In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24X7 with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, BJP president Rajnath Singh explains why they are so confident of returning to power, says Muslims have no reason to be scared of the party, and calls Modi an organisation man.
You can’t stop smiling these days.
That should remain the case… The truth is that throughout the country, the enthusiasm that can be seen towards the BJP, the NDA is very encouraging. In all likelihood, not only will the BJP reach the magic figure of 272 on its own but get more than 300 seats as part of the NDA.
You don’t seem to have any worries. Are you that sure about opinion polls?
No, no, not just opinion polls. One always has an idea beforehand. This time the indications are absolutely clear.
This time, the RSS too seems to be putting in a lot of effort.
Waise to hum log bhi sab RSS ke hi volunteers hain (That way, we are all RSS volunteers). But the RSS too feels that the country is facing challenges on all fronts, be it economy, internal security or diplomacy. If the situation is this 67 years after Independence, anyone with a nationalist bent of mind would think that, for the sake of the country, a change is needed. This is felt not just by the RSS but the entire country. If there is a better alternative, it is the BJP.
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However, this change needed a big leap of faith, which you took, choosing your leader so far ahead, and finally running this election as ‘Abki baar Modi sarkar’.
It’s not like that. Whatever happened, happened very smoothly and after taking everyone into confidence.
What you did in terms of picking a leader beforehand, over other senior leaders — in the Indian context, Modi is a young leader, even I am a child before you in our politics — it was a cultural shift in the BJP. A high command culture seems to be coming in the BJP now.
I don’t agree. It’s BJP tradition to declare a PM candidate whenever there is a Lok Sabha election. We did it in the case of Atalji (Bihari Vajpayee), in 2009, we named (L K) Advaniji, and in 2014, we have named Modiji. It’s but natural that if someone is projected as the PM candidate, he or she will be projected in our advertisements, promotions. And I believe everyone should talk about their PM candidates, inform the people about them.
But now it seems the BJP’s campaign headquarters has shifted to Ahmedabad. Take ‘Chai pe Charcha’, ‘Run for Unity’, it’s all happening from there.
No, no, everything is happening from Delhi. I want to make it clear that even when someone has gone to meet Narendrabhai directly, he has said straightaway that talk to our party president.
Jaswant Singh would say, ‘What do I know? Ask the party president’.
On Jaswantji, the decision was taken by the central election committee. I believe that Jaswantji’s prestige can’t be measured on the basis of whether he got a ticket or not. The BJP is such a big party, someone has a role in the organisation, others in the government. You may not be a minister, but there are many other roles to perform.
Will you say that he acted emotionally, made a mistake?
I would not like to say anything about him, I respect Jaswantji. But it would have been nice if he had stayed with the party.
But do you think the issue could have been handled better?
No, whatever happened, happened after due discussions…
Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj said that the election committee hadn’t taken this decision.
I believe everyone was in the know and the central election committee had authorised the president. Normally, talks are then held by the president with the state team and many others…
So you took the call?
Then, based on the survey report, and keeping other things in mind…
So, you took the call? At least admit that much.
The central election committee authorised me, yet we talked to a lot of people. It’s not like I’m a totally dictatorial politician.
Do you think everything has been perfect in this campaign? Or some things could have been done differently, particularly in the planning? Even in cricket, they decide who’ll open, who’ll go at No. 3, who’ll bowl, field…
All our senior leaders are going on campaigns. This was discussed, including that the leaders contesting would campaign after polling in their seats.
One has to acknowledge that of the BJP. You have ideological cohesion, people don’t leave. Still, for example, Sushma Swaraj, whose seat just went to polls, hasn’t addressed a single rally with Modi.
The five-seven senior leaders of the BJP have to bear the burden of campaigning in the entire country. There are so many rallies, people have to travel separately. Narendrabhai and I addressed rallies together initially, then went separately.
People say you and Modi are the new Vajpayee and Advani.
It’s not like that. We’re taking everyone along with us.
Advani and Vajpayee too took everyone along. But they were a pair, weren’t they?
I don’t know whether you would call them a pair. Since I am president and Narendrabhai PM candidate, they may be saying that…
Though there is confusion sometimes ki kaun Advani hai or kaun Vajpayee. Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad compared you to Vajpayee.
Among all of us in the BJP, it can’t be said that this is Vajpayee and that is Advani. Everyone has their own identity.
At this point, no one knows Modi better than you. Can you tell us something that people don’t understand fully about Modi?
The most important thing is that when Narendrabhai feels that something has to be done, that it is justified, he doesn’t feel any hesitation about doing it. He does it. Another thing I have noticed is that there is no disparity between his words and deeds. What he says, he does.
