‘People in Bihar do not want MY, they want A to Z’: K.C. Tyagi

The JD(U) national spokesperson says that the people of Bihar will support a coalition that takes care of all castes and sections.

Published : Apr 09, 2024 20:42 IST - 7 MINS READ

JD(U) secretary general K.C. Tyagi with Bihar Chief Minister and party president Nitish Kumar in Patna on August 19, 2017.

JD(U) secretary general K.C. Tyagi with Bihar Chief Minister and party president Nitish Kumar in Patna on August 19, 2017. | Photo Credit: RANJEET KUMAR

Besides Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Bihar is the only State where the upcoming Lok Sabha election will be conducted across all seven phases. Months before the election, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, who was one of the founding members of the INDIA bloc, switched allegiances back to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—having deserted them earlier in 2022.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the NDA comprising the JD(U), the BJP, and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had swept the State, winning 39 out of 40 seats and decimating the opposition Mahagathbandhan alliance led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Come 2024, the NDA is banking on this synergy between alliance partners and the personal popularity of Nitish Kumar to win most seats despite anti-incumbency and the Congress’ caste census pitch.

In an interview with Frontline, former Rajya Sabha MP and JD(U) secretary general K.C. Tyagi spoke of how the chances of the NDA partners would not be affected by a bitter past and highlighted the contradictions within the opposition INDIA bloc. Excerpts:

Do you not think there is a problem of plenty for the NDA in Bihar with too many allies with a bitter relationship with each other in the past, say Chirag Paswan versus Nitish Kumar, Upendra Kushwaha versus the BJP as well as versus Nitish Kumar? Even Paswan’s party (Lok Janshakti Party or LJP) has two groups. How will this work on the ground?

This problem is not with us but with the INDIA alliance. Both factions of the late Ram Vilas Paswan’s party [led by uncle Paras and nephew Chirag respectively] have campaigned together with us on the same stage. Kushwaha is a senior leader, having worked with the JD(U) [Janata Dal (United)] earlier. The BJP is the pivot in the alliance and there is no dispute.

On the other hand, the RJD in its overzealousness of having its dominance as well as the sole face of Tejashwi [Yadav] has antagonised former Purnea MP Pappu Yadav from the Congress. Pappu, after being denied the ticket, is contesting independently. The RJD is not honouring either its allies or its leaders. In contrast, there is coordination between workers of the JD(U) and the BJP. We have been together for a long time. We amicably distributed seats among allies, and our leaders from different parties have also appeared on the same stage in rallies.

Also Read | Caste alliances will shape the tense battle between NDA and INDIA bloc in Bihar 

But is Nitish Kumar’s popularity graph not declining? Many believe his EBC (Extremely Backward Classes) vote has shifted to the BJP.

This alliance [of Nitish Kumar with the BJP] was firmed when George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar left Lalu Prasad’s Janata Dal, opposing his misrule in Bihar in 1994 and formed the Samata Party, which allied with the BJP. Let me go back to the post-Emergency era when socialist parties and the Jana Sangh joined hands in 1977 to oust [then Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi. Our alliance has an ideological basis, though we have parted ways a few times.

In the last Assembly election [in 2020], Chirag Paswan fought outside the NDA and fielded candidates against the JD(U) due to which we lost in more than 35 seats. So there was a reason for a decline in the number of seats but Nitish remains popular. There is no charge of corruption or nepotism on Nitish Kumar. I do not see Bihar choosing to go back to a dark age by defeating Nitish Kumar.

How do you justify Nitish Kumar frequently changing partners—going back and forth on aligning and not aligning with the BJP? Do you not think it dents his credibility? The RJD had earlier mocked him as ”Paltu” (one who makes somersaults) Kumar.

Why should Nitish Kumar be singled out for this? Does this allegation—that he broke alliances—take away the fact there is no question about his performance? This is an era of alliances and also an era of changing allies. Tell me one party that has not changed allies. The BJP allied with the National Conference and then the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party] in Jammu and Kashmir. These parties also kept changing alliances.

The Congress, after opposing the Shiv Sena for decades, allied with it. Similarly, the Congress is in alliance with the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] now, putting behind the bitter past of their relationship. In fact, the Congress withdrew support from the I.K. Gujral government in the 1990s over not taking action against DMK leaders, whom it suspected of promoting the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] who had a hand in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The Congress had even fought against the NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] for quite some time before finally aligning with it. Why blame Nitish Kumar alone for this?

“People will not buy it if one individual suddenly wakes up and starts screaming “caste census-caste census”. They can see who has a real commitment to social justice.”

But Nitish Kumar had a key role in forming the INDIA bloc and was being seen as a key Opposition face to take on the Narendra Modi-led BJP. Why this volte face?

The attempt that Nitish Kumar initiated from Patna for forming the INDIA bloc failed because of the obstinate approach of the Congress, which was unbending on imposing its family leadership [Rahul Gandhi] on the alliance. It is working at cross purposes even now.

What is the point of Rahul Gandhi fighting the election against the Left in Kerala? In West Bengal, the Congress is fighting the Trinamool Congress. In Maharashtra, seat sharing took so much time. There is no cohesion and all the allies are fighting for only their space. INDIA mein sar phutawwal hai [There are so many squabbles in INDIA].

Bihar was the one State which carried out and published a caste survey report last year but the Congress seems to have gained control over the caste census pitch. Do you think the Congress can overturn your apple cart on the OBC count in Bihar as well in the country?

In his first term itself, [Prime Minister] Jawaharlal Nehru had dismissed the demand for a caste census. There had been no caste census since 1931. After the Mandal Commission report recommending 27 per cent reservation for OBCs was implemented, Rajiv Gandhi expressed reservations. From time to time, various Congress leaders have spoken against caste-based reservation but they cannot openly oppose it due to fear of losing votes. That is the record of the Congress.

On the contrary, we are a party of social justice. Ours is a party of OBCs and Dalits. When India was in the grip of a feudal system, Karpoori Thakur in the 1970s moved to provide categorised reservation to different hierarchies of OBCs. Five decades later, Nitish Kumar did so by publishing the caste survey report and before that, by setting up a Mahadalit commission and “ati pichchda ayog” [Commission of Most Backward Classes]. People will not buy it if one individual suddenly wakes up and starts screaming “caste census-caste census”. They can see who has a real commitment to social justice.

Also Read | Power to the people: India’s democracy needs a subaltern revival

While the NDA has formed a large alliance, the voter base of MY (Muslim-Yadav) remains intact with the RJD and this is a large base to which Tejashwi Yadav is trying to add other social groups. Is it not a formidable challenge to the NDA?

This base was also with them in 2019 and then the RJD had not won even a single Lok Sabha seat. People do not want MY, they want A to Z. They will support a coalition that takes care of all castes and sections. This is what the NDA represents in Bihar, having inducted representatives from all groups.

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