If people want Rahul Gandhi as PM, no one can stop him, says Tejashwi Yadav
Tejashwi Yadav, 28, has been leading the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) with reasonable success in the absence of his father Lalu Yadav, who is in prison.Updated: Jun 04, 2018 07:39 IST
Tejashwi Yadav, 28, has been leading the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) with reasonable success in the absence of his father Lalu Yadav, who is in prison. The party’s victory in the recent Jokihat assembly bypoll, coming not long after a win in the Araria Lok Sabha by-election, has enhanced Tejashwi’s stock as a challenger to the Nitish Kumar-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Bihar and a key player in any potential Opposition alliance for the 2019 general elections. Tejashwi spoke to Saubhadra Chatterji and Kumar Uttam about the Third Front, the leadership issue ahead of next year’s polls, and the importance of the Congress in a federal alliance. Edited excerpts:
How do you view the recent bypoll results across different states?
It is clear that the so-called ‘Modi Wave’ was created on the basis of lies and tantra-mantra (hocus-pocus). After four years of the BJP rule at the Centre, the Opposition has a nearly 100% strike rate in by-elections. Once they were ruling social media, but now the BJP is in trouble there too as people have started asking questions.
We have to take forward what Lalu-ji said in terms of political experiment. We have to stop the BJP because we have to save the Constitution and democracy. We don’t want laws from Nagpur (RSS headquarters). We want Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Constitution.
Can the Grand Alliance in Bihar be a model for Opposition unity?
The BJP spread communal poison and hatred. That’s why, to stop the BJP, we decided to make a Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), despite knowing that Nitish Kumar and his associates are not trustworthy and the JD(U) (Janata Dal United) was with the BJP for 17 years. Even then we made Nitish Kumar the chief minister.
Much before electoral pacts in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, we made the alliance in Bihar. If Mayawati and Akhilesh had formed an alliance and the Opposition had a pact in Jharkhand, the BJP would not have come to power in these states. But the Opposition parties committed an error and it helped the BJP.
There might be negotiations for seat sharing in Lok Sabha polls. But till now, things are going smoothly and parties are respecting each other, making compromises where necessary. The way the SP (Samajwadi Party), BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), Congress and RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) fought Kairana was a good sign.
There are major grievances among the farmers, workers and young people. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi spoke about job creation, pitched demonetisation as a game-changer, launched the GST (goods and services tax) as if it would it would achieve everything. He promised a lot but failed to fulfil even 1% of it. Now people are seeking answers. This Opposition unity is very important. People are now realising the reality and the design of the BJP.
If we will continue like this and judge our strength on winnability, then it will be difficult for the BJP.
BJP President Amit Shah says that the BJP lost bypolls due to local issues.
What else can Amit Shah say? He has no excuses. In the Lok Sabha bypolls, the BJP sought votes on the basis of Modi’s development work. There were no local issues in those polls. His excuses won’t cut ice.
The BJP is fast losing its vote share. Does he expect that they will get the same share of votes which they got in 2014? The people will judge the BJP’s performance -- its false promises and its falsehoods -- this time. The BJP, too, is dependent on allies in many states. Look at the North-east. The BJP formed a government (in Meghalaya) after getting just two seats. And still they claim it’s a victory for Narendra Modi.
This politics of the BJP won’t go on forever. In UP, Bihar and West Bengal, the BJP collectively holds 116 seats. But there are clear signs that in UP their fortune is going down. They even lost the Gorakhpur bypoll.
In 2014, the BJP had majority on its own in Lok Sabha. Now the government is dependent on allies. The allies are disgruntled. The Shiv Sena has made it clear that it wants to fight elections alone. Chandrababdu Naidu has left the coalition. In Bihar, Jitan Ram Manjhi has also come out of the NDA. Look at the recent statements of (the Lok Jan Shakti Party’s) Ram Vilas Paswan (an ally of the BJP). The ideologies of these parties don’t match with the BJP’s.
How do you describe the Nitish Kumar-BJP relationship?
It’s a marriage of convenience. Both Nitish and the BJP have no ideology. The BJP wants to impose the law of Nagpur. But if you see the pact between Opposition parties, you will find ideological similarities. They are bound by secularism and socialism. We believe in the Constitution, Ambedkar and (Mahatma) Gandhi.
But Modi talks about Ambedkar in almost every speech. He recently inaugurated the Ambedkar memorial which no other government thought of doing so.
