Deputed by the RSS to the BJP after Narendra Modi won the 2014 general election, Ram Madhav has made quite a splash as general secretary. The Amalapuram-born, Mysore-educated face of the Sangh parivar has been a key pointsman for the prime minister, be it in organising his NRI rallies, stitching up an alliance with the PDP in Kashmir, or strategising for the party’s Assam victory. Excerpts from an interview with Prarthna Gahilote:
Big day for the BJP with the Assam results out. What does this mean for the BJP?
We take state elections very seriously. We try to increase our support base. It is important we increase our base horizontally. We need to get support of more and more groups, more sections of the society. The larger objective of the base in the Eastern belt and the Southern belt are important for us.
You are considered the architect of BJP’s victory in Assam…
No election is won because of one single individual. Assam was a difficult state for us. We had only 5 MLAs in the outgoing assembly. BJP had won 11 seats in one other assembly election in 2001. So for a party that has 5 sitting MLAs to reach a state when it is forming the government is a very good march. With that strength and the PM’s popularity we had developed a strategy for this assembly election. I would say that we have worked for the last one and a half years for this election with the singular objective of trying to form the government.
I had been made in charge of the elections there so the first call I gave to the cadres there was, this time we have to fight to win. Jeeteney ke liye ladna, you know the whole mindset changes when you fight to win. We have not made any mistake in the three-month long process of election preparation. We ran a very controlled campaign. Most importantly I think the people of Assam wanted change and the only credible alternative was the BJP alliance.
And Assam will be your gateway to the Northeast?
India’s Northeast still remains underdeveloped, underexplored. With a stable, strong central government committed to all round development of the country, winning Assam gives us an excellent opportunity to reach out to the entire North eastern region. You know Assam is the pivot of Northeast. So to come to power in Assam will help us develop the entire Northeastern region. The northeastern region is beset with a number of problems that come with underdevelopment like unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, disease. But there are larger issues like separatism, insurgency, violence, racism. So major push to development in Assam and the remaining Northeast region will be of utmost importance to us. Government of India has ambitious Look East plans, Act East plans. Northeast plays a very important role in that.
Does that mean it is also in keeping with the RSS view of expanding beyond just this election, preparing for a future that may not be just tomorrow, but the years to come?
I don’t call it the RSS view alone. If you look at the major challenges that put a question mark on India’s integrity, one of them is Jammu and Kashmir and the other is the Northeast. These are two areas where a lot of insurgent movements, anti-India activities, have taken place. RSS, for that matter all of us, want India’s integrity to be secured. Today we are happy that we have a government in Jammu and Kashmir which has BJP as a constituent and also one in Assam.
UP is going to polls next year. Should we believe that the Dalits are the new vote bank that the BJP is looking at?
UP is an important election for us. Elections are due in about 10 months time now. I as a person do not want to talk in terms of caste based votes and all. It is a crucial election. Our leaders have a strategy in mind, in place. Every section is important, so are Dalits but every section is important in every election. From that point of view, we will work towards getting more support from Dalits as well as other communities.
Your critics allege a rise in atrocities on Dalits and the issue of minority safety…
Our government in the last two years has done so much for the welfare of the Dalits. The backward sections, everybody, including those who are backward among the minorities. I can say with full confidence that PM Modi’s government in the first two years has done enormous service for the welfare of our downtrodden people. So if there is any criticism, it is ill-founded.
So how do you explain the Beef ban and the popular notion that Muslims are living in fear?
There is no fear that Muslims have. This is unnecessarily created by some people in this country. We will ensure that nobody is unsafe in this country because of his religious identity. Today, journalists are getting killed. Will we say journalists are unsafe in this country? These are issue that we ensure are handled sternly. But to say a particular community is vulnerable or feeling insecure and all is not correct.
How do you explain Adi Godrej’s statements on Beef ban, that it is hurting the economy?
You see in some states there are certain laws. These laws have been promulgated by previous governments. Ban on cow slaughter is there in 22 or 23 states. We were never in power in so many states. Why did it come in? Because the Indian Constitution has a directive principle which says that we need to move towards complete ban on cow slaughter. Some states have implemented this and in some states there is a ban on beef exports.
