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‘I’m not ready to believe that Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a terrorist’

BJP president Rajnath Singh feels that the anti-incumbency factor against the Congress-led Government at the Centre will nullify whatever anti-incumbency there may be against the BJP governments in the states going to polls. In the midst of campaigning, Singh spoke to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7’s Walk the Talk.

November 17, 2008 1:15:23 am

Welcome to Walk The Talk. I’m Shekhar Gupta and my guest this week is BJP president Rajnath Singh at the peak of the election campaign.

Rajnathji, welcome to Walk The Talk.

Thank you very much.

The biggest thing is that you managed to make time to appear on our show, these days it must be difficult for you to even get a few hours of sleep.

Whenever you will want time it will be found. It has been managed earlier also.

But these days there’s a lot of pressure. Are you able to sleep?

There is definitely a lot of pressure because the election campaign has begun.

And the ticket distribution process is underway..

The ticket distribution exercise is complete in most of the states except for a few seats in Rajasthan.

But when there is pressure on the party chief during the ticket distribution it means the party’s not doing too badly.

No, because the states that are going to the polls, currently six states are going to the polls, we are sure that in four states the BJP will manage to get a clear majority and form

And in which two states will the BJP not form a government? J&K?

I will not make this assertion about J&K that we’ll get a clear majority and Mizoram too..But Delhi, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh…

Rajasthan ,MP, Chhattisgarh, do you mean you’ll win inspite of the anti-incumbency factor?

Because our governments have done such good work in these 3 states the acceptance among the masses of our CMs and our government has only grown. Which is why I’m convinced that the anti-incumbency factor will not affect us very much. Even if I do concede the effect of anti-incumbency to an extent then you are aware that the there is a Congress-led UPA govt at the Centre which has failed on all fronts , so the huge anti-incumbency against the Congress govt will nullify whatever little effect of anti-incumbency there may be against our govts.

But you’re getting a lot of help from the Congress in the states.

Congress is the main opposition in these states

Congress is helping you because it is not even able to choose its leaders

Yes, it is unable to choose its leaders, it’s a “ bin dulhe ki baraat” and also the Congress is split in most of the states.

What about the impact of Rahul Gandhi? Because he is talking a lot of interesting and good things and he is challenging a lot of old assumptions.

I would not like to comment on Rahul at all, I consider Rahul a child which is why I would not like to say anything about him.

In today’s politics nobody’s a child at 38. David Cameron might become PM at that age.

Maybe some politicians consider him a rival but as far as I’m concerned he is just like my child.

You share a very good equation with Sonia Gandhi and even talk to her on the phone sometimes and discuss problems with her.

It is not like that, we don’t talk regularly or anything.

It’s a good thing if you people talk,

Definitely, there must be a dialogue, there is no doubt about that.

Does she talk to you in Hindi or English?

I would not like to discuss whether we talk or not.

Everyone knows that she spoke to you about the Jammu issue

Yes, when the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board agitation was taking place..

Did she talk to you in Hindi or English?

She spoke mostly in English but a little in Hindi as well.

I’ve heard you told her that her Hindi had improved?

Yes, I did tell her that.

I don’t think that 8 or 10 years ago you would have imagined that she would become a formidable political rival. She has definitely evolved as a politician.

I still don’t consider the Congress a formidable political rival.

So you think the Congress is going to lose in the Centre as well as the states?

It will definitely lose in the states and that is inevitable in the Centre too because you may have seen that whichever states have held Vidhan Sabha polls in the last one, one and a half years, have seen the Congress lose. In the current atmosphere anybody can tell that at this point the first choice of the people of this country is the BJP.

The states that the Congress has lost in are states where it was facing anti-incumbency, now there is anti incumbency against you.

But there is anti incumbency because of the UPA govt having been in power at the Centre for the last 4 and a half years.

The Centre is a different issue. But as far as your basic agenda in the elections is concerned, it three major pillars, namely terrorism, that the UPA is soft on terrorism. The second is minority appeasement, that they are not hanging Afzal Guru because he’s from a minority community and the third issue is price rise/inflation. So now if you consider the Malegaon case, has it not taken the wind out of your sails . Now how will you be able to claim that there is Islamic terrorism and the UPA is not doing anything about it?

We have never identified terrorism with any particular community and we have never called it Islamic terrorism.

You have never called it Islamic terrorism? A lot of BJP leaders have used the term. I will have to go back and research that.

