Full transcript of the BBC special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with senior BJP leader and former central minister Sushma Swaraj. The topic for the programme was: has the BJP been able to figure out the reasons for its recent electoral defeat and what are the lessons learnt.
Nagendar Sharma : Has the BJP been able to figure out the reasons for defeat?
Sushma Swaraj : We have suffered defeat in the general elections, and we have accepted it gracefully. In the Party’s national executive held in Mumbai recently, we analysed it and a committee has been formed to look deeply into the reasons. Soon an introspection meeting is to be held and we would be able to reach a final decision then.
BBC listener from Canada : Sushmaji, a lot has been said about the BJP-led NDA’s defeat, but one issue which continues to burn is Gujarat. Confusing statements are being given by top BJP leadership on Gujarat issue. Is it right to blame an individual now for BJP’s defeat?
Sushma Swaraj : Let me make it clear that nobody in BJP has blamed Gujarat riots being responsible for the defeat in general elections. The statement of Atalji on Gujarat, which you are referring to, was published only in parts and was not complete. Atalji had said we lost the elections due to disinformation campaign on Gujarat riots. He had said that a CD was brought out, in which computer imposed photographs were prepared of certain developments during the riots which had actually not taken place in reality. We could not analyse that such falsehoods could be spread about the riots, now all this did not appear in the media, simply an incomplete statement that we lost due to riots was flashed. Therefore nobody in the party has turned a volte face. Atalji had said we lost due to the misinformation campaign on Gujarat and we could not analyse that such a campaign would take place, that this led to the defeat; this is the complete statement.
Nagendar Sharma : But Sushmaji, people of the country have seen Atalji on a TV channel saying the Gujarat chief minister should have been removed, your alliance partners have clearly spoken on the issue. There is confusion within the BJP on Gujarat.
Sushma Swaraj : There is no confusion. See what was shown on a TV channel as Atalji saying was simply showing two different statements given on two different occasions as one. What Atalji said on Bhuntar airport and what he said in Manali was shown as a single statement, though these two statements could not be correlated. What Atalji had said was clear – we lost due to the misinformation campaign on Gujarat and we could not even imagine that such a campaigning could also be done against us.
Even our allies were sad on such a campaign. Remember Mamta Banerji had produced that CD in Parliament and had said that the developments shown had not taken place at all.
BBC listener from Gujarat : Sushmaji, post mortem is the easiest thing to do after a defeat. But the consistent increase in the rate of price-rise during the BJP-led regime, which created a strong anti-incumbency, and the arrogant statements of the young second line BJP leadership not liked by the people have led to the shock defeat. What do you say?
Sushma Swaraj : I am saying there are numerous reasons for defeat. Many of them were placed before the National Executive by the state party presidents, and others would come when we discuss in the introspection meeting planned soon. The two reasons mentioned by you are included in those which have come before the party till now. But I would be able to say finally once we decide in the meeting.
Nagendar Sharma : Sushmaji, your party is now also saying that the hi-tech election campaign failed to click. Why is it that the BJP which used to call itself a party with a difference, forgot all that once it got power?
Sushma Swaraj : It is not a question of power and opposition. What has happened in India is that the IT boom has changed the country. Now due to the availability of hi-tech things, they were used more than desired in the campaign, which Atalji has himself admitted. What happened was that once you have such things there is a tendency to give up the traditional style of campaigning.
It is not that the BJP, which since the Jan Sangh days was known for its intense campaign, did not want such campaigning to continue. In fact our party president had very clearly asked the workers to go to every village every door and reach out to every voter, but what happens is that once you have such a hi-tech campaign, the workers tend to think that the campaigning is the same, that even if you do not go personally it would be fine. This is what happened. Therefore that traditional campaign, which links you with the voter, forms a rapport, gives a personal touch, got hijacked by the hi-tech campaign. We wanted the traditional campaign to continue, but somehow did not succeed, it was not up to the desired level.
Nagendar Sharma : Sushmaji, you are saying the party wanted the traditional style of campaigning, then why was it not followed?
Sushma Swaraj : Since a hi-tech campaign was a new thing, it attracted the workers more, and it was natural. Then also bear in mind the atmosphere that was there in the country during the campaigning. Entire media, the opinion and exit polls all were projecting a victory for the BJP, cover pages of magazines were splashing our victory, so the atmosphere and these things also contributed to complacency.
Nagendar Sharma : So it was the workers' mistake, who could not understand the real situation?
Sushma Swaraj : No not at all. It is the leaders who pass on all this to the workers. We are all workers of the party. I am saying that this applies to all of us. There was a feeling that we would win and get a comfortable majority, and the alliance could get up to 325 seats. So in such a situation, you are bound to think that you can do it without door-to-door campaigning.
Nagendar Sharma : Sushma ji, one can pardon the workers, but top leaders of your party talked about a triple century for NDA, a double for BJP and had ridiculed the Congress, saying it would not even get one hundred seats. What was the confidence based on?
Sushma Swaraj : It is the atmosphere which was prevalent in the country that created an illusion, and you would recall that it is not only us who were under such an impression. Just have a look again at what the surveys were projecting. The national magazines were giving over 300 seats to the NDA. The polls conducted by TV channels were also saying the same story, the lowest prediction for NDA was 240. But what happened in the end? We could not even reach there. If all analysts went wrong, then what I understand from this is that the voters were silent and did not reveal their minds. Those who voted against us, majority among them was silent and this created an illusion that we are winning.
