In the turbulent 1970s, Ravi Shankar Prasad was Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Secretary in the Patna University students’ union.
Jailed with the rest of Jayaprakash Narayan’s followers during the Emergency, the current Telecom Minister has been an observer and participant in the complex, caste-ridden politics of the Hindi heartland.
The coming together of disparate elements of the erstwhile Janata Parivar in today’s Bihar, he says, is a “desperate”, last-ditch attempt to fight the Narendra Modi wave in the poll-bound State.
Responding to Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav’s assertion on Wednesday that the poor have “consolidated” behind the ruling alliance, Prasad told BusinessLine that Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav’s desertion of the ‘grand secular’ alliance proves that the “Janata ship is sinking” in Bihar. Excerpts from the interview:
The BJP is being accused of intimidating Mulayam Singh Yadav into deserting the Janata Alliance…
The inherent contradictions of this unholy alliance are coming out on their own. What has the BJP got to do with it?
Hypothetically, even if we wanted to create a rift, do you think we would have succeeded if Mulayam had not sensed that this ship is sinking?
On a more serious note, the so-called Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) is an opportunistic and impractical alliance. Nitish Kumar has built his entire political career by fighting and condemning Lalu Prasad Yadav. He created the myth of good governance around his leadership. Suddenly, they are best friends. How do you turn the clock back in a matter of months?
What is happening now is that while Lalu is still practising the 90s-style politics – where caste consolidation could fetch you votes – Nitish has to bear this cross.
He has to carry the legacy of the ‘Jungle Raj’.
As a lawyer who fought the fodder and bitumen scam, I want to ask Nitish Kumar how he justifies this level of corruption. He will spend the rest of the campaign in trying to justify the pains of the past. How does he create a vision for the future?
But at least the Mahagathbandhan has a credible face in Nitish Kumar who has kept the development discourse alive. Who does the BJP have?
The Prime Minister symbolises development. Even the hardened secularists cannot dispute the fact that he has set the agenda for elections purely on a development plank by announcing the special package for Bihar.
The entire discourse is around the special package. Even Nitish Kumar is arguing on that plank although I have to ask him – if you could generate ₹2.50 lakh crore on your own, why have you been demanding a special package? He is contesting the PM’s package of ₹1.25 lakh crore while he meekly accepted the ₹12,000 crore that his friend Chidambaram gave him.
And let me tell you the reality of Nitish Kumar’s development façade.
Not a single medical college has been set up in Bihar; no engineering or technical education institution. I wrote to Nitish Kumar about setting up an electronic hub. I even spoke to him about it. In fact, Jitan Ram Manjhi had announced plans for setting up a software park in Darbhanga and Bhagalpur. But Nitish has done nothing to follow it up. He is not interested.
You did not answer my question. Who does the BJP have as CM candidate? Are you a contender as well?
We are fighting as a unit in Bihar. It is [a] collective leadership. And I already have a job in Delhi.
Honestly, Mr Prasad, you should at least admit that you are fighting a formidable alliance of caste groups.
Let me explain the context in which the present elections are being contested. Politics in India has progressed in three broad phases – politics of welfare and want, politics of identity and the contemporary phase of politics of development and aspiration. The problem with the socialists is that they are still living in the era of Mandal and Kamandal which peaked during the 1990s and early part of this millennium.
We have now entered the phase of development and aspiration with which the youth and large section of aspiring Indians identify. The BJP has recognised the aspiration of the voters and responded to it politically. The PM’s speeches are a reflection of this recognition. But with Lalu Prasad Yadav sitting astride his shoulders, Nitish Kumar cannot speak this language. That is where we score.