Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde plays down fears of Modi turning away potential allies and says the BJP will get at least 200 seats in the coming polls. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor Shubhangi Khapre, Munde adds that BJP is in talks to win over minority communities, while stressing that AAP, MNS are not a factor
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: What is the possibility of Raj Thackeray joining the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra ahead of the Lok Sabha elections?
Munde: I don’t see any possibility of Raj Thackeray joining the Sena-BJP alliance.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: As a big brother who had initiated the alliance process, why are you ruling it out completely?
Munde: I tried a lot, but now I have given up. The reason being both Uddhav and Raj are leading their respective organisations and not agreeable to reconciliation. It is clear that the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) is not keen on being part of the alliance.
Sandeep Ashar: Will it not lead to Marathi vote division and affect the overall electoral prospects of the BJP-led alliance in the state?
Munde: Raj Thackeray adopted the Marathi plank to make inroads in Maharashtra. In the last Assembly polls, the MNS managed to win 13 seats. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the MNS got zero seats. In the successive elections, the Sena and BJP returned to power in the BMC. By now, people know that on its own, the MNS cannot form the government. It has little at stake in Lok Sabha elections. Successive BMC and local bodies polls show that the MNS’s vote share has declined. If it further comes down by one-two per cent, it works to our advantage. Last time, we were caught unawares, as a result of which the Congress-NCP swept all six seats in Mumbai. Now, we have a plan in place. I am confident that we will win 50 per cent of the 11 Lok Sabha seats across Mumbai, Thane-Kalyan-Dombivali, Nashik and Pune.
Mihika Basu: Don’t you think it is too early to dismiss the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections after their performance in Delhi?
Munde: AAP will not perform here as well as they did in Delhi. The reasons for their magnificent performance in Delhi was three-fold: Anna Hazare’s agitation, mishandling of the Jan Lokpal Bill issue, and the December 16, 2012, gangrape. There was anger against the Delhi government amongst the people there due to a series of scams coupled with law and order problems; anti-incumbency compounded the Congress’s problems. All of this helped AAP. Hazare’s agitations in Delhi were a huge success. But the same issues along with same team were a flop show in Mumbai. They did not receive a mass support in Mumbai. Secondly, the Delhi government was directly accountable for the corruption in the Commonwealth Games as people saw a newly built bridge collapse and cracks surfacing in toilets and in the stadium. In the Delhi Assembly polls, AAP completely wiped out the Congress. But it did not affect the BJP; our seats increased from 16 to 32 in the polls.
Shubhangi Khapre: At the Hyderabad meeting held recently, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat warned the BJP not to be complacent about AAP.
Munde: The RSS has asked the BJP to work hard and not be complacent after the success of Assembly polls in four states, and not to become overconfident after its success under Narendra Modi’s leadership. What he meant was work hard and seek the support of a large number of people across India.
Zeeshan shaikh: Don’t you think AAP has taken away the opposition space from the BJP? Does the BJP find it hard to adopt anti-corruption stand in Maharashtra in the backdrop of controversies regarding the Poorti Group of companies or sugar factory linked to former party president Nitin Gadkari?
Munde: I don’t agree that the BJP has lost its space to AAP. Take any scam against the UPA government in the last few years — it was the BJP which exposed it and took it to its logical end. Whether it is CWG, 2G Spectrum or Coalgate scam — everything was pursued by the BJP. The Joint Parliamentary Committee, led by the BJP, ensured that ministers were sent to jail in the 2G Spectrum and CWG cases. The Coalgate matter is in court. In Maharashtra, we have raised scams related to the state government.
Also, there is no misuse of any government subsidy given to the Poorti Group. The Congress-NCP government is in power, not the BJP. Secondly, it was Medha Patkar who pointed out corruption in the auction of sugar factories. I have not bought a single sugar factory. So the charge is baseless. Of the total 68 sugar factories, only one is owned by Gadkari which was processed through open bidding and tendering, without violating any rule. The remaining 67 sugar factories are owned by NCP leaders.
Shubhangi Khapre: Why was Gadkari divested from the post of all-India BJP president? Why did the BJP take action against him after the Poorti Group controversy?
Munde: I don’t think the party acted because of the corruption charge against him. He was denied presidentship to pave the way for a change in the party.
