With 40 Lok Sabha seats, Bihar is a highly significant state. Plus, for the first time since 1977, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, in judicial custody in Ranchi after his convictions in fodder scam cases, is not campaigning. In his absence, son Tejashwi Yadav, 29, is heading the opposition alliance against the NDA. Excerpts from an interview with Amitabh Srivastava:
Q. How much do you miss Lalu Prasad, both as a son and as the RJD chief?
You can keep Laluji away from Bihar, but you can’t keep Biharis away from Laluji. He is being persecuted for his dedication to the cause of social justice and secularism, which scares the BJP. This is the first election that he is not with us physically. In public meetings, anytime I speak about Laluji, I see how concerned people are for him. Personally, there is a sense of sadness, but we know the facts. He is suffering because of a political vendetta. We know who these political forces are and their capabilities. They have conspired against him, but failed to break his will.
Q. But why do you call it a political vendetta’? It was a legal process…
When I went to visit him in Ranchi on April 6, I wasn’t allowed to see him and no reason was assigned despite it being a Saturday, allocated by jail administration for meetings. I was also told by journalists and doctors that when he required medical check-ups, doctors faced problems in taking him to the next building within the Ranchi Medical College Campus on the pretext of security. Laluji is there for medical treatment, but even that is not being provided to him. Plus, the administration has stopped all visitors to him since April 20. I believe they have acted on the orders of Jharkhand’s BJP government. Political opposition is fine, but this is inhuman.
Q. As a leader of the grand alliance, you are pitted against the likes of Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi and Ram Vilas Paswan. It’s a very difficult beginning…
Yes [Nitish Kumar] is very big, which is why he is scared of my tweets.
I guess I’m the first person who is having the CBI, ED and I-T department ganging up on me at the age of 29. Many politicians face this towards the end of their careers, I’m being hounded at the beginning of mine. I’ve learned a lot from these challenges.
Q. On the ground, the RJD starts with a formidable 31 per cent Muslim-Yadav vote bank. But you are only contesting 19 of Bihar’s 40 seats. Your alliance partners Jitan Ram Manjhi, Mukesh Sahni and Upendra Kushwaha are untested. There is a possibility of them being unable to transfer their votes. Kushwaha and Manjhi had failed in 2015.
It was the BJP that had bitten the dust in the 2015 assembly election, which the grand alliance won with a thumping majority. Kushwahaji and Manjhiji, both fine leaders, paid for being in the BJP’s company. Also, calling them untested is a mistake. Manjhiji is a former CM and a Dalit leader. Kushwahaji is a champion of the Extremely Backward Castes. Sahniji is fighting his first election. But the results will prove their worth.
Q. The sense is that while the RJD is transferring its votes to the allies, they have failed to do the same for the party.
No, there is a strong mobilisation of votes at the ground level. I get constant feedback from the candidates and independent sources, all suggesting that not only are the votes getting transferred seamlessly, but also that the alliance partners are working in perfect harmony.
Q. If there was an offer of reconciliation from Nitish Kumar, would you regret not accepting it? As seen in the 2015 election, the RJD-JD(U) together are a formidable force.
Why should there be any regret? You saw what happened. Nitishji switched sides when the BJP forced him. He needed an excuse, so fresh corruption cases were filed against us. He is very image conscious. But he always knew Laluji already had cases against him. Still, he joined hands with us for the assembly poll and then ditched us in July 2017 because the BJP could have acted against him in the Srijan scam.
Q. Unlike 2014, which was a triangular contest, the 2019 Lok Sabha poll will be an NDA versus grand alliance fight. Here, your 31 per cent M-Y vote may not be adequate.
RJD is for everyone. Plus, you must understand that premising your analysis on the 2014 verdict would give erroneous results. Nitishji had face value in 2014. Still, almost 30 of his candidates lost their security deposits when he contested against both the NDA and the RJD-Congress alliance. Second, the scenario has changed. People know that Nitishji was voted to run a grand alliance government, but he has abused the mandate. People have also seen that the Narendra Modi government had promised a dream and delivered a nightmare. Where is the Bihar package? Where are the jobs? They spoke for the backward classes to get votes in 2014, but only worked for the elites. Again, the BJP leaders are silent on questions of livelihood, jobs, democracy and empowerment of the backwards. People will punish them for reneging on their promises.
Q. Your brother Tej Pratap has fielded two candidates against the RJD’s official candidates.
If people want to contest polls, they will. Both the party and he (Tej Pratap) want to defeat the BJP. Only, he believes some other candidate will be more effective to do so. The party believes in someone else. It happens in a dmocracy.