Two-term Patna Sahib MP Shatrughan Sinha, who joined the Congress after the BJP fielded Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad from the seat, speaks to The Indian Express about the reasons for his move and his prospects for this election. Excerpts:
What forced you to go against the BJP?
Unfortunately, it was the other way round. I paid the so-called price of being close to Advaniji and the group and sticking to the truth and principles, which of course did not suit them. Lately, the BJP, we all found, has turned democracy into dictatorship. There are so many examples. Supreme Court judges coming out, the way they are playing with the Constitution or the way Parliament proceedings took place, we saw democracy at its weakest. I was vocal from the beginning because I believe the party is bigger than the individual and the nation is bigger than the party. So whatever I said was in national interest. I have always been with the truth and of course they won’t like it. They did every possible thing to make me fall in line, created so many obstacles like pulling out all facilities, from security cover to excluding me from parliamentary committees.
At the same time, as I was the seniormost MP, decent orator, crowd-puller and popular among the leadership, local Bihar leadership started having problems with me… As health and shipping minister, I had brought about several changes… Many from the state and some in the Centre started lobbying against me. I was also forced to leave the party… I suddenly saw in the news that they announced Ravi Shankar Prasad as candidate from Patna Sahib. Then I thought, wo afsana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, use ek khoobsurat mod dekar chhodna accha (the story that cannot reach a conclusion should be left at a beautiful turn).
Several opposition leaders including Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav and Lalu Yadav ji, who is a family friend, requested me to join them. But I joined the Congress for two reasons. One, Rahul Gandhi, the face of tomorrow, within a year of taking over as president won three major states. He proved who the real Pappu is and who feku is. Second, the Congress is the real and grand old party that contributed immensely to independence and nation-building. I am still affectionate to many BJP leaders and will always be. I am against their policies and dual characters.
You have been a long-time BJP man and slammed Congress throughout this period. How do you justify it now?
I never criticised the Congress… I never talk against any individual or party… You won’t find a single statement against Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata or Akhilesh because I raise my voice against policies…
Have you taken the Congress route to keep yourself in power?
If a cat is caged, it makes efforts to be free. When you have selfless goals and dreams in your eyes, you need a path. If that path is denied, you will not sit idle… Whatever way you may take, you must reach your destination which is the development of the country.
Your wife is SP candidate from Lucknow against Rajnath Singh with no Congress candidate being fielded, is it part of your deal with the Congress?
Not at all. Mayawatiji and Akhileshji wanted me to contest from Lucknow. I told them I will not change my location… Then they insisted that I bring my wife, who has been instrumental in my political life…
Is the incumbency factor against you, with BJP fielding a known face (Prasad)?
The kind of respect I receive here from all sections of people, I feel connected to them. It could be a factor which could hurt public sentiments if I am not here. People here have known me, worked with me, majority of them believe this constituency got name and fame due to Bihari Babu… I fought for the city and brought development.
How do you assess Tejashwi Yadav in the absence of Lalu Prasad Yadav?
Laluji is definitely missed. He is a grassroots and mature leader. But having said that, Tejashwi Yadav acquiring a great amount of maturity, oratory skills and clean image at such a young age is commendable. I see him as the face of Bihar. People ask me if he is a CM of PM material, I tell them that in this country anyone can become PM provided you have the numbers. I hope, wish and pray that Tejashwi will not only live up to the expectations of the people of Bihar in general and country in particular but also become one of the finest leaders in the country.
Keeping politics aside, would you rate Nitish Kumar’s rule higher in the order than Lalu Yadav’s?
Nitish Babu is a friend of mine and he always treats me like his elder brother. I also respect him a lot. So saying anything about him will be a conflict of interest. So I don’t want to comment on him and wish him well.
Which are the two major works you could not complete in your tenure in Patna Saheb and why?
I have been very much worried about the education system here. Look at the Patna University records, how many brilliant students it has produced. But despite our efforts, it has not been awarded the Central University status. The Prime Minister had come here on 100 years of Science College. He announced funds but there is no proper infrastructure needed to fulfil the central university criteria.
Second, there are still many villages that are untouched by development. One such village is Dhanki village where development is still a distant dream. I wish to bring development in such villages and will keep these two works as my top priorities.
What further qualities does Rahul Gandhi need to be the Prime Minister of India?
I have already told you that no special quality is required. Modi was three-time CM of Gujarat, what qualities or special qualification did he need? All you need is numbers. After Nehru and Rajendra Prasad, leaders are not much learned. IK Gujral was also earned but he became PM due to numbers, so did Deve Gowda. Whosoever becomes the PM now, the focus must remain on changing the system, not the regime.
Political attacks have gone below the belt. How do you see this?
I believe in the decency of language. I have always maintained linguistic decency. Policies must be criticised but with the decency of language and one must not get personal whosoever it is. Our prime minister often jumps that line when he comes to attacking the Opposition.
Which of the two PM Modi’s schemes do you like the most?
I call a spade a spade but I must admit that PM Modi has an extraordinary energy level. As far as his two great schemes are concerned, these are Swachhata Mission and Jan Dhan. I have already said that in the history of India no prime minister has ever appealed to the people of this country from Red Fort for cleanliness and toilets. Second, opening Jan Dhan accounts was another milestone which failed due to several other factors.
Who do you think is anti-national?
No one. All of us are citizens of this country. Be it the soldier guarding our boundaries or youths serving the country in some other way. The term has been coined and propagated by the propaganda machinery. There is neither Hindu terrorism, nor Muslim terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism with no caste and colour.