Union Power Minister RK Singh is the third-time candidate from Arrah in Bihar. Before he joined politics, Singh, who was a Bihar cadre IAS officer, had served for a long time in the State. In a freewheeling conversation, Singh talks about why the ‘jungle raj’ epithet is wrong for the state, his experiences in working with both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar as chief ministers and why he thinks naxalites have lost their idealism. Excerpts from the interview:


Tell us what ails Bihar and why development suffers in this state.

People fail to read Bihar. On one side, it is a badland, rife with corruption and casteism. On the other, if you give voters a clean choice, they will vote for the clean choice. But if the choice is between two crooks only, they will choose on the basis of caste.

You have to earn the reputation of being clean and upright. When I was a serving officer, I decided that since I am a Rajput, I would send a clear message that caste is not a criteria or the basis of any bias. If a Rajput crossed the line, I would come down more heavily on him than on a non-Rajput. After a while, everyone, including the political class, got the message that I am fair. I served under many chief ministers and every time there was a challenge, they would choose me to tackle it. Whether the government was of Karpoori Thakur or Jagannath Mishra or Lalu Prasad or Bhagwat Jha Azad or Nitish Kumar. I was supported by the leadership. They gave me respect. If an officer was upright, even Lalu Prasad would give huge respect.


So, then what holds Bihar back?

The problem with Bihar is both its politicians and bureaucrats. Politicians have to show leadership and vision. You have a bureaucracy, which is well paid and given a huge amount of security. But neither of them have shown vision.

I was DM of Champaran around 1981-82. A private engineering college was set up there. At that time, private colleges were being opened in all other states – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. But here, the state government passed a law saying that private medical and engineering colleges will not be allowed. I got the direction to close that college. But within 7-10 years, parents were selling their land to pay capitation fees for admissions in medical or engineering colleges in other states. There was a flight of capital. We showed no vision.


You constituency, Arrah, is a naxalite stronghold. How do you view them as political opponents, some of their MLAs come from poor backgrounds but do good work in the Assembly...

When I was studying in St. Stephen’s, there were my classmates and batch mates who joined the naxalite movement. Some of them were idealists. But that idealism does not exist any more. You ask my opponent, Sudama Prasad, how he owns such an expensive house. This so called movement blocked Bihar’s progress; you could not get out of the house after dark if you owned some property. There were so called class wars fought between Ranvir Sena and naxalites. I would respect them if they helped the poor get access to government resources and schemes. But they do none of that and just create divisions. About Arrah, externally, it is the impression that it is dominated by upper castes and therefore it is a safe seat for the BJP. That’s totally wrong. Sushil Modi came for my first nomination. He said that some have the impression that it is a safe seat, but it’s not. Core BJP votes constitute not even 20 per cent. The remaining are most backward, SC, ST, OBC and Muslims. The results proved it. In 2014, I won, but in 2015, BJP lost all the seven assembly seats in Arrah. In 2019, I won again. Again in the 2020 assembly elections, we won only two seats with small margins. So, it is a difficult seat. It was not easy. People vote for us. Partly it is because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and partly due to the fact that they appreciate upright people and those who work.


How do you view the re-entry of Nitish Kumar in the NDA?

It is a good thing that Nitish Kumar has again joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).