To most of those familiar with BJP office-bearers at national level, general secretary Saroj Pandey comes across as largely soft-spoken, occasionally aggressive when she takes a stand. When she warned the CPM that if it continues to “show eyes” to BJP workers in Kerala, they would respond by “entering homes and gouging out those eyes”, however, it would have struck many as uncharacteristic.
“Yes, I have never said anything controversial nor issued any threats to anyone,” Pandey tells The Indian Express. “But if injustice continues on RSS and BJP workers, and those in authority do not get them justice, I will not hesitate to come to the battlefield as Durga.”
She says her remark on Sunday in Kumhari, Chhattisgarh, was an idiom. “It was a muhavara,” she said, “but I stand by what I said. I will have to stand by our party colleagues who are getting slaughtered in Kerala. Why should I not? Our party president too is demanding justice for them.”
One previous occasion when the former MP showed her aggressive side was in 2009. She had asked a question of PMGSY in Lok Sabha, and she was upset with then rural development minister C P Joshi’s reply, which she viewed as political. She engaged in an exchange with Joshi until Pranab Mukherjee, then leader of the House, intervened and pulled up his colleague for the reply. Also Read | Sangeet Som, often controversial, his remarks sometimes disowned by BJP
Pandey, 49, has been an MP and an MLA, and served as the Mahila Morcha president as well as mayor of Durg in Chhattisgarh. For a brief while, she was simultaneously holding the posts of mayor, MLA and MP.
Ever since she became party general secretary, the former MP from Durg had been keeping a low profile while looking after various responsibilities given to her — currently in charge of party affairs in Maharashtra, once also in charge of party’s mass contact drive during a membership campaign.
Over the course of a career that has seen her rise from student leader to MLA, MP, Mahila Morcha president and general secretary, Pandey has been seen as closer to the BJP camp opposite that of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. “I have always fought for our workers,” she says. “I would take on anyone – even if it’s our party CM, I would fight to see that party workers get justice.”
The youngest of four children of a schoolteacher, Pandey says she did not choose her roles. “Whatever responsibilities have been given by the party, I have taken them up happily.” But she says she had not wanted to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2009.
Pandey describes the BJP as a political party that “gives respect to women”. About herself, she adds: “I have worked and spoken always as a leader, not as a woman leader.”
Pandey says she has has a soft corner for weavers of her state — she buys sarees from them, and orders them from Delhi and Mumbai. She says she likes to read, particularly biographies, and is a fan of Swami Vivekananda.
Her threat of “gouging out eyes”, on the eve of the BJP concluding its Janrakshayatra, a protest march against political violence, in Thiruvananthapuram, has triggered strong reactions on social media. Residents of Kerala have reacted with a hashtag on Twitter, #GougeDa. “I got a lot of abuse on the social media,” Pande says, “but I am not scared.”
She says her favourite song is “Ruk jaana nahin tu kahin haar ke, Katon pe chal ke milenge saye bahar ke” (Don’t stop at any defeat, you will get success only if you walk a path of thorns).”