Patna: The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will not support the leadership of any party except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Bihar elections, its chief Chirag Paswan has said, days after the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) hinted at a tacit understanding between him and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejaswhi Yadav.
According to Chirag, the son of the late Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who died this month, the LJP will only form the government with the BJP in Bihar after 10 November, when election results are declared.
“Allow me to put this on record and please show it to me again on 10 November, just in case I take any other stand. Let me say this categorically, on record, that the LJP will not support anybody’s leadership, whether it is anyone from the Mahagathbandhan (Congress-RJD alliance) or anyone from the JD(U) or whether it is the current CM Nitish Kumar ji. We are not going to support anyone else except a chief minister candidate from BJP,” Chirag said.
Just ahead of the Bihar elections, Chirag led his party out of the NDA in Bihar, reiterating its support for the BJP even as he lashed out at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U).
The LJP has fielded many candidates against the JD(U), especially a number of BJP rebels, and is confident of damaging Nitish’s prospects. Chirag said he has told his cadres that on seats where the LJP is not contesting, they should support the BJP.
“Yes, of course. Yes. I’ve said that. And I want the BJP to perform well because, eventually, I am looking forward to a double-engine ki sarkar, the BJP-led government at the Centre and in Bihar, too,” he said.
When asked who would be the chief minister, he said, “Anyone can be the face of the government, that doesn’t bother me.”
Is he open to the idea of being the CM face? “No, no of course not (it won’t be me) because I have said it will be a BJP-led government. So anyone from BJP, my MLAs will support them,” he said.
Chirag, 37, represents the Lok Sabha seat for Jamui. The former actor spoke to ThePrint at his residence in Patna, sitting before a huge garlanded photograph of his father, who had been a titan of Indian politics for decades. Paswan died earlier this month at a Delhi hospital, days after he underwent heart surgery.
Over an hour-long interview, Chirag spoke about his support for the prohibition in Bihar even as he assailed its implementation under Nitish. He criticised the Chief Minister as being “full of himself” and made light of polls that have predicted a lukewarm response for the LJP in the three-phase Bihar polls that start Wednesday.
‘Liquor available more easily now’
Bihar may be under prohibition, but liquor is “available all the more easily now”, said Chirag. If he is voted to power, he will review the prohibition scheme to ensure the implementation is better and liquor is not sold illegally, he added.
“Liquor is available all the more easily now. I doubt there would be any Bihari who used to drink earlier and doesn’t drink now. I am sure they are still getting alcohol easily. Earlier, they had to buy (it) from the shops but now it is being home-delivered. Smugglers are being born every day and Nitish ji is not giving any employment, so people are getting involved in all this,” he said.
“I can say it with authority that all the JD (U) ministers would know that liquor is available. I won’t be surprised if even the CM is also aware. I think even the prohibition scheme should be reviewed. Before anyone makes an issue out of it, let me clarify that I am all for prohibition but the execution has to be done. Carry out stings (sting operations) and you’ll know what the reality is,” he added.
Chirag said the upcoming election in Bihar is different since it is not being contested on issues “Hindu-Musalman, caste”. “Unemployment is a big issue and it is on these issues that elections should be fought… Development should be an issue. The CM has categorically said that we can’t have industry as we are a land-locked-state. Well, Punjab, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are also like that. So what is stopping you?”
Reacting to opinion polls that have said the LJP will not make much impact during these elections, Chirag said: “I would invite you to come and see my rallies and see my road shows, the kind of response that I’m seeing, especially from the young Biharis. It’s unprecedented. I’ve never witnessed anything like this.
“I’ve been campaigning with my father for almost 15-20 years now. I’ve been in active politics for the past few years, but I’ve never witnessed anything like this. The kind of craze, the kind of aggression I see in the youth of Bihar… So, yes, that definitely gives me the confidence that the youth of Bihar is looking forward to the change,” he added.
Chirag said he won’t react to the BJP’s allegations that he is a “vote-cutter”, or “vote katua”, a term employed by some leaders of the party. “I don’t know whether I’m a vote-cutter, or not, I won’t say anything on that, because I don’t like this terminology of ‘vote katua’… This party was built by my father, and the people who were supporting him a while ago, who were there in his cabinet, are using this terminology, which I’m not very happy about.”
