Union minister Uma Bharti, said to be upset after being moved out of Ganga Rejuvenation and Water Resources and given Sanitation and Drinking Water, has described herself as the Mowgli of politics. In her first interview since that reshuffle, she explains why she made that comparison, describes her obsession with the Ganga, and says she will continue to work for the river. Excerpts:
You were removed from the Ministry of Ganga Rejuvenation and Water Resources, which handled issues that meant a lot to you. A view was expressed then that you did not make much progress in that ministry …
First of all, I have a problem with the word ‘removed’. My portfolio has been changed. I don’t mind the change because I am totally obsessed with the Ganga. What I wanted to do for the Ganga can be done in this department also. Why has it been changed? I cannot give you an answer — only the appropriate authority can give you the answer. But I am happy. Ganga was a reason for which I was little bit reluctant to fight elections, because I wanted to work with a free spirit, for public awareness. Ganga is not like the Rhine or the Thames, it will not remain clean even if you clean it once. Everyday 20 lakh people take a dip, and the annual average is 20 crore from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar. In such a situation, only the public can do something. Now, I am able to do what I wanted to do for the Ganga.
Could you not do it as minister?
Earlier it was planning; I did good planning for Ganga. Now the ministry is with Nitin Gadkariji. He is an expert on Ganga works now… I had met all those who were engaged or struggled for Ganga. Now it is the tender stage for which he is well-equipped, because he has the experience as minister for national highways.
There have been reports that you wanted to work as an MP rather than as a minister.
What I said was that I was reluctant to fight elections, because I wanted to work for awareness on the Ganga. In my political life, Nitin Gadkari has a crucial role. Earlier it was Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia; she died when I was 40… He [Gadkari] plays the role of Rajmata in my life now. She used to respect me, was affectionate to me and used to scold me if I made mistakes. Nitin Gadkariji does all these three. The void created by Rajmata’s death has been filled by Gadkariji now. So he handling Ganga is like I handling it.
You have been quoted as saying that you are like Mowgli in politics.
I have been wondering why I am not comfortable in politics. There is some discomfort in politics; it has always been there since I became a parliamentarian in 1989. Now I am 58, but I feel I am still not politically settled. Politics is not my forte. If I am given a job, I will do it single-mindedly, but not from a political angle. Even in my Ayodhya andolan, there was no politics, just commitment. So were my Tiranga agitation in Karnataka and my movement against infiltration in the Northeast. When I was asked to become chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, the state was in disarray and pathetically backward. But I worked with commitment.
I started thinking, who could I compare myself with? I remembered Mowgli — I love to watch Mowgli . He was good, lived in the forest and had raw intelligence. He was friendly with the environment, never considered anyone an enemy. But suddenly, he had to come to the human world. People around did not understand him. Many interpreted my remark as ‘I am the Mowgli in the jungle which is BJP’. I did not mean that. I meant, I have come from the forest and joined politics. What will it be like if Mowgli joins politics? See, Mowgli has energy, naivety, innocence and was close to nature. He does not know the tricks of the trade —he is single minded. There are so many similarities between Mowgli and me. What I said was, I am doing what Mowgli would have done if he had joined politics.
There were others, too, like me. Yashwant Sinhaji was telling me Karpoori Thakur was like me. There were some in Indian politics who did not have the political efficiency, but who had power in their strength. I am not saying others are not sincere — you cannot be in politics if you don’t have commitment.
Do you think politics has become full of lies and exaggeration?
I cannot say that. I think only those who have commitment can work in politics. I can talk only about myself — I don’t know how to conspire nor can I be a sycophant. But I will not say that everyone is like this. I have become a successful politician despite that — six times an MP, twice an MLA, a chief minister and now a Union minister. There is place for sincerity and hard work in the BJP and in Indian politics.
There have been reports that you were upset and not attending the winter session of Parliament.
In 1996, I had an accident in which my knees were fractured. I could not take proper care as the Gujarat government was in a crisis and I was the youth wing leader. I had to travel a lot and it became serious. This time, when I went for Vijay Rupani’s Parivartan Yatra, my knees faced trouble again and I was asked to rest for two, three months… but I was doing my work from home.
Are you planning to move back into Madhya Pradesh politics?
I am happy here.
What have you to say of the revival of conspiracy charges against you, L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in the Ayodhya case?
I never feel guilty about Ayodhya. I was involved in Ayodhya and I never denied it. Things are in court. I am not making any comment on that. There were two fights on Ayodhya — one is if it is the birthplace of Lord Ram or not, which is now proven. The question remains on whose is the land. We have fought for the birthplace of Ram… If the court finds us wrong, we will accept it. But the work is done, no?… In this kind of dispute, courts allow out-of-court settlements. Some ways will come out.
Are you confident about an out-of-court settlement?
It is not confidence, it is faith.
Is there a lot of focus on religion in politics?
We will come out of it gradually. People used to wonder what would happen if the BJP comes to power. But the agenda of development has reduced such fears. The Congress never had any ideology although Nehru and Indira Gandhi were influenced by socialism. So, the Congress adopted ideologies from others and later started allowing communists to take over in culture, arts, media and academics to attack us. Now, we fight poverty, corruption and we talk about development, disappointing the Left. Now only some [communists] are left. But snakes, even when only a few, are very dangerous and try to spread venom once in a while. That’s how controversies like award wapasi, intolerance etc came up. They tried to defame India. Now their venom will come down.
But isn’t there an atmosphere of negativity? Violence over what people should see, eat and wear… even school buses are attacked over a movie.
You just look at what our government does. Do we protect them? Do we honour them? We take action against them. Neither the Congress nor the Samajwadi Party took action against such elements during their rule. Gayatri Prajapati, who was accused of rape, was part of Akhilesh Yadav’s poll campaign.
But how did this atmosphere of hate come about?
It will be all right. It has to be set right. Everyone should get together and improve it. The ruling party is responsible for maintaining law and order. The Opposition also has a role — the Congress has to learn this from us. Their role is not just to create issues but also in solving them. With its size going down, the Congress just wants to create an uproar to be visible. It has to understand it is responsible. The BJP was careful about its responsibilities even we were two… But had the BJP not been in power in many states, things would have been worse. This is the right time for the BJP to be ruling, and if the Congress was in power, things would have been worse. Unlike Manmohan Singh, this Prime Minister [Modi] is in charge.