Interview with Nitish Kumar.
In March 2000, his inability to cobble up a majority in the Bihar Assembly forced him to step down from the Chief Minister's post seven days after he was sworn in. Nitish Kumar today continues to remain the National Democratic Alliance's counter to Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. The Samata Party leader and Union Minister for Railways had flown down to Patna to visit the kin of Satyanarain Sinha of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who was killed in a shootout on April 30, the day of the Rashtriya Janata Dal rally. (A local leader of the RJD in Dhanapur is accused of the crime.) On the flight back to New Delhi, the NDA convener for Bihar spoke to V. Krishna Ananth on his perception of the situation in the State. Excerpts:How do you describe the situation now?
Bihar is witnessing a steady deterioration on all fronts. The State has slid to the bottom in all aspects of development and several studies have shown that it ranks the last among the major States insofar as all development indicators are concerned. This is happening despite large amounts of money being pumped into the State in the form of Central assistance. The health care system has collapsed and the State lacks facilities even to treat ordinary ailments. Take the case of the rural roads. Bihar needs rural connectivity the most. Yet, funds released as part of the Prime Minister's Grameen Sadak Yojana remains unutilised here.
What could be the reason for a State government under-utilising Central assistance?
Laloo [Prasad Yadav] does not consider it necessary to address the task of governance. The government is content with running the State with just the police. The Police Department is the only government agency that has been recruiting men in the past so many years.
Was this not true of Bihar even before Laloo Yadav came in?
No. It is true that Bihar's development indicators in the past had left much to be desired. But Bihar was considered to be among the better-governed States until the 1960s. Things began to take a turn in the 1970s and that was when Bihar witnessed a people's movement, the JP movement, as we all know. The movement also helped restore the governance agenda. The JP movement was in reaction to the downslide. But that was only to an extent and things began to worsen again in the 1980s, and ever since Laloo Yadav came to the scene things have gone from bad to worse.
If this is so, why is it that the NDA has not been able to build a movement the same way as in the 1970s?
Well. The situation has changed and Laloo Yadav's strategy to build a social coalition in his favour has rendered building a movement all the more difficult. A movement is a large project and that is not possible in the present context. However, we are involved in organising agitations on behalf of our parties. We cannot call them movements, certainly not.What is the state of the NDA in Bihar?
The NDA exists and is certainly the only alternative to Laloo Yadav.
One of your allies, Ram Vilas Paswan, seems to have left the combine.
It is not yet clear what he proposes to do. He seems to be working out an alliance with the Congress. But the ground reality in Bihar is that the political contest is bi-polar. There is no space for a third front and we all realised that as early as in 1995 when the Samata Party came a cropper in the Assembly polls. The State's politics is divided between pro-Laloo and anti-Laloo forces and the NDA represents the latter.
Having been among those who joined the political process as followers of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, how do you reconcile yourself with the BJP, whose ideological preferences and political base are so clearly with the upper castes?
It is a question of political alliances. There are two distinct sections in the anti-Laloo combine. One section consists of those who are convinced that Laloo is not doing what he should. The other section consists of those who refuse to concede any leadership role to those from among the backward castes. The Samata Party is clear on this and we belong to the former category. But we also know that we cannot accomplish the task of unseating Laloo Yadav on our own.
What is the situation in the Samata Party after the recent split?
It will not have any impact. It is a case of some leaders leaving the party. It had happened in the past too. But the Samata Party's organisation is constituted by people who are anti-Laloo, and that remains intact.