Patna, June 20: Chief minister Nitish Kumar has won the first throw of dice in what is probably the biggest gamble of his political career, sailing past the trust vote in the Bihar Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.
But losing the cushion of his coalition with the BJP and having to work with a slender edge in the Assembly isn’t a situation he regrets.
“Not for a moment,” he said in the course of an exclusive interview with The Telegraph shortly after the vote. “Not everything in politics is about jod-tod (machination) or numbers or power. There comes a time when fundamental principles have to be underlined and asserted, and I strongly believe this is such a time. The idea of India as outlined by our Constitution must remain our basic principle and what I have done comes from assertion of that idea.”
Nitish sat, relaxed of mood, in a gazebo on the lawns of his 1 Aney Marg residence, as groups of supporters, mostly from the rural hinterland, filed in to felicitate him on his victory and the installation of what the chief minister calls “a totally secular” JD(U) government in Bihar.
“The BJP chapter is closed, let there be no confusion about it,” he said. “This is a new era, a new chapter, there is no question of going back to the BJP. When we take a stand, we take a stand.”
Excerpts from the conversation:
Q: When was your mind made on parting with the BJP?
A: The way things were moving in the BJP and the speed with which they were moving, its direction was very clear to us. We have had apprehensions for a very long time, and I had been speaking about it.
I had told you almost a year ago on my Sewa Yatra in Saharsa that we had certain conditions. The leader of the NDA should be a man of secular credentials, he should be widely acceptable, he should not have rough edges, he should believe in inclusive and consensual politics. We had made this clear to the BJP too in no uncertain terms. But we had our fears. That is why we re-asserted our position in our National Council in April and I personally told the BJP leadership.
But after what happened in Goa, the coronation, the writing was on the wall. It was no longer possible for us to not respond. There is a personality cult being promoted in the BJP, we apprehend it threatens our democratic and secular traditions and institutions, we cannot be part of that. Nobody should have been surprised by our decision, least of all the BJP leadership.
My stand was totally vindicated after the kind of slogans the BJP raised on the assembly floor (Narendra Modi Zindabad! /Desh ka neta kaisa ho, Narendra Modi jaisa ho!) They were out in their true colours. Actually, they made a fool of themselves by giving the game away at the very start, I was smiling to myself. And thanking my luck that we took this decision in good time.
Are these the slogans this mandate was for? Are these the slogans we won the election on? Are these the slogans they want to shout in the Bihar Assembly? Are these the people we want to be with? No. Good riddance.
Q: There is still speculation, though, that you could go back to an alliance with the BJP, depending on the post-poll numbers….
A: The BJP chapter is closed, there can be no confusion about it. This is a new era, a new chapter, there is no question of going back to the BJP. When we take a stand, we take a stand. I know you are referring to Sharadji’s statement about Advaniji, I spoke to him and he said he has been misquoted. He never said anything of the sort, he has issued a denial. This decision is not based on numbers and number games. This is an ideological decision, what we have done is in the defence of a pluralist and secular India, which is under challenge from forces that are dominating the BJP today. This is not about Bihar alone, this is about India and its secular and democratic spirit. There can be no compromise on it at any stage, for anything.
I wanted to say many more things in my reply but did not get the time. But in the time to come I will articulate them strongly. We cannot let narrow sectarian and regional ideologies take over. The people of this country will not allow it. People are deluded that there is a wave. There is no wave. Some corporates and a handful of party cadres don’t create waves, they can create illusions. You will see how this so-called wave vanishes. I see no wave, some people might be seeing it but they are daydreaming and those dreams will be shattered, mark my words.
Q: So, is an alliance with the Congress in the works?
A: There has been no deal with the Congress, there have been no talks. Their vote for us today was just their support for the stand we have taken. They wanted to congratulate us for asserting secular principles and this was their way of doing it.
I did not even know they were going to support us until I met Sadanand Singh (Congress legislature party leader) in the Speaker’s chamber before the vote. He told me they had decided to vote for us and I thanked him, that is all there is to it at the moment. The rest is all premature speculation, who knows what will happen tomorrow, but I can tell you there have been no talks with the Congress.
Q: Do you not feel that in breaking the alliance, you have given a jolt to stability in Bihar, to the whole development effort?
A: You see, there cannot be any compromise on basic issues. Not everything in politics is about jod-tod (machination) or numbers or power. There comes a time when fundamental principles have to be underlined and asserted, and I strongly believe this is such a time. The idea of India as outlined by our Constitution must remain our basic principle and what I have done comes from assertion of that idea.
I have not broken this alliance, the BJP has. It was trying to impose on us a leader whose style and politics we have severe fundamental differences with. And they knew our uncompromising stand on the issue all along.
Q: The BJP says it hasn’t even named Narendra Modi.
A: And they want us to believe that. What is happening is clear even to a fool. They are so afraid of him they did not even want to acknowledge achievements of their own government in Bihar. Every time I spoke about the achievements of our government, they took that as criticism of someone else. They started behaving as if they were embarrassed about the achievements of their own government. Don’t I understand what model of governance and politics they want to impose on Bihar?
What is the comparison between us and Gujarat? Gujarat is a rich state and yet the minimum wage there is Rs 100 whereas we give Rs 162. Their population density is 300 per square kilometre, ours is as high as 1,100. Is there a comparison? In Bihar, the Bihar model will work, not the Gujarat model. What we want to achieve is inclusive development with justice to all, we are not exclusionists, India is not exclusionist. But from the way my erstwhile friends in the BJP were behaving it was clear they wanted to import people and models from elsewhere. Their behaviour was reeking of subservience to a dominant personality cult.
Q: There is some talk you may prevent Narendra Modi from entering Bihar.
A: Kaahe ko? Why? In this country everybody has the freedom to go anywhere and propagate their views. Humko chinta nahin hai, I am not worried. But yes, if someone tries to disturb social harmony and peace, I will deal with them with an iron hand. That is another issue on which there can be no compromise. We cannot tolerate people who wish to foment trouble, and I am confident the people of Bihar, the poor and toiling masses who want peaceful development, will not allow anyone to create trouble. They have a sense of ownership on this government, they will themselves rise to protect it from any manner of threat.
Q: There is worry among the same people, though, that your move will weaken this government and impact governance and development adversely.
A: That concern will be addressed. Anybody trying to disrupt governance for political ends will be met, the rule of law will prevail, there are no two ways about it. Mischief will be dealt with. I can understand that initially there will be some amount of unease when a stable alliance breaks. People might turn apprehensive, that is natural. But slowly, the message will go down. We are committed to strengthening governance and development efforts. I have nothing else to do in government.
Q: Politics may take up a lot of your time now that you have a big and aggressive Opposition. Won’t that impact governance?
A: That is part of the game, that always happens. In power you cannot escape politics and you cannot escape governance. But all my time is available for that, and until I am in power, I will remain committed to the tasks my government has repeatedly underlined. People will get the message.