People will listen to Priyanka but won't vote: Paswan

People will listen to Priyanka but won't vote: Paswan

People will come to listen to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra but will not “waste” their vote, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan told DH in an interview, expressing confidence that Narendra Modi would be back for a second term, even though he acknowledged the “perception problem” the BJP has among Dalits.

Paswan, who heads the Lok Jan Shakti Party, an ally of the BJP from Bihar, has been in politics for more than 50 years and has been a minister in ruling dispensations of various hues since 1989.

“People will come to see and listen to Priyanka Gandhi. But in Bihar, UP, it is the caste vote that will matter. Priyanka is new. She is campaigning. But I am not sure how effective she will be. How much will she be able to change this pattern of caste vote will have to be seen. People will come to listen to her but when they go back to their homes, they will think why should they waste their vote,” Paswan said.

He argued that Indira Gandhi, with whom Priyanka shares a striking similarity, had addressed a rally in his home turf Hajipur in Bihar way back in 1977 that was attended by a massive crowd, but Paswan had won with a margin of 4.24 lakh votes that sent him into the Guinness Book of World Records.

“After that, my illusions regarding crowds necessarily translating into votes got over for good,” he reasoned, explaining why the Congress would not benefit much when it comes to voting time in Uttar Pradesh, a critical state where the BJP had won 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.

Paswan has switched sides and stayed in power for the last 30 years since 1989, earning him the sobriquet of a “weatherman”, who can predict which way the poll outcome will go. Undoubtedly one of the tallest Dalit leaders, whose politics began from socialist parties, Paswan has had a tango with both the Congress and the BJP and has generally refrained from making any caustic comment on the Nehru-Gandhi family even while criticising the Congress and defending the Modi government.

Paswan, the Union Minister for Food Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution who first entered the Lok Sabha in 1977, said that in the last 50 years Dalit politics has evolved so much that the community does not wait for a leader to come to react whenever an atrocity happens to them. He also insisted that there was no single Dalit leader in the country who could claim the vote of all sections among Dalits.

“Our fathers, forefathers tolerated atrocities, we started agitations against atrocities, those from the new generation will right away oppose it, they are not at all ready to tolerate it. That is the fundamental difference. That is why you can see wherever any incident happens, local youths come out against it. There is no need for Ram Vilas Paswan to go and galvanise people against it,” he said.

Paswan downplayed Mayawati’s influence among Dalits across the nation, pointing out that she had hardly won any seat outside Uttar Pradesh, and asserted that no government had done as much for Dalits as Modi did.

Paswan, however, admitted that there was a problem of perception when asked why the BJP found itself at the receiving end of the Dalit discourse whenever any incident of anti-Dalit atrocity happens.

“This is a misconception. This misconception is due to the fact people connect Narendra Modi with the BJP and BJP with the RSS. It is due to the caste hierarchy (varna vyavastha) of RSS that all this kind of misconception is there.  Otherwise, the kind of work that happened in the last five years for Dalits has no parallel. A lot of actions are happening but as you said there is an issue of perception. There is a certain image of RSS from the very beginning. There has been some misconception over it,” he said.

Paswan also cited works done by Modi to develop memorials associated with Dalit icon B R Ambedkar and the recent law brought to restore the powers of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, after a Supreme Court order had diluted it.

The union minister asserted that the BJP had no worries about the alliance of the BSP and the SP in Uttar Pradesh as their voters were inimical to each other and would not come together. He also hit out at Mayawati for having changed her slogans to stay in power and recalled that it was she who had first diluted the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that became the basis for the Supreme Court last year to provide some safeguards against arrests under the Act.

“We should also not forget that Congress is not with them this side. We should not forget that it is the Congress that is the first choice of Muslims, Then they vote for the party, which can defeat BJP. Congress is not part of the alliance. It will contest separately. Due to old bitterness, Yadavs will not vote for Mayawati,” he explained.

He expressed confidence that the schemes for the poor under the Modi regime like housing, gas cylinder and toilet and Rs 2 kg wheat or Rs 3 kg rice for every house ended up benefiting the poor.

Alluding to the post-Pulwama scenario, he said that people had come to the view that this country does not need a weak prime minister.  

Paswan ruled out the possibility of any regional leader becoming a consensus PM candidate after 2019, asserting that Modi would become Prime Minister again. “We will win the same votes that we got earlier and NDA will cross 300 seats,” he said.