‘I lost because of Varun Gandhi’s speech’

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Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP General Secretary, is not mincing words. He tells  Neha Dixit that the top leaders should have disowned hate speech

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

The first thing you said post-elections was that the era of Mandal and kamandal politics is over. Was the BJP out of step?
Caste and communal politics has been vigorously pursued in the country for the last two decades. It has reached a saturation point and has also angered the voters a lot. What is noteworthy is that all political parties that have made caste and communal politics their base have suffered great losses in the elections. Dalit votes shifted away from Mayawati because of her caste politics. Voters started marginalising Mulayam Singh Yadav because of his communal politics. In Kerala and West Bengal, Communist parties were also rejected for negative politics.

But the BJP has indulged in casteism all these years.
The BJP kept away from caste politics but it fell victim to the environment. A casteist, communal and regional leadership took over the natural leadership. Atal Behari Vajpayee started an era of positive approach towards development in 1999. The new generation only accepts an approach like this. Seventy percent of the voters in India were born 20 years after independence. The conflict surrounding independence and the communal riots during Partition are merely stories for them. They do not associate with them.

The BJP’s negative campaign did not work?
The BJP’s approach on the whole was completely positive and correct. But the approach of some individuals led to a negative impact. I don’t want to take names but because of them, issues like internal security, price rise and economic disorder got diluted. In turn, non-issues dominated the campaign.

You talked about issues in your constituency (Rampur) but you still suffered a defeat.
I lost because of Varun Gandhi’s speech in Pilibhit. Not only did it have a very big negative impact across the country but we lost 24 seats in Uttar Pradesh alone including major ones like Bareilly, Moradabad and Aonla. I had raised positive issues in Rampur but I lost Muslim votes. When a party gets a negative image like that because of one individual, it makes a lot of difference. In a situation like this, the polarisation of votes is obvious and can’t be stopped.

But the top leadership kept endorsing such speeches to get votes, instead of raising development issues.
It’s true that speeches on communal hatred obscured valid issues. Its not that hate speeches were not checked, it is just that the top political leadership did not effectively disown it. As a result, our message did not come across that well. It should have been nipped in the bud.

Advani ran a Presidential style campaign. Do you think he should take the moral responsibility for the debacle?
No. It is our collective responsibility.

Voices from within the party say that the defeat was a result of the drawing room strategies of the campaign managers.
We can’t blame them. They only implement the blueprint of the campaign. The problem is when the focus shifts away from the actual issues and non-issues take the lead.

With elements like these, don’t you think the party needs an overhaul?
I don’t think the BJP needs an overhaul. There are a lot of energetic young faces in the BJP. We have to move ahead. The next target is the forthcoming assembly elections.

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