Yunus Khan, 50, is the only minority minister out of 151 Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State (MoS) across the nine BJP-ruled states in the country. At the Centre, the Modi government just took in its second Muslim minister, both of whom are now in the Minority Affairs Ministry.
This is Khan’s second stint as a cabinet minister in Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s government and also second term as a legislator. After a smooth innings as Transport and Sports Minister from 2003-2008, Khan was one of the top 11 legislators who made it to Raje’s ‘Team A’ last December. He was entrusted with the plum Public Works Department portfolio and having delivered the goods, was rewarded with additional responsibility of the Transport Department, in the recent cabinet reshuffle. From a development officer with the Life Insurance Corporation of India to enjoying unstinted confidence of Raje as well as the party high command, Khan has come a long way. He became a member of the national working committee of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in 1993 and went on to get a party ticket for the assembly elections four times from Nagaur. Amidst reports of increasing RSS dominance in states as well as the center, debates around love jihad and alarming figures of increasing communal violence across the country, Khan insists that the BJP is no longer what it used to be. He says the party is changing and its leaders are shedding their communal image, though he agrees that there is a long way to go.
How is it that the BJP has only one minority minister out of 151 Cabinet Ministers and MoS across nine states?
There has been a decline in minority representation in all of democracy, across party lines. There are 200 assembly seats in Rajasthan. Earlier there used to be 17-18 minority MLAs in the House. There has been a gradual decline in this. In 2003 four minority MLAs were elected, one from BJP, three from Congress. In 2008 this went up to 12, two from BJP and rest from Congress. From that there has been a sharp decline to just two minority legislators in 2013, both from BJP. Congress had given out 17 tickets to minority candidates, not one could make it. Dheere dheere polarization ho raha hai. Every time elections come they are fought on the grounds of caste and religion. This is not good for the country.
Despite this decline, you have managed to keep your place and continue to represent your community.
It is true that I represent the minority community but in spite of that my commitment is towards everyone. Because as a minister, say as a PWD minister I do not make roads for any particular community. If a road is made every community uses it. I am the transport minister. If a bus is plying, people from all communities will sit in it. So I will have to work for every community. In this competitive age we have to fulfil so many responsibilities and perform. In areas such as drinking water, health, we cannot do anything for any particular community. But yes for backward communities such as minorities, tribals, some things don’t reach them, say education. If you have to work for the minority then you have to make special efforts in the education sector.
Talking of education, recently the Rajasthan University Vice-Chancellor stepped down citing RSS pressure. The education portfolio in the state cabinet is shared by two ministers backed by the RSS. What do you have to say about the increasing dominance of RSS in education?
Let us be clear that the minority community has never sought for a different education system. In India before the BJP came to power, the Congress was ruling for decades. Even then we used to have prayers in school, we used to sing Vande Mataram, Jana Gana Mana and we continue to do that now. There were temples within the school premises, we used to put tilak and worship Saraswati earlier also. We (minority) never read the Quran in school. The minority community is used to mainstream education. Muslims have never made any demands to teach the Quran in schools. We too understand and believe in the country’s culture and heritage. It would be wrong to say that it is because of the RSS or BJP that there has been any change in education.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to emerge as a national leader and trying to shed his tarnished image from the Gujarat riots days. As a minority leader, do you see a change within the party and its leaders?
Absolutely. BJP now aims to gain a footing across the country and to do that it cannot discriminate against any community. Modi has echoed the voice of the people and that is why he has got such resounding majority. I would say our system has raised the differences between communities, otherwise for ages Hindus and Muslims have co-existed, khana peena uthna sab saath. As for BJP, I am very satisfied working here. Personally I have never felt any interference of the RSS in my work. Earlier there was a perception that BJP was anti-muslim. They used to think if BJP comes to power there will be injustice with the minority but now it is no longer like that. We have managed to gain people’s trust.
Of course there has been a chasm between the BJP and Muslims. With time the misunderstandings will fade, so will the distance. I am hopeful more eligible people from the minority community will associate themselves with the party and will get good opportunities to perform. Both the party and the community will have to join hands and meet each other half way. Both have to make efforts to bridge the gap.
But figures show that the number of communal riots have increased in recent years, coinciding with the rise of BJP.
The local government is responsible for this. The concerned state government should handle it if there is any communal tension. I do not want to go into figures but there hasn’t been any such major riot that has paralyzed the entire country. Incidents of communal tension have been reported but no riots.
In Uttar Pradesh the state government should have reached out to every community and kept them together. We have repeatedly said that there are people who do not do anything for the Muslims but keep talking, only lip-service. This backfires eventually. It is like you keep praising someone incessantly but it does not translate into anything on the ground, instead it draws jealousy from others. This is more harmful than helpful. Look at Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh Yadav. They consider themselves minority sympathizers. I have a simple question for them. They had two or three opportunities when they had to vacate the chief minister’s post. They could have then said that ‘if the minority has made me a CM let me make a minority member the CM’. Instead Lalu chose to make an anpadh (illiterate) Rabri Devi the CM. Similarly Mulayam Singh Yadav chose his son. He could have made Azam Khan, who is such an able leader, the CM or given him a position of responsibility. This is only a way to exploit the votebank that further infuriates the community and leads to riots.
How is the working environment in Rajasthan?
Our Chief Minister is liberal and it is a pleasure working with her. She has risen above caste and community lines and tirelessly worked for people. Look at herself, she is the only Scindia in the whole state! Who would she bat for? She always says that she represents 36 qaum (all communities). If you look at the portfolios, I being a minority minister do not hold waqf or minority affairs. Rajendra Rathore handles waqf and Arun Chaturvedi who is considered to be from the RSS holds minority affairs. This is a clear message. She does not divide work on lines of caste or community. Here it is all about performance. Madam (Raje) does not discriminate. She gives you freedom, opportunity and encouragement.