Since the alliance ended, this government has completed 25 months. The achievements the jd(u) talks about pertain only to the period when we were together.
The BJP's other Modi is Sushil Kumar Modi, former deputy chief minister of Bihar. As in the case of many of his peers, the Jayaprakash Narayan movement propelled the RSS activist into politics, and life behind bars became a routine–he was jailed five times. He challenged the constitutional validity of the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act, under which he was arrested during the Emergency. And, a section was struck down. Two decades later, when he was opposition leader, he filed a PIL on the fodder scam in the Patna High Court. That was the beginning of Lalu Prasad's downfall in Bihar.
A hospitalisation in Patna in the eighties had him under the care of nurse, Jessie George, from Mumbai. Her care bonded them for life, and they got married later. The 63-year old leader is easily the BJP's best known face in Bihar, and many see in him the future chief minister. But that is a question Modi is not ready to answer yet. Excerpts from the interview:
Nitish Kumar has raised the issue of Bihar's pride. Will it hurt?
Topics like DNA, #shabdwapasi (a hash tag created to demand that the prime minister take back his word regarding Nitish's DNA) Bihar asmita (pride) are Patna centric. Beyond Patna, these are non issues. These are diversionary tactics. How can Nitish talk about Bihari swabhiman with Lalu Prasad Yadav next to him? Because of Lalu, people stopped eating Bihari food, and started hiding their Bihari identity. They (the grand alliance) have no issues.
Both, your party and Nitish Kumar, claim credit for the achievements of the NDA government in the state.
This government has completed 25 month since the alliance ended. They have to talk about their performance. Crime has increased; there is deterioration in law and order. The achievements they talk about pertain only to the period when we were together. The cycles scheme, maintenance of law and order, scholarships – none of these were their initiative. There has been no new schemes since the coalition ended.
What are the odds stacked against the grand alliance?
The first time people voted for us–the JD(U) and BJP–was for good governance and law and order. Then, because of our good governance and law and order maintenance, we got three-fourths majority in 2010. You can't get votes on the same issue again and again. This time around, people will compare the performance of the NDA government and the 25 months of JD(U) without the BJP. People don't want the Congress and Lalu at any cost. They expect the grand alliance to win, but they can't enthuse voters.
Who do you see as your big constituency among the voters?
The youth. They account for 30 per cent of the voters, and they came in huge droves to the PM's rallies, and even to our parivartan(change) rallies. People want change. They want to give others a chance. People are asking, “Why should we give Nitish Kumar a third term? What has he done in this term?”
There has been political instability for the last 25 months. After losing the Lok Sabha elections, Nitish made Jitan Ram Manjhi the chief minister, then sacked him and became chief minister once again. He converted the three-fourths majority government to a minority. Given the political instability, development has become the biggest casualty, and the survival of the government by hook or crook has become a priority.
The chief minister says the prime minister's package is repackaged.
They are spending huge sums on advertisements saying that some of the programmes are old ones, why then have they not been implemented? People don't care whether the programmes are old or new, they want implementation. This package includes proposals for eight mega bridges to be built across three big rivers–Ganga, Sone and Kosi. These bridges will cost Rs 3,000 crores to Rs 5,000 crores each. In addition, there are proposals to set up two central universities. And then, they talk about special category status for Bihar. The package is much larger than the special category status.
How has the prime minister's extensive campaign in Bihar helped?
(Narendra) Modi is a symbol of development. The message is: If Bihar elects the government of the party that is in power at the Centre, massive development is possible. But if these people return, they will be fighting against the Centre as the Modi government has four more years before it completes its first term.
How confident are you of winning this crucial election?
I am sure of NDA's victory in the forthcoming elections. We are a large party with over 90 MLAs. Nitish has been given a chance and now people want to give us a chance. The previous NDA government was not led by the BJP, now give us a chance. We have covered more than 200 assembly constituencies, and have got massive response for our parivartan yatras.
Both sides have done the caste community arithmetic.
Even if you look at the social combination, the BJP represents a larger social base. The Congress has no base. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Jitan Ram Manjhi was not with us. His people voted for the JD(U). Nitish felt that the mahadalits and the EBCs (extremely backward classes) are with him, but that has never been tested. Why will the EBC votes go to Nitish when he's aligned with Lalu? The EBCs started breaking away and went with the BJP, and Lalu became weak. Why will those who voted against Lalu vote for grand alliance?
Bihar has a sizeable Muslim vote bank that is not favourably disposed to the BJP.
There is a difference between Uttar Pradesh and other states. Muslim voters are not allergic to the BJP. In the last 25 years, Bihar BJP has never been seen as anti-Muslim. Anyone who benefited from good governance, will vote for us. We will field Muslims in the Muslim-dominated areas. In the five bye elections, held during the Lok Sabha polls, two-fifth of our candidates were Muslims, and they won by over 40,000 votes.
How 'young' is the team BJP in Bihar?
You will not find many people with my kind of salt and pepper hair in the party's state unit. About 80 per cent of the BJP members in Bihar are in the age group of 30 to 45 years, 90 per cent of the district presidents are under the age of 50. Also, lots of young candidates will be given tickets.
Why has the party not projected a chief ministerial candidate?
We are much more comfortable going to polls without a chief ministerial candidate.