Shalini Nair: You had claimed that your cost for election campaigning in 2009 had crossed Rs 8 crore. Going by the austerity and transparency shown by AAP in recent elections, is the BJP re-thinking on these lines?
Munde: National political parties should be funded by the government for election campaigning in order to stop the inflow of black money for campaigning. The Election Commission has repeatedly examined my speech and found no indication on my part showing I had spent Rs 8 crore as an MP in my constituency, Beed. The case was then withdrawn. The current limit of Rs 35 lakh is too little, it should be increased.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: A lot of people believe that the country has never witnessed divisive politics to the extent seen after Modi was named the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. Do you think that the BJP stands to benefit from this polarisation?
Munde: Modi has not made any religious or casteist statement that can cause polarisation. He has not even mentioned the words Hindu and Muslim. He is fighting on the plank of good governance and a progressive India on the basis of the Gujarat model. In the recent state elections, the BJP won seats from pockets that have up to 40 per cent Muslim population. In Rajasthan, we won seats where the Muslim population is more than 50 per cent. There is no bitterness or religious divide in any campaigning done by Modi so far.
Shubhangi Khapre: Do you think it would have helped you consolidate support for the NDA had you not declared Modi as the PM candidate so soon? Allies such as Nitish Kumar would not have deserted the NDA in that case.
Munde: To win, we have to cross the 180-mark in the Lok Sabha. The NDA can be strengthened only if we win these many seats, for which announcement of Modi as the PM candidate was absolutely essential. We had only two names — L K Advani and Modi. The age factor was not in favour of Advani. Modi had the full support of cadres. This support for Modi will translate into votes for the BJP. The party increased its number of votes by 10 per cent after declaring Modi as the candidate. He is our best choice.
Shubhangi Khapre: What about the deficit of votes due to the exit of allies?
Munde: The JD(U) indulges in negative politics. Even Jayalalithaa has said that Modi is the best. The Telugu Desam Party and Asom Gana Parishad are going to join us after the elections. Once we get 180 seats, a number of factions will come out in our support because for them it will be about not letting the Congress come to power. Also, it doesn’t seem likely that the Communist parties will support the Congress. In the recent elections, we got three-fourths of the seats. Going by that trend, we are confident of the BJP getting at least 200 seats on its own.
Zeeshan Shaikh: You have enjoyed considerable support from the Muslim community in your constituency. Don’t you think Modi is seen with a lot of anger by this community?
Munde: People change their stand after first-hand experiences. When the BJP-Shiv Sena came to power, Muslims were worried. At that time, they used to offer namaz on the streets. We increased the floor space index (FSI) of their mosques so that they could construct halls for offering namaz. The Haj house had not got its completion certificate for 16 years; our government granted it to them in just 15 days. Maulana Kashmiri, who was a staunch opponent of the BJP, felicitated me. Also, there has not been a single communal riot during Modi’s regime. So, the anger and fear you mention are baseless.
Sandeep Ashar: What is the BJP’s plan on a national level to woo minorities, especially the Muslims?
Munde: Eighty per cent of the population in my constituency comprise Muslims and I was apprehensive when Modi was declared the PM candidate. I had a series of public meetings where I assured my electorate that I will remain what I am and they need not worry. I told them that the PM candidate’s nomination is not in my hands. Now, they say that they will vote for Modi and me. There is a similar plan at the national level. We are initiating dialogues with various sects of the minority community. Earlier, we used to get zero votes from the Christian community. But now things have changed there as well. Did anyone imagine that Manohar Parrikar would win in Goa?
Sandeep Ashar: You have been sidelined a number of times in Maharashtra politics owing to internal difference between the Munde and the Gadkari factions.
Munde: The BJP has a number of schools of thought, but there is no enmity amongst these factions. There is no rivalry between Gadkari and me. He is from Vidarbha, I am from Marathwada. He has never wanted to be the chief minister. There is no common interest. I consider myself the leader, but there is no formal announcement appointing me as the election campaign leader in the state.
Shalini Nair: We have heard that Ajit Pawar is going to contest against you from Beed. He has challenged you to fight from Baramati.
