In this Idea Exchange, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav talks about the challenges of a PDP-BJP govt in J&K, the RSS ‘role’, L K Advani’s position in the party, and BJP’s focus on eastern India from Assam to TN. He also argues that not every incident should be seen as communal.
WHY RAM MADHAV?
Madhav was, and is, BJP’s man in J&K. In doing the impossible — forging an alliance with the PDP to form a government in the state — Madhav showed his negotiating skills. But given the fragile alliance, these skills will continue to be put to test. The BJP general secretary and former RSS spokesman was also the driving force behind gathering the Indian community in the US and Australia to host a lavish reception for Prime Minister Modi when he visited those countries.
VANDITA MISHRA: When you were negotiating with the PDP, what was the most difficult moment? Did you at any point feel it would not happen?
There were several such moments. When it comes to forming a government, no negotiation between two parties — even if they subscribe to the same ideology — is easy. Same was the case with the J&K government formation. Eighty per cent of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) is about development — on that,we could negotiate easily. Ten per cent is governance-related which took some time.
The remaining 10 per cent was related to ideological, political issues and was the most difficult.
The PDP and BJP each have four-five issues dear to them, and there were times we thought we could not move forward on them, but our senior leadership guided us well. The most difficult thing to overcome was the question of dealing with other groups like the Hurriyat etc in the Valley, and we almost thought it would not happen. But then at the stroke of midnight, literally, we finally managed to find common ground.
VANDITA MISHRA: But the alliance has got off to a rocky start.
Rocky start not because of the CMP or because of the formation of the government. But because of one statement made by the Chief Minister — which was subsequently clarified by their party that evening — which gave the perception of a war between us. We do have perceptions about each other. That is also a very big challenge for us, but generally what both the BJP and the PDP have been insisting on is that there should not be much dispute over the CMP. It’s been almost five weeks since we formed the government and it is running smoothly. We hope that this trend will continue.
P VAIDYANTHAN IYER: At the BJP’s National Executive in Bangalore, two presentations were made — one on J&K by you and the other on land. Are these two issues denting the BJP’s credibility?
If you talk about credibility, I would say the PDP-BJP alliance has, in fact, brought us a good name. We are an accommodating party and open to the idea of taking different groups together. The media has not shown the contents of the CMP and focused on Mufti Mohd Sayeed saab’s one statement. So the need was felt that people should know the CMP that is why the presentation was added. On the land acquisition Bill, the Opposition has created a wrong perception that we will destroy the farmers, that we will acquire their land and give them nothing. We have to correct the perception. Tell the truth to the people. Firstly, the very title of the Bill is about compensation, rehabilitation, not about acquiring land. The name ‘Land Acquisition Act’ was given in 2013, so we are only amending it to provide better compensation, and at the same time trying to see that the country’s developmental agenda is not hindered. There is a technicality involved, people should know what are the amendments, that is why we took up the subject for a presentation.
LIZ MATHEW: Given the unseasonal rain and crop damage, do you think this was the wrong time for you to push the land Bill? Particularly as political and rights groups are opposing it so vehemently?
The Opposition is trying to use this situation of unseasonal rain, specially in north Indian states, and the (resultant) rural distress, to project as though the government’s efforts to move this Bill are creating more problems, more misery for farmers. These are two different concerns. The ministers went to these states, met the farmers, came back, and will submit their report. The government will also take measures to help these states and the affected farmers. But to link it to a Bill that has been under the consideration of the House for some time is pure politics.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: When you talked about J&K, you appeared to consciously not refer to ‘other groups’ as separatists, which has been the general BJP line so far. Is that also a part of the understanding with the PDP? Also, what do you think could be the pitfalls of this alliance for the BJP in Jammu?
Don’t assume that other groups in the Valley are only separatists. There are many more groups there and our desire is to engage with all. It may include separatists — including the Hurriyat. When we say we engage with all groups, it doesn’t mean only with some group. We describe them as ‘internal stakeholders’, which means we talk to them on issues of J&K. But if any separatist group feels it is not an internal stakeholder, and that it is also a stakeholder in India-Pakistan relations, then we will not take that.