There is a vast difference between what he says and what he does. Look at the BJP-ruled states. Dalits are tortured and killed almost on a daily basis. And more than Modi, it is Mohan Bhagwat (RSS chief) who yields power. Modi talks against corruption but allows Lalit Modi, Nirav Modi to flee. They want to show that the man is good but maybe the party is not good. That is again false propaganda. Look at what he is doing. The BJP’s Ananth Hegde said we have come to change the Constitution but the BJP didn’t sack him. Ask Modi, who is right -- Godse or Gandhi? He will not answer.
You talk about alliance of different parties. But in the history of Indian politics, Third Fronts have never been successful.
I agree with this. But remember in those alliances, the Congress was not present. When the Congress came in the alliance, it gave us UPA 1 and UPA 2. The UPA (United Progressive Alliance) ran for a full 10 years. The Congress is the biggest Opposition party. It is the responsibility of the Congress to take others along with them. Now, for the sake of the country, we have to discard our egos. Wherever the Congress is powerful, we have to strengthen it. In 18 states, the Congress is in a direct fight with the BJP. The main role has to be played by the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi said that if the Congress becomes the largest party, he is ready to be the PM.
His logic is not wrong. Whoever is the largest party — like the BJP in 2014 — has claimed the Prime Minister’s post. If some other party emerges as the largest, they too, can claim it. Where is the problem in making such a claim? In this democracy everyone has the right to express his or her mind. But more importantly, we have to see whether they go for a pre-poll or post-poll alliance. We need better understanding too.
In Karnataka, if the Congress and JD(S) (Janata Dal Secular) had entered into a pre-poll alliance, they could have easily formed the government. As far as we are concerned, our influence is in 2-3 states. In our limited capacity, we will strive for unity among Opposition parties. And if the people of this country have made up their mind to make Rahul the PM, no one can stop him.
But under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, critics say that the Congress lost several states.
Rahul Gandhi is capable. He or even Sonia ma’am could have been the PM much earlier. He wanted to gain experience. But the way he is interacting with smaller parties, there is a big difference between what Rahul was then and (what he is) now. He faces tough questions, unlike Modi who never gives answers. In Gujarat, Rahul gave the BJP a run for its money. Now, wherever Rahul goes, Modi and Amit Shah are forced to enhance their campaign. Why is Modi so scared of Rahul Gandhi?
How important it is to sort out the leadership issue among the Opposition parties?
I hope all parties reach an agreement. Every party needs to be respected and given its due share in seat adjustments. But so far, no one has officially claimed to be the leader. Has Mamata Banerjee publicly said she wants to be the leader? Have Chandrababu or Mayawati said so? Some media people asked me if I am also in the race (laughs). Just for the sake of it, you can name anyone as the leader. I think the leadership issue will be decided after the polls. And if there is a post-poll alliance, then there will be no problem over the leadership issue.
The BJP in 2014 was able to make a rainbow coalition comprising of different castes. Can you do the same?
It will happen. People are unhappy with the Modi government’s policies like demonetisation or selling off assets to MNCs in the name of FDI. Their own voters are in illusion. As far as castes are concerned, the BJP wants to turn Dalits into slaves. Parties like the RJD have acceptability across caste lines. Now, they are projecting as if Hindus are with the BJP. They are dividing the voters.
Will you keep doors open for Nitish Kumar and Ramvilas Paswan in the anti-BJP front?
When Nitish left us and joined hands with the BJP, papa (Lalu Prasad) was asked the same question and he firmly said, “No”. After Nitish insulted the peoples mandate, people saw him as a turncoat. Now, if we take him back, people will accuse us of doing the same thing. They will say, we are ‘paltimaar’ (somersaulters). We highlighted 36 scams in the Bihar assembly against the earlier BJP-JDU government. How can we forget that?
As far as Paswan and Upendra Khushwaha are concerned, if they take a decision and admits their errors, then we can consider their plea to return to our side.
Many observers say that in Bihar you are fast becoming the biggest leader among the new generation politicians.
I will be very grateful to my Nitish chacha (uncle) for giving me this opportunity to become the leader of the Opposition at this very young age. During my tenure as minister, I formed a panel to take decisions and stopped the source of corruption at ministerial levels. People who thought I won’t be able to perform, I have proved them wrong. But I am still learning as there is no end of knowledge.
What is the difference between the RJD of Lalu Prasad and the RJD under Tejashwi?
It’s the same RJD of Lalu-ji. Even if he is not here right now, our party will run on his ideology.