Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is in the process of completing the formalities of his departure from the Rajya Sabha and the Union Cabinet, including vacating his official residence. The exit of one of the BJP’s most prominent minority faces for the last two decades means the party has no Muslim minister at the Centre nor a Muslim MP now.
Naqvi, who has been in the Rajya Sabha since 2002 and is a one-term Lok Sabha MP, says he would rather not dwell on the speculation of him being picked as the NDA vice-presidential candidate. Nor would he be disappointed if the Narendra Modi government didn’t choose him. As per many senior leaders in the BJP, at 63, Naqvi is too young to be considered for the post.
To those who see his long career in the BJP as “tokenism”, which has also come to an end now, Naqvi counters that filling up posts for the sake of symbolism was not “a guarantee of secularism and development”. Excerpts:
What, according to you, is your biggest contribution towards minorities, especially Muslims? And what do see as the highest and lowest points of your career?
The highest point to me was Prime Minister Modi asking me to take over the sensitive and crucial Minority Affairs Ministry at a time when there was a perception that Modiji would not do anything for the minority Muslims. But this government has proved that development can be done without discrimination, and I have fulfilled that commitment with his support. Even opponents cannot allege that we have discriminated against Muslims on development.
During my term, around 5.5 crore minority scholarships were distributed, which then resulted in reducing dropouts, especially among minority girls, from 73% to 32%. I am confident that it will soon reach zero. I set up Hunar Haats that gave a platform to artisans and craftsmen from minority communities to market and sell their products. Today there are 41 Hunar Haats there across the country and more than 10 lakh artisans got employment through these. More than three lakh have enrolled for them, and can set up stalls free of cost. They are also benefiting from government e-marketing places.
My role as Parliamentary Affairs Minister (in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and the Modi government) was also challenging. In the Rajya Sabha (Naqvi was the Deputy Leader of the House), the BJP was in a minority, but with coordination and communication, we could get all the Bills passed. I managed to have cordial relations with other party leaders.
As far as the lowest point is concerned, I think there are always challenges and we have to handle them carefully and effectively. There are attacks and expectations – from all sides – and I always tried to have faith in what I do.
Did the association with the BJP also lead to criticism against you in your personal life?
It’s always there. As far as I am concerned, I have always tried to do things properly and as advised. Ahead of the Babri Masjid verdict, I called around a hundred people to my residence. The instruction and appeal to them was that no one should overreact. Na jeet ka jashn, na haar ka hahakar (Neither will we celebrate if the verdict is in our favour, nor create an uproar if it isn’t) – this was the appeal. That really helped. I feel happy about it. See, there is a perception about the BJP that it will not get Muslim support. But see the Rampur (bypoll) result. I was given the responsibility of that constituency which has more than 55% Muslims, and it was a BJP vs SP fight. Still, the BJP won. (Rampur is considered the bastion of SP leader Azam Khan; the BJP fielded an old aide of his in the recent by-election).
Did you know that you would not be given a fourth term in the Rajya Sabha by the party?
I knew that. I am satisfied with the work I have done. The Prime Minister’s trust in me and his support makes me happy. As far as new responsibilities are concerned, I think it’s just an issue of your feelings about what you do. I always feel my responsibility is to work for the people, especially for the downtrodden.
Were you asked to contest the Rampur bypoll (Naqvi won his only Lok Sabha election from the seat, back in 1998)?
Yes, there were some discussions initially. I told the party I would do whatever it wanted me to.
You have been the minority face of the BJP at the Centre for long. How do you see this situation where the party no longer has a Muslim face in Parliament or Union Ministry?
I think people who are in the Cabinet are sensitive about development and empowerment of all weaker sections. I do not think symbolism is a guarantee of secularism and development.
Do you think the BJP should have one Muslim face? And should the post of vice-president of India be given as a tokenism?
I have never expected any particular position for myself in my public life. Whatever is given to me I have fulfilled to my best effort.
You worked with an NDA government under Vajpayee and now Modi. Has the BJP changed over the years?
I started in the BJP in the 1980s and had different roles as a youth wing leader, general secretary, vice-president and then minister. There is not much difference in the BJP. In the name of secularism, some have exploited minorities. Modiji has not exploited minorities in the name of secularism, but he has empowered them.
How do you see the recent controversies regarding the statement made by BJP leader Nupur Sharma against the Prophet, her suspension, the Udaipur killing as a fallout, and the reactions to it?
The BJP took the right stand at the proper time against (Sharma’s) remark. But the way radical organisations like Al-Qaeda reacted to it (threatening attacks) is not acceptable. Such threats are unacceptable in any democracy. And the Udaipur killing (where a tailor was killed for supporting Sharma) is absolutely condemnable.
Why do you think Muslims don’t vote for the BJP? Do others in the party share your view?
It’s not like that. It depends on the capability of a candidate. The party chooses candidates based on winnability. The BJP does not believe in ticket tokenism. What you need is efforts to empower and help them. The previous governments brought out reports, but what did they do for minorities? The BJP has been holding progressive panchayats in Muslim-dominated areas to convey the message that our government is for everyone.