In Jammu, I see no pitfalls. The real challenge is to ensure that the government completes its full term. It gives a totally new direction to the politics of the state. If both parties focus on the CMP and adopt what we shared on political issues, then it will open a new chapter for all-round development in the state.
There used to be a big jinx in J&K that the BJP can never come into government there. There is a local understanding that we are a right-wing party that can never be in the government in J&K. For this reason alone, the Congress used to get the advantage and become the representative of the people of Jammu. But now that jinx has broken. If we can have an alliance with the PDP, then tomorrow the NC (National Conference) may also not have a problem with having an alliance with the BJP. The BJP now has nine ministers. Two posts we left for our alliance partners. We have a Speaker. For the first time in the state, we are also getting an opportunity to learn how the government functions.
HARISH DAMODARAN: Your government in Maharashtra has said it would consider banning even slaughter of goats. I have never heard of this, at least from the RSS or other Sangh outfits. So there seems to be a contradiction. Besides, under your government, buffalo meat exports have reached a record, this year they have crossed $5 billion. At a time when exports are all negative, 18 per cent growth in terms of dollars is huge.
I am not aware of this goat meat thing, but generally state governments have a view on the question of cow slaughter. In their own wisdom, based on their state situations, they are taking certain decisions. We support all those decisions.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Six months ago, your government had brought a notification to allow 85 per cent space on tobacco products to be covered by pictorial warnings. Now this has been put on hold. What has changed? I believe activists met you and others in the BJP too and everyone was in favour of bigger warnings. The Prime Minister also made a very clear commitment regarding that on Twitter.
Nothing has changed… in the thinking, approach or policy of the government. Yes, we believe that warning about tobacco and its consumption should be there before the public. It is very important, it is very harmful to people. Members of committees may have individual views, but these do not influence the party’s policies or the PM’s thinking. He’s very clear, we are very clear.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: So there will be 85 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco products?
Whatever the Prime Minister has said, that’ll be the direction the government will move in.
AJAY SHANKAR: Is it safe to assume that L K Advani has been given the golden handshake?
VANDITA MISHRA: Adding to that, there were two versions from the BJP National Executive on Advani not addressing the meeting. One said he was asked to speak, but refused, the other was he was asked to get his speech vetted by the party, which he objected to. Which is true?
I am not privy to the details, so I can’t tell you what happened. But I can tell you certainly that the second ‘version’ you’ve heard is totally wrong. No one can say to such senior leaders as Advaniji that ‘give us your speech and then alone can you speak’. Don’t think like that of the BJP. We have great respect for our senior leaders.
AJAY SHANKAR: So what role does Advani play in the party now?
He is a very senior leader and has a role as adviser to the party. Contrary to what is said in the media, we have great respect for Advaniji. At the National Executive, speaker after speaker, including the PM, referred to his great contribution in building the party.
LIZ MATHEW: The RSS recently talked about inclusive Hindutva, about taking everyone along irrespective of caste. There is also talk of ‘ek mandir, ek kuan’. Is this a bid by the BJP to consolidate the Dalit votes behind it?
The issue of social harmony — we call it samajik samrasta — is an article of faith with us. It is not about votes. Not just within the BJP, but within the entire Sangh Parivar — a word, incidentally, coined by outsiders — this is a major ideological conviction that we have to raise the society above caste differences… We are celebrating Babasaheb Ambedkarji’s 125th jayanti in a big way to promote his idea of social harmony.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Do you think the PDP can add value to the alliance at the Centre too?
Our alliance right now is limited to J&K. Remember, we are calling it a ‘governance alliance’. At the moment, the PDP is not a part of the NDA. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but right now, the alliance is limited to J&K.
AMRITH LAL: What are your plans for the southern states where the BJP influence is still limited? Will you take on allies, for example?
Among the southern states is Karnataka, too, where we were the ruling party and are considerably strong. We have a fairly good presence in Telangana, and we are a partner in the ruling coalition in Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we don’t have much presence.
