‘The Congress, not the BJP, thrives on communal politics’

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Vasundhara Raje | 60 BJP leader and former CM, Rajasthan
Photo: Vijay Pandey

Edited excerpts from an interview

What is your understanding of development and what would you do for Rajasthan if you win?
First, it will involve straightening out the state’s finances. And then providing what is not there for the ordinary people. Organising water alone is going to take time and lots of effort. Also, electricity, proper schools…

There’s a BJP MLA here, in the Marwar region where we’re having this conversation, yet the area has massive water problems.
He can’t fix things because the Congress won’t let him do it.

How would you turn agriculture around in Rajasthan?
I don’t want to talk about that just yet. Ashok Gehlot, the current chief minister, will pick up my vision and muck it up.

So what if he steals the vision if it’s for the good of Rajasthan?
I don’t want it to be stood on its head by someone who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. Our vision document is ready. We spent more than Rs 1,500-2,000 crore on water harvesting in our last term. Now, we will be working on big harvesting structures. We don’t need big dams.

There have been 46 communal clashes in Rajasthan in the past five years. Has the state become more sensitive to Hindutva politics?
You don’t have these riots when the BJP is in power. It’s the Congress that thrives on communal politics by pitting Muslims against Hindus. It’s their only way to get votes. For 60 years, the Congress has been dividing people and winning again and again. It’s the good old British policy. I’ve been warning people that as elections approach, this may happen even more. There have been six or seven clashes in the past six months. Yet, the Muslims are coming over to us — not all, but certainly more and more of them. Around 25-30 percent of them are possibly with us.

Where do you stand on the ideological spectrum within the BJP — from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Ram Rajya to outright Hindutva politics?
Ram Rajya translates as development, the way our sages originally defined it. This is the politics of development. I talk of Ram Rajya as taking along all 36 jatis or castes, all religions and faiths, to work together as an extended family. Being Hindu is a way of life, it’s not a religion.

Narendra Modi is on all your election posters. What are your views on the fact that he says he is a Hindu nationalist?
Right now, my focus is on Rajasthan alone. And Modi isn’t on all my election posters. He is on the posters in the Marwar region because it is close to the Gujarat border. All the basics that are missing here are not missing in Gujarat. If people are ill, they either go to Palampur and Ahmedabad. If there are no teachers, they go to study there. They see the difference between Rajasthan and Gujarat. And in 2008, when the BJP lost the Assembly election to the Congress, I’d say a lot of the blame lies with us. The people here don’t want the Congress.

When you were CM, the water table in many parts of Rajasthan actually dipped. Many parts were declared “dark zones” with acute water shortage. How can you lay the blame for under-development only at the Gehlot regime’s door?
It’s difficult to get everything moving in just five years. Had the BJP got another mandate, we would have gone on to more permanent corrective measures for the water problem.

You have been criticised for farming out the setting up of schools to private players that are often unregulated and have apparently delivered poor quality. Isn’t it the state’s responsibility to provide education to all?
You have to try out public-private partnerships if you can’t handle all of it yourself. Governments have all become very small. So it has to be a partnership between the government, NGOs and civil society. The government should limit itself to just regulating.

What was the toughest phase in your career so far? Was it when dissidence within the party was at its peak and you lost the 2008 Assembly election and then stepped down as Leader of the Opposition in 2010?
That was indeed my worst phase. I had to take on lots of people within the party, but that’s the case anywhere. The lesson was that you shouldn’t trust anyone implicitly. I realised that and came out of it quite okay. With my dignity and my standing in the state intact.

Going back to where you find your strength, what role did your mother Rajmata Scindia play?
She was very strong, and like me, she was also very alone. But she was quite okay with that because she was into religion, into politics, into people. When I was a child, I missed not having a mother to come back to, returning home from boarding school. But we travelled a lot with her and got to mix with people and understand their needs.

My mother was a big influence, but I’m also different from her. That was a different time in politics. Today, you are occasionally required to compromise with people.

How was your relationship with your brother, Madhavarao Scindia, who was one of the brightest stars in the Congress?
We agreed to disagree. And he only left my mother’s brand of politics after the Emergency. He told my mother that two-thirds of her life was gone and so she could afford to enjoy her convictions. He, on the other hand, had a large part of his political career ahead of him and if he played her kind of politics, he would never be able to give his constituency what it needs. My mother said that was no argument, but my brother insisted it was. I stood with my mother on this.

What was it like to carve out your own turf within the BJP in a largely male-dominated sphere of work?
It’s not a good idea to think about your gender and feel sorry for yourself. You have to think of yourself as a person and do your work. You might get pushed around sometimes, but so do the guys. You just have to work a little harder. When my mother was around, we were always in her shadow. There wasn’t an opportunity for us to shine. Of course, we still managed to become MLAs, MPs and so on. But it was even harder after her departure because I had to prove that I was getting where I was not just because I was her daughter, but because my work was good.

How did that evolution happen? From the strides you made as a first-time minister in the NDA as small-scale industries minister, turning around the Khadi Gram Udyog…
That was about learning to do well everything that you are given and to enjoy it. Atalji (Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee) suggested two ministries I could possibly deal with: tourism or small industries. I chose the latter. It took me from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, working on ideas that form the economic basis of this country.

You said you liked reading about Catherine the Great and could identify with much of it. Do you see yourself, like her, as alone?
Yes, I do see myself as walking alone.

Alone or lonely?
Alone. I’m happy to be alone. I find lots of things to do and I’m not miserable to be with myself. Of course, this has evolved over time. When you’re a junior, you’re always a bit worried about whether you’ve got the right mix and are doing the right thing. But when you’re older and comfortable in your own skin, and have decided how you’re going to go, you’re okay.

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Revati Laul has been a television journalist and documentary film maker for most of her 16 year career. Ten of those were spent in NDTV where her reports included everything from the aftermath of the Gujarat riots to following truck drivers into ULFA infested Assam. Then about a year and a half ago, she decided to tell her stories in indelible ink instead. Most people said she made an upside down decision but she firmly believes she’s found food for the soul. She was hired by Tehelka to write on politics. For her this does not mean tracking the big fish but looking closely at how the tiny fish are getting swallowed and by whom. On most days though, she can be found conversing on her other two favourite subjects – fornication and food. Fiction is another friend of hers. A short story she wrote called `Drool’ was published in an anthology of young fiction by Zubaan. She is also founder member of the NGO ‘Tara’ that looks after underpriviledged children.

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