BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya criticises the Uttarakhand Governor’s move to give CM Harish Rawat time till March 28 to prove his majority, talks about the beef ban and the controversy over the ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ slogan, and says Ram temple is “not a poll issue” but is on the BJP’s “agenda”
LIZ MATHEW: What has been your role in the political crisis unfolding in Uttarakhand?
I was told by the party to go to Uttarakhand and analyse the political situation there. Some people, who wanted the state government to fall, approached us and said that they wanted to join the BJP. So I went there to talk to these people who were unhappy with the Congress government. They gave me documents which showed what the present (Harish Rawat) government is doing there. The forest mafia, land mafia, mining mafia and alcohol mafia, they are all active in the state, and these people approached me with proof of this.
So we reached an agreement that during the last session of the Vidhan Sabha, when a money Bill would be taken up, we would demand a floor test, and if they (the Congress rebels) voted in our favour, then the government would collapse.
W discussed this at night and drafted a letter to the Governor (K K Paul) seeking a vote. That letter had the signatures of 27 BJP MLAs. We also decided to have the Vidhan Sabha proceedings of that day recorded on video. We wrote a letter to the Vidhan Sabha co-chair. Until this point, we were quiet about the role of the Congress legislators.
Later they (the Congress) did develop some suspicion that something was wrong. Then 27 of our MLAs and nine (rebel MLAs) from the Congress came and stood on one side seeking a vote, but the Speaker didn’t let that happen. So we decided to meet the Governor.
But a lot of Congress workers surrounded the Vidhan Shabha and started fighting with our workers. We then spoke to the Director General of Police and asked him to provide us with security so that we could get to the Governor. The DG was not sending the police team, which forced us to stay inside the Vidhan Sabha for three hours, as we thought if we went outside there would be clashes.
I was angry and called up the DG… and told him that if there is some other government tomorrow, you must think what would happen to you. After that, the DG came to the spot himself. We also told the Governor about the situation, that representatives wanted to meet him. The Governor spoke to the DG. The DG then helped the MLAs get onto a bus which drove them to Raj Bhavan.
At the Governor’s office, we paraded 35 legislators and everyone gave their names and their constituencies to the Governor, and all of this was recorded on camera. Outside, we saw that there were a lot of Congress workers, so we concluded that the MLAs were not safe and needed to be taken away, that anything could happen. We arranged for an aircraft from inside the Governor’s office and took everyone to the airport under police custody along with our workers.
We then came to Delhi where we tried to meet the President, so that we could parade 36 MLAs in front of him. Around this time, the horse incident (police horse Shaktiman was injured in a protest) happened and one of the legislators was detained over it. We had a total of 36 legislators and even today we have 35 legislators in Delhi. Even the 36th legislator is here, now that he’s out on bail.
But the Governor gave them (the Harish Rawat government) till March 28 to prove their majority. In that time, these nine (rebel Congress) MLAs may be disqualified and the government can maintain its majority. We have informed the President about this scenario as well.
We told the Governor that we would be willing to prove our majority on March 28, as long as he instructs the Vidhan Sabha Speaker not to take any action against any members of the House. But the Governor hasn’t done this yet.
LIZ MATHEW: So do you have any doubts about the role played by the Governor?
Yes. I think the Governor should not give so much time to the Chief Minister to prove his majority, so much so that the Speaker gets an opportunity to disqualify the MLAs. The Governor should have issued directions that status quo be maintained and no action be taken against the MLAs until the trust vote. I cannot say that the Governor is helping them (the Congress) but we are at a loss.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: First Arunachal Pradesh and now Uttarakhand. A lot of people are accusing the BJP of breaking parties where they haven’t managed to get elected.
The fact is that the Congress leadership is extremely weak right now. Congress legislators feel that their political future is unsafe and they are fed up with the Congress. Rahul Gandhi went to JNU (in support of Kanhaiya Kumar). You can conduct a survey and you’ll find that 80 per cent of the Congress workers do not like the fact that he (Rahul Gandhi) stood in support of people who raised anti-national slogans. I can say this confidently because we conducted an election survey in Kolkata, where we asked this question and 95 per cent of the people were against Rahul Gandhi’s actions.
On Uttarakhand, a group of Congress leaders met us. They are saying it openly that they are joining us. That group includes former Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat (Agriculture Minister) and Satpal Maharaj’s (BJP leader) wife Amrita Rawat. These leaders can’t be bought.
LIZ MATHEW: Is the BJP ready to form the government in Uttarakhand? And if you are, who will be the chief minister? Has Vijay Bahuguna or anyone else made such demands?
They (Congress rebels) joined us without any conditions, so it is not necessary to make any of them the chief minister. For now, our only target is to ensure the fall of the present government. We haven’t decided who our chief minister will be, but none of the rebel Congress MLAs will be chosen. The new chief minister will be from the BJP.
COOMI KAPOOR: You often find yourself in foot-in-mouth situations. You called Rohith Vemula’s suicide a ‘small issue’ and dubbed Shah Rukh Khan ‘anti-national’. You later backtracked.
No, I never called Shah Rukh Khan an anti-national. What I had said was, ‘Shah Rukh Khan may live here, but his heart lives in Pakistan’. I even tweeted a few times about this. I only said that when there were floods in Pakistan, he expressed grief, but when there are earthquakes or floods in India, he has never publicly expressed grief. As far as taking back my statement is concerned, I never said I was wrong. I merely stated that my party wants me to retract my statement.
RAKESH SINHA: About the situation in Uttarakhand, have you spoken to just the party or has the PM been part of the discussions?
