Seventeen years ago, Sushil Kumar Modi and Laloo Prasad Yadav fought a student union election in their college as running mates. Both won: Laloo Prasad was elected president of the union and Modi its general secretary. Since then Laloo Prasad's po litical career progressed phenomenally: he became the Chief Minister of Bihar twice. Modi too had the ambition to occupy the highest elected post, but this was never fulfilled. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader had to content himself with the post of Lea der of the Opposition in the State Assembly when Laloo Prasad was Chief Minister. Modi's supporters hoped that this time around he could get the better of his college mate. They believed that everything was going right for Modi - the BJP had forged a pow erful alliance and the party's popularity was growing, partly because of Modi's image as a clean and honest politician and his consistent campaign against the RJD regime. The results, however, showed that Laloo Prasad had once again upset him.
Faced with a hung Assembly, the BJP's central leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, decided that the party would not stake its claim for the Chief Minister's post. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Modi even as the results were comin g in and discussed with him what went wrong with the NDA in Bihar. Excerpts from the interview:
Throughout the campaign and even later, the NDA was on a high. Exit polls predicted that you would sweep Bihar. In this background, how do you look at the results?
We could not live up to our own expectations. There is disappointment that we did not get a majority. But the results do indicate an anti-Laloo mandate. The parties that fought against the RJD's jungle raj, secured more seats than the ruling party. The N DA should be able to form a government on the strength of this mandate.
But Laloo Prasad Yadav says that the mandate is against the communal forces led by the BJP.
The fact is that the State units of the Congress(I) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), which fought the elections against Laloo despite their central leadership's desire to support him, will not accept this argument. If their central leaderships put pressure on them now to support Laloo, the State units will split. The mandate is definitely anti-Laloo and we are going to fulfil it.
On the NDA's reverses, what in your view are the factors that caused them?
There are three factors. First, a lack of coordination among the alliance partners, especially in the first and second phases of the polls; secondly, the misuse of official machinery by the RJD government; and thirdly, massive booth-capturing by RJD goon s in the third phase.
But some of your allies blame the BJP and the Central Government led by it for the reverses. In their opinion the Central Government's decisions such as the one to increase the prices of diesel and moves such as the one for a constitutional review led to the defeat. They say that this was particularly true of the third phase of the polling because these moves came just before that round.
I have not come across any such argument from any of our allies.
There is a feeling, even within the NDA, that your campaign highlighting the issue of 'jungle raj' has boomeranged, that it actually caused a sympathy factor working in Laloo Prasad's favour, especially because even the NDA fielded candidates with a c riminal background.
These are all hypothetical theories. I would not want to respond to these. The fact is that there is a verdict against the RJD regime but it got fractured on account of many factors.
Do you hope to overcome the fractured mandate and fulfil what you call the will of the voters?
We are sure we would do it. The NDA leadership is getting ready to perform this historic task.
How will you do it? Given the composition of the Assembly, it is obvious that the NDA will have to indulge in horse-trading.
There is no need for that. The enlightened people and the people's representatives are aware of the need to put an end to the jungle raj.
What about your personal role in this task? Any chance of your emerging once again as a chief ministerial candidate?
Our party has made its position clear. I do not have anything to add to it.