As Bihar Assembly elections draw closer, Upendra Kushwaha, leader of Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), says that the Nitish Kumar government failed on all fronts and people will vote him out this time. Speaking to Outlook’s Preetha Nair, Kushwaha said there is no rift in the Grand Alliance, and that it is confident of winning the election this time.
Q) Bihar is grappling with a surge in Coronavirus cases. Are you in favour of postponing elections, scheduled for later this year?
People of Bihar want change. They want change at the earliest and it can happen only through an election. We never demanded postponement of the election, because people are aspiring for a change. Our demand was not to defer elections. In our memorandum to the Election Commission (EC) last week, the main demand is that elections should be conducted in a free and fair manner. EC also has to ensure that the election shouldn’t be a reason for the further spread of the disease. We want more participation of voters and political parties in the process. We want EC to address all our concerns and conduct the polls on scheduled time. We are ready to fight the elections.
Q) You and other opposition parties have submitted a memorandum to the EC against virtual campaigning and other issues. What are your grievances?
The opposition parties will be at a disadvantage in virtual campaigns to fight the ruling Janata Dal (U) and BJP in terms of resources and money. The BJP spent crores on one virtual rally. How can other parties afford to do it? EC has to act fair and they shouldn’t do anything in favour of the BJP. That’s why we demanded the full participation of voters, parties, and candidates. EC has to fulfill its duties. Otherwise, the election will turn out to be a joke. It is the EC’s job to ensure a ‘level playing field’.
Q) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been saying thatopposition parties are in disarray and he will win one more term.What is the prospect of the Grand alliance this time?
Grand alliance of opposition parties will win the match this time. Nitish ruled Bihar for the last 15 years and he turned out to be a failure on all fronts. The voters have lost faith in him. He couldn’t fulfill the promises he made to the public, whether it’s education, health, or providing employment to the youth. When he became Chief Minister for the first time, his poll plank was to tackle migration. In the last 15 years, he hasn’t done anything and he even claimed that there is no migration happening in Bihar. During the Corona crisis, he has been exposed. Now we have seen how many lakhs have migrated from Bihar to other places. The government’s failure in tackling the migrant crisis will work against them this time.
Q) Did the government fail to handle the Corona crisis?
The cases are rising on a daily basis. The government failed to tackle the pandemic because of the lack of health infrastructure in place. The government is not conducting adequate tests and they are hiding data on deaths. Government hospitals are in pathetic condition. There is an acute shortage of hospitals to treat patients. Nitish Kumar has the distinction of being the worst CM in the country in handling the pandemic...
Q) But the Grand Alliance is also riddled with troubles. There seems to be no consensus on CM's face for the alliance?
There are many CM faces for the Grand Alliance. It’s wrong to say that there is no unity. I am not denying that there are problems among the parties in the alliance. Likewise, even NDA is also facing troubles regarding seat sharing and other issues. I am confident that we will solve our problems when the time comes. We are united.
Q) Do you accept RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav as the CM face of the alliance?
We were never against Tejaswi Yadav as the CM face. That decision has to be taken by all parties in the Grand Alliance. All the leaders will sit together and take a collective decision in this regard.
Q) Has seat-sharing talks started?
Talks are on. Nothing is final yet.
Q) RJD already announced that it will contest in 150 seats...
It’s a different matter that one particular party is announcing seats like that. When it comes to the Grand Alliance, the decision will be taken in everyone’s interest.
Q) Your party performed poorly in the last Lok Sabha election. Are you in a position to bargain?
I hope we get fair representation.
Q) Will Communist Party of India (CPI) join the Grand Alliance? A section of the opposition leaders were in favour of Kanhaiya Kumar as the leader of the alliance?
I am of the view that CPI should be a part of the alliance. We are currently holding talks with them. Right now, it’s about CPI joining the alliance rather than Kanhaiya Kumar. Let them first join. In fact, all the Left parties should join the Grand Alliance.
Q) Kanhaiya has emerged as an influential leader...
No doubt that he is a crowd puller. But at this stage, there’s no talk about Kanhaiya as CM face or anything..
Q) Is the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) warming up to the alliance? Chirag Paswan has been issuing many statements against Nitish Kumar.
There is no chance of LJP joining the alliance. It’s only a posturing by the LJP. They are facing trouble in seat sharing.