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|January 30, 1998|
The Rediff Election Interview/ Sushil Kumar Modi
'In the last seven years nearly 5 million Biharis have left the state'He shared a prison cell with Laloo Prasad Yadav during the Emergency, but today Sushil Kumar Modi, leader of the Opposition in the Bihar assembly, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader are sworn enemies. It was Modi who led the campaign against Yadav in the fodder scam; his revelations in the state assembly bore a startling resemblance to the Central Bureau of Investigation's eventual chargesheet against the then chief minister.
Despite their proximity in prison and in the post-Emergency era, there has always been an ideological chasm between the two men. When they enlisted in Jayaprakash Narayan's Navnirman movement, Laloo Yadav was a leader of the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha at Patna university while Modi represented the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad, a subsidiary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In an eloquent interview toSyed Firdaus Ashraf in Patna, Modi claims the BJP-Samata Party alliance will sweep the poll in Bihar and deliver a humiliating defeat to Laloo Yadav.
What issues will you focus on this election?
In Bihar, corruption will naturally be the main issue on our agenda. Second, the deterioration of law and order, and third, development which has been stalled in Bihar for the last seven years under Laloo's raj.
On the all-India level, we will project voting for a stable and able leader, A B Vajpayee.
How many seats do you expect to win this time?
The last time the BJP-Samata Party combine won 24 seats in Bihar. This time, I feel we will cross the 40 seat mark.
What is the basis for your claim? Laloo Yadav has an understanding with the Congress and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Will this not hurt your party's prospects?
The Congress-RJD alliance in north and central Bihar will not affect us, since the Congress's entire base has shifted to the BJP. There are no Congress votes left in the region to shift to the RJD.
In south Bihar where we won 14 seats last time, an alliance between the Congress and JMM is impossible. There can be an alliance between the RJD and the Congress, or between the RJD and the JMM. But an alliance between the Congress and JMM is next to impossible. And since there is no question of such an alliance, it won't affect the BJP. The credibility of both the Congress and the JMM is so low, they won't be able to win a single seat. Moreover, the people of south Bihar know that only a BJP government at the Centre will give statehood to the Chhotanagpur-Santhal-Patana region.
How can you say that the Congress votes have shifted to the BJP in north and in central Bihar?
In the last election, the Congress base was so badly shaken that it won only 12 per cent of the votes in Bihar. In the last year, the vote of the entire upper castes, the traditional stronghold of the Congress, has shifted to the BJP. Long before this, the Muslim and harijan votes had already shifted to other parties.
Samata Party leader Anand Mohan has joined the Samajwadi Party. Don't you think this could affect the BJP-Samata alliance?
Only some ruffians and anti-social elements are with Anand Mohan. I think this election will teach him a lesson. I feel he won't be able to cut his losses.
A lot of MNCs have set up factories in other states, especially after liberalisation. Have any MNCs come to Bihar?
Forget MNCs, not even a single NRI has come to Bihar. Not a single industrialist has set up an industry in Bihar. Moreover, after liberalisation two important central government units, Bihar Alloys and the Musabani Mines, have closed down leading to mass unemployment. I think no capitalist can invest in Bihar as the atmosphere is not conducive in the state for investment. The law and order situation is so bad that no capitalist will invest in Bihar.
Is that the reason why many young Biharis leave the state in search of a better education and jobs?
Not only students, but people from all sections of society. In the last seven years nearly 5 million Biharis have left the state. Labourers. Businessmen. Industrialists. Students. Every segment of society which can afford to leave the state has left Bihar under Laloo's rule.
In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has formed a government. Why has the BJP been unable to do so in Bihar?
I think the most important reason for Laloo's survival has been the combination of Yadav and Muslim votes. But slowly and steadily we have been able to make inroads in both communities. In the last general election, the BJP and Samata Party proved it. I am sure we will rout Laloo in the next assembly election.
The presence of leaders like Aslam Sher Khan will be an an advantage to the BJP since the minority community will feel that they are not being ignored by the party. I am sure Muslims in this election will not oppose the BJP as they did last time.
How can you be so enthusiastic about leaders like Aslam Sher Khan and P R Kumaramangalam who have no mass base?
The presence of these leaders will surely make a difference. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is very insignificant. So a personality like Kumaramangalam will definitely help the BJP in some way. Also, the BJP needs some Muslim leaders. We have taken only those leaders who have no objection to our party's philosophy.
In 1996, you did not give a single parliamentary ticket to Muslims. That is why your former MP Arif Baig left the BJP and joined the Congress.
I agree. But this time we are planning to give tickets to Muslims. In Bihar also, we will give some tickets to Muslims.
