“Let us first enjoy the lunch” Ram Vilas Paswan said smilingly on a bright sunny winter noon pointing out to the central table spread out in his sprawling lawn. Laced with vegetarian delicacies, the food had the distinct rural flavour of his home state Bihar.
The awesome food included curd and rice, ensemble of potato, tomato and green chilies, roasted rice flakes, home made pickles and the traditional Indian sweet consisting of sesame seed and jaggery. “You see this is the traditional village food and is meant to keep you warm during the winter”.
His simplicity, down to earth nature and friendly approach belies the fact that he is an amazing veteran politician on the horizon of Indian democracy. In Parliament for almost 35 years as its member, Paswan has served as a Minister under five Prime Ministers of India and has been a member of all coalition that has ruled India so far. Paswan well maintained lawn is amazingly huge and touches the outer boundary wall of his next door neighbour, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi whom he used to meet frequently during his term as UPA minister. “I have stayed in this house now for more than three decades in my capacity as Member of Parliament and then as Union Minister”
“Not because of Soniaji alone, this has always been a high security zone area because of Vigyan Bhavan and then the Vice President House” said Paswan as guards kept vigil on all front at his neighbor’s house.
As we settled down after the sumptuous meal, Paswan informed he had just flown into Delhi after completion of his first phase of ‘Save Bihar rally’ that kicked off from the state capital Patna early this month. “The rally is to save the state from the atrocities and incompetence of the NDA government that was ‘destroying’ the state as never before.”
Looking visibly happy at the huge response, Paswan said “This government is full of smokescreen where realities do not match with the rhetoric. The people of Bihar have been fooled for the past seven years and it is time to expose this administration for what it actually is and bring a change in power that is people-oriented and pro development,”
The lawyer turned politician who etched his name in the Guinness Book of World record in 1977 by winning his Parliament seat with the biggest margin ever in the world is confident the wind of change is blowing in Bihar. “We talk about development, but there is none. We have more cases of rape as officially police website admits, we have more people dying after consuming poisonous alcoholic drinks”, Paswan said in an exclusive interview with The Times .
“All the developments are on government files. Not a thing is being done to improve Bihar and the state government is having a ball thanks to the money provided by the Center for social programs,” Paswan said.
Now that general election is knocking Indian next year, the Bihar rally has significant political import for Paswan who himself lost his own Parliament seat in 2009, receiving a severe political set back. “It happens in politics” he admits but analysts say that the alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav minus the Congress did not work. With over five decades in India politics, 67 year old Paswan was first elected to the Bihar state legislative assembly in 1969 as a member of the Samyukta Socialist Party (“United Socialist Party”) from a reserved constituency. Then came the famous JP (Jaya Prakash Narayan) movement in 1974, he became the general secretary of the Lok Dal.
During emergency (1975-77) proclaimed in India by Indira Gandhi, Paswan was arrested and spent the entire period in jail. “We opposed the imposition of emergency and as a socialist we declared it as an attack on freedom and democracy”
On being released in 1977, he joined the Janata Party and won election to Parliament for the first time on its ticket by highest margin ever. “This was the time I first heard of Guinness book of World record and that my name figured in it” His victory with such a huge margin catapulted him over night as a national leader and his name was talked all over the country.
As his popularity grew Paswan was re-elected to Lok Sabha in 1980 and 1984 from Hajipur constituency.
Winning the election again in 1989, Paswan was appointed Union Minister of Labour and Welfare in the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government. When the United Front government took power in 1996, Paswan led the ruling alliance in the Lok Sabha as the Leader of the House as then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda was a member of the Rajya Sabha. “As leader of the House, my responsibility grew as I was also handling a Union Ministry too.”
This was the year when he first became the Union Railway Minister. He continued to hold that post till 1998.
When the NDA stormed into power, Prime Minister Vajpayee appointed him as the Communication Minister from October 1999 to September 2001 and was later shifted to the Coal Ministry, the portfolio he held till April 2002.
“I decided to resign in protest from Vajpayee government as I was shocked and aghast with the communal riots in Gujarat. It was a crime against humanity and my conscience forced me to take this step” On why did he join the BJP led NDA as being a specialist himself, Paswan was clear that many of his erstwhile colleagues had joined the government to ensure that the BJP did not have a free hand. “Once the carnage in Gujarat happened, it was quits for me.”
For the next two years, Paswan utilised his time and energy to spread the base of his own political outfit Lok Jana Shakti Party which he floated in 2000.
Following the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Paswan joined the Congress led United Progressive Alliance government and was assigned several key portfolios. He was made the Union Minister in Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and Ministry of Steel.
For the Indian general election, 2009 lost the elections from Hajipur to the Janata Dal (United)’s Ram Sundar Das, a former Chief Minister of Bihar, for the first time in 33 years. His party the Lok Janashakti Party was not able to win any seats in the 15th Lok Sabha, Visibly shocked, Paswan however returned to Parliament within a year, after he won the Rajya Sabha elections. He lives in Delhi with his beautiful wife Reena Sharma-Paswan, and they have a son and a daughter.
His son, Chiragh Paswan has forayed into Bollywood film industry and already has a film to his credit. He is happy with the success of his son. “Everybody wants to be the greatest man, but everybody also wants that his son should be go on the higher place, and I have full confidence in Chiragh that he will do whatever he will do he will always be one of the best “.
As we walked out, Paswan said “You must cover our rally which will go across 36 districts, and culminate on April 14 the birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar, the father of Indian constitution”.
Times Kuwait Report