I’ll put it slightly differently. Our organisational approach this time is to look at eastern India. Because on the eastern side, starting from Assam right up to Tamil Nadu, although we didn’t secure many seats in the last parliamentary elections, we secured a substantial amount of votes. Assam we got a good number of seats also, in Bengal we got only one seat but we got a good number of votes. Same was the case with Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana. Even in Tamil Nadu, though we secured one seat, we got a good number of votes wherever we contested. We have a good chance of strengthening our organisational base in these states and we are working towards that. In the forthcoming elections, whether it is to state legislatures or general elections, we’ll be able to get more seats in these states.
That leaves Kerala. Kerala is a challenge and it seems to have become a place for two-party politics. We have to work hard there before the state goes to polls in 10-12 months.
VANDITA MISHRA: The 2014 elections saw the RSS’s involvement more openly than ever before. How has that translated into Sangh influence in the government?
The RSS chief categorically told our cadres that we are working because of a historic reason — that India needed a major political transformation… But that was limited to the elections. Once the polls were over, the RSS would return to its core activities, mainly man-making activities. The RSS doesn’t interfere in the government’s day-to-day functioning.
SUSHANT SINGH: How do you see the coming together of the Janata Parivar? And what would be its impact on the coming Bihar elections?
I don’t want to name their ideology but any student of political science used to hear it in our professors’ lectures. That people who have that ideology have a very clear mindset. We called their executive meeting room ‘labour room’. They would go into the meeting as one, come out as two. Agreeing, disagreeging, and then coming together as a group again has been the practice with them. So let them try. As far as Bihar is concerned, we are making concerted efforts to win the state.
VANDITA MISHRA: Some of the campaigns carried out by what are called fringe elements of the RSS have embarrassed the government when it is seeking to project a development-oriented image. Do you think statements like these are a problem for the Modi government?
The government is guided by its agenda, which is essentially development-centric. We are focused on that. In our country, there are a number of organisations, all respected organisations, they have views and issues. Don’t expect us to issue gag orders to everybody — that ‘as long as we are here, you shouldn’t speak out’. People have their views, they will express, but as far as the government is considered, the government is guided by its agenda, that is development.
You also have to understand the discourse correctly rather than taking one word out of context and focusing on that one word. Like conversions, if there is a healthy discussion in the country — the government is not initiating it, but some social organisations want some debate — as long as it is not leading to communal discord, let there be healthy discussions. But yes, as a government, we are committed to absolute communal harmony. In many cases, it is also the responsibility of the state government because, after all, law and order is a totally state subject.
Parties also play a partisan role. If there is a law and order problem, it has to be treated as a law and order problem. Don’t project it as a communal problem. The problem is when you have a local law and order issue but project it as a communal issue. We should not project every incident as though in this country every such and such community is the target or is at the receiving end. That’s not true.
LIZ MATHEW: But there are incidents, such as the judges’ meeting happening on a Good Friday, which contribute to the overall feeling of insecurity among minorities?
The Chief Justice himself has said it is a very minor issue, ‘we can resolve it within the family’. I humbly remind you that two Christian chief justices were present at the conference… Any such decision is not taken by the government alone, the judiciary is there, together they decide things. That’s what I am saying, rather than seeing it as a deliberate attack on a religion, look at it from a broader perspective. If some particular individual has a problem, he can always express that problem saying, ‘Sir, you have called this meeting on this day, I have this problem’. Probably had it been decided a little in advance… I think this particular judge had not been informed about the session until the last day… These issues are very local, very minor, and these are being projected as major communal issues… The kind of impression that is being created, that minorities are feeling insecure, is a totally false perception, a false propaganda.
VANDITA MISHRA: You said the RSS doesn’t interfere in the government. But under this government, we also saw the Sangh chief’s Dussehra address being telecast live on Doordarshan for the first time… Isn’t a message going out that things are different?
The RSS is a very big, very influential organisation committed to the welfare and well-being of the nation. The speech of the chief of the RSS can go live on Times Now, NDTV, Headlines Today and all Hindi channels, and you only insist that Doordarshan not show it. Why do you want Doordarshan to face revenue losses, when they can get so many TRPs because he’s a very senior and popular leader? Or you decide that none of the channels will show it.
On the one hand you want autonomy for Doordarshan, and when Doordarshan in its own autonomous wisdom takes a decision, you question the government. I believe it is the right decision, let them show it. Because millions of viewers want to listen to him.
Transcribed by Vandana Kalra & Nikita Puri