BBC listener from Houston : Why does BJP need support of fundamentalist organisations like the RSS VHP etc., and why were you against Sonia becoming PM? You had said if she were to become, you would shave off your head, wear a white sari and live like a widow. Why were you against another woman leader?
Sushma Swaraj : You may consider VHP, RSS fundamentalist; I do not. I consider these organisations as nationalist, and we have come from there. We are not at all apologetic about it. Now to the other question, I had never used the word widow -- I had used the word monk, please do not put words in my mouth. My fight was not against any woman, nor was I humiliating any woman. My fight was against the person of foreign origin. Had the person in question been a man, my fight would have been similar. My fight was not directed personally against Soniaji, had it been anyone else in her place, the scale of my fight would have been of the same intensity, it was a question of honour and humiliation of my country. I could not have been a part of the national shame, we have attained freedom after more than two centuries of slavery.
Nagendar Sharma : But Sushmaji, your party has been raising the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin for two elections now. But the Constitution of India does not prevent her from becoming the Prime Minister, her party has got the mandate, then on what basis is your opposition to her prime ministership based?
Sushma Swaraj : Let us talk about the mandate. If someone says the mandate is for Sonia Gandhi, then it is a wrong description. Her party has got just 145 seats and if you add all the allies, it comes to 217, you need 272 to form a government.
Nagendar Sharma : But why don’t you add 60 MPs of the Left Front, who had made it clear before the elections that they would support the Congress?
Sushma Swaraj : No the left had not said so before the elections. In fact the Left seats from West Bengal and Kerala, have been won by fighting against the Congress and against Sonia Gandhi. Those votes are in fact against Sonia Gandhi and not for her, therefore you cannot say the mandate was for her. Once again I am saying that I had taken such a difficult pledge since it was a matter of honour of the country, we cannot allow the hard earned freedom of the country we got after two centuries of struggle, to be turned into slavery again. This was the most important question. I admit that the level of sensitivity differs in this country. When the freedom struggle was going on, freedom fighters were kissing the gallows and some Indians were enjoying the official British patronage. Maybe, my sensitivity level is higher than others'.
Nagendar Sharma : But were you left alone in the party when you launched this campaign? Even your party president refused to comment on your statement; other top leaders were also silent.
Sushma Swaraj : No I was not left alone even for a moment. My party president had announced that the party would fight both inside and outside the Parliament on this issue, and he had clearly said the campaign outside would be led by Sushma Swaraj. I had the total party support on this issue.
Nagendar Sharma : So it was a party strategy?
Sushma Swaraj : Hundred percent, the party was with me, I was not alone even for a moment.
BBC listener from Delhi : Before the elections the opposition had alleged that your party was spending Rs 500 crores on India shining campaign, at that time your government said it is a government campaign and not party campaign. After elections Mr Advani is saying that BJP’s India Shining campaign backfired, would the BJP return the money of the taxpayer now?
Sushma Swaraj : The government did not spend any money after the elections were notified. Please remember once the code of conduct come into force government cannot spend anything.
Nagendar Sharma : But the campaign was run, and the Finance Ministry had stated that a provision was made for this in the previous budget.
Sushma Swaraj : That amount was not what is being mentioned now, it was much less. Many times more than that was spent by the Congress state governments in Delhi, Punjab and Karnataka on their campaigns.
Nagendar Sharma : But if they are doing so, does it justify your campaign?
Sushma Swaraj : I am not saying that the state governments campaign was wrong. They also had a right to tell the public what the state governments were doing. Similarly the central government also had a right to tell the people what is being done for them. There is a department for this purpose, both at the centre and in states.
BBC listener from Oman : Your campaign on development failed to impress the voters. What is the future plan of your party now?
Sushma Swaraj : No, it is so that the development issue did not click. We placed what we did before the public, but what happens at times, is that the voters do not vote on positive issues, this time also the vote was on negative issues. Now we have been given the mandate to sit in opposition, we would play the role of opposition constructively. We would let the government function, if the government falls under its own weight, then things would be different.
Nagendar Sharma : Why is BJP talking of Hindutva again?
Sushma Swaraj : Let me make it clear that BJP is not talking of Hindutva again. We had never left Hindutva and would never do so, but it is not an election issue for us. We have never used it in the elections nor would we do so. Hindutva is not a religion, it is a way of life for us.
Nagendar Sharma : Today, what is the relation between Hindutva and BJP?
Sushma Swaraj : Same as the relation between life and one living it. It begins with you when you get up in the morning, and till the time you sleep--it is a way of life.
Nagendar Sharma : But why does BJP begin this talk when it is in opposition? When you are in government you talk of practical politics, and when in opposition, talk of Hindutva...
Sushma Swaraj : We never left Hindutva whether we were in government or when we are in opposition--it is a way of life and it cannot be an election issue. Those issues are different and Hindutva is with us always. Our defeat does not mean that Hindutva has lost. We would never put Hindutva on the election plank.
BBC listener from Gujarat : Why was your government seen as pro-rich? From UTI scam to Tehelka scandal etc., all showed that you were not responsive to the common people.
Sushma Swaraj : There is a difference between perception and reality. It was our government which distributed wheat at Rs two per kg and rice at Rs three per kg. Our government increased the food grain limit through PDS from 10 kg to 35 kg. Look at education and health sectors, we implemented pro-people policies. Therefore, it is the perception which differs; and there is a difference between perception and reality.
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