Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has always been the chief troubleshooter for the government and his party. When the BJP-led alliance is locked in a tense battle against a united opposition in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s must-trusted man in the government has predicted a clear majority for his side. Jaitley spoke to Kumar Uttam in Patna on the NDA’s poll prospects, his one-time friend Nitish Kumar and the impact this election will have on the economic reforms agenda of the government at the Centre. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How is the NDA placed in this election?
A: We have done quite well so far. NDA’s promise for good governance has struck a chord with the people of Bihar. This election is about the aspirations of the common man in Bihar, who wants job, growth, peace, better education and health facilities. We are extremely confident of doing well in the coming phases too and forming a government in Bihar with a clear majority.
Q: Your political rivals claim that this election is about whether or not the people of Bihar want Nitish Kumar as chief minister. Do you agree?
A: No. The Grand Alliance is a very scary alliance. There is no cohesion. They have chosen somebody (Nitish) as their leader against whom he (Lalu) fought for the last 20 years. This is not going to work. Bihar could not go beyond the elementary work that is now being sought to be presented as development. Even, this elementary work happened in the first term of Nitish Kumar, of which the BJP was a part. Things started turning worse when Nitish changed his intentions. NDA is the only alternative. People of Bihar know that very well.
Q: What do you think gives you an edge over Nitish Kumar?
A: Lalu Prasad’s track record is a big liability for the Grand Alliance. He is the dominant force in that alliance. He is primarily responsible for where Bihar is today. The very thought of a critical say for the RJD, whose rule is reminiscent of jungle raj, creates fear in the minds of the people of Bihar. People will keep this in mind when they go out to vote. They will not want to turn the clock back.
Q: Is Lalu’s stronghold over certain communities the biggest worry for the NDA?
A: The JD(U) has a shrinking support base. The Congress has virtually no support base. RJD is the dominant party as far as the Grand Alliance is concerned. The fear of a chaotic alliance in this land of opportunities is something the people would want to avoid.
Q: How do you see the Grand Alliance placed in this election?
A: They (Lalu and Nitish) have displayed extreme opportunism. They represented the legacy of (socialist leader Ram Manohar) Lohia but finally embraced the Congress. The Grand Alliance has become a political group which does not have any ideology. They can support the BJP in the name of anti Congressism. They can support the Congress in the name of opposing the BJP. Its political flexibility is its opportunism. The aspirational class of Bihar wants to give the NDA an opportunity to change the fate of the state.
Q: Do you see any pattern in the high turnout of women voters in Bihar who were believed to have voted for Nitish Kumar in the last two elections?
A: You can look at the higher turnout of women voters from a different angle. It may not be only because a large number of them have turned up to cast their vote. It is also primarily because of the reason that a large number of males living in the rural areas of Bihar have gone out of the state in search of livelihood and may not be available to vote. This also points to Nitish’s failure to provide jobs to his people in the state.
Q: Will the outcome of this election have any bearing on your economic reform agenda?
A: It will have certain bearing on the numbers (in the Rajya Sabha). It will be important.
Q: Will it also lead to some sort of chemistry between your political rivals?
A: Chemistry is something which totally depends of numbers. It is the number which will be important.
Q: Is there any apprehension about Bihar battle becoming a forward versus backward contest after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks about reservation?
A: Those are non issues. Bhagwatji never said what is being made out by a section of the people in Bihar. Since the Grand Alliance has no issue to fight this election, they are trying to invent something which really does not exist.
Q: Many BJP ministers and leaders, latest being VK Singh, have been making controversial remarks. Do you see these remarks getting resonance in Bihar election?
A: As I said, these are non issues. The real issues about which people are bothered is really something different. People will vote for those real issues and not on something which the opposition is trying to manufacture.