He said he is sure that not only will his party perform well in the Bihar polls, but the JD(U) will fare badly. “I think only time will tell, but the kind of support that I’m seeing and the kind of anger that I see for the current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ji, that gives me the confidence that… the JD(U) will perform very badly. And in return, me, my party LJP will gain majorly,” he said.
Chirag added that he has no anger towards the BJP for describing him as a vote-cutter, but admitted that he was “a little sad”.
“Because one thing I know (is) that they are voicing the thoughts of my chief minister. So my chief minister is used to this working style, you know, he himself doesn’t say anything, you know, directly. He never says anything to anybody. But then he made sure that the others say things on his behalf.
“So, whatever the leaders in the party are voicing, that is actually the thought of my chief minister. And I had no issue with that. But then yes, definitely. I was a little sad, because the leaders were talking against my party and using terms like vote-cutter… they were using it against my father’s party that was built by him for over two decades. It was not even a month back that my father was present in a (Union) cabinet meeting and they were his colleagues. And they are using terms like this immediately after his demise.”
Even as Chirag has been highly critical of Nitish, he has not said a word against the BJP, which is in alliance with the JD(U). “It’s all about the leadership. It’s about who’s leading the team. I mean, if I can give you an example from the Indian cricket team, it all depends on the captain. If Dhoni was leading the team, he delivered… he performed… if he didn’t, the team would have failed. Similarly, here also, whosoever is leading it, I think it is the responsibility of the CM,” he added.
Chirag said Nitish has a unilateral style of working and “everybody knows it”.
“He’s a one-man army. He’s so full of himself. He doesn’t discuss, he doesn’t take suggestions from anyone. So many times… when I was with him, and my minister was there, in his cabinet, I tried to suggest so many things to him. He was never open to suggestion. He depends a lot on bureaucracy. And you can ask his own party — no party leaders, his own ministers were consulted during policymaking, he never discussed this even with his own party leaders, forget about his alliance partners.”
Commenting on the statements made by senior BJP leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who have categorically denied that the BJP has an “understanding with the LJP”, Chirag said this was only being done as Nitish is putting pressure on the BJP.
“I think… the chief minister should thank the leaders of the BJP because every day they give him this confidence that, ‘no, we are with you and we are not with Chirag, we are not with LJP’. I have only said one thing… I believe in my prime minister and his agenda of development.”
He said he has a close bond with PM Modi, who helped him out during the “most difficult period in his life”.
“You know, my personal bonding with my prime minister is at a different level. But then yes, at a political level… I have taken a different line. I volunteered, I stood out of the alliance, but then this is how coalition governments work. This is how it’s been always. If I can give you an example of Manipur, this is what we did in Manipur, we contested against the BJP. But then, eventually, my MLA from Manipur supported the chief minister. That’s how the government was on in Manipur. So here also… yes, I might be against your alliance, against the NDA. But then, right from day one, I’ve been saying that my MLAs will eventually support a BJP CM. There will be a BJP government at the Centre and a BJP-LJP government in Bihar.”
‘I opted for a path of struggle’
One allegation Chirag has courted from the opposition is that he has no “ground connect”, unlike his father, but it’s something that doesn’t bother the young leader.
“Well, I think the decision that I’ve taken answers all of that criticism. If I was to walk on a red carpet, I think the alliance that I was in… I would have continued to be a part of that alliance, I think the alliance would have performed fairly well. And whatever seats they would have given me. I think my strike rate, just like Lok Sabha, would have been really good,” he said.
“In the Lok Sabha, we had a 100 per cent strike rate, and I think we would have performed almost on similar lines, had I been the part of it, but then I myself opted for a path of struggle. Bihar pe raaz nahi naaz karne ki meri ladayi hai (my fight is not to rule Bihar but to be proud of it),” he added.
“That’s my tagline too. If I wanted to rule over Bihar I would have stayed in the alliance and my representation in the government would have been better,” he said.
The LJP leader also accused the JD(U)-led government of corruption in the implementation of ‘Saat Nischay (seven resolutions)’, a bouquet of schemes. If his party comes to power, the scheme will be investigated, he said. “Due to the corruption in Saat Nischay, Nitish Kumar ji will definitely be behind bars. There has been rampant corruption in this scheme. We will get it investigated and if the current CM is held responsible he will be behind bars,” he said.