Laloo Yadav alleges that U N Biswas, the CBI joint director in charge of the fodder scam investigation, leaked the chargesheet to you.
The fodder scam report came in when the United Front was in power at the Centre. The CBI is directly controlled by the PM's office. Laloo used to say that he was the king-maker. Until recently, three of his ministers were in the UF government, So, it is baseless to say that Biswas leaked the report to me. There is strong evidence against Laloo. I am sure that if a free trial is conducted, Laloo will be jailed for at least 10 years.
Ten years! Do you mean to say that only if the BJP comes to power will Laloo be imprisoned for ten years?
(Laughs.) No. Even if the BJP does not come to power there is strong evidence against Laloo. After being released from jail Laloo should have become CM again. But till this day he is not sure of the outcome of the fodder scam. He can again be arrested and that is why he is not holding any constitutional post.
Why has the BJP put the Ram Temple issue on the backburner? Even L K Advani says the Ram temple is not the same issue as it was five years ago.
You cannot have the same issue for each and every election. Many years ago, Indira Gandhi won an election on the issue of prices of onion. Today, onions cost Rs 16, but it is no longer an issue. It does not mean that unemployment, price rise and corruption are not issues. They are, but the political atmosphere is such that we have to raise the issue of a stable government at the Centre. In the same way, the Ram Mandir is also on our manifesto. But the Ram Mandir cannot be on the main agenda.
It is not the party which decides the agenda. It is the political atmosphere which decides the agenda. And that is why our main agenda is stability and projecting Mr Vajpayee as the PM.
The BJP continues to admit rebels from other parties -- exactly what the Congress used to do in the past. Don't you think this will affect the BJP's image?
We should be more cautious in welcoming newcomers. But if you notice, we welcome only those leaders who have a clean image in their parties. Moreover, we have formed a committee at each and every level. These screening committee screen the newcomers, checks if they have a clean image and whether they agree with the BJP's principles. There is nothing wrong if they want to join the BJP.
Does this not affect old-timers in the party? In fact, former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who is considered your bete noir, was recently made Bihar BJP president.
(Thinks.) Talented people are always welcome. But we could be a little cautious so that the new members do not exceed old party members or take over the party. The BJP has been around for the last 45 years. So some people joining the party won't affect us.
So you deny any rivalry between Yashwant Sinha and yourself?
No, absolutely not. I played a crucial role because of which Sinha has become party president in the state. I have good relations with him.
During this visit to Bihar I have seen caste tensions at every level in society. Even your party is involved in caste politics.
In Bihar, this is a reality. It is a caste-ridden society. In the BJP also while giving tickets we have to think about the social constitution of the constituency. We cannot ignore that fact. But that does not mean the BJP is spreading casteism. If in a particular constituency, 80 per cent of the population belongs to a particular caste we cannot ignore that fact.
We are under compulsion to give the ticket to a person who belongs to the largest caste in the constituency. We cannot ignore the mandate of the people. So we take the caste factor into consideration. But the BJP does not behave like the Congress and RJD which are totally involved in caste politics.
How can you say this when you yourself say that you distribute tickets on the basis of caste?
The BJP represents all sections of society. Backward castes as well as forward castes. The Congress has been reduced to an upper caste party. The RJD is reduced to a party of Muslims and Yadavs. But the BJP is a party where each and every section of society is represented. Because you cannot ignore any particular caste and religion. That is why the BJP wants Muslims, Christians and Adivasis to join the party.
How did this caste politics begin in Bihar?
This caste system is a part of Hindu society. In every state there is caste politics. What has happened in Bihar is that political leaders have exploited caste sentiments and neglected development.
You were good friends with Laloo Yadav once. How does it feel to be his enemy now?
Laloo and I joined the JP movement together. But at Patna university, we were always at loggerheads. He used to represent the Samajwadi Yuvanjan Sabha. And, I represented the ABVP. We were friends. But ideologically, we were always poles apart. I have known Laloo for the last 30 years. In fact, I know him better than any RJD leader. I know his plus and minus points. And that is the reason why we have been able to gain in Bihar.
You are seen as a city-based leader whereas Laloo Yadav has been accepted as a charismatic leader with a rural base.
I don't compete with Laloo. I have been in active politics for the last seven years whereas Laloo has been in politics for the last 20 years. I come from an urban area. But I am sure Laloo, when he was the Opposition leader, could not gather as much crowds for his meetings that I do now as Opposition leader.
When I attend a rally in any part of Bihar at least 10,000 people come to hear me. I am confident that today everyone in the rural areas knows who Sushil Kumar Modi is.
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