Tejashwi Yadav: BJP now forced to talk about jobs

'Whatever BJP promised 10 years ago, nothing has been delivered'

36-Tejashwi-Yadav Tejashwi Yadav | Sanjay Ahlawat

Interview/ Tejashwi Yadav, leader of opposition, Bihar

Tejashwi Yadav had a short stint as deputy chief minister; Nitish Kumar changed course once again this January to return to the NDA, which dismantled the RJD-JD(U)-left-Congress government. Yet, the 34-year-old remained composed, consistently punctuating his criticism of Kumar with civility. He has kept his focus on the five lakh jobs he claims to have created during his 17 months in power, and has emerged as the sole star campaigner for the INDIA bloc.

When you speak with facts, people listen. But talking about mangalsutra and reservation for Muslims is not going to work here.

However, those 100-plus rallies and helicopter rides across the state came at a cost; he injured his back. Now in a wheelchair, and needing help to stand, Tejashwi met THE WEEK at his home on 10 Circular Road, Patna, which was allocated to his mother, former chief minister Rabri Devi. As he got ready for the interview, he told his father, Lalu Prasad, who was nearby, about the severity of his pain, and told him he had injured his back twice.

Tejashwi discussed his campaign, highlighted key issues and expressed confidence in the election results. Excerpts:

Q/ You said the results would be surprising. How are these elections different from the 2019 edition?

A/ People have given 10 years to Narendra Modi ji. Whatever they (the BJP) promised 10 years ago, nothing has been delivered. He does not talk about the real issues. He only talks about issues that can divide society. He talks about Hindu-Muslim, mandir-masjid, mangalsutra, and issues that do not make sense. He should say what he has done in the past 10 years. Especially what he has done for Bihar. The state gave them 39 of 40 MPs. He did not give special status to Bihar or a special package. He did not open one sugar mill. He did not stop migration. They have only fleeced the people, who are now tired of the talk.

Q/ In your campaign, you refer to your tenure as deputy chief minister.

A/ Whatever we promised in 2020, we delivered in 17 months. We have given five lakh jobs and three lakh [are in the pipeline]. More than 4.5 lakh teachers on contract were given the status of state employees. Reservation was increased to 75 per cent. We conducted a caste-based survey. We introduced policies for IT, sports and tourism. We had an investors’ meet and signed MoUs worth Rs50,000 crore. We increased the speed of infrastructure projects.

In the health sector, Mission Parivartan doubled the number of doctors in outpatient departments, and surprise checks [were conducted to] improve delivery. [We also] ensured cleanliness and adequate medical equipment in hospitals. We improved systems.

Q/ Employment is a big election issue in Bihar, but it does not appear to be so in other states.

A/ [When Nitish Kumar was in the NDA in 2020,] he used to say it was impossible [to create jobs]. We got jobs delivered through him. Now, surprisingly, [Deputy Chief Minister] Samrat Choudhary (BJP) says his government has given jobs. I do not know what his government has given. At least now they are forced to talk about jobs. Even this is a big achievement.

Q/ You are the only one from the INDIA bloc campaigning aggressively in Bihar. The other side has many big names. Is it an unequal fight?

A/ One has to enjoy the fight. One has to be passionate and dedicated. This is not a regular election; it is about saving our Constitution, our democracy. When you speak with facts, people listen. But talking about mangalsutra and reservation for Muslims is not going to work here. Earlier, Modi ji said he had given reservation to 70 backward castes of Muslims in Gujarat. In Bihar, it was given by Karpoori Thakur to backward people from all religions. Now, you are opposing it. These are double standards.

Q/ Nitish Kumar has changed sides so many times. How do you look at his political future?

A/ He should see what he has been doing. He has been harming himself. At the same time, I respect him whatever the situation may be. Let people judge him.

Q/ The BJP has given a slogan of 400 paar. How much will Bihar contribute to this?

A/ The picture has flopped, and now they have also stopped talking about it.

Q/ Has the slogan caused anxiety among marginalised communities that the Constitution will be changed?

A/ The people have taken it seriously. Many BJP candidates have [asked voters to] give them the mandate and they will change the Constitution.

Q/ How will the Lok Sabha elections impact the assembly polls next year?

A/ We are not worried about the assembly elections. The priority is to save our democracy.

Q/ Do you think Biharis are moved by the construction of the Ram Temple?

A/ It is a matter of personal belief. We also have temples at home. When I put out a picture of me having fish during our campaign, it was a day before Navratri; the date was mentioned in the photograph. They turned it into a Hindu-Muslim thing. At home, my wife and mother observe [Navratri]. We would not go home and talk about eating fish.

People expect better from the chief minister or prime minister or leader of any political party. They [should] talk about real issues like electricity, water, education, jobs, food, health and how to improve the economy.

Q/ The prime minister accuses the opposition of minority appeasement.

A/ Let me not answer this. Let the people answer it [through their votes].

Q/ There is criticism that the RJD follows dynastic politics and is accused of corruption.

A/ We are the single-largest party since 2015. Since then, the BJP has been attacking us again and again. Nothing has changed.