Edited Excerpts from an Interview
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said that no party can come to power without taking all communities on board. Now, the BJP is visibly reaching out to Muslims. What is driving this new thinking?
The BJP has always taken everybody on board. Our motto is clear: justice for all and appeasement for none. Check the record of the AB Vajpayee regime or the BJP-run state governments. There is non-discriminatory development available for all.
Is the RSS reconciled to these overtures?
When the NDA was in power, we initiated many schemes for the development of minorities. When I was the I&B minister, we promoted Doordarshan’s Urdu channel. But we didn’t do this for votebank politics. It was designed for development and the RSS has always been for the development of all Indians.
How will the BJP’s Muslim outreach be different from that of the other parties?
Since Independence, the Congress has been in power for 58 years. Minorities have been voting for them on the basis of allurements given to them. What the minorities need today are empowerment, education and employment, and that can only come with good governance, which only the BJP can provide.
The BJP has always accused the Congress of pseudo-secularism and tokenism. By asking Muslims to wear skullcaps and burqas at Modi’s rally, isn’t the BJP guilty of the same charges?
No. It was just to convey to the people that Muslims support us. Why do they trust the BJP? Because they see the BJP with their own eyes and not through the jaundiced prism of other parties.
BJP leaders may not have started the Muzaffarnagar riots but local party leaders definitely fished in troubled waters. How can you claim to have moved away from sectarian politics?
A sting operation has confirmed that this was a state-sponsored riot. Minister Azam Khan was forcing the police not to take action in the wake of the killing of two Jat youth; he was forcing the police to water down the FIR. All this has come out in the public domain. It is unfortunate that the riots took place. We want peace and amity.
But it’s important to expose the deliberate instigation, inaction and collusion by the government.
Will the BJP acknowledge that there is no further political capital in playing the hard Hindutva line or temple politics?
The media is reading it all wrong. I was the lawyer in the Ram Janmabhoomi case. This is not a political or an election issue. Our main issues will be terrorism, national security, development, price rise, corruption and inflation.
Jaitley also said that ruling a state and at the Centre are two different ball games. At the Centre, one will have strong peer leaders and allies, so Modi will have to adapt. Is Modi’s penchant for playing solo a worrying factor for the BJP?
Not at all. Modi is a good team player. But what Jaitley said is correct. When you work in a district, you cannot replicate that work at a state level; same at the national level. Modi has plenty of national experience. He has worked at the national level as general secretary. He has been the chief minister for 13 years. He has a nice blend of state and national-level experience.
The BJP was never a personality-centric party. Despite internal reservations, Modi has been elevated. Has the party changed its policy? Is there a worry that you will not win without Modi?
We are keen to project Modi as the BJP’s face because he is a study in contrast compared to the UPA government’s indecision, policy paralysis and lack of development. Modi is the epitome of change, impeccable integrity and development. He has risen through the ranks, not because he was born into a dynasty.
Modi is seen as anti-minority. How will you change this notion?
If you want to know about Modi’s governance record, talk to the Muslims in Gujarat. When the Congress was in power, there were at least 40 riots in Ahmedabad and no one was convicted. Riots are always unfortunate, but there is peace and amity today. I see a change in the Muslims’ mindset. All villages in Gujarat, including Muslim ones, have electricity, and water from the Narmada reaches every house. That is the development story of Gujarat and it will be replicated all over the country.