Dismissing as "conjecture" the talk about the possibility of his party switching to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhary on August 28 said parties would not be comfortable joining hands with the BJP which, he alleged, is "very effective" at steamrolling dissenting voices.
Mr. Chaudhary, who is part of the Opposition group INDIA (Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance), said he does not see any reason to change his approach heading towards the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
In an interview ahead of the crucial meeting of the INDIA alliance in Mumbai, the RLD leader also said the Congress has a "big role" going forward as it is a "well-understood brand" with many people across the country voting for the party for a long time.
After the Mumbai meeting, there will be no more "conjecture" on Uttar Pradesh or the shape of the alliance and people will be more confident about INDIA, he said.
Mr. Chaudhary hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP for calling the 26-party Opposition alliance Ghamandia (marked by arrogance), saying if any leader who has a majority and has had two terms attacks his Opposition like this, "it betrays a lack of confidence, jittery nerves, and also a basic undemocratic nature".
"In a democracy, you will always have people who come and oppose you, ask questions, fight elections, they are not your sworn enemies that you give them names like that. It is demeaning not for us, we have gotten used to the barbs. It is demeaning to voters who voted for us in the past and may vote for us in the future," the Rajya Sabha MP said.
Asked about the talk that the BJP was reaching out to him and his party may consider a switch to the NDA, Mr. Chaudhary termed it as "conjecture".
"I think the BJP likes to portray, its current leadership likes to portray, that they are very large-hearted and they want to embrace diverse leadership and bring in different parties into the NDA fold. When you have seen their work in nine years, that is not the case," he said.
When the BJP has to choose a Chief Minister in a State they have won, they choose the most obscure name and people with actual leadership potential are typically sidelined, the RLD chief alleged.
“So that shows that the BJP as a party has changed a lot over the last few years. They can no longer say that we are a party that responds to workers, responds to criticism, or embraces people with different points of view. That is not the BJP of today.”
"The BJP today is known as an effective election machine... they have captured institutions across the board and they are solely focused on elections," he said.
The BJP is very effective at "road rolling" over dissenting voices, whether it is from the media, civil society or from political opponents, he alleged.
"Will many parties actually be comfortable in joining hands with BJP in such an atmosphere? I doubt it. In fact, most of their old allies have left them," Mr. Chaudhary said.
Asked if it was settled that the RLD would remain with the Opposition alliance in the 2024 Lok Sabha electioin, Mr. Chaudhary said, "I am in a position that I have to look at my party, what is good for my party, what is the road map ahead, think strategically, think not just short term, not just for my own benefit or what I can get out of an election. I have to think with a larger perspective and I am doing that. I don't see any reason for me to change my approach," he stressed.
About the Mumbai meeting that he is set to attend on August 31 and September 1 where the top leaders of the Opposition bloc will be present, Mr. Chaudhary said the meeting will be deliberating on various details.
"Of course, there will be some issues that need to be discussed at length, minutely at this point in time like what is the structure that we are going to go ahead with. There are so many parties of course and the doors are open for more to join in the days ahead," he said.
Mr. Chaudhary said that in the initial stage, the Opposition parties need to work out how they are going to campaign cohesively, and what will be the issues they will raise.
Asked if like the UPA, the Congress would be the fulcrum of the INDIA bloc as well, Mr. Chaudhary said it is a national party and it is going to have a "big role".
"Many States in which regional parties are more effective on the ground, perhaps they should be given more space so that we can counter the BJP more effectively. But there are also some regions of the country where other parties don't have an organisation, winning space, and candidates to actually be able to bring votes in. That is where the Congress will have a big role," he said.
The Congress is an old party and is a "well-understood brand", he asserted.
"Many voters across the country have been voting for the Congress for a long time. So they understand what the Congress stands for. So you can't discard that, you have to give that proper respect and the Congress has a big role," he said.
Talking about Opposition prospects in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Chaudhary said, "It is not just simple math, it is about the chemistry and if we are able to strike the chemistry with the right partners coming on board, with the right candidates, campaign effectively at the grassroots, which is something the RLD is known for, results will surprise and shock people." Asked about the Opposition alliance not touching upon the prickly leadership issue, Mr. Chaudhary said he does not think it was a prickly issue.
On one side there is a unitary style of governance and "what we are projecting is leadership which is collective, experienced, which has led India in many capacities and we are working together", the RLD president said.
On the BJP exuding confidence of a victory by a bigger mandate in 2024 election than last time, Mr. Chaudhary said he has full faith that voters will make the right decision.
"I am waiting for their decision. To assume that they have decided or they are mere Bhakts who have no choice in the matter is very arrogant," he said.
"I think at some point we all must introspect on the direction of Indian politics that such arrogance is openly displayed. It is for the voters of India to decide and put on end to it," he said.