The first phase of campaigning in Bihar ends today. As state Congress president, what is your assessment?
I am not a soothsayer. However, seeing the mood of the people, the anger that they have against the government… I feel the people’s mandate will be in favour of the Opposition’s alliance (Grand Alliance). The anger is against both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The Central government has not fulfilled a single promise that it had made. It has deceived Bihar on multiple occasions. And, it is unfortunate that the Prime Minister is repeating lies. The common people are angry with Nitish for the way he handled…treated people during the pandemic. This anger is visible. And there is anger against the Bihar government over its handling of floods and failure to improve healthcare, education….find jobs for migrants who returned…providing security to the people.
How do you see the Chirag Paswan factor playing out in the elections?
His father Ram Vilas Paswan is not with us anymore. He could read the political situation well, and the secret of his success was that he used to calculate which way the wind was blowing. I think Chirag too has read people’s minds and taken a stand. It will be his first test, his litmus test… If he succeeds, I would say he too, like his father, has taken a decision after understanding people’s wishes and gauging their thinking. Sarkar ke paksh main rahte hue bhi sarkar ke khilaf stand liya (He took a position against the government despite being with the government).
If he has understood which way Bihar’s political wind is blowing, then is there also a possibility that his party’s presence will end up dividing the anti-Nitish and anti-government vote?
That is alright. The fire that is going to engulf this government…it (the LJP) has saved itself from it and has opted for a middle path. They will see both sides. They will tell the people that we have taken a decision in your favour…they will try to earn points saying that even while remaining with the (Central) government we have fought elections alone… But the people are very smart, smarter than us. Nowadays, they analyse everything and decide… All this will happen…but I believe people will take a decision in favour of the Grand Alliance.
Three parties left the Grand Alliance even before the campaign had begun. One party quit the alliance in the middle of a press conference. What happened, and could the situation have been handled in a better manner?
They are all respectable people. We were together during the Lok Sabha polls. Back then (in 2019), the delay in seat-sharing and the wrangling that happened… It caused a lot of damage. Be it (RLSP’s Upendra) Kushwaha’s voter (HAM’S Jitan Ram) Manjhi’s voter or (VIP’s Mukesh) Sahani’s voter… Their workers could not make a combination with us. We kept talking about seat-sharing but could not send out the intended message to the people… This time, we wanted things to happen smoothly, but that could not happen. Every leader is free to take their own decisions. But I don’t think it (their departures) will impact our votes.
But their presence could have made the Opposition’s alliance more credible and broad based?
See, if we could all remain together cordially in a friendly atmosphere, where both the people and the leaders felt that we are united and our goal is one — to oust the government – then staying together makes sense. But if we remain together just for individual interests…and if we can’t send a message to people that we are part of one alliance…then it is better for everyone to chart their own path.
Now, Upendra Kushwaha has tied up with the AIMIM, which is focusing on the Seemanchal belt. Will it hurt the Opposition’s chances?
See, everyone knows (AIMIM chief Asaduddin) Owaisiji acts as a B team of the BJP. He doesn’t fight against the BJP in his own state…and he comes here and is doing all this. People can be fooled once or twice but not permanently. They cannot be misled forever. So the voters that you are indicating…I don’t think even one vote will be divided. Yes, in some places there could be good candidates…usme jo ho jaye ho jaaye (there they can win), but voters understand the value of each vote and they will not waste any vote.
Why is Lalu Prasad missing from the RJD’s campaign posters as well as the Grand Alliance’s campaign banners and posters? Is it because you don’t want people to recall 15 years of RJD rule?
To have his picture or not doesn’t make any difference. I believe he is one of the strong pillars of the Grand Alliance… Lalu is above photographs… We don’t give suggestions to other parties…and I don’t think if we put up Lalu Prasad’s photographs it will affect our votes.
Many people in your party say there is unhappiness among Congress leaders over ticket distribution and selection of candidates…
We are contesting in 70 seats and there were 1,000 contenders who had expressed interest…So 930 people were deprived… Since it is a multi-party alliance, many of my good candidates could not get tickets… I could not field them… It is not a gadbadi, it is an adjustment in a way…It is not just our workers or those who wanted to contest who are saying this. I too feel, and so does the high command, that some people who have been working hard for the party were left out. They should have got a chance but it is because of the alliance that many people were deprived.
The unhappiness is also because the RJD has given the Congress difficult seats.
There is nothing like that. Everything was done with mutual agreement. Yes, there could be some seats which we both wanted to contest, some seats they may have taken and there are many seats which they wanted to contest…we tried and we got it…It was also done in a cordial manner. It is a five-party alliance…so naturally all your wishes cannot be fulfilled. Had it been eight parties, it would have been more difficult.
There is a perception all the Bihar leaders have been side-lined, and the Congress high command is micromanaging the elections? Is that true?
The AICC has always sent observers. It is not a new thing… We only made the committee (the election management and coordination committee). It was formed on the basis of our recommendations. And leaders from Bihar are there in all the committees. What happens is that normally there would be elections to many states together. So veteran leaders from outside the state used to be engaged elsewhere…and they were not able to give time (to Bihar). But now there are no elections elsewhere. We are thankful to the central leadership that it is giving us complete attention and time. There is involvement of local leaders at every level, every committee has local leaders. It is true that they (high command leaders) are spending a lot of time here, but that is good. Nothing wrong with it.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked the Congress after some of your big leaders supported restoration of Article 370. What impact will that have on the polls?
Modiji always tries to divert attention from issues. This is not an issue in Bihar. Here the issues are development, the pandemic, security, health, education, harassment of women. If you try to divert attention from issues…people have become very smart. Last time also he had done that but the people of Bihar had given a mandate against the BJP. This was at a time Modiji (popularity) was at his peak. This shows that voters of Bihar are very intelligent.
Is there a possibility of any post-poll arrangement with the LJP if the Opposition’s alliance falls short of numbers?
There is no question of falling short of numbers…We will get a comfortable majority and will form the government… Jo baad ki baat hai who baad main dekha jayega kya mamla hai (We will see what to do when the situation presents itself).