Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi speaks about the party disassociating itself from some of the statements made by its MPs, the sense of insecurity among Muslims and the party’s strategy in the next session of Parliament.
Why Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi?
Senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is one of the most prominent Muslim faces in the BJP. The former vice-president of the BJP is now MoS for Parliamentary Affairs and Miniority Affairs. As someone who defended the government in Rajya Sabha, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had a rough Winter Session, where the Opposition refused to back down on its demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi issue a statement on forced conversions.
Abantika Ghosh: You have started touring minority areas. What has the feedback been?
I went to Kerala recently and held meetings with different sections of society. Everybody welcomed the move. Besides development and good governance, people also want to know about all the negative statements and the talk of conversions. I clarified that our government’s agenda is development and that we will never allow anybody else to divert from that agenda. I have explained but I don’t know if I was able to convince them.
Amitabh Sinha: There has been a lot of noise in the last 6-7 months over issues such as ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’. You may claim these groups have no direct links with your party but don’t you think they are emboldened because the BJP is in power?
This competition to prove who is a greater champion of communalism has to end. Such negative statements may act as speed breakers in our mission of development and good governance, but they cannot stop it. Modiji and the government has clarified both inside and outside Parliament that we do not support such incidents and will not protect them.
You should judge us by what our government is doing and what our party is doing. When individual do such things, we tend to dissociate ourselves from them. Our party has a problem of being too democratic. We cannot pull someone’s ear and punish them. There is a system. However, whatever is happening should not be happening. This has already been said by both the Prime Minister and the party president at appropriate forums.
Liz Mathew: Do you think such incidents have damaged the party’s agenda?
Such issues cannot dent our commitment to development. We are clear about that. When such people don’t get any support, the public doesn’t support them, they will automatically get isolated from society. State government can take legal action against such elements as per their laws.
Manoj CG: The BJP may dissociate itself from some of the statements made by its MPs, but the RSS supports many of these views. Do you think PM Narendra Modi can withstand RSS’s pressure?
I do not have a mandate to say anything for the RSS and I do not want to. If the RSS has any such negative agenda, we do not have anything to do with it. Beyond that, if there is any such negative activity happening anywhere, it is the responsibility of society to stop it. The conversion issue, for instance, is not new and has been going on for long. There’s a need for a Central law which cannot be made unless it has the support of all political parties and civil society.
Seema Chishti: What are the lessons you have learnt from the UPA’s experience in government? What are the things you would not do?
No 2G, 3G, Commonwealth G and ‘jijaG’. The system should be corruption-free. When we inherited this government, the biggest issue facing the country was that of corruption. In these six months, the biggest achievement of this government is that no one is talking about corruption. A credible and strong leadership exists today. The second thing is that we are performing as well as reforming. Earlier, the government used to say that we would take the country on the path of udaarwaad (reforms) but they took the country towards udhaarwaad (debt). In such a short time, we have taken steps towards labour reforms, judicial reforms.
Seema Chishti: RSS representatives or party members associated with the RSS have held meetings with many of the ministries. There is talk that the new education policy will take the RSS into account. Has there been any such meeting with the Minority Affairs ministry?
We should not look at the RSS as an anti-national organisation. It is a nationalist organisation. If they give us some suggestion that is in national interest, there is nothing wrong. But the Minority Affairs Ministry has had no such interaction.
Abantika Ghosh: You have taken the ordinance route on a lot of Bills but these will eventually have to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, where your party is in a minority. What will your strategy be in the next session of Parliament?
We have a majority in the Lok Sabha but we do not think that what is happening in the Rajya Sabha is negative. Rajya Sabha worked only for 5-7 days but we passed 11 Bills. On a lot of important issues, the Opposition supported us. There is no co-ordination within the Congress because of which we face some problems. But in the coming days, we will discuss, co-ordinate with them.
There is no brief that the Prime Minister gives but you know your responsibilities. There is some trust deficit (among minorities) that needs to be fixed. The Congress calls itself a permanent secular party and we are called communal, but in the name of secularism, they are the champions of communalism.
Liz Mathew: Where do you see the Indian Muslim 10 years from now, especially since the Sangh Parivar and its affiliate groups have been making these uncomfortable statements and claiming that they will be around for the next 10 years?
The future of Indian Muslims and Indians in general is bright and safe. When political parties feel insecure, they use a community or a caste to hide behind and create a false sense of fear. You spoke about Muslims. Eighty per cent of the population belongs to a new generation — they haven’t witnessed the pain of the freedom movement or Partition. They haven’t seen a communal environment. It is true that organisations like ISIS and al-Qaeda were created but we are also proud that these organisations could not spread their roots to India. Also, if anyone makes these statements or tries to create an atmosphere of fear — be it a Hindu organisation or a Muslim one —they harm the community they claim to lead. The public will reject such people.
Liz Mathew: There is a sense of empowerment, in a negative sense, among middle-class Hindus and a sense of insecurity among minorities, especially Muslims. What do you think?
You have to understand that no one can become a power centre of the entire nation on the basis of religion — Hindu or Muslim — caste or community. If that could happen, the biggest parties in the country would have been the Hindu Mahasabha on one hand and Muslim League on the other. The middle-class isn’t thinking Hindu or Muslim. They are thinking roti, kapda, makaan.
Manoj CG: The Congress is accusing your government of taking many U-turns. One instance is the Insurance Bill. Why were you opposing the Bill when you were in the Opposition and why are you pushing for it now?
In the beginning, there was a lot of confusion. First, there was talk of 26 per cent FDI in the sector, then of 49 per cent. The UPA government did nothing to bring about clarity, neither did it hold any discussions on it. We weren’t the only people who opposed it. Then the Bill went to a Select Committee. The Congress’s representatives in the committee brought about the changes they suggested. I think in the days to come, the Bill will be passed in the House.
