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'An anti-communal verdict'

Print edition : Mar 04, 2000 T+T-

1 Anne Road, Patna, is perhaps the only residence of a Chief Minister that allows unhindered access to any visitor. People walk in and talk to or argue with the master of the house - Laloo Prasad Yadav, Chief Minister Rabri Devi's husband and Rash triya Janata Dal (RJD) president. The topics of discussion could range from personal problems to political issues. Regulars say that this is the situation there except when Laloo Prasad gets into one of his foul moods.

Undoubtedly, this informal ambience contributed in a major way to the RJD's unexpectedly impressive performance in the Assembly elections. As the outcome once again established the RJD as the No. 1 party in the State Assembly, the lawns of the Chief Mini ster's residence became the venue for celebrations. Some of the merry-makers hailed Laloo Prasad Yadav as 'bhagwan.' Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Laloo Prasad on February 27, after it was confirmed that his party had emerged as the single largest pa rty in the Assembly. Excerpts from the interview:

As you savour an impressive electoral outcome, your supporters hail you as 'bhagwan'. How do you look at all this?

This is not a case of personal glorification. The poor and the downtrodden of this State have been insulted in the worst possible manner by some people. They have been called 'junglees' (savages) just because they are with me politically and ideologicall y. Calling me 'bhagwan' is a response to this vilification. They are showing sraddha (respect) for their State through this.

The majority of media specialists and political observers had written off the RJD.

I had no doubt about the trust the people of Bihar have in the RJD and me. In fact, the results have fallen short of my expectations. I have lost 25 to 30 seats because of infighting in the party and the presence of rebel candidates. Lack of financial re sources also caused some losses. My party did not have enough money to take me to all the constituencies by helicopter while the whole might of the NDA led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was arrayed against me. They used over 20 helicopters.

The majority of the observers saw these choppers, heard their noise and came to the conclusion that I was out. They did not look closely enough to see that my strength lies in the remote villages and small towns of Bihar.

But there are allegations that you misused the official machinery and captured booths.

This is the same argument that was employed in describing RJD rule as 'jungle raj'. When the NDA made gains in the Lok Sabha elections, the elections were all fair, but when they lose, it is crime all around. What kind of logic is this?

Your party is still short of a majority. Do you think the RJD will be invited to form the government, and if so how do you plan to muster the requisite strength?

I have more numbers than the NDA and on that strength alone I should be invited to form the government. Nobody else can be called. My majority will be proved on the floor of the Assembly with the support of all the other secular parties. One thing is cle ar: Bihar does not want a government led by the communal BJP. The numbers in the Assembly make it evident. There are more anti-BJP MLAs in the Assembly than there are supporters. The secular parties may have fought against one another, but they are unite d in opposing the BJP.

There is also a view that it is an anti-RJD mandate.

People are free to make their own interpretations. In the RJD's view the one constant in an otherwise fractured mandate is its strong anti-communal character.

Do you foresee a period of instability?

In 1990 too I led a minority government and ran it for five years. The RJD is a responsible party. It knows how to protect the interests of the State.

What do you think would be the larger social impact of the results? There is a feeling that your backward caste support base, especially that of Yadavs, would get more emboldened and start harassing the members of other communities, particularly the u pper-castes and Dalits.

I admit that there have been some cases of misconduct by some of my supporters. I never gave sanction for this kind of behaviour. The fact is that I was not aware of many of these cases. I am aware of them now and the next round of the RJD's governance w ill be marked by a concerted effort to remove this blemish. I will not hesitate to punish those who commit misdemeanours.

There is also a feeling that the RJD Government overlooked development issues.

I do not agree with that. There might have been some shortcomings; every government has some. We would overcome them with help and support from all secular parties.

Will you take up the mantle of Chief Minister once again?

Wait and see.