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"We have a very bitter experience of alliances in Uttar Pradesh. We will not support any other party"

Monday 18 December 2006

Rajnath singh, President, Bharatiya Janata Party

? You are seen as a low-profile BJP president.

Rajnath Singh: There is no need to be a high-profile president. What is important is that work should be done. My responsibility is to make sure the organisation is strong, dynamic.

? But your party has a tradition of high-profile presidents.

I don’t see any high-profile leaders in our party.

? Your party’s leaders are supposed to be experts in talking.

They are experts in working, not talking.

? But it is said you were made the president precisely because you are low-profile, that you don’t pose a threat to others.

Nobody should be posing threats within an organisation. We work together. I consult senior leaders when I need to, and then take my own steps.

? Do you touch their (Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani’s) feet in public?

I would say they are father figures to me. If someone sees touching the father’s feet as demeaning then I consider that person’s mentality demeaning.

? Kamalapati Tripathi once said there are three enemies of Uttar Pradesh politics -eating paan, performing puja, and touching the paaon (feet).

I don’t agree with this. Let me tell all your viewers that I have the utmost respect for both these leaders, and whenever there is a special occasion, I touch their feet to seek their blessing.

? You don’t consider it sycophancy?

There’s no such question.

? If the same thing happens with Sonia Gandhi in the Congress, does that become sycophancy?

Now if some elderly fellow there touches the feet of 60-year-old Mrs Sonia Gandhi, what can I say? But this is part of tradition. We touch our elders’ feet.

? Isn’t there a contradiction in a leader being a father figure at the same time?

No, I don’t see it as a contradiction. I anyway don’t see politics in a purely political dimension. I consider our organisation a family.

? Isn’t there the need for a generational shift in party leadership?

Generational shift is only a phrase coined by the media-new leaders inevitably come up within any organisation-it’s a very natural, simple process.

? There’s something called a glass ceiling, which you can see across but cannot cross. In your party the two father figures seem to be the glass ceiling - nobody can be higher than them. Or is the competition still open?

Many of India’s political parties function like private limited companies. But not the Bharatiya Janta Party. We are like an extended family and that’s how I would like to keep it, irrespective of the results.

? RSS chief K S Sudarshan said it’s time for the senior leaders to retire.

What I understand of Sudarshanji’s statement is that he was making a call for accelerating the entry of young new people in the organisation. And let me tell you that the RSS never gives out orders to the BJP. Because we have people whose relationship with the RSS goes back a long while, there is an interaction from time to time and they offer their opinion when they think it appropriate.

? But when they send these signals can you oppose them?

There are no signals they send out. They offer their opinion only when it is sought. It has never happened that there comes a directive from the RSS to the BJP and the BJP follows it unquestioningly.

? Did you speak to Mr Sudarshan about what he meant by his statement?

We have our regular interactions. I didn’t find it necessary to ask him about the meaning of his statement, so I didn’t discuss it with him.

? Before you became the party president, the RSS-BJP relationship had come under considerable strain. One purpose of appointing you president was to smoothen this, to help with the coordination, the harmony.

See, the RSS is a socio-cultural organisation - perhaps the biggest voluntary organisation in the world - and the BJP is a political party. I don’t remember an organisational tussle taking place between the two ever.

? When your government was in power there was a visible difference of opinion on many issues. The RSS says you lost the 2004 elections due to your straying from the path of Hindutva - the Jinnah debate and all that. Even if you call it a socio-cultural organisation, the ideological linkage cannot be denied.

I admit the ideological linkage. But any organisation is free to express its opinion on any issue, and that includes the RSS.

? Do you also admit the need to improve the coordination, the harmony between the RSS and the BJP?

The question of improving comes only when there has been a worsening.

? But worsening there was.

Now you can’t expect to convince me by your saying so! Our relationship has been and is good, and it will remain so.

? Do you agree with the interpretation that the BJP lost the polls because it didn’t follow the Hindutva agenda?

The Atal Behari Vajpayee government undoubtedly did some very good work. Our failing was that we couldn’t take the achievements to the ground level. There also was a section of voters that was confused, which thought the BJP had deviated from its proclaimed ideological position to some extent or the other. And this confusion arose because the BJP didn’t have a majority of its own, it was running a coalition. It was only natural that such a confusion would arise.

? But this is certain to happen again if you come back to power. You only managed to lose your roots as well as the NDA coalition. It’s like Na Khuda mila na hi visaal-e-sanam (Neither divine nor worldly union was achieved). Chandrababu Naidu went away, you have no partner in Tamil Nadu...

Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP was never an integral part of NDA. His support to the government was from outside.

? Tensions are growing with the Shiv Sena as well.

What tension? By-elections in two Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha constituencies have just been held. One was fought by us, the other by the Shiv Sena. See, people will say the same thing about Mamata Banerjee, that she is going away from the BJP. But we are participating with her in the ongoing struggle in Singur.

? But everyone’s participating there - the Congress, the Naxalites...

Let me tell you, the Congress is not involved in that struggle at all.

? But SEZs are being pushed by your chief ministers, the land for them is being acquired by your state governments.

Our policy on SEZs is clear. Fertile land should not be diverted to SEZs. Only wasteland or less fertile land can be acquired for industrialisation purposes. The Singur struggle is important, nevertheless, for exposing the real character of the CPM government in West Bengal, that behind its Communist facade lies a thoroughly capitalist face.

? You are not against capitalism, are you?

We are neither capitalist nor communist. We are only nationalists.

? This is quite a filmy dialogue you have made.

A person like me, coming from a small village, does not make filmy dialogues.

? It’s been two and a half years since the UPA government came to power, but you (the BJP) still seem to be struggling for focus, are plagued by regular controversies.

