BJP president Rajnath Singh calls the recent state victories the result of a collective effort, that there’s no single factor that brought in the votes. He also reveals that some regional parties are in talks with the BJP for pre-poll alliances. Excerpts from an interview with Panini Anand:
How do you see the mandate in the four states that went to the polls recently?
There is clear indication that the country is in a mood for change. People are disappointed with the performance of the Congress.
The BJP has performed well in Rajasthan and MP. It managed to retain Chattisgarh and did not get a clear majority in Delhi. So where is the Modi factor or wave except in Rajasthan? For MP, can one undermine Shivraj Singh’s efforts and work?
I don’t want to discount any factor. Shivraj Singh, Raman Singh, Vasundhara Raje and Harshvardhan: their popularity was effective. But the popularity of Narendra Modi is a factor too and that has also helped the BJP.
Are you suggesting that credit for the victory and performance in all these states can’t be given to just one person?
We are a cadre based party. Everyone contributes. Some are state level leaders, some are popular at national level. Presently, the most popular face in BJP and in the entire country is none other than Narendra Modi. So, BJP has benefited from his popularity. However, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh, Vasundharaji and others are very popular in their states. The mandate is a collective effect of all these factors.
Why is BJP scared of forming government in Delhi?
We don’t want to do any kind of jod-tod [alliance or breakup]. If someone is willing to support us, they should take the initiative. We didn’t get a clear majority but the AAP is the second largest party, so it's their responsibility to offer support. We don’t want to break any party for the sake of forming a government.
So are you saying that if they (AAP) offer support to you, then only will you consider it?
Yes. And support for full five years. There should be a relationship of faith and honesty in the support offered -- not if someone tries to bargain with us. It should not be a political conspiracy, or an attempt to betray us for their benefit. If people have given us vote as the single largest party, we are ready to go for elections again and I am sure people will send us with clear majority this time.
But this entire experiment done by Arvind Kejriwal…?
Arvind is not a tested candidate; it’s all about the promises and assurances he made. These elections were in the states which had either Congress or BJP governments. But what about other states —like Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and southern states? Why would people trust you instead of strong regional satraps? People are looking towards BJP with hope. People know the fact that while the regional players might be able to form governments in their respective states, they can’t do the same at the centre. So, naturally, when it comes to Lok Sabha elections, people will vote for BJP in these states as well.
Many regional parties don’t find your prime ministerial candidate a comfortable name to ally with or support…
Our target is 272+. We are trying our best to achieve it. But even if we don’t get 272 seats, we are going to emerge as the single largest party and many regional parties will join us, pre or post poll. There is possibility of pre-poll alliances as well. Some parties are already talking to us. We will talk about it at the appropriate time. We know that some will join us post-poll. What you see from outside —that no one will come, or no one will ally—let me tell you that this is not the reality. The truth is otherwise.
If these regional players put a condition for alliance that BJP should change the PM candidate, will your party do that for forming the government, post poll?
I don’t think this is going to happen. We have thought properly and decided the name of Narendra Modi as our prime ministerial candidate. We are not going to step back from this decision.
For instance, if regional parties say that instead of Modi, bring Rajnathji for PM? What’s wrong in accepting that condition?
No, this is not going to happen. Once we have projected someone, we are firm about it.
Why has BJP left the liberal position taken by AB Vajpayee during late 90s on various right-wing ideology issues and opted for the hard-Hindutva line?
See, this terminology of soft-Hindutva and hard-Hindutva, I don’t believe in it. Even the Supreme Court of India has said that Hindutva is a way of life.
But Modi is a hardliner. You, Nitin Gadkari, Harshvardhan are close to RSS. Your party has started talking about Ram Mandir, common civil code and so on…
Let me tell you that we never left the principles of our ideology. As far as Ram Mandir issue is concerned, ask any Hindu, he will wish to see the temples of Ram, Krishna and Shiva on their janambhumis (places of birth) and places of worship. Similarly, if you ask a Muslim, he will always wish for a Mosque. A Christian will wish for a church. Isliye agar Hindu samaaj chaahataa hai ki vahaan per Ram ka bhavyaa mandir bane to maeN samajhtaa huuN ki ismeiN sabko ek udaar soch se kaam karna chahiye. [So, if the Hindu society wants that a grand Ram temple should be built there, I think that every one should work with an open mind]. And not only that, if someone tries to damage a mosque or any other place of worship, our party will stand for the protection and security of the mosque.
But Mathura and Kashi were also part of your slogans during Ram Mandir Andolan of 1990s…
No, I don’t agree with you. The agitation was led by some people. We were not raising these slogans. We believe that matters of dispute should be resolved by dialogue. There is no space for extremism in our Indian culture. We are most liberal. We even offer milk to the black poisonous snakes once every year and worship them.
Why is Amit Shah given the charge of the state which has given many big leaders, including you, despite the fact that there are many cases and charges against him? The recent stings have also dented his image.
We have seen his organisational skills in Gujarat and I believe that any person who is committed to the ideology and philosophy of BJP can’t harm anyone; he can't indulge in the politics of violence. The issue is in court and let the court decide.
AAP is preparing for general election. Will you welcome them?
I don’t have any objections. Our democracy is multi-party democracy. Let them contest.
You are the member of Parliament from Gaziabad where Arvind Kejriwal lives. What if he contests election against you?
Anyone can contest. It’s their right to contest from wherever they want.
You were the chief minister of UP and now a third-time president of your party. What if north Indian supporters want to see you as the prime minister of country?
No, there is no point doing that. I can’t compromise with the credibility at any cost. Hum apni hi nazaron mein nahi girna chahenge. [I wouldn't want to fall in my own esteem]
But what if party decides your name? Perhaps in 2019...
I don’t want any post like that. Modi’s name is decided by the party. I don’t have any such ambitions.
There are still some disappointed seniors, leaders in your party.
See, in a big family, this happens that sometimes few people don’t feel comfortable with few things. But this happens in a democratic and larger family. BJP is the only national party which has never broken up since its formation.
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print