In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Assistant Editor Ravish Tiwari, senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu speaks about a “Modi wave”, Advani’s future role in the BJP and the Telangana row in Parliament.
Ravish Tiwari: You said you could see a Narendra Modi wave nine months ago. Why is it that L K Advani could not see it?
Venkaiah Naidu: This is wrong perception, wrong propaganda. Advani only said that the decision to project any person, particularly Narendra Modi, should be taken after the Assembly elections, because state elections are fought on local issues and the state leadership should be projected. He never objected to Narendra Modi’s leadership. I know Advaniji better than many outsiders. He had been suggesting that Modi should be the leader. There was some difference in opinion about the timing of the announcement. That’s all. Nothing else.
Coomi Kapoor: There is no wave for Modi in your home state Andhra Pradesh, which is not traditionally a BJP ground. Also, did you mess up in Parliament over the Bill to separate Andhra?
Venkaiah Naidu: This time, we asked for (online donations of) Rs 5 and 1,20,000 people registered online. It is an indication of the growing appeal of Narendra bhai. We were in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, where 1,50,000 people paid
Rs 10 each and in Bangalore, 3,50,000 people contributed. These are not my figures. The national response is big, but can you convert this wave into votes? That depends on the infrastructure you have. I have good infrastructure in Karnataka, but I don’t have that kind of infrastructure in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. I am going for certain alliances so that the wave can be converted into votes and can be converted into seats. I am confident that even in Andhra, the BJP will do wonders. In Tamil Nadu, why are these parties — the PMK, MDMK, DMDK — holding talks (with the BJP) even today? It’s because of the appeal of Narendra Modi.
The BJP is committed to Telangana. There is a difference between what happened in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, and what’s happening in Andhra Pradesh now. There, the demand for a new state came from a place far away from the capital. Here, the peculiar situation is that the capital is going to the new state. And people in the old state will have to leave the capital and go 200 km away to Vijayawada or any other city of Andhra. There is another aspect — about 453 institutions, of which 148 are Central government institutions, are all located in Hyderabad. Now, Hyderabad is a global city, a well-developed city, so there is heartburn among people who have to leave Hyderabad and go to Seemandhra… All studios, hotels, industries are in Hyderabad. There are 12 defence-related headquarters in Hyderabad, seven universities. Normally, fisheries (the National Fisheries Development Board) is on the coast, but its headquarters is in Hyderabad. So, there was a problem. But not everybody understood the problem. Except for Jairam Ramesh, none of the ministers understood the problem in its full dimension.
Secondly, when you are dividing a state, you need to have a GoM where there are representatives, one from Telangana, one from Andhra. But you put people from outside, thinking they are neutral. They are neutral but they don’t have any knowledge. That’s the problem.
So in the Lok Sabha, there was some dissatisfaction because the Lok Sabha debate was only for 23 minutes and then the live telecast was stopped, reminding us about the Emergency. There was no chance for other political parties to speak. That’s how they pushed it through. The strategy of the Congress party is that they never wanted to give Telangana. If they were sincere, they would have done it nine years, nine months ago. (The Congress) had a survey that told them that they were getting two-three seats in Andhra Pradesh. So, they had a brainstorming session and they came to the conclusion that one idea could be, give Telangana, you will get some 10 seats. You have an alliance, you will get some more seats. That is how they brought this Bill. P Chidambaram said no Bill will be passed in this session. And Jairam Ramesh came to Hyderabad and said he was against Telangana. Kamal Nath said he was against Telangana because then there would be a demand for Vidarbha. The Union Home Minister was half-hearted too.
They wanted to put the blame on the BJP. I told my colleagues that we need to ensure that the genuine concerns of Seemandhra are addressed. For 10 days, I had continuous discussions with the Congress leadership because they wanted to find out if the BJP was really going to support or not. To whatever extent possible, we tried to see that Seemandhra’s interests are protected. I can’t say I am fully satisfied. But to the extent possible, we tried our best. That is why there is now sympathy and appreciation for the BJP in Andhra and also in Telangana. But whether it gets converted to votes or not, let’s see. We are making efforts.
Rakesh Sinha: What role will Advaniji have in the future BJP ?
Venkaiah Naidu: He will definitely have an important role. I am not here today to decide about Advani’s role. But Advaniji is the guide and philosopher for the BJP. We need his continuous guidance even today because he has vast experience and he has made an immense contribution to the growth of the party. We have not discussed it formally but, by and large, everybody feels that his guidance should be there.
Maneesh Chhibber: We in the media get the sense that all the senior leaders in the party are afraid of Narendra Modi.
Venkaiah Naidu: Yes, Congress leaders are all afraid of Narendra Modi. No BJP leader is afraid of Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi is one of our colleagues and he is the darling of the masses today. In the BJP, the party president and team decide. Even during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, Atalji had said (Modi) should adhere to raj dharma and step down. But the party collectively decided that he should continue and that decision prevailed. I was the president, it was a tough moment for me but Atalji went along with that. That is how the BJP functions.
Maneesh Chhibber: Isn’t the party also going back on its stand that the BJP will never be person-centric, it will be people-centric, that every worker in the party has a voice?
