Courtesy – Telegraph India
Minorities. Bigotry. History. Politics. Power. Opposition. Media. Modi. Yogi. BJP’s lead general secretary Ram Madhav opens up to Sankarshan Thakur
Q : It is nearly three years since your party came to power. One of the slogans used repeatedly in the 2014 campaign was “Congress-mukt Bharat”, which had both a political and a philosophical content. Where does that slogan stand today in both senses?
A: In electoral terms, you are seeing how we have reduced the space of the Congress, and that will happen even more. Even in the Northeast, which was considered a Congress bastion, the BJP has uprooted it. But you are correct, that call is not only about winning elections, it is about bringing a change in the governance culture. Congress has become identified in the public mind with nepotism, corruption, family rule – that is what people understand by Congress culture.
Q: And yet you are not averse to admitting Congress people wherever they are willing to join. What does that say of you?
A: That is an accepted practice in Indian politics, Congress too has accepted people from the BJP. But that will happen, people will switch platforms. Our condition is, people from Congress may come but they are not allowed to bring in Congress culture, follow our culture and ideology. I attribute this influx to the huge aspirational element that is directly linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People see in him a leader who can fulfil hope, who can deliver. That is why they are gravitating to him and, by extension, to the BJP.
Q: But isn’t today’s BJP also imitating aspects of what the Congress was at one time? A very strong, almost Indira Gandhi-like, leader whose word is command and whose shadow brooks no challenge. An entrenched high-command culture. The manipulation and allurement for power which happened in Goa and Manipur. These remind people of what the Congress used to do…
A: Strong leader, yes; we have a leader who is not only strong but also highly respected. We have no high-command culture, we are very differently structured. I also contest your comparison with what happened in Goa and Manipur to Congress culture. We have to understand the concept of mandate in a democracy very clearly. Nobody got a clear mandate in Goa or Manipur. For the Congress to claim they had the mandate and we stole is totally illogical. They had more numbers than us, but nobody prevented them from securing the required numbers to form governments. We were able to do that. I totally deny the allegation of horse-trading or arm-twisting by the Centre.
Q: How do you read the political state of play today? Does the Congress remain your main adversary or is it the regional parties?
A: That depends from place to place. In Manipur, the Congress retained a good vote percentage. In UP, the Congress-Samajwadi alliance has secured close to 30 per cent vote, it is not that they are completely wiped out.
Q: Are you saying that a mahagathbandhan at the national level can post a challenge to the BJP?
A: If by mahagathbandhan you mean several parties coming together, that’s not going to work. It should have a narrative. They had a narrative in Bihar, they succeeded. They didn’t have a narrative in UP and you saw what happened.
Q: But would it not have succeeded if the BSP were part of it?
A: That is hypothetical. I could say if the BSP too had gone, I would have secured 10 more seats. You need to offer a narrative to the people. Ideologies and slogans don’t work alone anymore, nor family charisma. In Punjab, for instance, whatever we might say, people thought we did not deliver, they went for somebody else. It is about performance and delivery. Modi ji has offered a narrative which people have bought into be-cause it is a narrative of hope. Does the Opposition have a narrative? If those parties think it is only about arithmetic, it is not going to happen. India has changed, the Opposition has to re-invent itself, your surname doesn’t help.
Q: Let me ask you something more fundamental, and which is related to what is happening around us. The Prime Minister, when he took office, spoke pointedly of a nation coming out of centuries of slavery, there is talk of cultural and historical re-visiting, there is a clash over the idea of India. Would you explain how different is this government’s idea of India from the Congress’ or which pre-existed it?
A: This has nothing to do with governments. It is a fundamental ideological question that you are asking. We have always been committed to the idea of one nation-one people. Not one because we are a political entity but because we have had a long history and civilisational experience. We have a vast cultural and civilisatonal past. Congress believes India became a nation after gaining Independence in 1947 as a result of the efforts of let’s say several leaders. It also used to believe in the concept of India as a nation in the making. It is the same as what the British claimed, that they made India a nation. We believe we have been one nation for a long time in history.
Q: What do you mean by one nation-one people?
A: That we are all Indians irrespective of ideology or religion or any such thing. We may belong to religions that were born here or came from elsewhere, but we have been here for so many centuries. We are all one people, we are equals. When it comes to accessing or acquiring the fruits of democracy, every Indian should be able to do so, caste and religion should not matter. That is the new India the Prime Minister talks about. We are wedded to the idea of one people based on a long and shared cultural and civilisational identity.
Q: Why then this recurrent cry of “Go to Pakistan”, you are outsiders, your roots lie outside, go back. Why?
A: Certain local situations, certain provocations which do happen, probably prompt people to wrongly say these things. Somebody in India hails Pakistan, and I am not only talking about Jammu and Kashmir, you hear this from many other parts. So should I start believing everybody from a particular community is party to it? Should I start blaming everybody? Just as somebody hailing Pakistan in an inflammatory way is wrong, telling someone to go to Pakistan is wrong. If I think somebody has less love for India, my duty is to encourage them to have more love for India. There is no barometer for this, that if you don’t love India this much you should go to some other country. I say this even for Kashmir. We should not be damning everybody as a Pakistani or demanding proof of their patriotism on a daily basis.
Q: How is it that some people feel empowered and have assumed licence to brandish and impose values like culture and nationalism, even to the extent of taking the law into their hands and killing people, like has happened in Rajasthan with so-called gau rakshaks?
A: Let me state this on record. Anybody taking the law into their hands is not acceptable, the law of the land has to prevail. Now, as a party, we are committed to implementing the cow slaughter laws in a number of states. These laws have not been brought by us, they have been there for decades. Some states don’t have it but we want this law to become nationwide. Those laws have to be implemented. When states seem to be lax, elements take undue advantage to violate the law also. There is no question of us supporting any activity that is violent and is against the law.
Q: But wouldn’t you agree an atmosphere of unease and strife has taken over? This imposition of one set of values, changes in history books, mutton shops being torched, people being flogged, even killed. In the same line of things, the ascension of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of UP. Was that the mandate?
A: Most of this unrest and unease is in Delhi’s television studios, let me be frank ( laughs out aloud). You may or may not like this, you have your own point of view. This is not true of the masses. This is a democracy, and an elected government cannot afford to get on the wrong side of the people for one minute.
Q: What about Yogi Adityanath?
A: I have known him a long time being part of the same party and movement. Maybe in an overly surcharged climate in eastern UP, certain statements attributed to him might be seen as controversial. I only have this from the media because I wasn’t there. But having known him and heard him, I would say he has spoken about the unity of the country umpteen number of times, let us live like one family, one brotherhood. Today we are ignoring all those statements and picking on only some. He is a five-time member of Parliament. He worked day and night for the victory of our party. He is one of the tallest leaders in UP. Please recall the names being speculated for chief ministership. His name was always there, so why should it be so surprising he has been elevated? Nothing unusual or unexpected has happened. And once he is chief minister, he is mandated to go by the law of the land, he has to follow the Constitution. Whether it is Trivendra in Uttarakhand or Birendra in Manipur or Yogindra in UP, they all have to follow in the footsteps of the Narendra in Delhi.