BJP ally and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan asserted on Sunday that the ruling NDA is on track to retain power at the Centre, helped by the "Modi factor" and the appeal of the issue of nationalism, while the Opposition has become a picture of "disunity" in a key state like Bihar.
The Lok Janshakti Party leader said the 2019 general election stands out from many elections he has seen in his over five-decade long career for the centrality of the issue of nationalism in this poll with people supporting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for development as well as national security.
In an interview to PTI, the Dalit leader said the momentum in the NDA's favour is increasing in every phase of polling and that the "wave has now become a tsunami". Three phases of the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections have been held so far, with the Hindi-heartland states being the key battleground in the remaining phases.
Paswan claimed there has been no contest so far in Bihar, seen as a key state to the NDA's fortunes. Giving seat-wise figures to support his claim, Paswan said opposition parties like the Congress and the RJD have been working at cross-purposes while "united" NDA partners -- BJP, JD(U) and LJP -- have got better of them in most seats. "Our vote is increasing in every phase.
The Modi factor was recently at work in the prime minister's massive road shows in Varanasi and Jharkhand. More people are joining us. On the other hand, opposition parties have not been able to unite either in Delhi or here in Bihar. People wonder what is the point of even voting for them as they don't know what these parties will do," he said.
The NDA may win over 35 seats of the total 40 in Bihar, he said. It had won 31 in 2014. Congress president Rahul Gandhi and RJD's Tejashwai Yadav have often avoided campaigning for candidates of the other party, Paswan said and added that they held their first joint rally in Samastipur only this Friday.
"I am confident that the NDA will repeat the scale of victory it had achieved the last time. It will form the government under Modi's leadership," he said. The NDA had won 336 seats in 543-member Lok Sabha in 2014, with the BJP getting its maiden majority by winning 282 seats on its own.
Paswan said issues like terrorism and nationalism may have emerged as central issues in the poll but Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has also received people's support on the plank of development. From subsidised food to LPG cylinders, toilets, homes and health insurance, the government is working to provide the masses all essentials of life, he said, adding that people have been backing the NDA for these measures as well.
But it is the emotive issue of nationalism and action against Pakistan-based terrorists that has been a central theme of the NDA's campaign, something that the opposition has criticised, accusing the ruling dispensation of using them to divert people's attention from issues like jobs and economy. The LJP leader dismissed the opposition criticism, saying "all is fair in love and war".
He also hit back at the opposition parties and alleged a "sinister campaign" over the issue among Muslims. "The big issue here is that we target terrorists, we say terrorism should be finished, but they (Opposition) whisper in Muslims' ears that we want to finish them. As if, Muslims are terrorists," he said.
Paswan referred to the response from people when NDA leaders in their campaign speeches invoke the issue of nationalism, saying all such references have received wide support from the masses. The Modi factor and the nationalism issue have helped the NDA cover up localised factors like choice of candidates among others, he said.
Paswan claimed that a section of even Yadavs, seen as a solid vote bank of Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have supported NDA nominees in seats where opposition candidates enjoyed little connect with them. Yadavs have long been part of "power politics" and they are in no mood to give votes to candidates of parties Vikassheel Insaan Party or Hindustani Awam Morcha as they have little resonance on the ground, he said.
Both these parties are also part of the opposition alliance. The 72-year-old leader is not fighting the poll this time with his younger brother Pashupati Kumar Paras contesting from Hajipur, a seat Paswan has traditionally represented in Lok Sabha. The senior leader's son Chirag and another brother Ramchandra Paswan, both MPs, are also in the fray. The LJP had won six seats in 2014.