'This is the first time since Independence that we are facing such a despairing situation.'
Sadanand Singh, the leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the Bihar assembly, tells Satyavrat Mishra how the Congress national leadership's inattention led to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar breaking up with the Grand Alliance.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said the party knew Nitish Kumar was hobnobbing with the Bharatiya Janata Party for the last three months. Why didn't you do anything to stop it?
I don't know what Rahulji knew. Nitish Kumar had repeatedly asked (Rashtriya Janata Dal chief) Lalu Prasad, via the Janata Dal-United spokesmen, to clarify the graft charges.
Lalu refused to do so and the tussle concluded with Nitish's departure from the Grand Alliance.
The BJP was all too eager to make a comeback to power and, therefore, you saw a quick reaction from them after Nitish's resignation.
Was the Congress outsmarted by Nitish Kumar?
I think that our top leadership couldn't understand the seriousness of the situation.
There were reports that some senior Congress leaders in New Delhi were blaming the state unit for not providing timely and adequate inputs.
That's not true. Our state unit president, Ashok Choudhary, was in constant touch with senior leaders.
He went to Delhi and met senior leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and (Congress General Secretary) C P Joshi several times in the last one month and urged them to look into the situation.
The Congress top leadership, as I see it, showed a complete lack of seriousness and coordination on this matter.
This can only be explained by the fact that even after such a big political incident, neither our general secretary nor any senior leader could find the time to come to Patna.
Or, this was such a complex issue that our senior leadership simply failed to understand.
The whole incident was basically an ego clash between two individuals.
The chief minister wanted Tejashwi Yadav's resignation but Tejashwi's father Lalu didn't agree to this.
Didn't you try to patch things up?
I don't know about the interactions of the party's top leadership with Nitishji or Laluji nor was I included in them.
I personally spoke to Laluji once or twice. However, it was evident from his attitude that he was not ready for his son's resignation from the state cabinet.
Moreover, I don't see myself mighty enough to direct the RJD chief to do anything.
Despite a history together, Congress leaders are still hesitant to be seen alongside the RJD after the breaking up of the Grand Alliance. Why so?
Our leadership decides on such matters. We have not been given any direction about it.
At the same time, there is no question of us joining hands with the BJP or those allied with the saffron party. Therefore, we are in the Opposition.
- 'Any party that aligns with Congress will die'
- 'Modi will marginalise Nitish in 2, 3 years'
- How long is Nitish assured of the BJP's support?
- What Nitish did is an act of extreme courage
The RJD has termed Nitish Kumar's decision to join hands with the BJP a 'betrayal of the public mandate'. Do you also think so?
The Congress believes in restraint.
We have a long history, therefore, there will be a difference between us and others.
We believe in decency in public life, others may not share our point of view.
So, you believe that Nitish Kumar did no wrong?
As per my understanding of Nitish Kumar, it's clear that he can't be associated with corruption or those charged with it.
He has cultivated a neat and clean image. He can't tolerate any spot on his image.
There is a war of words between the RJD and the JD-U over the ownership of the 2015 electoral mandate.
The JD-U says it was in favour of Nitish Kumar whereas the RJD considers it to have been against the BJP. Where does the Congress stand?
We won the 2015 election because the RJD, the JD-U and the Congress were able to put their differences aside and fought the election together.
The Grand Alliance was a big force and it proved that the BJP was not invincible.
Of course, Nitish Kumar's clean image and his track record in good governance benefited the alliance.
Most importantly, the Grand Alliance of the RJD, the JD-U and the Congress proved that if secular forces came together, the BJP could be defeated.
During the debate on the trust vote of the newly formed government in Bihar, you said Nitish Kumar would eventually return to the United Progressive Alliance. What's your rationale behind this argument?
It was the last line of my speech. I believe that Nitish Kumar is inherently a secular leader.
The BJP is preaching ultra right politics, whereas his ideology revolves around secularism.
A clash is bound to happen sooner or later.
I think Socialist leaders can never be at ease with the BJP and, therefore, they can't be permanently allied with right-wing politics.
Based on my four decades of experience in public life, I believe Nitish Kumar will ultimately come back to secular forces. However, this is my personal opinion.
JD-U spokesmen have alleged that at least a dozen Congress members of the Bihar assembly might soon ditch the party. Is this true?
It's all speculation. I don't heed these rumours. However, it is true that our leaders are not happy with the events that unfolded last month.
What does the future hold for the Congress in Bihar now?
We don't have a lot of options now.
The party has been with the secular forces and it will continue to do so.
What happened was painful. People had a lot of expectations from the Grand Alliance. People are feeling disappointed by the whole episode.
For the 2019 election, I feel we have a very small time window here. It will not be easy for the party.
We have to face the joint forces of the BJP and Nitish Kumar.
We will have to work a lot and sweat a lot.
At the national level, this is the first time since Independence that we are facing such a despairing situation.
A couple of months ago Nitish Kumar said the Congress lacked an alternative agenda. Do you agree with his statement?
Nitish Kumar said this about the national perspective. It is evident that the BJP is stronger mainly because the Opposition parties are scattered.
The day we come together, the saffron tide will begin to recede.
We need a common issue, an agenda, which can bind us together against the BJP.
What can be that issue? As the leader of the legislature party in the state assembly, what would you suggest?
These types of issues are decided by our top leadership. We just follow.
All I can say is that the national leadership failed to display alertness on critical issues, like what happened in Bihar.
Therefore, we are witnessing the mess in the state.