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no dearth of talent in the BJP. Everybody has been assigned some responsibility. This weakness for personality is not because of the BJP. When I joined politics, Congress members used to make fun of us and say, ‘We have Jawaharlal Nehru, we have Indira Gandhi, whom do you have?’. We used to look here and there at that time because we could not immediately answer. So many people started saying Vajpayeeji, subsequently Advaniji, and now Narendra Modi. Now the country is asking the Congress who their leader is and they are looking this way and that. The 120-year-old party is not able to name its leader. They want to play cricket and decide the captain after playing the match.
D K Singh: Your party is apparently on an upswing ahead of the elections. But what does Modi have that Advani didn’t?
Venkaiah Naidu: One is very clear — age. I don’t analyse the personalities of my colleagues. As a mediaperson, you must be knowing better why people are asking for Narendra Modi. 2009 is different from 2014.
D K Singh: During the Andhra Pradesh debate in the Lok Sabha, we were given to understand that you and the Leader of Opposition were not on the same page, that you wanted some amendments moved.
Venkaiah Naidu: She (Sushma Swaraj) also wanted some amendments. The Bill was introduced. Then there was that pepper spray incident. Sushmaji was in the House. The marshals came and escorted her out of the House to her room. Subsequently, we got the news that the Bill has been introduced. Sushmaji said, ‘How can they say that? I did not even seen the Speaker coming, not even the Home Minister.’ She got to know about the comments made by Kamal Nath outside, claiming that the Bill had been introduced in the House. She went and told the Speaker, ‘Ma’am, it was not there on the agenda. I did not see the Home Minister, I could not see you either. I was escorted out and now you are saying that the Bill has been introduced?’. The Speaker said the Bill has been introduced. Subsequently, when the House met and the issue came up, the BJP took the stand that when the Bill has not been introduced, how can you bring amendments? If you want to introduce amendments, the Bill has to be circulated in the House first. You need to give 24 hours’ time, that is what the rule says. They could not give us that time.
The Speaker is cent per cent wrong, she is partisan, she has devalued Parliament. But what the Speaker says is final. Even if you go to the courts, they will say that what happens in the four walls of the House is not for them (to decide). They have played a very dirty game.
Sushmaji was not aware that the live telecast had been stopped… Her dilemma was that if you oppose the Bill on technical rules and traditions, Kamal Nath would go out and say the BJP has opposed the Bill. She said the Bill is full of deficiencies, there are problems for Seemandhra, fix them also. She said all this but, unfortunately, the live telecast was cut. They said it was a technical problem. I said it was neither technical nor tactical, it was practical. They planned it, and then did it.
D K Singh: But why do you say that the Speaker has devalued the House? Has it not happened before?
Venkaiah Naidu: In my experience, I have never seen cutting off of live telecast. How is it that during the introduction and passage of the Bill there is a blackout and there is no problem in the Rajya Sabha?
Anubhuti Vishnoi: Sir, you talked about how the age factor is in favour of Modi. Does it also imply a marginalisation of the old guard? For instance, there is a situation in Varanasi.
Venkaiah Naidu: Age is one of the factors, and there is no question of marginalisation. In the BJP, there is a blend of old, new, young, experienced and energetic. Venkaiah Naidu cannot decide who should contest from where. And about Varanasi, did Mr Modi announce his candidature from Varanasi? Neither has he nor has the party. Somebody at the local level just says something; there can be no truth to it.
D K Singh: Vajpayee wanted Modi to step down over raj dharma. But the party collectively decided to let him stay. Why did the party decide that?
Venkaiah Naidu: It is history. There is no meaning in going back and discussing that. The Congress is bereft of issues, which is why they are talking about only that issue.
D K Singh: But what is the rationale?
Venkaiah Naidu: There was a rationale. Which is why Modi continued and he won an election and Vajpayeeji campaigned for him also.
Appu Esthose Suresh: If the NDA comes to power, how will you deal with the Lokpal and also these late appointments?
Venkaiah Naidu: This government is in indecent haste in its last moments. They brought in the food security Bill thinking they will get vote security. But that has not happened. They brought Aadhaar to enhance their janaadhar (people’s backing), but they have become niradhaar (baseless). And now they have brought the Telangana Bill after waiting for nine years and nine months and after the martyrdom of 1,000 people. On Lokpal, I am not competent enough to respond but you have seen how Fali Nariman and judge K T Thomas reacted.
Abantika Ghosh: Narendra Modi is usually very swift in retaliating to personal attacks. When Mani Shankar Aiyar called him chaiwallah, you built your entire campaign around it. Why is he silent on Kejriwal’s allegations?
Venkaiah Naidu: Kejriwal is making these allegations to be in the headlines, but he is already in the sidelines. When his party was born, I had some hope. But after seeing that man joining hands with the Congress, whom they called the most corrupt party in the country, it all collapsed.
Ravish Tiwari: With the benefit of hindsight, what do you think of the BJP’s decision to support India Against Corruption at that time.
Venkaiah Naidu: Mr Anna Hazare is a noble person, I know him personally. (The AAP) joined the movement, collected all these phone numbers and addresses and used it for political purposes.
Rakesh Sinha: Do you see the AIADMK as a post-poll ally?
Venkaiah Naidu: As far as we are concerned, we are contesting on our own, and we are holding discussions with the MDMK, DMDK, PMK and other parties.
DK Singh: How worried or scared are you of the Rahul Gandhi phenomenon in politics?
Venkaiah Naidu: Phenomenon? Have you seen that show on TV (the Rahul Gandhi interview on Times Now)? The Congress party was buried that day itself.
Transcribed by Aditi Vatsa and Dipankar Ghose