Aleesha Matharu: Who, according to you, is the conventional BJP supporter? Why are those with a different opinion being shouted down on social media?
BJP is a party of the common people. One of the main reasons for the party’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections was the image of Modiji as an icon of development. During the Lok Sabha campaign, we had planned very few rallies of Modiji, but people just wanted to vote for Modiji. These were common people. They were not people of any one community. Even if it was a farmer from a village, whether Hindu or Muslim, he said he would vote for Modi. The image the BJP once had, of a being a party of the Hindus or of the upper class or middle-class, has been dispelled.
Liz Mathew: You were vice president of the BJP for a long time and you are a senior leader. Are you happy with an MoS post?
Both the portfolios are challenging and we have to succeed in both. So it doesn’t matter who is senior or junior. Many of our senior leaders did not become ministers. The PM’s decision is absolutely right. We were simply given opportunities to work. It was not done thinking that this is a Muslim or Hindu or backward face.
Seema Chishti: Nobody in your government is talking about reservations for Muslims. Your Minority Affairs Minister has said Muslims don’t need reservations at all. Why aren’t you using the same yardstick for Marathas in Maharashtra?
If you want to give reservations on the basis of religion, you will have to first amend the Constitution. People have tried this before, during the Congress party rule and also in some states. But the court has put an end to it. More than reservations, there is a need for an honest effort to bring the minorities, especially the Muslim community, into the mainstream. They are lured with quotas before elections, then a High Court puts a stay on it saying it is not constitutionally right. There are other ways to empower them.
Raghavendra Rao: As MoS for Minority Affairs, would you acknowledge that there is a perception that Muslims in the country have been feeling threatened since the BJP government has come to power?
If you look back at the last 10 years, to a large extent, there was a fear among minorities. But it was not because of us. It was in the backdrop of terrorism — a large number of Muslims were picked up and sent to jails in Hyderabad, Mumbai and UP. This atmosphere of fear was created before Modiji became PM. After he became the PM, the Muslim community has rapidly gained in confidence. They realise that this government is committed to their safety and security.
Abantika Ghosh: Why is there a perception that unlike other ministries that seem to be in a hurry to do something, the Minority Affairs Ministry is very relaxed?
Like the rest of the government, we are working towards pushing existing schemes. If you introduce two schemes with new names in your ministry and forget about the old ones, then it is going to be of no use.
Manoj CG: After Amit Shah became the BJP president, he set up the Margadarshak Mandal. Has the Mandal ever met and how is it guiding the BJP?
(L K) Advaniji, (Murli Manohar) Joshiji and other senior leaders of the party guide us and advise our leadership on different issues at different times. Our leadership meets them and holds discussions with them. Their guidance and blessings have played an important role is our repeated victories. Yes, meetings have taken place. Once at Advaniji’s residence and twice or thrice after that.
Seema Chishti: You worked both with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi. What is the difference in the two governments?
When Modiji took over, there were reports that he had ordered ministers not to appoint their own PAs. This is completely wrong. The free hand that we got in Atalji’s term is even greater now. Anyone, not just ministers but party workers as well, can speak to him or receive a call back. People may accuse Modiji of other things, but nobody has ever been able to accuse him of corruption or say his government didn’t perform. During Atalji’s time, we were in an alliance. After three decades, we have a government with a full majority. During Atalji’s time, other countries began thinking positively of India. It’s the same now. Modiji is following Atalji’s path.
Liz Mathew: What is the biggest challenge for the government now?
When we took over, the economy was in a terrible state. It is now back on track. Market sentiments have become stronger and people want to invest in India. Employment is a very big challenge that we have to tackle. Other than that, there is infrastructure, development and many other things.
Vandita Mishra: After Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti apologised in Parliament, she campaigned in Delhi where she said that if I say something, some people will take offence. She was almost taunting her critics.
How can you stop someone from taunting her critics? Janta aise logon ko chup kara degi, aap chinta mat kijiye. You can’t issue a permanent gag order. The party always takes a serious stand at an appropriate time.
Vandita Mishra: Part of the perception problem the BJP has among minorities has to do with the fact that the party doesn’t have a single Muslim MP. Do you think this is something that needs to be corrected?
It’s true that no Muslim MP was elected from our party. In 1998, I was the first Muslim MP to be elected on a BJP ticket. We think the party should bring in more Muslim candidates, bring them in front of people, but to think that the government will not work for Muslims because there is no elected Muslim MP is not correct. We think that besides socio-economic empowerment, political empowerment is also important. This must have been the first election when our workers went to everyone to seek votes. Earlier they would think this is a Muslim locality, we will not get votes there, let’s not go. But this time, Modiji said you should go meet the Muslims, Christians, Dalits. And the result was that our workers went to those galis. That is why, in the coming days, you will see more change. You saw that in the Kashmir elections. We never used to fight in Srinagar. But this time, we fought and got a significant number of votes.
Maneesh Chhibber: When you were in Opposition, you always accused Sonia Gandhi of being the real power centre. Now you have a leader like Modi. There is no one above or below him. Is the BJP the new Congress?
No, there is a difference. The BJP and Left-based parties are cadre-based parties. Cadre-based parties do not have one person ruling the government or party. If you see, when decisions on tickets are made, one person doesn’t sit in a room and decide. An election committee sits and decides. Even when a chief minister has to be decided, it is done through a democratic process. Modiji has an organisational background.
Transcribed by Geeta Gupta, Aditi Vatsa, Mayura Janwalkar and Dipankar Ghose