No, the Prime Minister has not been involved in these talks. So far, these talks have only taken place at the party level.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: The Centre has appointed vice-chancellors to 26 universities, but none of them is a Dalit. Shouldn’t members from different groups and communities, like Dalits, be considered while making such decisions?
There are some posts for which people should be selected solely on the basis on merit. Only under a meritorious person can things move in the right direction. In case of Central universities, when one has to decide on each and every V-C, I think that is done solely on the basis of merit. When people fill up nomination forms for V-Cs, it is never clear how many Dalits have filled up those forms. However, I want to make it clear that we are in favour of reservation.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Will Ram temple be an election issue in Uttar Pradesh elections next year? If voters ask the BJP why a Ram temple hasn’t been built yet, what will be the party’s response?
Ram temple is not an election issue, but it is on our agenda. We want to build a Ram temple there (Ayodhya). However, we also want to ensure that the social fabric is not torn apart. At the same time, we want to act within the legal framework.
LIZ MATHEW: You are in charge of the party unit in West Bengal. What are your expectations from the state in the upcoming elections?
I accept that our organisational strength in West Bengal is not very strong. But in politics, parties win either on the basis of positive votes or negative votes. You have a good leader, good policies, and good candidates, and then people vote for you. But sometimes, even negative votes can make you win. For example, if people decide that they have to remove somebody, then they will vote accordingly. In Bengal, the Communists ruled for three-and-a-half decades. People toppled the Communists when they found an alternative in Mamata Banerjee. The Communists did a good job in the first 10 years of their regime, but things deteriorated in the second and third decade. Now under Mamata’s rule, in only five years, law and order has plummeted to such a low and all the wrongdoers have got associated with the Trinamool. Bengal has come to be associated with bombs, guns, fake currencies, illegal arms and poppy fields. So there is an anti-Mamata wave in Bengal. We are not strong enough in the state yet to get all the anti-Mamata votes. But we are trying to ensure that both positive votes cast in our favour and negative votes against Mamata place us in a good position.
LIZ MATHEW: Recently, a sting operation had shown certain Trinamool MPs allegedly accepting bribes. Other parties brought an adjournment motion in the House, but the BJP didn’t even raise the issue, until state leaders brought up the matter. Are you going soft on Mamata because of your low numbers in the Rajya Sabha?
This issue was raised by Ahluwaliaji (S S Ahluwalia, BJP national vice-president) in the House. The party told him that you are an MP from the state (representing the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency) and should raise the issue. Incidentally, when he raised the issue in the House, some members of the CPI(M) and Congress got up too and his voice was suppressed. I had to take out the video of Ahluwaliaji’s speech in the Lok Sabha and campaign in Bengal.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: In 2014, most of the votes the BJP got were for Narendra Modi. Do you think that vote bank still exists?
It (the vote bank) has increased. In Bengal, since we don’t have a strong local leadership, I believe that people will vote for Modiji. We had received 17 per cent of the votes in Bengal in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and won two seats. We were leading in 26 Vidhan Sabha seats. Now, we hope that our position is better than that. But then (the 2014 general elections), the Congress and CPI(M) were fighting separately. Now they are fighting together. What would be its effect on voters? Many CPI(M) and Congress workers themselves are against this understanding. I can’t say to what extent this understanding will benefit us, but it surely will.
AMITABH SINHA: Do you agree with Venkaiah Naidu’s statement that ‘Narendra Modi is God’s gift to this country’?
I believe in God and I believe that it is due to His blessings that I am in this position today. I believe that if any person reaches a good position, there is surely God’s grace behind it.
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: In Kerala and the Northeast, where the BJP is trying hard to make inroads, beef is part of people’s diet. So how will you manage this contradiction?
When I went to Mizoram, people advised me against raising the (beef) issue. We tried to make them understand that this is not only a political issue but also that somewhere our beliefs are related with it. Cow should be considered a mother. This is our culture. We don’t want to bring in a law for this, but we hope that people don’t do things that hurt the beliefs of others. If you consume beef in front of me, I won’t like it.
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: But you are also supporting laws against cow slaughter.
Laws should be made according to the social fabric of an area. Such a law can’t be introduced in Mizoram, but it should be introduced where required.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Do you think the Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar cases were mishandled?
The government did not react much to the whole episode initially. It was only after Rahul Gandhi went to JNU that Amit Shah reacted. Now I don’t know who is responsible for this — the society or media. Photos (of Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula) are being put up in Bengal and Assam. These parties are using their photographs because they don’t have faces of their own who can attract votes. A Congress MLA said Rahul Gandhi has time to meet Kanhaiya Kumar but not them, whereas they have been seeking an appointment for six months. In a democracy, both the ruling party and the Opposition should be strong. The Opposition should be mature. When Narasimhaji (P V Narasimha Rao) was the prime minister and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the leader of Opposition, he represented India at the UN. There, the media asked Vajpayeeji, in your country you criticise the government but here you are praising it. To it, he replied that he is representing the nation and not the party. But now just look at the statements the Opposition issues about the country. Most Opposition leaders link ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans with freedom of speech. I think the Opposition is quite weak.
LIZ MATHEW: Recently, an MLA of the AIMIM was suspended from the Maharashtra Assembly for refusing to say ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’. Why are these issues being kept alive?
Many people laid down their lives for Independence chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’. So if someone refuses to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, it is an insult to those freedom fighters. This is what I believe. And those who laid down their lives for the nation are above religion or caste. And when they are insulted, no one in this country should tolerate that.