Munde: If he has the courage, he should contest from Beed. Days after he made this statement, he retracted. If he is ready to contest from Beed, I am ready to contest from Baramati. Both of us should contest from Beed as well as Baramati.
Zeeshan Shaikh: Do you think you have become a soft target both within and outside the party, particularly after the death of Pramod Mahajan?
Munde: Pramod and I together ran the party for 25 years and took most of the decisions jointly. I have been an elected leader for 21 years continuously, breaking Indira Gandhi’s record of 17 years. Reform and new leadership is natural in every party. I definitely had to face difficulty after Pramod’s death, because he was more connected to Delhi politics. For the first two-three years, I was busy with court proceedings in the murder case. This was followed by Rahul’s episode. Situations had gone awry, but the party was not against me. A lot of my time went into looking after the family. The outer perception was that I am being sidelined.
Stuti Shukla: Do you think that the Adarsh scam will not benefit your party the way other scams did in Delhi, because your leaders are also involved in it? BJP MP Ajay Sancheti owns nine benami flats. Moreover, the irrigation scam that the BJP raked up has also lost steam.
Munde: None of our leaders is involved. At the most, someone would have made a wrong flat booking. The BJP is not connected to any of the wrong decisions taken by the government such as illegal allotment of land and increase in FSI. Also, after we raised the irrigation scam, the (Madhav) Chitale committee was constituted. We need not fear because our slate is clean.
Shubhangi Khapre: What is the objective of the ‘chargesheet’ that you are preparing against the UPA for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections?
Munde: The BJP has prepared a different election strategy this time. We are preparing a vision document. Secondly, we are also preparing an election manifesto. Thirdly, we are preparing a ‘chargesheet’ against the current government. This is an attempt at getting the support of people much before the actual elections. The ‘chargesheet’ is titled, ‘The Black Decade under the UPA regime’. It would enlist all the mistakes and wrongdoings done by this government. We will invite public feedback on it by putting it up on a website. Subsequently, we will start campaigning across the country and take feedback on state-specific and region-specific problems. All feedback will be incorporated in the ‘chargesheet’. By mid-February, we will publish the ‘chargesheet’. I am the chairman of the committee.
Mayura Janwalkar: You took NCP leader Sharad Pawar to court over the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) elections. Was the disqualification of your nomination your grouse?
Munde: I had friendly relations with Vilasrao Deshmukh and I supported him for chairmanship of the MCA. After his death, 65 supporters of Deshmukh came to me and asked me to contest the MCA elections. I then became a member of the same club as Deshmukh, and filed nominations. Sharad Pawar was scared that I had the support of the Congress. He challenged my nomination on the grounds that I am not a resident of Mumbai. But I am a resident of Mumbai since 1986. The address on my ration card and passport is that of Mumbai. However, I am not a voter in Mumbai. Since he illegally got my nomination rejected, I went to court. I think the ruling will be in my favour. Deshmukh was a Latur voter. If Pawar supported him, then why not me? Pawar is the lifetime chairman of all government sports associations and clubs. I wanted to break his monopoly and hence, wanted to contest the MCA elections.
Shubhangi Khapre: Why do you have so much enmity with Sharad Pawar?
Munde: It is not about enmity. Misusing power to wrest control of government organisations is wrong. You are holding so many posts. Why don’t you want to leave them? If by law, the CM has to be the ex-officio chairman of these associations, then why does he continue to hold chairmanships of these bodies? Despite having been the BCCI chairman, why does he want to be MCA chairperson? It is like wanting to pass matriculation exam after graduating.
Sandeep Ashar: Do you think the RPI (Athawale) is feeling neglected within the alliance in Maharashtra, especially after you got the Swabhimaani Shetkari Sanghatana on board?
Munde: We are in the process of discussing seat sharing. It will not be decided in one meeting. Both parties have asked for four seats each. We have to discuss how many should be given to them.
Shubhangi Khapre: What, according to you, are the reasons behind Sharad Pawar’s decision to not contest the Lok Sabha elections this time?
Munde: The main factor could be his age and health-related issues. It is not due to fear. Maybe he wants to campaign, and maybe he does not trust his nephew Ajit Pawar enough.
Transcribed by Stuti Shukla and Shubhangi Khapre
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