Never, no BJP leader has used the term. You can do your research but the BJP has never used the term because we do not want to associate terrorism with a particular caste, faith or religion. A terrorist is just a terrorist, he has no caste, faith or religion. But I take severe exception to the use of the phrase Hindu terrorism. I had expected that Congress being the oldest political party in the country , would via its spokesperson or leader condemn the use of this term. The phrase ‘Hindu Terrorism’ should not be used but till date no such statement condemning the use of the term has emerged from the Congress.

From the facts that are emerging about these people, it is clear that whatever these people have done, they’ve done in the name of Hinduism.

Who has done it? I’m not ready to believe that. Who are you talking about?

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Col Purohit..

I’m not ready to believe that Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a terrorist until there is enough evidence against her. She has been subjected to 3 or 4 brain mapping, narco analysis tests.? Have you ever heard of this being done to any terrorist? I say that if this govt has evidence against Sadhvi Pragya or anyone else..take Asimanand ji from Gujarat for example. He used to work with the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrama, he served the tribals, even his ashrama is being targeted..Swami Avdheshanandji’s name is also being dragged into this..The mahant of Gorakshpeeth who is also an MP..yogi Adityanathji’s name is also coming up..

Are you saying there is no truth in these allegations, that it is all a fraud?

No, as far as the BJP is concerned it will not create an obstacle in any investigation , the BJP does not even want to defend anyone but the BJP says that until enough evidence is available no one should be unnecessarily maligned. I personally believe that there is a huge conspiracy behind these happenings and do not forget that Maharashtra has a Congress-NCP coalition govt and this could be part of the conspiracy, This possibility cannot be ruled out.

The word ‘conspiracy’ is used by politicians when things are not going their way.

That may be true but Rajnath Singh does not use the word lightly.

It is difficult to believe that in this country any government, whether a BJP or a Congress one, will hatch a conspiracy targeting Army officers. Nobody is that anti national here.

Tell me whatever is happening with regard to army officers, whatever is appearing in the media, was it right that before enough evidence was uncovered against them their integrity has been questioned? Is not the reputation of our armed forces being sullied ?

As far as evidence is concerned, as in the case of a crime like in the case of the Batla House encounter, the evidence keeps on coming in, there’s the process of trial in the court..

Do not compare this with Batla House. A brave officer like Mohan Chand Sharma had gone there after a tip off about terrorists and he fell prey to the bullets of those killed in the encounter and even after that you’re comparing the Batla House encounter with this incident?

I’m saying that initially only the known facts about a terror suspect are brought out, the facts needed for conviction come in much later.

But one must not be stripped of their dignity, this has to be borne in mind. The names of so many saints and seers are being dragged into this.

But even the Muslim community has been stripped of its dignity.

Who has targeted the community? That is exactly the pointy I’m trying to make, that the Congress-led UPA is not able to view the Muslim community and the issue of terrorism separately. That is why it is not able to take a strong stand against terrorism.

Give me an example of when the UPA has not been able to separate terrorism and the Muslim community.

I will ask you one question. Why is this government not taking strong measures to curb terrorism? What is the reason behind that? Why is that on such an important issue as terrorism this government has not even tried to build a national consensus around the issue? It has never called an all party meet on the issue, it has not even called a meeting of the other stake holders in society on this issue.

And you were ready to attend such a meeting?

We are not just ready for the meeting but whatever steps are needed to be taken by the Congress-led UPA to deal with terrorism, the BJP will stand shoulder to shoulder with the govt. I’m saying this because we don’t just practise politics to form a government, we do it to build a nation.

You claim that this govt has not taken any strong steps to deal with terrorism but the Batla House encounter has been under this govt only, and that’s a strong step.

MC Sharma got a tip off and he reached the area. If some information comes in from somewhere and our security forces reach there, it will be not held that the govt..

It is for the first time that I’m hearing the police referred to as the “security forces”, the repuation of the police has improved.

I consider the police part of the security forces

Are you implying that the government would not have done this?

What I’m saying is that whether it is the police or the security forces, a govt has to be careful of their morale, their reputaion must never be compromised.

You will give the govt credit that the Home Minister attended M C Sharma’s funeral, the PM who is under so much pressure to announce a judicial inquiry has not agreed to it .

But whose support are they taking..the same party that is demanding a CBI In inquiry into the matter.

