JAGRUTI PANDYA had her first tryst with politics at the age of 20 when her conservative Brahmin family married her off to Haren Pandya, then a budding star in the Gujarat BJP. A Sangh Parivar favourite, Pandya rose to prominence in the party and served as one of the most popular home ministers in the state. It was his proximity with the then chief minister Keshubhai Patel that saw him dominating the Gujarat Cabinet.
However, it was not long before Narendra Modi entered the scene and replaced Keshubhai Patel as CM. His first target was to axe Keshubhai’s acolytes and Pandya was unceremoniously booted out. Close on the heels, Modi got the BJP high command to make Pandya vacate the Ellisbridge constituency so that he could contest the bypoll from there.
Pandya courted controversy during the 2002 riots for his role, but Modi shrewdly sidelined him, defied the party high command and refused him a seat during the 2003 Assembly election. Modi swept the election and Pandya was left with neither a ministry nor a position.
It was at the peak of their rivalry that Pandya was assassinated on 26 March 2003, allegedly by a bunch of Muslim youth for his role in the riots. His father Vitthal cried foul, but it didn’t ruffle many feathers. A decade later, Vitthal, who is no more, has found a voice. His daughter-in-law Jagruti is set for her second tryst with politics.
A chemistry graduate and mother of two, Jagruti chose to remain in the shadows, waging a lonely battle for a decade, running from pillar to post, from the CBI to the Supreme Court, pleading for a reinvestigation into her husband’s assassination. But her efforts yielded no results. Her critics accused her of playing into the hands of the BJP by not joining the Congress and not having gone all out against Modi. A week ago, history repeated itself. Jagruti joined Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP).
Along with IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife Shweta Bhatt, who is contesting against Modi in Maninagar, Jagruti will be the candidate to watch out for as she takes on sitting BJP MLA Rakesh Shah in Ellisbridge constituency. In a candid chat with Rana Ayyub, she talks about Modi and reaches out to the Gujarati voter, who she believes will bring the curtains down for Modi this year.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
What prompted you to join politics?
The lies perpetrated by the Modi government forced me to join the electoral fray. My disappointment with the BJP leaders, who have witnessed my struggle from close quarters and remained mute spectators, forced me to join politics. Today, as I stand here in front of the people of Gujarat, all I’m seeking is justice for my late husband. For the truth of my husband’s death to come out. I believe that Ellisbridge and Gujarat will give their verdict. I believe Keshubhai is a man of ideology and has the same belief system as me and my late husband. I could have easily joined the Congress in 2007 when I was offered a seat of my choice on a platter. I refused because my ideology is different. I could not move away from the Sangh Parivar. Modi’s BJP has moved on, but then that’s him.
Why the anger against Modi?
Modi is offering to protect the mangalsutras of women in Gujarat. Unfortunately, he forgot to protect mine — the wife of his own partyman, who gave himself to the organisation. Modi forgot to give justice to the man he hailed as a hero after his death. Not just this, he even obfuscated the process of the investigation into my husband’s murder by filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against a reinvestigation. I believe that my husband’s murder was a conspiracy and those behind bars are not the real culprits. The real conspirators are on the loose. The fact that the courts have acquitted the accused shows that there was no case against them. Then why did Modi, who promises law and order for Gujarat, fail to show any interest? Not just this, when I approached him for help during the sadbhavana fast, he got IB officials dressed in plain clothes to monitor my movements. What is he trying to hide?
What are you trying to suggest?
I’m only trying to say that when the truth comes out, it will be very uncomfortable. My two sons and I live in constant fear. My son gets threats, I get followed, my phone calls are tapped. Why is the government afraid of the widow of its own leader? Why have I been forced to come out of the confines of domestic life and fight a battle, approach the citizens of Gujarat for justice. Modi might have forgotten his sadbhavana, but I haven’t.
Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife Shweta is contesting against Modi. What do you have to say?
I extend my best wishes to her. May truth and justice prevail. If her husband is right, Gujarat will take its call.
‘Many BJP leaders agree in private that justice has not been done to me. But in public, nobody is willing to take a stand’
What about development in Gujarat? What would the GPP do that Modi has not achieved?
Perhaps Gujaratis don’t know that the state’s development ratio has always been higher than that of other states in the country, from the time of Madhavsinh Solanki to Keshubhai Patel. Development is not new for Gujarat. Look at the figures. Gujarat has always been one of the highest contributors to the country’s GDP. It was not Modi’s magic wand; it was a result of the hard work done by his predecessors. Keshubhai was the man who began the process of development. He does not have a great PR machine, but the cadres know.
Is the RSS and the Sangh Parivar with you?
I hope the Parivar, which still calls me its bahu, is with me. I have never crossed themaryada, the lakshman rekha that the Parivar set for the organisation. I’m just carrying forward the legacy of the Sangh and my husband. I’m just trying to break the myth of Gujarati asmita that is being portrayed by Modi and his government. With the kind of support I see in Ellisbridge, I can see that the voters know what the truth is, who are the people with ideology. The cadres have been calling me to extend their support. I’m sure the Parivar knows that the bahu is doing nothing wrong.
Your husband was considered close to LK Advani, who was the Union home minister during Pandya’s unfortunate assassination. Is he supporting your decision?
I have been disappointed with most of the senior leaders of the BJP. I had made frequent trips to meet Advaniji and other senior BJP leaders to get my husband’s case reinvestigated. They all empathise with me and agree in private that justice hasn’t been done. But in public, nobody is willing to take a stand. Nobody is willing to ask questions. I hope with this election, the façade wears out and the truth comes out. That’s my lakshya.
Rana Ayyub is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.