The Muslim face of the BJP, Bhagalpur MP Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, was never known to enjoy a warm relationship with chief minister Nitish Kumar even when the JD(U) was a constituent of the NDA. Baring his heart out to Dipak Mishra of The Telegraph, Hussain elucidates on why the alliance was destined to end in a bitter divorce.
Right from 2005, the BJP appeared to play the second fiddle to Nitish Kumar. It was as if the government was of Nitish and not of the NDA.
The confidence of our central leaders in Nitish Kumar triggered that perception. The Bihar BJP team looked like the B-team of Nitish because he was in the hearts of our central leaders, be it Lal Krishna Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Arun Jaitley. They did not treat him as a non-BJP leader. They made him the railway minister at the cost of earning the wrath of Ram Vilas Paswan, who wanted the same ministry. After the February 2005 Assembly polls, we made Nitish the chief ministerial candidate of the NDA without consulting George Fernandes and the late Digvijay Singh. Both of them were angry.
Do you agree with the JD(U) claim that you achieved electoral victory because Nitish was made the chief ministerial candidate?
Nitish Kumar contested the 1995 Assembly polls as a chief ministerial candidate. His erstwhile Samata Party won just five seats out of 324 (in undivided Bihar). Even in 2000, we had more MLAs than his party. Yet Arun Jaitley got Nitish sworn in as the chief minister by the then governor, Vinod Pande. Nitish could not prove his majority and went back to Delhi to become a Union minister again. Thereafter, the BJP workers fought the jungle raj of Lalu Prasad, not the Samata Party supporters. When the erstwhile Samata Party emerged with one MLA more than the BJP after the bifurcation of Bihar, he staked claim for Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. It was Nitishji who convinced George Fernandes to approach us for an alliance. During that time the BJP was facing “political untouchability” in the aftermath of Babri Masjid controversy.
Do you think the JD(U) snapped its alliance with the BJP because of Narendra Modi?
During the 2002 Gujarat violence, Nitishji was the Union railway minister and I was in charge of civil aviation. He never went to Gujarat when it was burning. I went to the western state and worked for the relief of the victims. When Nitishji went to Gujarat in 2003, he praised Narendrabhai and strongly advocated that he (Modi) should be in national politics. Nitishji had no problem with Modi then. The two talked frequently over phone. In 2010, Nitish had invited all the BJP leaders for a dinner at 1 Aney Marg knowing well that Modi would be present. However, after pictures of Nitish and Modi shaking hands appeared in local dailies, Laluji criticised Nitish. Frightened, Nitish said all the BJP leaders except Modi should come to dinner. All the BJP leaders turned down the proposal and the dinner was called off. Nitishji plays the politics of convenience.
Did the BJP workers and leaders face humiliation when the alliance was intact?
Nitishji’s slogan was “development with justice”. But he did not do justice to his ally. Pleas of the BJP workers and leaders for transfer and posting of officials were ignored but the recommendations of the JD(U) leaders were executed. Sushil Kumar Modi was the deputy chief minister but he was never called to the meeting of district magistrates and superintendents of police. I hail from the Muslim community but I was never called to a Haj committee or an Urdu committee meeting.
You enjoy a personal relationship with Lalu Prasad also. How would you compare Laluji and Nitishji?
Laluji also says a lot of things. But he forgets. Nitishji never forgets. He never treated me as a former cabinet colleague.
When did the first apprehension of Nitish leaving the NDA surface?
Before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when he denied a ticket to George Fernandes from Nalanda. The veteran leader was forced to contest from Muzaffarpur. There was a strong murmur in the BJP that if Nitishji could be so ruthless towards George Sahib, he might also snap ties with the BJP according to his convenience.
I shall be contesting from Bhagalpur again. We will try to make the BJP an alternative to the JD(U). The BJP will not try to destabilise the present government though Nitish has treated MPs and MLAs worse than servants. His government may collapse on its own weight. The BJP will play the role of a constructive opposition. We want to forget the humiliation heaped on us by Nitish and move on. Nitish has been our colleague for a long time. I do not want to hit him below the belt. But every political party has the right to state its position.