Beef is mostly exported from our country. In India, most of our farmers, are small farmers having 2 acres, 3 acres, 4 acres, 5 acres. For them, cattle is a very important source for their agricultural activity. Keeping that in mind, in order to ensure that there is no shortage of cattle in our agricultural purposes, allied purposes, cattle has many others uses, a ban on killing healthy cattle has been there for many decades now.
But when Muslims feel that the Beef ban is working against them, should not the centre step in to build confidence?
Why should we make out everything to be a Hindu Muslim question? Are you saying that in this country, except Muslims no one else eats beef? Or that every Muslim eats beef every day? Both assumptions are wrong. It’s a lifestyle issue. I do not subscribe to the idea that it should be seen as a religious issue.
Why do we hear things like compulsory chanting of Om while doing yoga? Where do these controversies come from?
Why should they be seen as controversy? There are certain suggestions, like if somebody says let us say Bharat Mata Ki Jai, what is the objection? Bharat Mata Ki Jai is in a way fulfilling a constitutional obligation. India is described as Bharat in our constitution. The first article says, India that is Bharat is a union of states. Bharat Mata Ki Jai is my veneration to this country, my motherland. Now if somebody wants to call it my fatherland, let him.
Many people are saying that Mr Subramanian Swamy is a tiger that the BJP is riding, given his demand for replacing RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan?
Dr Swamy is a public intellectual and a senior leader, he is entitled to certain views. Those views he expresses from time to time.
Do you agree with those views?
Whether I agree with those views is basically immaterial. He has been airing certain views from the beginning. I mean he became a member of Parliament today but even before he has been airing certain views and public knows about his views.
But there is a difference, he now represents the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Rajan is somebody who the PM has showed confidence in. Isn’t it embarrassing then that a BJP MP should be asking for Mr Rajan’s ouster and so bitterly?
Everybody has a way of expressing his or her views. Dr Swamy has a particular way of conveying his views. Government will take its own action, based on its own views. Government has its own thinking on issues.
Dr Swamy has already set a deadline for replacing Mr Rajan. He says September is when his tenure gets over and he should not be given another term like his predecessors. Will we see Mr Rajan beyond September?
That I don’t know. What will happen after September, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister would know.
Kashmir is simmering. What is the plan to settle Pandits and Sainiks there?
Jammu Kashmir, especially Kashmir Valley has seen bouts of radicalism. Five years ago there was a period of aggressive radicalism which was done through street fights, street violence and all that. Afterwards, there was a fairly peaceful period for three four years. Today of course we see a rise in unrest in parts of the Valley. Development is the best answer to tackle this kind of unrest. That is why we have put in place a stable government, that can run for full six years, that can deliver on the development front. This fresh round of radicalism that we see, partly it is being promoted by those elements which do not want a stable government with BJP in it.
How about the re-settlement of Pandits?
In the Common Minimum Programme, one of the important issues is the settlement of Pandits in the valley. There are two things in that, one is resettlement the other is resettlement with security and honour. They have to be secure but they must also feel they are welcome. So we are trying to create that atmosphere. But it will be done through consultation with the Pandit leadership, what they want and how they want is the important thing. When Mufti saheb was alive, the process had begun, first round of consultations happened. But subsequently Mufti saheb passed away, then there was a gap.
Is there a timeline you have in mind?
We have started talking to Pandit leaders, we will very soon resume negotiations. Land issues are there, where to settle them. Certain areas have been identified. Definitely during our tenure we hope to see them back.
Would we see them back there sometime next year?
There are already Pandit families in the Valley but the issue is about those who have been displaced, who are living in camps in Jammu or settled in different parts of the country. If they want to come back, how do we re-settle them? For example there is a need for creating employment otherwise how do you send them back? Employment avenues have to be created. We are working on that. Now once there is an avenue to go back then you have to create some township or some kind of residential accommodation for them where they are secure but also live with dignity and honour.
This is an edited version of the interview that appeared in print. Two more parts of this interview will be put up on the website soon.