Leader of Opposition in the Bihar assembly, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s young face, Tejashwi Yadav will encounter his biggest political challenge in the upcoming state assembly polls he has to contest in the absence of his incarcerated father, Lalu Prasad. He spoke about the political landscape in an interview:
1) Is the ground situation conducive for free and fair polls in Bihar, given the pandemic?
A: On Covid-19, I have been requesting the government since March that testing be done on larger scale and the capacity of institutional care be enhanced. However, it fell on deaf ears. The abject failure of the Nitish government in handling the pandemic and the migrant workers issue has led to chaos and insecurity among the people. There seems to be no containment and mitigation strategy in place. Bihar is worst hit and health experts fear countless deaths primarily because of the abysmally low testing and dilapidated medical infrastructure.
In my opinion, this is not the appropriate time to conduct elections considering the alarming spread of this disease. I will be the last person to have an election on dead bodies. If Nitish Kumar acknowledges that Covid is still a crisis, elections can be postponed until the situation improves but if he thinks Covid is not a problem, elections must be conducted with traditional means of electioneering. Let there be a fair ground for all parties, and allow rallies, door-to-door and full-fledged campaigns. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United) are parties of capitalists and have immense resources. (So) restricting the medium of campaign would be antithetical to the very purpose of election in a democracy.
President rule could be a stop-gap interim arrangement if constitutional obligation requires it.
2) Is the RJD ready to contest if elections are held on time? How prepared are you to reach out virtually to the electorate?
A: RJD’s campaign will not be about spending big monies. We will enter the election with principled-politics that speaks to the marginalised and the poor in a down to earth manner. Our campaign will not be a spectacle, it’ll be based on genuine communication of our plans rooted in the aspirations of the people. We shall go to the people with a robust blue-print for transforming Bihar in education, health, agriculture, employment and industrialisation.
The political wisdom of the people from my state is unmatched. They are fed up with the ever rising corruption, crimes, unemployment, inflation and flip-flops of Nitish Ji. Yes, it’s going to be a challenge to switch to virtual canvassing. For poor parties like us and others, who don’t have money to pay for such huge expenditures to counter them, it would be unfair and amount to robbery of democracy and mandate. Sensing defeat, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has started tweaking the rulebook of Election Commission (EC). Postal ballots for Covid patients, virtual rallies and all should be seen in that context. Physical canvassing helps in understanding the problem and needs of the voters as its more interactive.
3) The RJD-led alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls could win only one seat that was in the Congress quota. So there are questions about the combine’s viability.
A: Parliamentary and assembly elections are two different things. Issues and circumstances are different. Assembly elections are fought on local day to day governance issues concerning the people’s basic needs: education, migration, infrastructure development, job creation, and of course, health.
Despite the machinations at the BJP-JD-U’s disposal, our alliance will sweep this election. This ruling combine can’t always fool and cheat the people with false promises and by fomenting fears. They have pushed Bihar further into backwardness in their 15 years of rule. Everyone in Bihar knows how the mandate was hijacked in 2017 (when Nitish walked out on RJD). The BJP is in power with Nitishji without any reason and vision.
4) Some of your smaller allies including Jitan Ram Manjhi have reservations about your projection as the combine’s chief ministerial face. You also have detractors in the Congress’s state unit.
A: This is not the time to be bogged down with such considerations. We must have credible plans for a historical alternative for Bihar. Democratic politics is nothing without such pushes and pulls. Only a delusional person can think that he has no opposition or no detractors. My eyes and mind are all open. In any alliance, it’s a settled principle that the party having a larger presence is chosen its leader.
5) How confident are you of keeping the alliance intact? Have you had talks with Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders to expedite an electoral pact?
A: Consultation and deliberation on seat sharing and common minimum program are underway. I am confident of bringing together a credible, committed and progressive alliance. Anyone familiar with the history of RJD knows that we have a stellar record of building alliances. Laluji facilitated the most historic, progressive alliances that gave alternatives in politics. But it’s important to note that the RJD has been equally comfortable in the opposition. We never climbed into any “winning permutation”, we never abandoned our principles in exchange of morsels of power.
6) You recently sought forgiveness for mistakes, if any, during the 15 year rule (from 1990-2005) of your father and mother. Is that your way of reaching out to forward caste communities with whom your party has a history of troubled relations? The question’s pertinent as Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, an old colleague of your father recently quit as vice president of RJD.
A: No person or regime can be perfect. If anyone thinks he’s perfect, he is mistaken. Our 15 years took governance to the doorsteps of the poor and marginalised. That’s why the people rewarded us for 15 years. I wasn’t around then, still I don’t hesitate to accept shortfalls if there were any.
One needs to understand the history of Bihar which has been a victim of chronic neglect. The problems are many and difficult to tackle. Laluji and Rabriji privileged social justice in a deeply feudal society. A sense of equality, a possibility of egalitarian governance was communicated to the people.
We are committed to reaching out to all sections of the society. Bihar cannot progress if all communities do not participate. Raghuwansh Babu is a senior leader and a fatherly figure to me. He is there in the party. But will Nitishji tender apology for the mandate he violated before the 2014 polls and by walking out on the RJD in 2017? Will he seek forgiveness for 55 scams, the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, the migrants’ issue, highest unemployment and deteriorating education, health and law and order in Bihar?
7) The regret you qualified with an IF is seen also in the context of chief minister Nitish Kumar’s challenge to debate his 15 years with those of your party’s rule.
A: Nitish Kumar is such a winning face that in his entire life he hasn’t ever fought elections on his own. Why doesn’t he fight alone and see the result of his 15 years of rule? Let him showcase his achievements if he has any and seek mandate. The fact that he constantly talks about the predecessor government is a testament that he has nothing to talk about his own performance. He should explain as to why Bihar ranks the lowest on all indicators of NITI Aayog, NHM and other evaluating agencies. Can we progress if we constantly talk of the past? I would not let fear mongering drive the upcoming election.
8) In the 2015 elections, you had your father by your side and Nitish Kumar on your side. Now Nitish is with BJP and you have to make do without Lalu Yadav’s real-time presence in the campaign. The odds seem daunting….
A: Laluji is always with us. His guidance comes not just from his words in real time but from his principles and his example. The magnitude of the task is big but I’m not alone. I belong to a party of people who stood their ground in the era of horse-trading. I belong to a generation of young people who are inspired by his brand of Laluwadi politics.
Lalu Ji’s absence is something which can never be compensated but as party workers we have his blessings, motivation and guidance. We have taken the resolve to fight and win this election as a tribute to the sufferings Lalu Ji is made to go through by this fascist government. I am confident that the resilience, hard work and passion of each RJD worker would bear fruit in the upcoming polls.
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