Ram Vilas Paswan is a dejected man today. The main protagonist of the last assembly election in Bihar just three months ago, Paswan, has suffered a huge defeat at the hands of his archrival, Lalu Prasad Yadav, chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
As the Bihar assembly stands dissolved, Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party has suffered a division. His political base of the Muslim-Dalit vote bank -- 36 per cent of the population in the state -- will have to withstand a vigorous challenge in the next election by the National Democratic Alliance and also by the Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal combine.
In February 2005, Paswan, a Cabinet minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, went to the polls in Bihar with the slogan: 'No RJD, No BJP.' He said he would never allow the RJD or Bharatiya Janata Party to form the government in the state. He succeeded in depriving the RJD of a large chunk of its traditionally held Muslim vote-bank and also took away some upper class votes from the BJP's vote base, while retaining his hold on the Dalit vote.
Although it was the LJP's first election as a party, Paswan proved his mettle by winning 29 seats in the 243-member assembly. He also scored when he steadfastly resisted Lalu's effort to install his wife Rabri Devi as chief minister with a little help from the Congress.
Keeping in mind his ambitions to capture Muslim votes, he put forth the idea that he would only support a Muslim candidate as chief minister. Lalu rejected the idea outright, which lead to a status quo, finally resulting in President's rule being imposed in Bihar.
Then, came news of the NDA efforts to cobble a majority with rebel MLAs from Paswan's party. Lalu could not stomach the developments and persuaded UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to dissolve the Bihar assembly.
Paswan's maiden effort to win Bihar is now over. What will happen next, no one can predict. Because as Sonia Gandhi admitted recently -- Bihar is Bihar.
Meanwhile, Paswan spoke to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt about his state of mind.
How do you see the situation?
I didn't attend the Cabinet meeting on Sunday (May 22). I knew the dissolution (of the Bihar assembly) matter would come up. I was not in favour of dissolution but there was no option before the government.
The way horse-trading was going on, the government had to dissolve the assembly to stop it. But I wanted to form the government in Patna with a Muslim as chief minister. I would not have a problem if that Muslim belonged to the RJD or Congress or even Tariq Anwar of the Nationalist Congress Party.
But the RJD was rigid and stuck to Rabri Devi. The other side started horse-trading. In this situation the central government accepted the recommendations of Bihar Governor Buta Singh.
But Lalu says you should be blamed for the dissolution of the assembly.
Everything is on record. Did Lalu propose Ram Vilas Paswan's name? Did Lalu Yadav propose any Muslim name for the chief ministership? Lalu Yadav only proposed the name of Rabri. It is Ram Vilas Paswan who proposed Jabir Hussain's name before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, before Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Sonia's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel.
I proposed the names of Congress and RJD leaders for the CM's post. Tell me then, who is responsible? If Lalu would have agreed to a Muslim chief minister, my party members who escaped to the NDA would have come back to my fold.
I assure you that two-third members have not defected as required by the (Anti-Defection) law. I had 14 members with me. If Lalu would have agreed for a Muslim candidate, my party would have issued a whip and those who went with the NDA would have returned. They would have had no option but to vote in favour of the LJP-RJD-Congress government. Tell me who is responsible for the election? The man who is responsible for early election is Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Just to avoid elections you could have, as a last resort, agreed for Rabri Devi.
No, how could I accept Rabri Devi when I had announced that I will accept only a Muslim as CM? I did compromise on one point. I said I will not have any truck with the RJD but for the sake of a Muslim CM, I said okay let me accept the RJD with their Muslim candidate as CM.
Just to avoid an election, I compromised and opted to support the RJD.
Lalu Yadav is looking cheerful today and you are looking a little dejected.
He is just showing that he is happy. Only time will tell who will be a happier man. It is natural to feel low. Where 243 constituencies have gone to the polls at an expense of thousands of crores, who will feel happy to have an election again? At least I am not feeling happy. There are some people who feel like fish out of water if they are not in power.
