When newspapers and TV channels flashed images of BJP President Rajnath Singh taking a holy dip at the Maha Kumbh and his presence among Hindu seers at the Allahabad Dharam Sansad, everybody jumped to the conclusion that Hindutva was back on the BJP’s poll agenda.
But Singh says too much is being read into this. In a freewheeling chat with Firstpost, Singh said being at the Kumbh was a matter of personal faith to him and had nothing to do with politics. There is place in it for Hindutva, but Singh’s Hindutva is the same as what the Supreme Court once defined it as - a “way of life”. It could not be an electoral issue for him or his party.
The BJP President says the party will fight the next elections on two planks – highlighting the nine years of Congress-led UPA misrule, and contrasting that with the BJP’s vision of an alternate development agenda.
On the other issue that has been at the centre of media frenzy and public debate – Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s projection as the party's Prime Ministerial candidate – Singh was more candid and forthcoming than ever. He clearly indicated that Modi would play a central role when the BJP challenges the Congress and the UPA in the next general elections. But the time was not right yet to say so.
So when will the BJP take its formal call on Modi? Singh said it would be decided in due course in consultation with all concerned. “The decision would be taken keeping in view the best interests of the party. The Parliamentary Board would accordingly decide when and how,” Singh said.
The two leaders, Singh and Modi, have lately been sharing an excellent relationship. Their display of camaraderie at an extended luncheon meeting at the former’s former residence in New Delhi last month continues to be the talking point in party circles.
Then why did Singh have to issue a rather stern “appeal” to his party men about not raising a public clamour for Modi? They, after all, were reflecting the popular mood? Rajnath’s answer: “The Prime Minister’s position has grace and the party has a due procedure to follow in naming someone as the candidate. When everyone knows that, why should there be “anavasyak bayanbaji (uncalled for statements)?” he asks, not unreasonably.
Singh advises party leaders to focus their public utterances on issues that concern ordinary people. The party will take all concerns into account and keep its best interests in mind when it decides on the PM issue. Incidentally, Singh was party president during the last parliamentary elections and had announced that LK Advani would be the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for 2009.
On Hindutva, given the conflicting signals emanating from Allahabad, Firstpost asked Singh whether ideological issues like the Ram mandir would form a part of the party’s electoral agenda. His reply: “The irony is some people link even cultural and religious occasions like the Kumbh with politics. I have been going to all Kumbhs. The last time when Kumbh had happened, I was Chief Minister of UP and had been there. This should in no way be linked with politics.”
As for Hindutva, he said: “Why should anyone have an allergy to the word Hindutva? The Supreme Court has described it as a way of life. The people who believe in it have spoken about universal brotherhood. Hindutva is synonymous with cultural nationalism. The Benaras Hindu University (BHU) has the word Hindu in its name, does that make it a communal institution? Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has Muslim in its name, does that make it a communal institution? Politics should be separate from matters of faith”, Singh said.
“The BJP will go to the next polls on real issues that concern people. The Congress’s misrule on various counts for the last nine years will be a major talking point. But we will not stress on negative issues (alone). We will go to the polls with a development agenda. We have had six years of the Vajpayee government at the centre and performance of BJP-ruled state governments. We are for inclusive growth, creation of more jobs and bringing down economic disparities”, Singh said about his party’s campaign plank.
Outsiders have suggested that the BJP needs to prepare for the elections and a key element in this is to contain factionalism in the party. When asked how he planned to end infighting, Singh side-stepped the question. “Where is factionalism? Had there been factional feuds, how was I elected by consensus, that too for the third time?”
What is so special about him that makes him return to the President’s post after three years, an honour that was so far reserved only for Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani? Singh smiles and says, “I can’t say. Only the party can respond to it. Change of responsibility is a natural process in the party. When Nitin Gadkari resigned there was a consensus in the party that I should be entrusted with this responsibility.”
The mood in his office is upbeat and the number of visitors is much more now than what was the case when he had relinquished the office three years ago after being at the helm for four years. Perhaps this time around workers and sympathisers are sensing that the party had better prospects for a return to power.
Singh’s first challenge will be to create a new team of office-bearers before the National Executive and Council meeting from March 1-3 in New Delhi. He has to ensure that his team is announced with the minimum of heartburn and factional feuding.