On the first day of polling in Bihar, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, JP Nadda, spoke to Smriti Kak Ramachandran and Kunal Pradhan about his early life in the state, perceived anti-incumbency against CM Nitish Kumar, the apparent rise of Tejashwi Yadav, the confusion surrounding the Lok Janshakti Party, a comparison between the Lalu Prasad and Nitish regimes, the party’s aspirations in West Bengal, and the difference in his working style as compared to his predecessor, Union home minister Amit Shah, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
People associate you with Himachal Pradesh, but you know Bihar better than most because you not only grew up there but also began your political journey in the state. Tell us more about that.
Himachal Pradesh is my devbhoomi (land of the Gods), but I am indebted to Bihar for the political exposure I got in my initial days. I was there through school and college, and got the opportunity to know a lot of people who led the country at that time.
My father, who was a senior college professor, made us aware of many things. When I was three years old, I am told, though I don’t remember it, he took me for the funeral of Dr Rajendra Prasad. I saw Jagjivan Ram when the Patna session took place; in 1971 Mrs [Indira] Gandhi came, and I saw her as well. The lectures of K Kamaraj and Devaraj Urs used to be translated, you had to have a lot of patience to hear them; Atal [Bihari Vajpayee] ji used to come frequently, and [LK] Advaniji who was general secretary at that time in 1974. I participated in the JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) agitation.
One day, during the anti-Emergency protests, JP gave the call that we should all reach Kalibari. We went there and raised slogans; Ravi Shankar Prasad was also there. When we reached our class, there were slogans inside the classroom, so the whole class was arrested. I remember we were taken in a CRPF truck to the police lines.
We saw Nanaji Deshmukh when he broke his shoulder while saving JP from blows during an agitation against Emergency.
My father spoke openly against Emergency, and was removed from all the administrative posts. After Emergency was over, and a new government was installed in Delhi, he was made vice-chancellor of two universities. I asked my father, ‘who are the people who decide one day that you should be removed, and then you become so important that they offer you the VC-ship of two universities?’ That’s when I decided I won’t sit for the IAS exams or anything else, and chose where I’ll go (in politics).
As someone who knows and understands Bihar, would you agree that there is a very strong anti-incumbency against the state government led by chief minister Nitish Kumar?
First of all, there is no anti-incumbency. The comparison about his current popularity should be made between the surveys in 2010 and 2020, because in 2015 he was part of the Mahagathbandhan with Lalu Prasad. The popularity that chief minister Nitish Kumar enjoyed in 2010 is intact.
Second, his administrative skills and the development that has taken place in Bihar — road construction, infrastructure, flyovers has all happened during his regime…. The people of Bihar are very intelligent, they realise there was a problem in development projects picking pace during the UPA (Untied Progressive Alliance) era, and it was only because of Nitish Kumar’s intention that work happened.
He is also the only leader people have expectations from. They cannot pin their hopes on Tejashwi Yadav, or the others.
Nitish Kumar faced a problem when he went with Lalu, so even after winning the election (in 2015) he eventually left that alliance, and whenever he has been with the BJP, the pace of development picks up. There is a very good combination of Nitish, as a leader, along with BJP, which gives full support in development in social areas as well as infrastructure.
Is this what the PM recently said – that he and Nitish Kumar didn’t get too much time to carry out development projects in the state?
In Bihar, there was only one medical college in Patna, and there were three private medical colleges that were later acquired by the government. Eleven medical colleges came when Modiji was Prime Minister and I happened to be the health minister. The late Arun Jaitley, as finance minister, gave immense support and we sanctioned one more AIIMS.
In contrast, the phase between 1985 up to early 2000 was a phase when Bihar was deserted; everyone leaving, there was large-scale migration; there were law-and-order problems; there was state-supported anarchism; when Nitish came we was given the name Sushashan (good governance) Babu.
Your party has been talking about law-and-order in the Lalu regime…
You remember the case — in Gopalganj a Dalit district magistrate, Krishnaiah, was dragged out of his vehicle and killed; Shahabuddin killed two brothers by dousing them with acid, and killed the third who was about to testify. He was a supporter of Lalu, and Nitish put all these people away; they are now in Tihar.
I was in the state, like I said, between 1960 and 1980, and I saw how goondaism was at its peak. This is what I saw in Punjab in the 80s as well — after 5pm the place used to shut down, there was a sense of fear.
But Bihar did not lack aspirations or a fighting spirit; its ambition was never compromised. Its people have a target, and they want to see that they grow, and their families grow.
How do you see the BJP’s evolution in the state? There seems to be a sense that even after all these years, the party is reluctant to go on its own.
It is a gradual process. The BJP is the largest party, which has its existence till the booth level, and we are working on it. But at the same time, we are a party that does not believe in doing things in an unnatural way. We believe in taking everybody along; we made Nitish Kumar the CM and our leader, and we will continue to work with him. The NDA has never abandoned anyone, the BJP has never let anybody go; we are always welcoming and accommodating. Nitish will remain our leader, and we will form the government under his leadership, come what may.
Even if the JD(U) gets fewer seats than the BJP — irrespective of the numbers?
Yes, irrespective of the numbers.
What about the aspirations of the party cadre that wants to see a BJP CM in the state?
We know how to coordinate with the party cadre, and how to make them understand the larger cause. We are also conscious about our image. Our cadre understands all these things.
