Born in Ambala on Valentine’s Day in 1952, Sushma Swaraj demonstrated her oratorial talent early in life, winning the Best Hindi Speaker award thrice consecutively in Haryana, and then in Punjab as well. After her graduation, she went on to do her LLB and then became the country’s youngest cabinet minister in Haryana in 1977, the same year she became an MLA. She is married to socialist Swaraj Kaushal, and describes poetry, fine arts, and literature as her interests.
She was All-India Secretary of the BJP as well as its spokesperson, but even now, despite not being in party president Rajnath Singh’s team, she is confident her stature in the party hasn’t been diminished. She was keenly watched when she contested against Sonia Gandhi in Bellary in 1999, but lost. In 2004 she threatened to tonsure her head, wear white, and eat only roasted chana if the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi were to be sworn in Prime Minister.
Over lunch this Friday, she told the Express team that she still stands by those statements as they stemmed from her convictions.
Sushma Swaraj: Whenever a government comes to power, it is instituted with some purpose and target in mind. When the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power, we were briefed that rapid infrastructural development in the country was our priority. For instance, the Ministry of Transport was working towards building 1.60 thousand crore of roads. At the same time, HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshiji was striving to open more IITs. As the country’s Health Minister, my goal was to have six AIIMs spread all over.
In other wards, we were all trying hard to make this country developed in all spheres. But the aim of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is to have minority as their target audience before taking or implementing anything.
Actually, the UPA government is desperate to bring minority into their fold and leave the BJP secluded. This can be clearly understood from the fact that the Congress chief ministers in Andhra Pradesh, Assam are in favour of five per cent reservation for Muslims on religious lines. The stand of HRD Minister Arjun Singh on Aligarh Muslim University is also a pointer to the fact that the UPA believes in the policy of appeasement. Congress ally and RJD chief Lalu Yadav also set up a separate commission to look into Godhra fire. On the issue of Muslim appeasement, the Congress also has the backing of the Left as well as RJD. But UPA’s real intentions were exposed when they set up the Sachar Committee to exclusively study social and economical backwardness of one minority community — Muslim. This was when the cat was out of the bag.
But the Congress’ domestic policy of Muslim appeasement is a contradiction of its foreign policy because the Congress is a close US ally — particularly our Prime Minister and Finance Minister.
All of us know that if the Muslims hate anybody in the world, it is the US President George W Bush. It was also evident when Bush visited India last year and the Left, the RJD and the SP organized a huge demonstration of Muslims against Bush.
It was also for the first time that a US president could not address the joint session of Parliament because the Speaker and CPI (M) leader Somnath Chatterji said he would not preside over the session with Bush. The closeness to the US is the reason that the Congress has not succeeded in getting full Muslim support.
In short, this government is in a dilemma and caught in inherent contradiction.
As a result, the UPA has not delivered much during its two and half years of rule. The Congress has somehow managed to run the government. But there are serious internal conflictions and differences in the UPA.
On economic and foreign issues, the Congress and the Left are not united. The UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi keeps writing letters to UPA ministers and her letters written at 10 Jan Path smack of the Left ideology. Yesterday she wrote a letter regarding the retail FDI and another letter was sent to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar regarding wheat import. My point is why are there so many differences in the UPA. Sonia Gandhi runs the coalition and no decision can be taken without her knowledge.
As for assembly elections, we are confident of forming BJP government in Uttarakhand. I have been to Punjab for campaigning and Akali-BJP alliance are all set to come to power there. As far as UP is concerned, our position has become stronger and the party workers are very enthusiastic after our good show in local body elections, winning eight seats out of 12.
Some six months ago, there was the impression that the fight is between the SP and the BSP. But things have rapidly changed over the years and today people say the BJP will emerge as the biggest party in UP Assembly polls.
I believe the election is still a couple of months ago and we will further consolidate our position and will be able to form our government. I don’t have any doubts that the UP elections will change the equation and its result will have larger ramifications in the Indian politics.
Gautam Chikermane: You have criticized the government on all fronts but what do you have to say about the sustained 9 per cent GDP growth. Is it not a big achievement?
Sushma Swaraj: Let me first tell you that the fast growth rate has not been out of the blue. It is the result of the decision and policy of previous governments. But the slogan of the Congrss — aam aadmi ka hath, Congress ke sath — has nothing to do with the implementation of its policy. Today, if the GDP growth has gone up, so has the inflation rate. 90 crore people are hard hit by price rise. Common men today are finding difficult to get roti and dal. We don’t need such growth and there is no meaning to it, when the bill of rations and other things have increased 10 times in the last two and half years. The issue of price rise is very serious and it has become an election issue. That is why price rise dominates other issues in cabinet meetings. We need growth with control of inflation. During NDA rule, common man was not unhappy and was not deprived of roti. The international community can be impressed with the increased growth rate. But the common man does not understand all this.
Sidhartha Sharma: What is the stand of your party on repeal of the IMDT Act in Assom. Has it changed over the years?
Sushma Swaraj: The stand of our party has not changed at all. We are for the complete repeal of the IMDT Act, which is increasing infiltration in Assom. Our party also gave an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the Act. We blame the Congress government for playing with the lives of people in Assom.
Verghase K George: You said that the growth rate during the UPA government has no meaning to aam admi as they are hit by price rise. Do you mean that the UPA is repeating the same mistake you committed during India Shining Campaign?
