How do you assess the NDA’s position in Bihar after three rounds of polling?
We are well placed and can do better than 2014. We will win over 35 seats in Bihar.
But the Opposition seems equally confident.
The Grand Alliance is in complete disarray. Tejashwi Yadav (RJD leader and Leader of Opposition) is not sharing the dais with Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Tej Pratap Yadav (Prasad’s eldest son) is campaigning against his own party’s candidate. Also, none of the leaders of the other partners in the Grand Alliance — Upendra Kushwaha (Rashtriya Lok Samta Party chief), Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) founder Jitan Ram Manjhi, and Vikassheel Insaan Party head Mukesh Sahni — are going to win even their own seats. On the other hand, with Nitish Kumar becoming part of the NDA again, this is a perfect combination and there are all signs of mutual vote transfer happening.
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Unlike earlier elections, where the NDA campaigned on the development plank, nationalism and national security have been a dominant theme.
When we talk of nationalism, the Opposition sees it through the Hindu-Muslim prism. Our fight is not about Hindu versus Muslim, it is against terrorism. Our fight is desi versus videshi. In the First Battle of Panipat, a Muslim desi ruler had taken on a videshi one. As for Bihar, where CM Nitish Kumar has done a lot of development work, we do talk about it — how the Modi government has given subsidised insurance schemes and reduced the prices of LPG gas cylinders, houses, toilets and food grains for the poor… It is a good sign that people are talking about development. This is happening only because we raised their hopes. Nitish Kumar’s comments like ‘when there is electricity, there is no need for lantern (RJD symbol)’ are being welcomed with applause. However, caste is a reality of elections… We are talking about four things — sabka saath, sabka vikas; power to poor; social justice and nationalism. It is about giving people a choice between “majboor (helpless)” and “majboot (strong)” leadership. We are talking about decisive leadership in matters of national security as was reflected in the surgical strike and the Balakot airstrike…
Is Lalu Prasad’s absence from campaigning helping the NDA?
It hardly matters. Even during the 2014 campaign, when he was present, he could not help Rabri Devi win from Saran and Misa Bharati from Pataliputra. In 2009, he lost his Pataliputra seat to JD(U)’s Ranjan Yadav.
The Opposition has been saying that the NDA’s 10 per cent quota for the poor won’t go down well with SC voters. Are you apprehensive?
Let the Opposition make an issue out of it. What is the harm in giving reservation to the poor among the general category? After all, who made Ram Vilas Paswan a leader? There was, of course, Karpoori Thakur (former Bihar CM), but there were other upper-caste leaders such as Madhu Dandavate, Raj Narain, Sri Krishna Singh (first CM of Bihar) and Ramanand Tiwary who made me a leader. It was an upper caste leader, Jaiprakash Narayan, who made Lalu Prasad a leader. In fact, the Congress, which talks about the welfare of Dalits, did not make K R Narayanan the president; it was the United Front government that did so. The NDA made Ram Nath Kovind the President. Had the Congress done so, it would have made it an election plank.
After your son Chirag came out in support of the EWS quota, Tejashwi Yadav dared him to contest from an unreserved seat.
When a Dalit leader contests from a general seat, people are in a dilemma — if he or she is a Dalit leader or not. There are some Dalit leaders like Ram Sunder Das who have contested from general seats. But I would like to ask Tejashwi why he chooses to contest from a Yadav-dominated seat.
You have been accused of nepotism since you have fielded three of your family members this election.
My brother Ramchandra Paswan is the sitting MP of Samastipur and my son Chirag from Jamui. They were elected by the people. It is the Hajipur seat that put us under pressure. After me (Ram Vilas Paswan had won the seat in 2014), voters first wanted my son or wife Reena to contest. But then we decided to give a ticket to my younger brother Pashupati Kumar Paras because he has a higher chance of winning.
How do you respond to BSP chief Mayawati’s criticism of the Election Commission’s recent ban on her?
The Election Commission is an autonomous body. It is the habit of individuals like Mayawati to criticise such institutions and play the Dalit card. I would also like to predict that the SP and BSP will contest the next Assembly polls separately.