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I was never part of Shiv Sena’s communal agenda, says Nirupam

Sunday 1 May 2005, by MENON*Meena

"I was on a highway, now I have changed lanes’ "I could not show much courage when North Indians were attacked in Mumbai. But the party said it was a small incident and I should not take it to heart."

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Sanjay Nirupam

MUMBAI: Sanjay Nirupam beams approvingly at his new letterhead sporting the Congress tricolour, which will replace the roaring tiger of the Shiv Sena. ``I am over enthusiastic, always have been,’’ he chuckles. His office at Andheri West in Mumbai is packed with hordes of supporters waiting with flowers. Already phone calls are coming in inviting him to address meetings.

``I had no option but to join the Congress. I did work hard for the Sena too. I was on a highway. Now I’ve suddenly decided to change lanes and drive slower,’’ he told The Hindu in an interview. Mr. Nirupam created a sensation last month when he quit the Sena. Within 10 years, Mr. Nirupam, once the North Indian face of the Sena, was twice nominated to the Rajya Sabha, made a deputy leader in a party, and was given ticket for the Lok Sabha elections. Now he is a primary member of the Congress. ``The post is not important, the work is,’’ he says.

Ideology was wrong

While the Sena still claims that it threw him out, Mr. Nirupam denies it. The turning point came when the BJP-Sena lost the Assembly elections in October last. ``I realised that my ideology was wrong. When we lost the Assembly elections, I felt our communal, anti-slum dweller, anti-North Indian image will never work.’’But the flashpoint, as he terms, was Reliance Infocomm. ``I was asked by the Sena leader, Bal Thackeray, not to take up the issue of the Reliance shares. I was also asked to give a letter in favour of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan saying he had nothing to do with the issue. Who am I to give a certificate to Mr. Mahajan? I had merely given a notice to ask a question in the Rajya Sabha and it takes 15 days for the question to be listed. On March 6, I did meet Mr. Thackeray and I gave him my letter of resignation. He praised me - said I was a good worker and a good MP. On March 9, he called me again and said he had accepted my resignation.’’ Mr. Nirupam also had to give up his post of executive editor of the Sena’s Hindi newspaper, Dopahar Ka Saamna.

`Not part of communal agenda’

A former journalist who started his career with the Hindi daily, Jansatta, Mr. Nirupam says he regrets not taking a strong stand in 2003 when the Sainiks beat up large numbers of North Indians who had come to Mumbai for the railway recruitment examinations. ``I could not show much courage when the North Indians were attacked. I was really very hurt. But the party said it was a small incident and I should not take it to heart. Now I am really sorry I did not take a stand in favour of my people.’’ he rued. While admitting that he was identified as communal, Mr. Nirupam claims he was never part of the Shiv Sena’s ``communal agenda’’ and was simply propagating the party’s ideology ``in a secular way.’’ Proof that he was not anti-minority, he says, is evident from the fact that he got 10 per cent of the Muslim votes in Mumbai Northwest, where he stood for the Lok Sabha elections. The Union Sports Minister, Sunil Dutt, defeated him. Mr. Dutt also slapped a defamation case against Mr. Nirupam for alleging that as MP he [Mr. Dutt] had hardly made any appearance in Parliament.

A via media

Referring to his virulent utterances in the past against Muslims and women journalists, Mr. Nirupam says, " I was acquitted by the Press Council of India of the remarks I was said to have made against women journalists. In politics, let us evaluate a person based on the present. If I want to forget my past, what is wrong with that? Ideology is not the ultimate thing. It’s a via media. Political ideology is a medium to take you forward, to do something.’’

So is he secular now? ``I said I am changing lanes. I am not an opportunist. I would have been one had I continued in the Rajya Sabha as an MP. This [the Congress] is the final lane for me. I am not a defector,’’ he adds. He says he has given up everything he had in the Sena to become a primary member of the Congress. ``The Congress has established its liberal credentials. It has taken everyone along.’’

What does the future hold for him? Mr. Nirupam says he wants to work hard and focus on Mumbai.

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