You said the NDA does not let go of allies of its own accord, but some senior allies are leaving – from Maharashtra to Punjab to Bihar?
Everybody has their own reasons (for leaving). In Maharashtra, it was a dhokha (betrayal). Our ally deceived us for seats; there was a public meeting where the Prime Minister spoke of the combination of Narendra (referring to himself), and Devendra (Fadnavis), and Uddhav [Thackeray] with them. We made it very clear; but they realised at the last minute that they want the chief ministership.
Let’s move to Punjab: the PM is committed to farmers and to the people. They (Akali Dal) participated in all the decision-making process; they were with us when the Cabinet took a decision. Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir and Harsimrat Kaur Badal all gave statements supporting the farm bills, but later under the pressure of Congress, they decide to part ways with us. We have been asking them to explain how we are anti- farmers and they pro- farmer, but they have not been able to do so.
As for Bihar, the LJP — they came here, met me. We wanted them to be with us, but then every party has its targets and ambitions and they have the right to worry about the growth and scope, so they went away. We tried to adjust them, but after all, we had only 121 seats where we had to accommodate them, and the BJP has to worry about retaining its culture and character. We tried to adjust, but it couldn’t be done.
There is, however, a view that the LJP, by attacking the CM, is acting at the behest of the BJP.
Not at all. At every meeting that I am holding with the leaders of the JD(U), VIP and HAM(S), I have stated clearly that the LJP is not our ally. We have made that clear in letter and spirit. We have specified clearly there is no divisive strategy; if anyone is doing so, he’s trying to mislead the people.
A way to fix the confusion could be to say that the LJP is not a part of the NDA at the Centre. Why are you not doing that?
When a discussion on that issue comes up, we will talk about it. But it has happened that people are part of a separate alliance in the state and a different one at the Centre.
Does that mean the door is still open for the LJP to be part of the Union government?
We have not discussed this. Ram Vilas Paswan Ji was a minister, we worked together till his last days. The Prime Minister respects him, he was dear to us, and we continue to give him respect. But in Bihar elections they are not our alliance partner.
Do you feel that there is growing distance with the allies now? There is not a single non-BJP minister in the Union Cabinet at the moment.
Not at all. We have a regular dialogue between allies. Before Parliament session, there is an NDA meeting. I personally have meetings with all leaders of our alliance partners at frequent intervals. We give them respect as NDA partners.
Coming back to Bihar, you said the RJD’s promise of 1 million government jobs is a joke. Your party has spoken of 1.9 million jobs. One assumes these jobs will also happen when the economy picks up, and when there are fresh avenues for setting up businesses and projects. What happens in the interim?
I don’t want to use any harsh words, but the RJD’s understanding is very limited. They do not understand governance, and that is why they come out with such statements. Job creation does not take place in a vacuum. It is a holistic exercise. You need law and order — the RJD in this aspect is compromised. You need infrastructure — for which you (RJD) don’t have a vision. And then comes investment, but you (RJD) do not have confidence in yourself, and people don’t have confidence looking at your background.
The RJD’s USP has been migration. You talk of giving jobs to 10 lakh people, but I say in response that many more people have left the state during your regime. Laluji used to say, ‘people leave Bihar in a torn pair of pants and come back in a suit and a tie’. They now say they will give government jobs; we said we will create opportunities for 19 lakh jobs.
Unlike Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, Tejashwi Yadav is a new player with promises to offer who has not been put to test. Do you think people might want to consider that? Has the crowds he is drawing put your party on the defensive?
Who says he has not been assessed? Did he attend the budget session even once in 2019? Where was he during the lockdown? When Tej Pratap (Yadav) was the health minister, what did he do? He did not even get off his horse. Their character has not changed, and nor has their mentality.
A leader has to go through the paces. The problem with many of these people is that they have not struggled on the ground; they have never been part of agitations, and therefore don’t understand the real problems of the people. They sit in drawing rooms and decide slogans, and are surrounded by so-called master strategists. They have not struggled on the ground, and therefore the level of arrogance has not reduced.
How important are the Bihar elections for your prospects in West Bengal next year, and what are your aspirations from that state?
The ground beneath Mamata Banerjee’s feet in Bengal is slipping. People have decided to say goodbye to her. The BJP, as a responsible party, has to see to it that we convert those sentiments into votes and for that, with full attention and intention, we are working on the ground. We will see to it that the next government is of the BJP.
There is a view that this is largely because of polarisation, which the BJP is encouraging and benefitting from…
No, she has lost support not because of polarisation, but because of mis-governance, non-delivery, and cheating the people of the state.
You have taken over the role of party president from a tall figure who is now the home minister. What is the difference in the working style of Amit Shah and JP Nadda as party president?
Let me think about how to explain this in the simplest way. In cricket, if you are made the captain, the order in the batting line-up does not change — middle-order, opener. In football, by becoming captain, a fullback does not become centre-forward and centre-forward doesn’t become fullback; everybody has their own important place. A team includes everyone.
When he (Shah) was the president, he involved me in all decision-making. It was collective teamwork, and we still work as a team, and there is no occasion where he and the Parliamentary Board are not involved. Our party constitution does allow the president to take a decision if the Parliamentary Board is not meeting; but he (Shah) never did that unilaterally. He would take all decisions after consultation, even if it was calling us informally. We have some senior leaders, and we of course have the Prime Minister; we work as a team.
Source- Hindustan Times.