Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad on Saturday urged all Opposition parties in the country to unite and “drive out the fascist forces from power in 2024”, saying this was what people reeling under “price rise, unemployment and oppression” wanted.
“People across India have made up their mind to defeat the BJP at the Centre. It’s now for the Opposition parties to respond to what the people at large are looking for,” Lalu Prasad, 74, told this correspondent at the Pandara Park home of his daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Misa Bharti in New Delhi.
“It’s the duty of the Opposition to stand behind the collective wish of the people, who are suffering at the hands of dictatorial forces.”
Asked about the reservations against the Congress harboured by many Opposition leaders — from Mamata Banerjee to K. Chandrashekar Rao and Jagan Mohan Reddy — Lalu Prasad said they would work it out.
“Every party you have talked about is opposed to the BJP and wants to defeat the BJP. Their goal is common,” he said.
“They will eventually work out a way to unite for the common cause of liberating the people from the scourge of communalism and fascism. The country’s economic condition too is fast slipping beyond redemption.”
Lalu Prasad, speaking ahead of his party’s two-day national council meeting that begins in Delhi on Sunday, was giving his first one-to-one interview in five years.
The former Bihar chief minister was in jail for over five years in corruption cases, and was barred by the courts from making public statements. He came out of prison in May this year but has been ill. He is likely to fly off to Singapore within a week to get a kidney transplant.
Thousands of RJD workers, ministers and lawmakers from Bihar have converged in Delhi to meet their ailing leader. But, asked by doctors not to talk too much and to avoid crowds, he has been selective in meeting people.
Lalu Prasad was sitting at the bungalow with a group of people from a remote village in Raghopur, a diara (riverine) constituency in Vaishali district of Bihar that he had represented in 1995. Now his son and deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav represents Raghopur in the Bihar Assembly.
Lalu Prasad described Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar as an “appropriate” leader to unite the Opposition parties.
“We (Nitish and Lalu Prasad) had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi recently. Nitish, who has already met many Opposition leaders, will follow it up with the Congress after the party elects its new president. (He will meet) other parties too in the days to come,” he said.
The RJD chief was appreciative of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra.
“Rahulji ki Yatra ka jabardast response hai (Rahul’s march has evoked tremendous response),” he said.
“Such a Yatra is bound to create positivity. The huge turnouts reflect the people’s disenchantment with the present rulers. The people are desperately looking for relief, which Rahul’s Yatra promises to give them. It’s good not only for Rahul and the Congress, it’s good for democracy and the people at large.”
The CBI had on Friday filed a chargesheet against Lalu Prasad, his wife and former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi, Misa and others in connection with an alleged land-for-jobs scam in the railways when the RJD chief was railway minister (2004-09).
Asked about this, Lalu Prasad said: “As I have said repeatedly in the past, I have full faith in the judiciary. I have nothing against the CBI officials, either.”
He threw down a challenge: “I invite journalists from India and across the world to travel to all the 45,103 villages in Bihar -- from Phulwaria (Lalu Prasad’s native village) in Gopalganj district bordering Uttar Pradesh in the west to Kishanganj bordering Bengal in the east, and from Aurangabad bordering Jharkhand in the south to Sitamarhi bordering Nepal in the north. I shall quit politics if any journalist finds evidence that I gave out a single job in lieu of land.”
He added: “I know that RSS-BJP supporters have captured the media. Still, there are journalists and newspapers that tell the truth….”
Lalu Prasad described the chargesheet against him and his family members as “politically motivated” and as “the handiwork of the BJP”.
“Filing chargesheets against me is not new. The BJP has been using every trick at its disposal to cow me down for over 30 years, but I am standing ramrod straight,” he said.
“I have never made any compromises with the BJP and never will, whatever they do. They have tried everything against me --- I would not have been in jail for so long had I compromised with the BJP.”
He expressed happiness at Tejashwi’s performance. “Tejashwi has matured as a leader. He is doing well with Nitish, who has vast experience in governance and politics. Bihar is in good hands with the seven-party Mahagathbandhan government taking over, driving the BJP out of power.”
Lalu Prasad has been unanimously elected as the RJD’s national president for a 12th term. The party’s national council will formally hand him the certificate on Sunday.