You first need to tell me what controversies you have in mind.

? There are these statements from the RSS, Advaniji keeps saying something...

Where’s the need to talk about the RSS when you are concerned with the BJP?

? It was the BJP’s controversies the RSS was commenting on. Whether it was Advani’s statement on Jinnah, the leaving of Uma Bharati and all that she said, the leaving of Babulal Marandi...

You are only speaking of two three individuals. There are three national parties in India - the Congress, the Communist party, and the BJP. There have been at least five-six outright vertical divisions within both the Congress and the communists in their history. With the BJP this has happened not once. A few individuals leaving and arriving in a party is an old part of politics.

? Will you consider trying to get back these individuals - there is Khuranaji, Babulal Marandi, Umaji- to the party in your term as president? Have you spoken to them about such a possibility?

We speak to even the Congress and the Communist parties as far as speaking is concerned. But the question of their return is not under discussion in the party, though what can happen when in politics is never predictable.

? Uma Bharati said on Walk The Talk that the BJP is now like a corpse that floats up to the surface out of decay. Such comments damage the party.

If the party was being damaged, then in Uttar Pradesh, where it was said the BJP had been wiped out, we wouldn’t have been so successful in the recent by-elections and municipal polls. We have just won eight of the 12 municipal corporations.

? In municipal polls yes, but you weren’t as successful at the next level.

If we weren’t successful, then who was? A few seats here and there is no big matter. And the kind of manipulation the ruling Samajwadi Party has carried out is something I’ll appeal to the media to highlight.

? So what’s going to happen in the Uttar Pradesh polls? What’s the strategy?

Now I won’t disclose the strategy! But we are going into the elections with the conviction that we’ll win a clear majority. That’s our goal. If we don’t, I firmly believe that the BJP will at least emerge as the single largest party.

? You are not seeking any alliances?

We have a very bitter experience of alliances in Uttar Pradesh. We will not support any other party. If anyone wishes to support the BJP, they can, but we are not going to give our support to any party in the state.

? You have been in alliance with the BSP thrice.

And we have suffered enough for it. There’s never going to be a fourth time. The question does not arise.

? Is there no difference of opinion on this in the party?

All the state leaders agree we will not support any party.

? Why are you so anti-BSP?

It’s not about being anti-BSP. Both the SP and the BSP governments have together ruined Uttar Pradesh completely. The law and order situation keeps growing from bad to worse. Life and property has never been so unsafe. Just the other day a small child was maimed and murdered. Such incidents have become routine now.

? Which of the two governments, in your opinion, has been the better or the worse?

This is an extremely difficult question to answer.

? Because in the event of a hung verdict you’ll have to enter into an alliance with someone or the other. You obviously cannot ally with the Congress.

I have the fullest faith in the people of Uttar Pradesh. They’ve seen the governments of the SP, the BSP, as well as the BJP.

? Your experience with the SP has been bitter, with the BSP you won’t ally...

Never. The question is meaningless.

? So there’s a possibility there won’t be any government at all?

It can happen. The BJP has saved Uttar Pradesh from going to the polls on three occasions in the past and each time has ended up paying a heavy price for it. We are not going to repeat the mistake, even if it means President’s rule.

? On what issues are you going to the voters of Uttar Pradesh this time? Is it anti-Mulayam sentiment, is it development?

What fetches a party votes is a combination of a large number of factors, among which those you mention certainly exist.

? But are you going back to Hindutva, or have you thought of a new nationalist slogan?

I’ve told you before we never deviated from Hindutva. The ideological bedrock on which the BJP’s politics was founded still sustains the BJP’s politics and will keep on sustaining it. But as I told you, it is not ideology alone that fetches votes but a number of factors.

? You obviously cannot expect the Muslim vote.

I believe that with time Muslims will realize that if there’s a party that can bring them true justice it is the BJP.

? That won’t happen till the memory of Gujarat is alive.

The Muslim there is feeling completely secure.

? Do you feel regret for what happened in Gujarat?

Every death is regrettable. But in Gujarat it is not Muslims alone who have died. Hindus have died too. People are trying to be fooled into believing otherwise to smear the Gujarat government’s name.

? But the way the riots were carried out- has there been introspection in the party on that?

Of course there has been introspection. The BJP keeps introspecting from time to time.

? What has been the result of the introspection?

You have to put this question to the people of Gujarat. In the five years since the riots happened the BJP has emerged victorious in every election - right down to the panchayat level.

? I’m putting this question to you in your capacity as the party president. What are the lessons the party has drawn?

The lessons are for the so-called secular parties to draw. That they should refrain from their attempts to keep Muslim society away from the national mainstream.

? Don’t you see the Gujarat riots as a black spot on the BJP?

Why should it be seen as a black spot? It is sad certainly, but wherever a riot takes place, wherever people are killed, it is a sad event. In the Hindutva of our conception, the basic premise is that what’s in the self is what’s in the universe, what’s in unconsciousness is what’s in awareness, what’s in the micro is what’s in the macro, that which is in me, Shekharji, it is also in you. A party that holds such a worldview can never be happy from someone’s death.

? Elections are due in two and a half years. You’ll have to soon come up with a prime ministerial candidate. You’ve said your party is not run like a private limited company, so the party president isn’t automatically the prime ministerial candidate.

There’s no question of it. I can’t even imagine such a thing.

? But you can’t delay the decision for too long.

There’s no problem here. Our party has plenty of candidates, don’t worry.

? Atalji, Advaniji?

It’ll be one of them only, who else?

? And beyond?

We are not concerned with beyond at this moment.

? One of these two, or one and the second?

That will be decided, there’s no problem with that. There’s no confusion in the party on that issue. There may be other parties who face a leadership crisis but not the BJP.

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