A politician’s biggest asset is his credibility. He has emerged as a credible face just because of this quality — that there is no disparity between what he says and does. Besides, whatever decision the organisation has taken, whenever it has taken, whether it was agreeable to him or not, Narendrabhai has accepted it. Log kehte hain bada dictatorial attitude hai, yeh hai, woh hai… das tareeqe ki baat log kehte hain. Lekin humne toh bahut nazdeeki se dekha hai. Bilkul aisa nahin hai (People say he has a very dictatorial attitude, he is like this, like that… people say a lot of things. But I have seen him up close, it is not at all true).
Can you give us an example?
You may recall that the last time I was president, Narendrabhai couldn’t become a member of the BJP parliamentary board due to arguments put forward by some. They argued that Gujarat polls were coming and the parliamentary board would decide about the legislative party too. In the normal course, the person who is to be made the legislative party leader isn’t kept in the parliamentary board. He accepted the decision with grace.
Meaning, he is an organisation man, who always accepts the organisation’s decisions.
Vajpayee, Advani and Modi. Can you tell us one thing about each?
I don’t want to compare anyone with any other.
But all three have distinctive personalities. For example, I know Modi, his way of working is very effective. That is why he sent Amit Shah to Uttar Pradesh.
I want to clarify something — Narendrabhai would also be listening to this — I don’t want to mislead the country and I am not going to lie. Ek baar bhi Amit Shah ke barey mein Narendrabhai ne nahin kaha ki unko Uttar Pradesh ka in-charge banaaya jaye. Ek baar bhi nahin. Sanket mein bhi kisi doosre vyakti ne nahin kaha (Not once did Narendrabhai say that Shah be made UP in-charge. Not once. Neither did anyone even hint at this). I saw the way Shah had done election management in Gujarat.
So it was your choice?
Amit Shah ka selection keval aur keval mera hai (The selection of Shah is my decision and only mine).
And then you told Modi that you are deploying him in UP.
I did not tell him that either.
Not even that?
And whose brain wave was it to get Modi to Varanasi? Was that yours too?
Whatever was decided — whether it was about Narendrabhai, or me contesting from Lucknow, or Joshiji standing from Kanpur — it was decided by consensus.
But someone must have thought of the idea to field Modi from Varanasi?
Suggestions keep coming, though this was everyone’s suggestion that given that UP is the country’s biggest state, Narendrabhai should also contest from UP.
What were his choices in terms of seats?
Being the PM candidate, he could have naturally put his finger anywhere and he would have been fielded from there.
So he put his finger on Varanasi?
No, people gave their suggestions, there was discussion, and a decision was taken.
You offended another senior leader, briefly, Murli Manohar Joshi.
No, not at all. I respect him immensely. I have never offended him.
However, there have been missteps in this campaign, such as loose talk. Whether it’s Shah’s speech talking of revenge or Giriraj Singh telling those who vote against Modi to go to Pakistan.
I had clarified matters at the time too. I had seen the CD. Giriraj’s speech wasn’t targeted at a particular community or religious group. And, in a healthy democracy, parties angry at the ruling dispensation talk of taking revenge through the vote.
Still, Shah shouldn’t have used the word revenge.
In UP, the dialect is different if one goes west, if one goes east. Lucknow is in the centre, the dialect is different there.
This appeared to be Gujarat’s dialect… Even Modi has now said that such things should not be said. The wrong headlines are coming from your party’s point of view. Now Ramdas Kadam (Shiv Sena leader) has said that once Modi comes, he would set the Muslims right.
That’s against our ideology. Whoever it is, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, all citizens of India are equal.
All, all. Discrimination ka toh sawal hi nahi khada hota. Humari ideologies iski ijaazat hi nahin deti (There is no question of discrimination, our ideologies don’t allow that). We believe in cultural nationalism, we believe in India’s traditions. People who believe in India’s traditions gave the message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
The whole world is a family. But there are variations within. Modi won’t wear the Muslim skull cap, but you don’t have any hesitation doing that.
Why is a controversy raised over such matters? I wear dhoti-kurta, Narendrabhai wears kurta-pyjama, like you. What one wears shouldn’t be turned into a controversy.
No, it is about what one refuses to wear, especially something symbolising a religion.
It’s a person’s wish what to eat, drink or wear. Don’t link it immediately to a religion or community.
But were you not making a statement by donning the skull cap? Because, after that, Shia cleric Jawad said that you are like Vajpayee and that Muslims are not scared of you but of Modi.
I can understand that they feel that way because of the confusion created about Modi across the country… Lekin main daawe ke saath keh sakta hoon ki jo bhi Narendrabhai ke nazdeek jayega, woh unka ban ke reh jayega (I can say with conviction that whoever comes close to Narendrabhai, will go away loving him).
