New Delhi: The BJP, on the one hand, wants Chirag Paswan to burn ally Janata Dal (United)’s home, and on the other wants Asaduddin Owaisi to cut the secular vote, said Congress party’s Shaktisinh Gohil two days before Bihar begins its three-phased assembly election.
In an exclusive Zoom interview to ThePrint Monday, the Congress’ Bihar in-charge went on to attack the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), saying it wasn’t a gathbandhan (alliance) but a ‘thug bandhan’ (alliance of bandits).
“BJP ke ek haath me Chirag hai, jisse woh apna ghar roshan karna chahti hai, JD(U) ka ghar jalana chahti hai aur saath hi Chirag (Paswan) ko bhi khatam karna chahti hai (BJP has a Chirag (flame) in one hand, with which it wants to light up its home, burn down JD(U) and also finish Paswan himself),“ Gohil said.
Gohil was referring to the Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)’s continued criticism of the JD(U) while repeatedly backing the BJP. Paswan, who walked out of the NDA at the start of October, has been urging LJP supporters to vote for the BJP where his party isn’t in the fray. He has, however, been campaigning against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the BJP-JD(U)’s chief ministerial candidate.
“If Chirag is not part of the NDA, then why doesn’t PM Modi remove him, distance themselves? If you are right, then remove Chirag completely, but they won’t do that,” Gohil said.
Paswan had last week said he is Narendra Modi’s “Hanuman” and that the prime minister lives in his heart.
“Par BJP usi Hanuman ki pooch me aag lagake kiska ghar jalana chahti hai? Yeh janta hai, sab jaanti hai (But who house does BJP want to burn down by setting fire to that very Hanuman’s tail? The people know everything),” Gohil said.
The leader also hit out at the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi for contesting the Bihar elections and cutting the secular vote.
“BJP ke doosre haath me Owaisi ‘rupee petrol pump hai’ … jo secular leader ko BJP nahi khatam kar sakti, usey Owaisi khatam kar deta hai (BJP has the ‘Owaisi rupee petrol pump’ … whichever secular leader can’t be defeated by the BJP, is defeated by Owaisi),” Gohil said.
He cited the example of Maharashtra Congress leader Mohammed Arif Naseem Khan who lost a seat in the 2019 state election to Shiv Sena.
“Naseem Khan was a very good candidate, and BJP knew they couldn’t defeat him. But by making Owaisi stand, they made sure he can be defeated,” Gohil claimed.
Bihar will begin voting on 28 October, while counting of votes is scheduled for 10 November.
‘Rahul spoke of China as it is connected to Bihar emotions’
Bihar leaders of the opposition mahagathbandhan, which includes the Congress, had so far maintained that their strategy is to focus on the local issues of the state, and not on national issues such as the tensions with China. This, despite the fact that the NDA, on multiple occasions, has broached the India-China stand-off.
In an election rally last week, PM Modi paid his respects to the “sons of Bihar”, the Bihar Regiment soldiers who were killed in the Galwan Valley skirmish in June.
“They repeatedly try to divert from the state issues, by not talking about the economy, or the coronavirus and migrant crises. But the people of Bihar are smart, they will not fall for it,” Gohil said.
However, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, broke the strategy in his first rally, held the same day as Modi’s, questioning the PM on the soldier’s deaths. When asked why Gandhi made China a campaign issue, Gohil said the matter “is very much a state subject”.
“He didn’t talk about anything else but the slain soldiers of the Bihar Regiment. This is an issue close to the hearts of the people of Bihar.”
“When the soldiers lost their lives, PM Modi gave a statement that ended up helping China. He said there are no Chinese soldiers in India. This is of course a statement that hurt the people of Bihar, so it needs to be addressed,” Gohil said.
‘Chanakya land has proven all opinion polls wrong before’
All major opinion polls have predicted a lead for the NDA in the Bihar elections, but Gohil said such polls “have been proven wrong in Chanakya’s land”.
“In the 2015 Bihar elections, all opinion polls had predicted that NDA will get 2/3rd majority. The actual result was completely different. This is Chanakya’s land … all opinion polls will be wrong again.”
The Lokniti-CSDS opinion poll conducted between 10 and 17 October predicted a 6 per cent vote-share lead for the NDA over the mahagathbandhan — 38 per cent versus 32 per cent.
The ABP opinion poll gave the RJD 56-64 seats in the grand alliance, while the Congress is predicted to win about 12-20.
Gohil dismissed the notion that the Congress could drag down the overall vote-share of the mahagathbandhan, but admitted that it did not get the seats it wanted.
“It’s true that we didn’t get all the seats we wanted. But this is dilon ka milan, not dalo ka milan (This is a meeting of hearts, not of parties). Which is why despite not having all the seats of our liking, I am sure the mahagathbandhan will do well,” Gohil said.
All opinion polls have predicted a strong anti-Nitish Kumar wave in the state, but the Congress might not be able to ride that wave given that in over half the seats it is contesting (37) in the 243-member assembly, the Congress is fighting a BJP candidate and not JD(U).
Gohil responded to this saying “people see through the JD(U)-BJP alliance”.
Representation for Muslims, Dalits, upper castes
Addressing the thinking behind the Congress’ ticket distribution, Gohil said the party tried to “strike a balance”.
The Congress has fielded Muslim candidates in 12 of the 70 seats it is contesting, the highest percentage of Muslim candidates (17 per cent) among all parties contesting the assembly election. Muslims account for around 17 per cent of the population in Bihar and are a substantial vote-bank.
Further, the party has fielded 14 Dalits, 9 other backward class (OBC) candidates and 33 from upper castes.
“It must be remembered that we are fighting as an alliance. So we did get some seats where social engineering was very difficult, but all five parties in the alliance sat together and made sure that overall, we can ensure a certain balance while releasing the list of 243 candidates,” Gohil said.
“We have tried to ensure that backward, the extremely backward classes (EBC), Dalits, Muslims, all get some representation. We have also tried to ensure there are enough young candidates,” Gohil said.
The party, though, has fielded just two EBC candidates.
‘Rahul Gandhi is not Modi, has morals’
On ally RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate, Gohil appreciated him for positioning himself as “Bihar’s son”.
“RJD is the bigger party in the alliance. Tejashwi Yadav is their CM-face and we respect him. He has said he will not look at religion or caste, but be everyone’s leader,” Gohil said.
Gohil further said that the mahagathbandhan has only promised “doable” things, and not jumlas (rhetoric).
“BJP’s former president said that election promises are like jumlas, but we do not believe that way. We made the job promises which were possible,” Gohil said, referring to remarks by Amit Shah in 2015, then the BJP president, on PM Modi’s promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh in each citizen’s account from the black money repatriated. Shah had said Modi’s promise was an “idiom” and not to be taken literally.
On the question of this being a crucial election for Rahul Gandhi, given how he is the party’s star campaigner, Gohil said Gandhi will “always be the party’s leader”.
“Modi and morals travel in opposite directions. Rahul ji has morals, he will not say things he doesn’t mean. He wouldn’t say corona will go away in 21 days and then do nothing, or promise two crore jobs and do nothing,” Gohil said.
“He was and always will be our leader.”