Nitish Kumar interview: A divided opposition can’t defeat BJP in 2024

Nitish Kumar interview: A divided opposition can’t defeat BJP in 2024

Now that the Congress president election is done, a concrete dialogue on opposition unity will be taken up, says the Bihar CM in an exclusive interview

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A divided opposition can never defeat BJP in 2024: Nitish Kumar

Now that the Congress president election is done, a concrete dialogue on opposition unity will be taken up, Bihar CM tells Arun Sinha in an exclusive interview

Uploaded 19 October, 2022

“Once there is one front, they will discuss the leadership issue and arrive at a consensus on who the leader will be.” Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has been making efforts to unite the opposition against the BJP for the fight for New Delhi in 2024. In an exclusive interview with The Federal, he said the primary task for the opposition parties is to establish a joint front. Once a front is established, they can discuss the leadership issue and arrive at a consensus on who the leader will be. Edited excerpts:

Q: Why are you seeking the ouster of the BJP from power in 2024?

A: Because it is not creating jobs. Prices have hit the roof. Living conditions are becoming worse and worse. India has been ranked 107 out of 121 countries in the World Hunger Index.

So far as development goes, this government relies more on propaganda than actual work. It is an illusion. People are not getting any benefits. Take, for instance, the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. This government gives the benefit only to farmers who own land. In Bihar, we give benefits, including subsidies, not only to farmers who own land but also to those who hire land from farmers for tilling it.

Our definition of a farmer is anybody whose livelihood is farming. In all states, there is a large number of those who hire land from farmers. Those vast numbers are left out of the PM Kisan Samman scheme. This is because the Modi government lacks vision and understanding of the situation at the ground level. What development can you expect from such a government?

Also read: Bihar 2024: BJP oozes confidence, but numbers raise pertinent questions

Q: The Modi government claims it is free from corruption and warns people that if the opposition comes to power there will be scams and corruption again…

A: The central investigative agencies are filing cases against leaders of opposition parties and are conducting raids on their houses and premises. Is it a campaign to stamp out corruption or to stamp out opposition parties? If the aim were to remove corruption, cases of corruption should also have been filed against BJP leaders and their houses and premises raided too. Then we would have said, “Here is an honest party fighting political corruption.” Like charity, honesty begins at home. But here the party spares its own camp and carries out attacks only on the opposition camp.

That is why the opposition parties need to unite and defeat the BJP government. Once the opposition comes to power, there will be no such partisan approach to end corruption. Wherever there are corrupt people, no matter even on the ruling side, there will be investigations against them. Then only people will get the real picture of corruption and we will try and get rid of it.

Q: You are making efforts to unite the opposition ahead of 2024. Where have you reached?

A: I have met most leaders personally. I have conveyed to them that without the opposition fighting as one front, we cannot defeat the BJP. If we do not unite, the BJP might get fewer seats than it got last time, but it will still be able to return to power.

All the opposition leaders I met agreed with my view. To take the next step, we were waiting for the elections for the presidentship of the Congress party to be over. Now that it is over, a concrete dialogue on opposition unity will be taken up.

Also read: ‘Jungle Raj’ image comes back to haunt Nitish as BJP sharpens its claws

Nitish Kumar with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi

Q: Some opposition leaders want a third front to fight the other two fronts, the BJP-led NDA and the Congress-led UPA…

A: That is a mistaken notion. If the opposition is divided in two or three fronts, you can never defeat the BJP. The continuation of the BJP government is not good for the nation, the constitution, democracy and people. The priority of every opposition party should be to rid the country of the dangerous forces. So, there must be one front.

Q: One of the crucial issues before the opposition is who will be the leader of its united front. Is there any clarity on the subject?

A: The primary task of the opposition parties is to establish one front. Once there is one front, they will discuss the leadership issue and arrive at a consensus.

Q: The recent political history of India shows that no party well-entrenched in power at the Centre was removed just by the opposition uniting. It was the JP-led movement that brought down the Indira Gandhi government. It was the VP Singh-led campaign on Bofors that pulled down the Rajiv Gandhi government. It was the Anna Hazare campaign that brought down the UPA. But there is no such popular movement against the Modi government. How can you expect to defeat it by just opposition uniting?

A: Once the opposition parties agree to unite, which is our next step, they will decide what campaign, programmes and issues they can take up to mobilise the masses against the Modi government.

Q: What made you leave the NDA?

A: I saw that the BJP was taking the country on a road to destruction. They had completely changed in recent years and were very brazenly and aggressively doing and promoting things that were very bad and dangerous for the country.

And they were trying to break up my party. They want a democracy in which only the BJP would exist. That is totally contrary to the basic principles of democracy.

Also read: Smarting over break-up, BJP keen to dent Nitish Kumar’s image

Q: It does not look easy to defeat the BJP. It has built up strong support by whipping up pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim emotions…

A: Its design to divide Hindus and Muslims can ultimately never work in this country. A large majority of Hindus want to live with Muslims, Christians and followers of other religions in an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence. They will all come out to support us if the opposition is united as one front. More people voted against the BJP last time than for it. If their vote is pooled, the BJP will be marginalised.

Q: As a part of its electoral mobilisation for 2024, the BJP is wooing the backward classes of Muslims, who are called Pasmandas in Bihar, UP and other states. It is telling them, “Other parties treated you like tejpatta (bay leaves) in biryani, use and throw. They took your vote but gave you no benefits. Our government makes no discrimination on grounds of religion in distributing benefits.” How do you look at it?

A: They cannot promote violence and hatred against Muslims and also get their votes. They cannot fool them. The victims of violence and hatred are mostly the poor Muslims. The Pasmandas will never go with them. They know it is the BJP that has been opposing the recognition of Dalit Muslims as scheduled castes. It is the BJP which has deprived them of reservations and other benefits.

Nitish Kumar with Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao

We have done the most for the Pasmandas. Fifteen years ago, my government included them in the economically backward classes (EBCs) to provide them reservation benefits. They have all been getting their share in public employment and education. They have been getting their share of public representation in panchayats and municipal bodies too.

So, you see, we have not treated the Muslims as bay leaves in biryani. For us, Muslims are an integral part of the society, for them they are not. If we were to use biryani as a metaphor for society, I would say the Muslims are cinnamon and cloves which are intrinsic to it and not bay leaves which are thrown. It is they who intend to use the Pasmandas as bay leaves.

Also read: Bihar CM Nitish in Delhi to strategise for 2024 polls; meets Rahul first

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