Sushma Swaraj: No, it was not a mistake by launching India Shining. We never said India was already shone. We said it is shining and the ball has been set rolling.
Anuradha Nagraj: You were the chief minister of Delhi. What is your stand on the Master Plan?
Sushma Swaraj: Our party has totally dismissed the Master Plan because it is flawed and the Congress has brought it just before the Municipal Election as a political stunt. The Master Plan does not talk about zonal and sub-zonal planning. Besides, it does not say from where will the growing number of houses and get water and electricity.
Manini Chatterjee: You would have saved your hair and eaten grams had Sonia Gandhi become the prime minister. You also fought against Sonia Gandhi and lost to her in Belari. Today when you think of your decision in retrospect, do you feel that you have made a mistake because Sonia Gandhi’s popularity has increased or you did the right think as it prevented Sonia from becoming the PM?
Sushma Swaraj: I do not regret my decision. I did it out of patriotic feeling. I did it for a cause. At 2:30 in the night, I was told that I would have to fight elections against Sonia Gandhi in Belari, which I had never seen or heard before. But the level of support I got from the people is incredible. I got three lakh, 58 thousand votes and led in two-assembly constituency. But Sonia Gandhi could only win Belari by the margin of around 56,000 votes. I don’t see it as a defeat or setback for myself. It was a cause for me not an election. As far as my opposition to Sonia becoming the PM is concerned, I am proud of what I said or did. It would have been an insult of martyrs who sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle had a foreinger become the PM. I ask what is the connection between Quatrochhi and Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Law Minister, and CBI director who tried to protect Quatrochhi and favoured de-freezing of his account, saying there is no charge against him. I don’t have any jealousy against Sonia Gandhi nor I nourish any enmity. I just did it out of patriotic feelings.
Shekhar Gupta: Your party has said that she is the super prime minister. Do you consider it a tactical defeat when she sacrificed the post of becoming PM?
Sushma Swaraj: This is not any sacrifice. It was a drama at the Central Hall, which was telecast live all over. It was an act to render a smaller status to Manmohan Singh. She went to the President with her claims after cards were printed that she would be the PM. But when she came out it was presented as sacrifice.
Shekar Gupta: What actually happened when Sonia went to meet the President and what made her change her mind?
Sushma Swaraj: Your paper does investigative journalism. Assign this job to a journalist and let him find out the truth. I have given you hints.
Abhay Mishra: Do you consider the Muslims as backwards and if the Congress is doing their appeasement, then what plans the BJP have for their development?
Sushma Swaraj: There is no doubt that the Muslims are educationally backward and there is an urgent need to impart education to them, so that they become self-dependent and their overall development is done. I also say that the development of backwards should be not on religious lines. When the NDA was in power, we did much more than any government in last 50 years for Muslim welfare. Madrasses were computerized. But the Congress government is talking only about the Muslims. We oppose it. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Muslims have first claim on resources but we say the oppressed, the weaker and the exploited have the first right. The PM is not doing justice by talking about just one community among minority and leaving the rest.
Seema Chisti: You said that religion should not be the criterion for reservation. But is it not a contradiction that Muslism and Christain Dalits are not availing the reservation benefits because of their adherence to the religion other than Hinduism?
Sushma Swaraj: Those who left Hinduism and embraced Islam or Christianity were oppressed with cast discrimination. And Islam and Christianity claim that there is no caste system in their society. If there is no caste system, then they why should they be given reservations? Dalits, who did not renounce Hinduism are given reservation because they suffered for long and it was needed to bring them to the mainstream.
There is also much politics over it. The minority institutes were exempted from reservation in education while there is a demand for reservation in employment. This will not do. There cannot be two stands.
Virendra Kumar: The General Elections are two years away. What agenda has the BJP laid out?
Sushma Swaraj: Our goal is to drive the UPA from the Centre. We are trying hard to win 2009 General Election. We are trying to consolidate our position.
Unni Rajen Shanker: There has been a long debate over the second-generation leadership in the BJP. In the latest round, it has been Rajnath Singh Vs Jaitely and Modi? Are you happy you have been out of the whole debate?
Sushma Swaraj: I am happy that my name is not debated. But I would have been happier if there were not such speculations about Arunji and Modiji. This is baseless that Arunji and Modiji have been sidelined. Both are senior leaders and of great stature. Arunji is not a party spokesperson anymore and Modiji no more a member of the parliamentary board. I don’t know what’s the reason for it. The role of a spokesperson is to do the daily briefing. But it does not mean that senior leaders are stopped from speaking. Sometimes if the matter is serious, then the senior party leader does the briefing instead of party spokesperson. Even Advaniji does it. I have also been spokesperson. But I told the previous party president a few years ago that I did not want to continue as spokesperson. So, my position did not become smaller because I was no more occupying the post. In the same way, losing the post of spokesperson is not a set back to Arunji. As far as Modiji is concerned, he was the chief minister and the party leadership must have thought that a chief minister could possibly be not on the parliamentary board that decides who will be the chief minister and the leader of party in assembly.
Also, when the press writes I am not from the RSS, they miss the point totally. As women are not allowed in the RSS, there is no question of my being ‘from’ the RSS, as far as RSS wings go. I was born in a staunch RSS family, and was a member of the ABVP as a student. No one seems to write about it. I am only a bahu of the Socialists. Main RSS ki beti hoon.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines