Chirag Paswan, 38, now the president of the Lok Janshakti Party following his father Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise, faces a litmus test in the ongoing Bihar Assembly election. While he refused to be formally a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), he has been making news with his pledges of allegiance to Narendra Modi, even as he berates Nitish Kumar. In an interview to Frontline, he spoke on Nitish Kumar's leadership and his vision for the State. Excerpts:
Under what circumstances did you decide to part ways with the NDA? How will this further the prospects of the Lok Janshakti Party?
The only reason for me to leave the so-called NDA–I say so because I still believe the actual NDA is the LJP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–is the incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumarji. I firmly believe that under his leadership our State has gone from bad to worse. Look at the different parameters that define development in a State, importantly the information technology (IT) sector. There’s hardly any utilisation of the IT sector in my State. When was the last time the Chief Minister held an investors’ summit? The only thing the C.M. focuses on is vote-bank politics and appeasement politics. I had told the senior leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party that if he was going to be the face of the NDA, then I cannot be a part of it. I don’t want to see Nitishji as the Chief Minister of my State ever. Also read:Will Chirag catch the light?
You say the Chief Minister focused on caste equations and neglected development. But why are you not blaming the BJP for the same, given that the party is a major stake-holder in the Government?
The Chief Minister runs a one-man show and refuses to entertain suggestions in policy-making. He doesn’t consult even his own party members in important decision-making. It is an open secret.
That essentially points to a cowed-down and shaky character of the BJP. Why should one expect them to provide good leadership?
Well, for me that is a matter of concern, and I wrote an open letter to BJP president J.P. Naddaji. I stressed that Saat Nishay continued to be the NDA’s agenda, despite it having been drafted when Nitishji was heading the Grand Alliance government with the RJD and the Congress. I am surprised that the BJP does not even chart out a common minimum programme. But I and my party cannot bow down to the agendas of Nitishji. I have drafted the “Bihar first, Bihari first” vision, based on inputs from over four lakh people with whom I interacted across the State.
It seems that the most pressing factor for you was to contain Nitish Kumar, when you walked away from the NDA. This validates the perception that your departure is part of a design to scupper Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United)’s prospects and thereby help the BJP lay claim on the C.M.’s post, if the coalition returns to power.
I don’t know what makes you say so. I have my own party, my own policies, my own constituency. I am not here as Team B of anybody, tasked with vote-cutting. My goal is to incorporate my “Bihar first, Bihari first” vision in the next government. I am here to contest and win enough number of seats so that eventually the BJP and the LJP together form the government. I don’t think Nitish Kumarji will get enough mandate to form another government with the BJP. Also read:Nitish Kumar: Alone in a battle
Will you join a coalition headed by Nitish Kumar either in the NDA or in the Grand Alliance if the numbers throw up such a scenario where the JD(U) does not collapse and the LJP emerges as the kingmaker?
That’s too hypothetical for me to imagine and answer, but still I would say that if the BJP-JDU can form the government with my support, I would definitely ask for changing the face of the government. Whomsoever Narendra Modiji chooses from the BJP would be acceptable to me and my legislators.
But why are you assuming that Nitish Kumar would be okay playing second fiddle in such a formation? What if he switches sides again? Would you accept him as the leader of a Grand Alliance government?
Exactly. That is what I am trying to tell the people of my State and the BJP, that there is a 100 per cent chance of that happening again. He is so fond of the chair he is sitting on. That is the reason he switched sides twice in the past five years and earned the sobriquet ‘paliti ram’. After cursing the “jungle raj” for 10 years he formed a government with the RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal] in 2015. His position vis-a-vis Narendra Modiji also vacillated. But, ultimately, whosoever in the BJP is dealing with Nitish Kumarji has to deal with that scenario. Personally, I feel that Nitishji, if he gets the opportunity, will not hesitate to go back to the Grand Alliance if the C.M.’s chair is offered.
Would you lend support to a JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine?
Well, one can never say never, but I am saying never, not possible. Our history shows that we have never done post-poll alliances. We always had a pre-poll alliance. My party will support only a BJP C.M.
Why are you so fascinated with the BJP?
I am not fascinated with the Bharatiya Janata Party. It’s only the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Why are you fascinated with Narendra Modi? As opposed to your party’s focus on subaltern politics, PM Modi’s term in office is punctuated with atrocities against Dalits, the Hathras case being the latest example.
I do not believe in caste politics. My Prime Minister, I know personally, does not believe in caste politics. There is a thought process focused on development, and that serves as the common platform.
How do you look at repeated atrocities against Dalits that have intensified in the past six years?
Well, I believe that it is only our Prime Minister who has tried to inject a symbolic sense of pride to this section of society. During the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, he washed the feet of Dalit workers there. When the Supreme Court judgment diluted the provisions of the S.C./S.T. Prevention of Atrocities Act, the Central government and the Prime Minister intervened, extended the House for a day or two and got a resolution passed in the Lok Sabha as well as Rajya Sabha and remedied the grievances of the SCs and STs. Of course, it will take a lot more effort to uplift these sections into the mainstream.
Do you think there is common ground between your politics and Tejashwi's politics?
Not really, I don’t see any common ground between my politics and his politics. He has promised one million jobs to the people of Bihar, but I think there is no base to that assertion. Also read:‘Our campaign is touching people’s hearts and minds’: Tejashwi Yadav
Will the migrants’ issue and agrarian crisis influence the election outcome? If yes, how?
The migrants’ issue is definitely one of the important issues in this election. I am raising it myself. I feel for them. They walked hundreds of kilometres to return home and here my Chief Minister was giving statements that they wouldn’t be allowed inside the State. My kids were crying in Kota and my C.M. was not ready to bring back those kids. There is tremendous anger against Nitish Kumar.
Isn’t that a paradox? The BJP should be equally to blame. They are in the Centre as well as in the State.
No, it is not a paradox. As I told you before, the C.M. runs the State’s affairs himself and is averse to doing any consultations.
What are your views on the Centre’s recent farm laws?
Let me be very honest with you. I have not gone through them at all. That was the time when my father was in the ICU and I could not participate in the whole debate. But coming back to my State election, I do not see anybody talking much about that. Also read:Agricultural reform or battering ram?