Debating India

VERDICT 2004

`It is a new experience for us’

V. Venkatesan, Siddharth Narrain

Wednesday 2 June 2004, by NARRAIN*Siddharth, VENKATESAN*V.

Interview with Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

THE outcome of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections has left leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a state of shock. Even as senior leaders of the party avoided giving interviews to the media immediately after the declaration of results, V. Venkatesan and Siddharth Narrain met the BJP’s all-India general secretary and spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for his response to the party’s electoral debacle. A former Member of the Lok Sabha from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, Naqvi has served as the all-India vice-president of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha, and as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting with additional charge of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. He is now a member of the Rajya Sabha. Known as the `Muslim face of the BJP’, Naqvi rose steadily in the party hierarchy and enjoys the confidence of senior BJP leaders. Excerpts from the interview:

The BJP’s Parliamentary Board met to discuss the results of the elections. What is the initial reaction within the party?

Nobody is able to understand what has happened because there is no anti-incumbency on the ground level. People are perfectly happy with the performance of the government. There is no wave against the government or in favour of the Opposition. It is definitely a new experience for us and we will learn from it. It is a fractured verdict. The Congress(I) has performed badly in States such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In all the large States there is no verdict in favour of the Congress(I).

We are not saying that this verdict is in our favour. It is not. The Congress party had not projected Sonia Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate while we had projected Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Congress has got only a fractured verdict and then projected Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister.

You have said that the results were surprising. What were your expectations?

We expected the NDA to win 280-300 seats, of which we thought the BJP would get 200-220 seats. Our biggest loss is in Uttar Pradesh. We expected at least 30 seats from U.P.

Are you blaming your allies for the debacle?

No, we are not blaming anybody. We fought the elections on the same issues. In some places where we had governments we did not do well and in some places where we did not have governments we did well. In states such as Orissa where the NDA had a government we did well. It is a matter that has to be analysed.

Was it Kalyan Singh’s re-entry into the party and the resultant infighting the major reason for the defeat in U.P.?

Infighting was one of the reasons for our defeat.

Did the sari stampede in Lucknow have an impact on the outcome?

No.

Even in Uttar Pradesh?

There were other factors. We were expecting more of the Muslim vote, which did not happen.

Why?

One reason is that Muslims do not like persons like the Shahi Imam Syed Ahmad Bukhari of the Juma Masjid, Delhi. Bukhari’s public appeal to Muslims to vote for the BJP would have led to the negative result.

Then why did the party ask for Bukhari’s support?

We did not ask for Bukhari’s support. The common Muslim is in favour of the BJP and its development plank. But when people saw people like Bukhari supporting us, they thought that the BJP is going down the same track as all political parties. I think that the process of taking along the minority population will continue.

There is the view that Muslims would have voted for the BJP if the party had removed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the Supreme Court indicted him in the Best Bakery case. Do you agree with this perception?

I think the Best Bakery case and the Gujarat issue have been politically exploited by the Opposition and this has affected our electoral performance.

Where has it affected your performance?

It has affected us in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party projected Gujarat as a major issue. In Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav made use of the same issue.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Best Bakery case was an issue during the elections. But we are not apologetic because there has been only one communal riot during our regime. There have been 32,000 communal riots in all the years that the Congress(I) has ruled the country.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that the party is not against Sonia Gandhi as a person but does not want a person of foreign origin to become Prime Minister?

The day someone of foreign origin becomes the country’s Prime Minister will be an unfortunate one. I think no one can deny the fact that foreign origin is an issue. In India, where we still suffer from the after-effects of foreign rule, how can the issue of foreign origin disappear?

There is a view within the Sangh Parivar that the BJP suffered a defeat because it strayed from the core ideology of Hindutva.

We have never differed on ideological issues within the party. Development issues can never be pushed to the background. Further, the Congress party has not swept these polls.

You projected the `feel good’ factor, Vajpayee’s leadership and launched the India Shining campaign. Do the results signal a rejection of these claims?

We are proud of our achievements over the past five years. We have helped the nation develop and built the image of our country. The last five years have been a golden era for the country according to us.

But why did the voters not realise this?

We can’t explain the mentality of the voters. Had we realised that the voters do not understand the feel good factor, then we would have done something else.

Was there a disconnect between the party and the voter?

I think this is the first election that has been fought on issues of progress and development and we will continue to focus on these issues. We will not divert our focus on governance and development and are proud of Atalji’s achievements. Once you lose an election all our positive points look negative to the media.

Do you think opting for early Lok Sabha polls was a mistake?

I do not think it was a mistake. We do not think there would have been a major change had the polls been held on schedule.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied on May 12 media reports suggesting that if the BJP and its allies fall short of 250 seats in the next Lok Sabha, Vajpayee would not try to form a government. Does it mean that the NDA was not averse to try and form a government, whatever the shortfall?

Reports in the media said that if the NDA tally was less than 250 we would not form the government. Had we been in a situation where both the formations (NDA and the Congress) had less than a majority, it should not appear as if we did not want to form the government. The country needs a government.

So there is nothing inherently wrong in a post-poll alliance where parties of different ideologies may fight against each other and come together after the elections?

No, in Indian democracy all these combinations are possible.

So why is the party critical of the Congress-Left alliance?

If two different groups accept a common leader without any hesitation there is no problem. If there is hesitation on the question of leadership, then it is definitely a big issue. We are not opposed to the coalition of the Congress and the Left. But it is clear that there are major differences in policy between these parties. The coalition has our best wishes.

Why is the party reluctant to announce Vajpayee as the leader of the Opposition?

The Parliamentary Party has to sit and through a democratic process elect a leader. Vajpayee is the leader of the BJP and the NDA. Even if he is not leader of the Opposition, his stature within the NDA and the party will not change.

Is he reluctant to take up the post?

No he is never reluctant. The party will decide if he takes up the post or not.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic : Shanker Chakravarty

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 11, May 22 - Jun 04, 2004.

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