Even you have been supported by one of them earlier..

By whom?

Ram Vilas Paswan

NDA was also supported by him at one point

That was at one point of time but had he been part of our govt and made this demand we would’ve parted ways with him, he wouldn’t have been part of the Council of Ministers. He would have had to leave the govt. We would have not tolerated that because we wouldn’t have done politics at the cost of the country.

We were all a little surprised when you defended Pragya Singh Thakur, you almost called her innocent. You are heading one of the two biggest parties of the country, it seemed hasty, almost irresponsible on your part.

There was no question of any haste. You are aware of my political record, when have I displayed haste? Whatever I have said is after due deliberation, after being aware of certain facts.

You think she is innocent?

No, the probe is on, it must go on but there must be no torture, no harassment. That is what I said.

Your earlier statement was that she’s innocent and is being targeted.

No such statement has appeared. All I said was that I’m not ready to believe that she’s a terrorist until there is enough evidence against her. But there should be no harassment. And the way the names of our saints are being associated with Pragya Thakur, like Swami Asimanandji, a tv channel named swami Avdheshanandji, Yogi Adityanath, before that the Orissa seer Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed. It is natural that after such a string of events anybody will feel hurt.

If they do turn out to be involved how will you deal with it?

I’m completely convinced that they are not involved.

But what if they turn out to be involved?

That is a hypothetical question and there is no need to answer it. I have complete faith that they are innocent and you are aware that it is on the basis of faith that not just man but organizations exist.

According to the information available to you, who is responsible for the Malegaon blasts?

The probe should continue, there had been an FIR earlier and some names had cropped up even then .

If the probe throws up their names and they are punished you have no objection?

It is matter of ‘if’ they are involved and I’m not prepared to answer that because I do not believe that they are involved since I don’t think they can be associated with any kind of violence. According to our understanding, whoever believes in Hindutva, in cultural nationalism can atleast not be violent and can never support it either.

Advaniji said two days ago in Chennai that cultural nationalism is an inclusive concept. Do you agree?

Ofcourse, it is inclusive.

It includes all religions?

No doubt about it, it includes all religions.

Because it’s beginning to look like your argument on terrorism is weakening after these people were caught and whatever you say, the common man believes that this govt is not that stupid or cynical that it’ll trump up so many cases.

Shekharji you said that the common man believes that these people are terrorists , you are the editor of a leading newspaper like the Indian Express , you must conduct a survey regarding this.

I did not say that the people believe that they are terrorists but that no matter how cynical, this govt is not cynical enough..

But you do believe it’s cynical?

Every govt is cynical, politics is a cynical game but it cannot be as stupid as to completely fabricate so many cases against such prominent hindu leaders because after all, there is the Hindu vote to consider.

You may have noticed that nobody in politics has the guts to point fingers at leaders of any other religion. Whatever this govt is doing is due to it practising vote bank politics. Even then we maintain that the probe must continue and have no objection to it. If sufficient evidence is unearthed it must be brought before the public. We don’t want to defend anyone but nobody should be harassed. Nobody should be unnecessarily defamed, even saints are now being given a bad name.

If a saint indulges in such acts he is no longer a saint.

I do not believe that people like Swami Asimanandji, Swami Avdheshanandji…..can ever promote violent activities. I have been close to many such saints, have understood them and people in the Congress have not an iota of hesitation in accusing them, nobody from the party condemned this even once.

The other issue of price rise is also losing steam because inflation has fallen below 10 per cent. Don’t you have a more constructive agenda?

The rate of inflation may’ve come down but prices have not come down and you can go to the market.. do you go to the market?

I buy my own groceries.

You must go today and you’ll understand that there has been no climb down in prices. The public is fed up, in the history of free India there has not been such a steep rise in inflation and this is also a historical fact that whenever the Congress has come to power, prices have risen . It is also a historical fact in free India that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA govt was the only one that managed to keep inflation down for six consecutive years .

That was the time that BJP and NDA became nationally acceptable, especially the BJP, which hadn’t been the case earlier and it is said that they were a pair,,Atalji and Advaniji..

That is not the case. Look at it this way, the circumstances were so adverse that time, we had carried out an atomic test and the developed nations led by the US had imposed economic sanctions against India but prices didn’t rise.

