In charge of the north-eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir for the BJP, Ram Madhav speaks with Liz Mathew on a range of issues, including the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, elections in J&K, and the BJP’s prospects in south India. Excerpts:
In the Northeast, there have been violent protests, objections from state governments and opposition from your allies over the Citizenship Amendment Bill. What is the status?
The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha and was placed before Rajya Sabha…. It is true that some of our allies are expressing certain reservations over the Bill… we are talking to all of them.
We are hopeful we will find a middle ground that will satisfy all of us.
What could that middle path be?
I cannot give you a categorical answer now. Our leadership is discussing how to address the concerns being expressed by different alliance partners, as well as different sections of people in the Northeast. At the same time, we have to deliver our promise to the persecuted people. I hope this convincing can be done before Rajya Sabha takes up the Bill.
You are holding a series of discussions with the government and parties (in the region). Is it worth all this trouble on election eve? What will BJP gain (with the Bill)?
We have not brought the citizenship Bill keeping an eye on elections. The urgency came because of the impending NRC completion. This is a commitment we gave to people in our regular conferences, resolutions, and even in (BJP’s) manifesto: we said we will take care of persecuted people who come to India. They do not have to fear about their survival in those countries (where they are persecuted). This is not new. Take the case of Kerala —the first persecuted ones who came to India from Syria were Christians. They got shelter in India. Jews and Parsis also came, and we have always fostered them. How can we turn our back on them?
What about Rohingya Muslims?
That’s a different case. We are saying let the host country — in this case Myanmar — do the needful so that they (Rohingya) can go back. Until then we are not persecuting them here.
In the other case, they were victims of a political decision taken a few years ago in the form of Partition of India. India is duty bound to handle the fallout also.
Will J&K hold elections along with Lok Sabha polls?
That’s a decision the Election Commission has to take. As far as we are concerned, we have conveyed to the EC that we are ready. As a party, we want the elections to be held together, but if there are issues regarding availability of security forces, etc, the EC can decide the schedule appropriately.
Is the BJP looking for allies to fight elections in J&K, or will you opt for post-poll alliances?
Right now we are contemplating on fighting the election on our own in the three regions of the state: Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir valley. We are not looking for any alliances at least for Assembly polls.
On the Ram temple issue, you have been saying that the government has to do something to pay heed to demands of the saints. Do you think yesterday’s move — the government approached the Supreme Court to vacate the stay on excess land around the disputed land and return it to the original owners — will satisfy them?
We have waited for the Supreme Court to initiate the process of adjudication on this matter. Initially it was October 29 last year, (but) they postponed it saying it would be taken up after the vacation. It was (then) supposed to be the first week of January. Then they (Supreme Court) said it wasn’t a matter of priority for them. They gave a date, which was January 29. They had a reason to postpone it again.
Now they are not even giving us a date. The case in Supreme Court is actually going nowhere. Now we have a commitment to the people. We are a law-abiding party, that’s why our government waited so far. When the SC does not initiate the process, then the government has to certainly look for some other measures that would satisfy crores of people who want the temple there.
Although this particular step yesterday had no direct bearing on the main case — remember these are two different issues — this is the minimum we could do now. I would actually say now that the Supreme Court is not showing any interest in the matter, the government has to think about what other options are available.
Even in this matter of unfreezing land, our hands are tied. The order to maintain status quo was issued by the Supreme Court.
If the Nyas wants to make some construction, will the party support?
Any construction would need the court’s permission. Whatever is to happen will have to be in the purview of law. Then why should anyone have any objection on vacating the stay?
Let’s talk about South India. Why is BJP not able to make any major impact in the region?
We are a formidable force in Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, we are working to strengthen our position. We are also exploring the possibility of finding allies; talks are on with different parties…
Allies such as?
I do not want to disclose it now.
What is stopping the BJP in growing as an electoral force in the South other than in Karnataka?
We probably have to put more attention. Now that we are paying greater attention to West Bengal and Odisha, we are hoping to get more seats there. Similarly we have to increase our attention on states such as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where we had a relatively good presence in the past. If we put more focus, energy and resources, I am sure we will be able to get a good breakthrough.
But now our hands are tied, so we have tied up with the other parties. Having peaked in the Hindi belt, we have to look to South and East India for extra seats.
At the beginning of the five-year term the PM and the BJP kept talking about development. But now it has come down to emotive issues.
Not really. Our entire campaign will be primarily (focussed) on the Prime Minister as an unquestioned leader of people…. delivery will be central to our campaign.