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'Rahul does not speak from the heart'

By Rashme Sehgal
June 03, 2015 10:58 IST
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Rahul Gandhi interacts with villagers in Telangana.

Image: Rahul Gandhi interacts with villagers in Telangana.

'The most important quality of a mass leader is usse dil se bolne chahiya, mann se nahi (he should speak from the heart and not the mind).'

'Nitish has no future in state politics.'

'Nitish harassed the Yadav community no end in his earlier tenure as chief minister. So who will the Yadav community vote for in the coming state elections?'

As Bihar prepares for state elections, Lok Janshakti Party President Ram Vilas Paswan tells Rediff.com contributor Rashme Sehgal why Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has no future in state politics and why the Janata Dal-United-Rashtriya Janata Dal merger is a non-starter.

As a Dalit leader, are you happy with Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani's decision to ban the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle at IIT-Madras only because they were critical of the Narendra Modi government?

Like every other party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has its own Dalit wing. The party should have let its Dalit wing handle the issue. That would have been a more effective strategy. Unfortunately, (Congress Vice-President) Rahul Gandhi, who is trying to emerge as a mass leader -- a leader of the downtrodden -- has politicised the issue.

How do you assess him in his new avatar? He has begun to speak out on issues...

(Congress President) Sonia Gandhi is a mass leader in her own right, but not Rahul Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi, despite being prime minister, could hardly be called a mass leader. The most important quality of a mass leader is usse dil se bolne chahiya, mann se nahi (he should speak from the heart and not the mind). You don't get this impression when Rahul speaks.

After being such a prominent UPA minister, you seem to have had a bitter parting of ways with Sonia Gandhi?

I attribute 80 per cent of the blame for the fallout on (Rashtriya Janata Dal) leader Lalu Yadav. As the general elections were approaching, I met Sonia Gandhi twice on the issue of seat sharing. On both occasions she asked me to talk to Rahul, but he was never available for a meeting.

Image: Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

No political leader can tolerate humiliation. I wrote her a two-page letter and decided to move on. Hum samaan ki rajniti karenge (I believe in the politics of respect). I won't accept being humiliated.

If the Congress, RJD and LJP had joined hands to fight the elections, we could have got 30 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. Misa (Lalu Yadav's eldest daughter) would have won her seat. Rabri Devi (Lalu Yadav's wife) would have also won her seat.

I have a basic vote bank of 15,000 in every assembly constituency. In every Lok Sabha assembly, I have a vote bank of 70,000 voters. But Lalu publicly declared that Paswan would win two-and-a-half seats. What does that mean? They were not willing to concede I could win even three seats.

The LJP contested seven seats and we ended up wining six. One seat was lost by a margin of 3,000 votes. We have filed a case in the Nalanda district court against our opponents for electoral malpractice and we expect to win.

I gave tickets to candidates of all castes -- upper castes, Muslim women and backward castes. I have been winning elections from 1969. I came into politics under the influence of Ram Manohar Lohia, whereas Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar joined later as part of the JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement.

By joining the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), haven't you dented the secular credentials you had built up so assiduously over the years?

Lalu Yadav and others can hardly be called secular. If they were truly secular, when I gave a call to make a Muslim the chief minister in 2005, why did they not accept it?

In 2002, I resigned from the NDA following the Gujarat riots.

But you have also been labelled as opportunistic. Your critics say you align with whichever formation comes to power at the Centre.

That is hardly a fair allegation. I have stood by my principles. I like to cite the example of Babasaheb Ambedkar who fought for the rights of the Dalits. When he had a difference of opinion with the Congress, he submitted his resignation. I did the same in 2002.

I have helped set up hundreds of ST/SC employee associations across the country, pushed for the Bharat Ratna for Dr Ambedkar and also ensured the government declare a holiday on his birthday.

In 1990, my ministry helped implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. (Former prime minister) V P Singh was a genuine social reformer, but none of the people who were close to him, including (Samajwadi Party chief) Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lalu Yadav, bothered to be present during his last rites.

How do you see the Janata Dal-United party performing in Bihar in the coming state elections?

The JD-U is finished as a party. Bihar has 23 Dalit castes, when Nitish Kumar was chief minister, he passed an order stating Paswans would remain under the category of Dalits while all the other castes were categorised as Maha Dalits.

Nitish has no future in state politics. My vote bank remains intact while the vote bank of Nitish and Lalu have been seriously dented.

Image: Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United and Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal have come together to fight the Bihar elections.

What do you feel about the JD-U merger with the RJD?

This merger is a non-starter. Even if the six different Janata Dal parties agree to merge under the Samajwadi Party banner, why will Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav agree to take on this additional headache? They know these different parties are only going to create more problems for them.

Lalu Yadav has declared he is not in the running for CM, but will he accept Nitish Kumar as a CM candidate?

The other problem is that Nitish harassed the Yadav community no end in his earlier tenure as chief minister. So who will the Yadav community vote for in the coming state elections?

Lalu Yadav is not contesting. Rabri Devi cannot become CM. Even if they were to vote for Lalu Yadav, their vote would get transferred to Nitish.

On the other hand, the BJP has several strong Yadav leaders. Nand Kishore Yadav and Ram Kirpal Yadav, who has been a minister, are prominent Yadav leaders in the state. People will prefer to vote for the NDA.

Even if the JD-U and RJD were to merge, the dissidents of these parties will contest as independents and eat into the vote banks. All these six JD-U parties have already started wielding the stick against their counterparts.

You will see a lot of lathbaazi (stick wielding) politics being played out by the different groups in the coming months.

What role do you see for former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi in the coming state elections?

If he contests on his own, he will definitely cut into the JD-U and RJD votes.

Are you planning to enter into a seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP?

We will start talks only after the election dates have been announced. The NDA constituents in Bihar -- the BJP, LJP and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party -- will decide on the seat sharing arrangement by sitting together. Our aim will be to win all the seats we contest.

You have been quoted as saying you will accept whoever the NDA announces as its CM candidate?

The NDA will form the government in the state with a two-thirds majority. The PM is head of the NDA and we will accept whoever he announces as CM.

When will you start campaigning?

Campaigning has already started. (His son) Chirag Paswan has already covered 64 constituencies. I am confident the NDA will sweep the polls.

Are you happy with the Modi government's performance in the last one year?

Yes. I do not find their land bill to be anti-farmer.

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Rashme Sehgal in New Delhi
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