I’m talking about the issue of public acceptability . Currently Vajpayeeji is in the background, the then team of Vajpayee-Advani is becoming Advani-Rajnath. Advaniji is veering towards a more mainstream and moderate approach and you are taking the line for which Advaniji had been labeled a hardliner earlier.

Advaniji was never a hardliner. What Advaniji was yesterday he remains today and will continue to be the same in the future. Advaniji is one of the most respected leaders of the country.

Advaniji is today’s Atalji and you’re beoming today’s Advaniji.

If I want to become Shekharji today I cannot, everyone has a distinct personality and particular qualities…

But you and me are in different fields, I am a journalist and you’re a politician.

I don’t want to say who has turned into whom, that is not true.

You have had a long stint as a politician, what do you think is going to happen in the country’s politics? There is fear that the polity is falling apart, there are riots in Bombay, fingers are being pointed at Hindus in some places while they are pointed at Muslims in others, then there are regional demands, do you think Indian politics will stabilise or this state of affairs will continue?

I’m not worried about the polity breaking up, I’m worried that the country is in trouble.

That is why, the state is running because of its polity.

As president of the party I’m respectfully appealing to the ruling party to save the country from these troubles whatever kind of support this govt wants from the BJP, the BJP is ready to give without giving a thought to the political consequences for the party.

Like in the case of the Amarnath controversy, Jammu wouldn’t have calmed down had you refused to cooperate.

We definitely cooperated, we don’t want disturbance.

Some of your party members were against your cooperating.

That is not the case.

Now that you’ve spoken of the danger of the country breaking up, your ally the Shiv Sena and parties with a similar ideology have fomented fresh trouble on that front .

Shiv Sena has not created any controversy, the issue came up because of the MNS. But whatever they did was not right.

There is so much pressure from the JD (U) to break links with the Sena, have you spoken to the Sena?

There is no pressure from the JD (U). Shiv Sena has done nothing, it is basically the MNS which is behind it . All I would like to say that the BJP will pay any price to keep the country together.

Even if it means parting ways with the Shiv Sena?

Shiv Sena has not created the trouble so there is no question of parting ways with them.

But this is basically Shiv Sena’s ideology. Have you spoken to Uddhav or Balasaheb in this matter?

Not recently. I had gone there about one and a half months ago and had spoken to Balasaheb. He expressed his best wishes for the NDA.

You hail from UP yourself, if they start chasing away people from Bihar and UP which is currently happening…

We oppose that and we oppose whatever the MNS is doing and I’d like to reiterate that every Indian must remember that Mumbai’s ganpati bappa and Kashi’s Baba Visawanath cannot be separated from each other. Bhagvan Shiv, Parvati, Ganesh and Kartikeya belong to the same family , when this thinking prevails, only then will India be one.

That’s very well said but the way you are condemning this violence, why can’t you get Balasaheb and Uddhav to condemn it too?

We have not spoken to them.

But will you appeal to them to condemn the violence ?

We are already condemning the violence and all political parties are free to work as they please.

But they are your permanent allies.

I can speak for my party and its point of view.

But you will not appeal to the Shiv Sena or reveal whether you’re talking to them?

Which political party appeals to another?

Will you try to convince them..over the phone or in person?

They are all sensible people, they will understand.

Let’s talk about UP, nobody knows UP better than you, what is going to happen there?

Whatever happens will be for the best.

Why have you chosen Ghaziabad?

I had earlier decided not to contest for the Rajya Asabha, even in front of the Central election comm., Advaniji was also present.

That was a very brave thing, these days most politicians want to be part of the RS

No, whoever is needed is sent to the Rajya Sabha. I had requested the Central Election Committee that I didn’t want to be part of the Rajya Sabha again, people tried to convince me but I did not want to change my decision. I’d like to be part of the election campaign, whatever the Election Committee decides, even if I don’t contest the LS elections but then everyone said I should fight the election.

Why Ghaziabad?

Because Ghaziabad is next to Delhi, I am the party’s all-India president and I intend to stay in Delhi and if that is the case then I will be able to do justice to Ghaziabad. Becomong an MP frpm Ghaziabad and then forgetting it altogether, I don’t want to be that sort of parliamentarian. So to be able to do justice to the constituency I chose Ghaziabad.

We also have a vested interest in your staying in Delhi, we want politicians who are accessible and friendly.

Now you must become a Ghaziabad voter.

Whether you’re part of the ruling party or part of the opposition, you’re friendly and you speak from the heart.

Thank you very much.

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