I had assured the people that I would not allow the RJD government to come back to power. I fulfilled my promise. In the same way, I didn't allow the BJP government. My mission is accomplished. Now, President's rule will continue for six months. Again after the next election I will say: No BJP, no RJD.
In the last election I asked for votes saying no BJP, no RJD and Muslim CM only. Now, an election is called on the issue of 'Muslim-CM.' Tell me what is my loss? Now they (Lalu Yadav and the RJD) will be forced to give a clarification on why they did not accept a Muslim as CM. Lalu doesn't mind a BJP government but he is not ready for a Muslim CM. He wants only Rabri Devi. Now Lalu will be answerable, not me. I am going to have Dalit-Muslim rallies all over Bihar.
Don't you think that your political strategy to propose only a Muslim as chief minister has failed?
Not at all. I am satisfied. There is one leader around who is fighting for the rights of the minorities. It is okay if he is not appreciated. It is okay that his elected party members have deserted him. I am still fighting. For Lalu, Muslims and Yadavs only means Rabri Devi while I actually fight for Musilm-Dalits. If I had agreed to join Nitish Kumar he would have made my brother deputy chief minister. But Lalu was not ready to spare even the deputy chief minister's post in favour of a Muslim candidate.
Who has sacrificed on the issue of Muslims, Lalu or me?
Even the Congress knows that the RJD alone is not a force in Bihar. The Congress is aware that a strong fight must be put up against the NDA. Since the last many weeks, Lalu was playing games. He wanted the dissolution of the assembly. The NDA's horse-trading added fuel to the fire.
But the people of Bihar will be upset.
People are not upset with me. Why do you think Muslims are not part of Bihar? Are you from the minority? Are you upset with me? As I said, we told Lalu that let Jabir Hussain become chief minister and stop the election.
What was Lalu's argument when he refused a Muslim as chief minister?
We are not talking. We talk through the media and politicians. What I have gathered is that Lalu said either Rabri or election, nothing else.
Do you think Lalu has gone for a gamble?
He had already lost. What's his risk?
The NDA is upbeat. They have got an issue.
They were happy even before the Lok Sabha election. Do you think people will approve of the horse-trading done by the NDA? What was the reason behind kidnapping the MLAs? Why were they kept in Jharkhand, a BJP state?
In the end your party has been broken.
No. Not true. A party is made of people. Their support to me is not broken. In 42 seats, most of which are in Muslim majority areas, the LJP candidates came second. All of them have lost by marginal votes. At many places they got just 150 votes less than the winner. Now, we will get 100 per cent Muslim votes. Hum 100 per cent votes thappe mar kar lega! (We will win 100 per cent votes!)
The BJP may be happy today. But assembly elections are fought purely on ground realties. Nothing else. I will not go for any alliance. A person who is down fears no fall. I am standing on the ground. I will go alone. The dirt from my party has defected. I will expel them.
What will you tell the Biharis now, when you go back to them?
My demand for a Muslim chief minister was not a political gimmick. My party sacrificed the chance to get power for Muslims. My brother could have been deputy chief minister but we didn't opt for a compromise. What has Lalu given the Muslims?
This time there will be no division in Muslim votes. Lalu Prasad Yadav minus Muslim votes means nothing. His Yadav vote bank is fractured. How is Lalu going to win? Those who call Lalu Yadav the messiah of Muslims should know that Lalu is ready to make a government of the BJP-led NDA, but he is not ready to make a Muslim as chief minister.
The last time, some Muslims voted for the Janata Dal-U because they thought after the election their party would join the JD-U. But now all of them know the JD-U is part of the BJP-led NDA. You just don't know Muslim psychology. When a Muslim sees the JD-U so closely connected with the BJP, he will not vote for the JD-U. Whenever the BJP seems to be winning Muslims feel pained. Whenever the BJP loses an election Muslims feel elated.
In Bihar, the upper castes are dead against Lalu Yadav. In each constituency they will see who is in a position to defeat the RJD. Accordingly, either they will vote for the NDA or Ram Vilas Paswan.