New Delhi: Amid a political slugfest over the caste-based census data, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Thursday attacked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, saying "none of them are messiah of the Mandal" politics.
Interacting with the media at the Press Club here, Paswan repeatedly attacked his foe-turned-friend-turned-foe Prasad and alleged that contrary to his claim the then Bihar Chief Minister was "diffident" about arresting L K Advani in 1990 during the peak of Ayodhya movement and was apprehensive that communal riots could break out.
"They (Nitish and Lalu) are master of lies. They keep talking about Mandals. But they are not the messiah of Mandal... As far as Advani's arrest is concerned, it was planned long back. He was to be arrested in Uttar Pradesh but then something happened.
"The then Prime Minister V P Singh told Lalu Prasad in the night that he had to arrest Advani. Lalu was diffident. He said that communal riots could break out but Singh told him not to worry as arrangements were in place," said Paswan, who was a Union minister in the V P Singh government.
Prasad has repeatedly been claiming that he arrested Advani in Bihar and stopped his 'Rath Yatra' and that his alliance with Nitish Kumar is to prevent "communal forces" from coming to power in Bihar.
Paswan, who heads Lok Janshakti Party, a key NDA constituent from Bihar, expressed confidence that the NDA will repeat its Lok Sabha performance in the state and win over 150 of total 243 Assembly seats.
He, however, acknowledged that caste does play a role in the state elections noting "had issues mattered in elections in Bihar, neither Lalu nor Nitish could have ruled for 15 and 10 years each".
Political watchers believe that the combined vote share of Lalu and Nitish, both prominent OBC faces, could offset BJP's plan to capture power in the politically crucial state but Paswan was dismissive of any such eventuality.
The LJP chief also played safe when asked about the
Centre's decision to withhold caste-based census data, which has created a political row in poll-bound Bihar with Kumar and Prasad demanding its immediate publication.
"What will happen by releasing caste census data? It will neither increase nor decrease the existing count of castes. What will you (get) by making it public. Will swords come out in open? This has no meaning. The country has its own problems of unemployment, poverty and others.
"Also it cannot remain hidden for long when the caste count has been carried out. If not today, it will be disclosed tomorrow. The media is there," Paswan said, evading a direct reply on whether caste count carried out in the latest Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) should be released before Bihar polls.
Paswan also claimed that he, unlike Lalu Prasad, can convince his supporters to vote for his alliance partner.
"For 15 years it was the government of Lalu Prasad's party and then for 10 years, Bihar was ruled by Nitish Kumar. For 25 years, the government belonged to leaders of OBCs. Whom are you trying to reach (out to) now in the name of OBCs," he asked.
Quoting socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, Paswan also talked of the coming together of people from upper castes and lower castes in Bihar in future after the shift of power from upper castes to dominant OBCs like Yadavs and Kurmis, represented by Prasad and Kumar in past.
"It happened in Uttar Pradesh. It will happen in Bihar also," he said.
Paswan also took a jibe at the JDU campaign theme in Bihar around Nitish Kumar alleging that no development took place in the state during the reign of Kumar and Prasad and asked if they could not bring development in 25 years, what will they do now? "Their coming together is a sign of jungleraj coming back," he said.
Ridiculing the JDU-RJD alliance, the LJP chief said, "When the hearts are not joining, this alliance of the two parties is like an orange, whose layers will peel off soon. They will meet each other with knives in their hands. Moreover Lalu Prasad has the habit of keeping one hand on your neck while the other is on your feet."
Paswan and Prasad had been allies before parting ways in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but the LJP chief credited their coming together to Congress President Sonia Gandhi in 2004 when both the leaders joined the UPA-I government at the Congress President's initiative.
Replying to a question about his son Chirag Paswan's future in politics, Paswan praised the young MP's handling of issues but said that be it his son or Rahul Gandhi, they will have to show competence and leadership to survive in politics as lineage can bring them into it only once.