many believe the Opposition’s coalition would have been a winner had caste-based leaders such as Upendra Kushwaha (RLSP), Jitan Ram Manjhi (HAM) and Mukesh Sahani (VIP) were with you.

Every election has a lesson for political parties. After I became in charge (of Bihar), I saw two elections – the Lok Sabha polls last year and the by-elections to eight Assembly seats after that. Our experience was that the votes of Kushwaha, Manjhi and Sahani did not transfer to us during the Lok Sabha elections. We did not benefit… In fact we suffered losses. In the bypolls, the Congress and RJD fought alone without the others…and barring one seat, the alliance won all the seats. So, the understanding was that if their demands for seats are reasonable…then we can be together… Moreover, the Left parties are cadre-based, their votes get transferred and they will also remain with us. On the ground it seems it was a wise decision, and we are benefitting from it.

But Kushwaha has tied up with the AIMIM and other parties. In a tightly-contested election, won’t their votes become crucial? They could end up getting a share of the anti-NDA vote.

The voters of Bihar are much smarter than we think. This is the land of Chanakya. They call such parties, leaders and formations vote katwa. And the people of Bihar don’t vote for vote katwas. So they will not get many votes anywhere. People want change.

But Manjhi and Sahani have joined the NDA. Won’t the NDA benefit?

Our experience has been that their votes don’t get transferred… Even in 2015, they were all with the NDA. The NDA did not benefit then. In 2019, they were with us and we did not benefit.

The Prime Minister called Tejashwi Yadav the ‘prince of jungle raj’. How big a baggage is the poor perception of RJD’s 15-year rule for Tejashwi Yadav and the Grand Alliance? Lalu Prasad is missing from the posters of the RJD and the alliance.

This shows that the Prime Minister is rattled. You are the Prime Minister since 2014 and your party is part of the alliance that is in power in Bihar… Despite that you are not able to seek votes for your work…and you are going for personal attacks… It shows that either you are not getting votes for your work or you have done nothing for Bihar…Tejashwi has no baggage….and he is not a baggage…The people of Bihar have accepted him as a young leader and the crowds at his rallies are proof of that…Had you done something for Bihar, you would have been seeking votes for the work you have done. Tejashwi will take everyone along and the Congress knows how to govern… So the Congress’s experience in governance, a young enthusiastic leader who is leading it and the Left’s cadre…that is our strength.

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LJP may also draw the anti-Nitish votes. Will that damage your chances?

Chirag is in the hands of the BJP. The BJP has chirag (lamp) in one hand with which it wants to light up its house and scorch the JD(U)’s house and then put out the chirag. In the BJP’s other hand is (AIMIM chief, Asaduddin) Owaisi petrol bomb with which it wants to finish off secular leaders. But this tactics….their hidden agenda has now come out in the open. They have been exposed. And the people have started realising that the BJP has one gathbandan (alliance) and three thagbandhan…and the people have understood it clearly. The BJP believes Paswan voters are in their pocket…that they are BJP-NDA voters…but the Paswan voters are deserting them. If the BJP is not tacitly supporting Chirag Paswan to finish off JD(U)…then why is it not expelling LJP from the NDA. He is fighting against you and your alliance partner…Chirag kahte hain ke main toh Modi ha Hanuman hun, toh us Hanuman ki pooch main aag lagake Nitishji ke ghar pe kyun chhoda hai (Chirag says he is Modi’s hanuman. Why has the BJP lit that Hanuman’s tail and unleashed him on Nitish’s home).

The Congress has been emphatically raising the Munger issue in Delhi and Patna. You have compared Nitish Kumar to General Dyer…

Congress’s secularism is about respecting all religions. The original religion of India, Sanatan Dharma, talks about one god. It can be Allah, Ishwar, Jesus, but there is one supreme power. You respect that, that it our secularism. In Munger, it is a practise that the idol of Ma Durga is taken by 32 kawars for immersion. You must have seen the video…I have seen the video…there was no provocation from them. There was no reason (for police action). So, the jungle raj that Modiji talks about… This is jungle raj, which Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi are presiding over… We are just giving voice to the feelings of the people as a responsible political party. People in Munger and the rest of Bihar are outraged. It is our duty to raise the voice and feelings of the people.

The Prime Minister has attacked the Congress over Article 370. Some of your leaders have said that Article 370 should be restored. What is the party’s stand?

We are fighting the election on issues. We have a positive agenda. We have come out with a common programme… We want to restore Bihar’s pride. It was once a powerhouse of sugar production, horticulture. We will not deviate from issues of Bihar. The BJP wants to divert… They don’t want to talk about Bihar because they have destroyed the state…they want to change the agenda…We will not talk about foreign policy, Kashmir or any other issue…We will fight Bihar elections on issues of Bihar and we will force people to talk about issues of Bihar.

But in his first two rallies, Rahul Gandhi started his speeches talking about Chinese incursions. Did he upset your script?

That has a context. China is also a local issue because the soldiers who were martyred at the Chinese border were from the Bihar regiment. And our Prime Minister says no one intruded our territory…. He gave a clean chit to China…They used to talk about ten head for one head…and now they are happy banning some apps. So it is an issue.

Any possibility of a post-election tie-up with the LJP?

The mood of the people of Bihar and the blessings that we are getting from them…it is clear that we will not need any crutches from outside. The Grand Alliance will come to power on its own with full majority. It is the BJP… If you remember, in 2015, Amit Shah had said that if Nitish Kumar wins crackers will be lit in Pakistan (Shah had said if the BJP loses in Bihar by mistake, then victory-defeat will be in Bihar but crackers will be burst in Pakistan).. Modi had renamed JD(U) as “janata ka daman aur utpeedan” and Nitishji had called BJP “Bhadka Jhoota Party”…and Nitishji had vowed never to tie-up again with the BJP. What happened we all know. So they are the people who change sides after elections.

Many people are upset over selection of candidates and believe the RJD gave the Congress difficult seats.

Bihar is a politically vibrant state and everyone wants to contest elections. No party can satisfy everyone. And we had to take care of social engineering. We got 70 seats. I did not get seats of my choice. Some seats that I wanted went to allies. We had to factor in many criteria — winnability, social engineering, leaders had to be given tickets… We had to give representation to all castes, religions. We couldn’t satisfy everyone. But this is for the first time that there was not even one dharna at my party office. There are not many rebels. My my effigies were not burnt, my kurta was not torn. I am grateful to the Bihar Congress family that they have accepted the high command’s decision.

There is a talk that the Congress strike rate could pull the alliance down.

We had identified 95 seats and asked for 70 seats of that 95. Had we got 70 seats from that 95, our strike rate would have been much, much better. We had to remain with the alliance and the RJD being the largest party wanted everyone to be flexible and adjust a bit. So we did not get seats of our choice. But even then our strike rate will be good in the seats that we got. Even in the past, Congress was the only party in the Grand Alliance which won a seat in the Lok Sabha elections. We fought on 9 seats, and the Congress’s vote percentage was much better than other parties.

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