Why has this election turned so personal? About their family member, son-in-law. About someone’s marriage.
Who said that the BJP is a poisonous party? Who called the BJP a thief?
Do you think it is necessary for politicians to together bring campaigning within the bounds of decency?
Yes, whether it is the Congress or anyone else, everyone should remain within the limits of decency.
What is the Sangh Parivar entity? Where does one place Pravin Togadia? Where does one place Ashok Singhal, or Baba Ramdev? When they say things, they also become like spokesmen of Sangh Parivar. So where does the BJP belong in the Sangh Parivar?
As far as the Parivar is concerned, there are a lot of organisations. You can call them anusanghik sangathan — ancillary organisations. But it’s not like anyone dictates to anyone else, the RSS saying that you have to do this, and this way.
These are organisations to work in the many different sections of society. Take the RSS’s Rashtriya Muslim Manch. The Manch has been set up so that the confusion created in the minds of the Muslim community about the BJP by vested political interests could be removed.
However, don’t the statements that Togadia makes embarrass you?
For that, the RSS is not responsible.
So, how should the BJP deal with it? How should we deal with it? Should we consider him an insider or an outsider?
It’s a separate organisation and the BJP is a political organisation. The BJP doesn’t have to deal (with the statements), his organisation will do what has to be done.
However, it’s election time, and here you are saying that all are equal, there is no discrimination, and there a person is saying that don’t let a Muslim take a house in your locality. So, will you let a Muslim take a house in your neighbourhood?
I don’t endorse this, irrespective of who is saying it.
So a Muslim can live in your neighbourhood.
I did have a Muslim neighbour. Meri shaadi bhi ek Musalmaan ne karayi thi. Mere pitaji ke abhinna mitra the Sheikh Alam Miyan. Aaj bhi humarey gaon mein jaiye, wo pariwar hai… Mere pitaji jab meri shaadi taye karwa rahe the, Sheikh Alam Miyan ne apni muhar lagayi tab shaadi hui (A Muslim was instrumental in my marriage. Sheikh Alam Miyan was my father’s close friend. If you go to our village, you can still meet the family. When my father was fixing my marriage, he went ahead only when Sheikh Alam gave his consent).
I’ve heard your father was a freedom fighter and would go around on a cycle. He didn’t take any money or honour from the government.
No, no nothing. Not even pension.
One thing we can say about Modi is that he is very clear, doesn’t hint at something, says what he means. So he has said that he doesn’t believe in ‘minoritism’ or appeasement. That he sees everyone equally, doesn’t support separate policies for minorities, majority. So, in your government, will there be a Minorities Affairs Ministry?
The ministry is there, so it is there. But in our government, there will be no discrimination of any manner. Itni baat pakki (That’s guaranteed)… Justice to all.
What about the special schemes running for minorities?
Mein samajhta hoon ki kisi scheme ko samaapt karne ka nirnay koi sarkar nahin legi (I understand that no government takes a decision to discontinue any ongoing schemes).
Have you read the Sachar Committee report?
Whatever little I know about the Sachar Committee, if it is talking about the prevailing conditions in the country, these have been created by the Congress.
So Congress ne Sachar Committee banai aur unhi ke gale pad gayi ab? Sachchai nikal gayi (So the Congress scored a self-goal by setting up the Sachar Committee report? The truth is out)… And you are not going to discriminate against the minorities any further but embrace them?
Jo bhi gareeb hai, jo bhi below poverty line hai, kisi caste ka ho, kisi creed ka ho, kisi sect ka ho, kisi religion ka ho, sab samaan hain (Everyone who is poor, BPL, whatever caste, creed, religion or sect he may belong to, is equal).
And you will take them all along?
Absolutely. Even if one organ of the body is weak, we can’t make India the strong, independent country that we want to make.
And people of all religions are parts of this body.
Absolutely. Whichever god they believe in, whichever community or religion they belong to, as human beings, they are all equal… Humara yeh attitude prarambh se hi raha hai. Aur humara hi nahin, RSS ka bhi raha hai. Yehi attitude BJP ke sabhi leaders ka hai (We believe in this from the beginning. Not only us, but also the RSS. All BJP leaders too believe the same).
When you were the UP BJP president, the party got 58 Lok Sabha seats, a record. With Uttarakhand out and the total seats in UP now 80, how many seats is the BJP going to win?
Our target is 60.
Which are the 20 you left out?
That I can’t say.
Amethi, Rae Bareli, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s seat…
Keep watching. I won’t talk about a particular constituency.
Transcribed by Linda Louis