Former Union rural development minister and the second in-command of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, said, without taking names, that the Congress central leadership walked away from backing a grand secular alliance, in the process giving a free ticket to the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to march to Delhi. In a free-wheeling interview at his residence in Bihar's Vaishali town, the 68-year-old spoke to Iftikhar Gilani about the lack of a grand secular alliance, RJD's resurgence in Bihar and the agenda for the party in the near future.
The RJD-Congress alliance appears to be giving a tough fight to the BJP in Bihar. Why did you fail then in stitching a similar alliance at the national level to prevent Modi's from reaching Delhi?
We have managed to stitch a secular alliance in Bihar in a modest way and it has worked very well as per ground reports. Initially, we had proposed to consolidate all secular and progressive forces for a grand alliance at the national level. But national political parties and their leaders should be held accountable for failing the secular voters. And I must say, the Congress will have to share much of that blame. I can say that they didn't work the way they should have for a grand secular alliance. We had to unilaterally cajole them to enter into such an alliance in Bihar. We were humiliated by the Congress central leadership, but we swallowed the humiliation for the sake of consolidation of secular votes. And you can see that this alliance is working very well here. There is such pressure from public that political parties will have to come together after the elections to prevent communal forces from taking over.
Would you blame Rahul Gandhi for RJD's humiliation, and for running away from a national coalition?
I will not name anyone. Congress is still grappling with what they have done. In 1998, they decided to go solo, and were lost in the wilderness. Better sense prevailed upon the party in 2004 and they partnered with like-minded parties to contest polls on the basis of ideology and successfully unseated the NDA. This time around, they thought ideologies won't work for the middle-class and the youth, so they return to issues of governance. But as a major secular party, they cannot run away from ideology. They have returned to the core issue of ideology in the last leg of the election campaign. Therefore, I argue that the Congress will have to reply to questions and shoulder the blame for failing the nation. They should have taken the lead to stitch a secular alliance. But I can say with authority and prove that the Congress leadership didn't perform its duty, and it is because of that that Modi and communal forces found space. Otherwise, it was nearly impossible for the BJP to show such resurgence.
Why did you choose the Congress and not any other party for an alliance in Bihar despite being humiliated by the party?
We are a regional party. We found that there was a need for a national alliance and the Congress is a major national secular party. So we proposed to them to have a grand alliance, but they were in two minds. We did succeed in having such an alliance in Bihar though. The reality dawned on them too, but it was too late. Because of their obduracy, we lost two allies.
You were a successful rural development minister in UPA I, as even the Congress has acknowledged. What were the programmes you started that UPA II didn't carry forward?
Other than the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in the UPA I, there was a system of monitoring its implementation every two months. There was no CMP in UPA-II and no monitoring or accountability. Also, there were three moral forces in UPA-I to overlook and monitor government functioning — Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had refused to become a PM, the Prime Minister himself, who was not a contender for the PM post, and the third force was the 62 MP-strong Left Front. All three were selfless and dedicated to change the lot of people. This was lacking in UPA-II
Are you missing Lalu Prasad Yadav? He is not contesting due to his conviction and sentencing in the fodder scam.
Yes, but him not contesting has a positive aspect too, which is working in our favour. He has ample time and space to concentrate on all seats. Otherwise, he would have been confined to his own constituency. It is, however, painful that he would not be around to lead us in the Parliament.
Is the party demoralised over his conviction?
People in Bihar are wise. They know the circumstances behind his conviction and sentencing. There have been hundreds of scams in independent India and you know the names of leaders involved in them. That only Laloo was singled out, convicted and sentenced speaks volumes. People know in their hearts that he was punished by regressive forces, who are in ample numbers of bureaucracy and other establishments, for his role in the social justice movement, and for giving a voice to the poor. Indian history is replete with such examples from Raja Harish Chandra to Bhagwan Ram to Pandavas — they all had to suffer.
Lalu was a symbol of social justice. But his rule was a nightmare as far as development and economic progress was concerned.
That is an allegation. People who were status-quoists, mostly feudal, who had monopoly on wealth, establishment and other resources had an issue with Lalu and his rule. Lalu gave voice and power to the dis-empowered and to those who were out of the system. And for that, he had to face the consequences. We know this very well.
Now that the RJD's star is beginning to shine once again, what will be the party's development agenda?
We will return to villages to adopt a development model to include farmers and the poor. Our endeavour will be to address unemployment. At least one person from each family should be employed. Our focus will be on the country's poor, not on the corporates. But we will encourage industrialists to help end unemployment and increase productivity.
What role will the RJD play after elections?
We will try our best to form a secular alliance at the national level. But our first priority would be to bring a UPA-III government at the Centre. We will be willing to lend or seek support of other secular political forces to prevent the BJP from coming to power.
Bihar has been home to socialist politics, which used to be an alternate to the Congress. But this space has now been conceded to rightists, particularly to the BJP. Hasn't socialism failed the nation because there is no developing of the cadre?
Socialism as an ideology exists even today. But the leaders representing it are scattered. It is very difficult to bring them on a single platform. There are egos and other issues.
But haven't you too failed in making RJD a cadre-based party, like the communists or the RSS. RJD has remained a dynasty-oriented party?
I don't believe in the cadre system. The RJD is a mass party, where everybody has participation. Cadre-based parties have their own weaknesses. We will try to empower a mass party rather than create a cadre based system. As far as dynasty is concerned, can you point out a single party where this doesn't exist?
Will the RJD project you as Bihar's chief minister since Lalu will not be in a position to project himself?
Right now we are contesting Lok Sabha elections. If people send me to represent them in Delhi, how can I return and occupy a seat in Patna? I am not a contender. It is for the party to decide.