Rajnath Singh is the tallest BJP leader in the most populous and politically-critical Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh. He is the home minister of the country and has held the posts of Uttar Pradesh chief minister, national president of the party along with important portfolios at the Centre and in the state. In these elections, he has temporarily shifted his base to Lucknow — a city he represents in Parliament as an MP. These days he has a most hectic daily schedule.
Conduct a morning review of ministerial work, connect with local leaders and numerous party workers, and also coordinate with national leaders, take off on a dedicated chopper to go on a gruelling campaign that entails addressing five or six rallies nearly everyday. He then returns home after the sun has set, and once again connects with his ministry officers, party leaders — state and Central — to get some feedback and chalk out a strategy for the days to come. He took some time off to speak with Sanjay Singh, political editor, Firstpost on a variety of issues ranging from the day's politics, the elections, the Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav combo, the controversy over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'raincoat' remark at Manmohan Singh, his relations with Modi and his own prospects (in case BJP wins in Uttar Pradesh) of returning to state politics and being at the helm to take up the chief ministerial post yet again, 15 years after he relinquished this post to move to national politics.
Edited excerpts follow:
Besides being most the prominent leader in Uttar Pradesh and one of the prime campaigners for your party in these state elections, you are also home minister of the country, a position that requires full-time attention. How do you manage it?
I regularly speak with ministerial officials. I have come here (Lucknow) after clearing all the files on my desk. I am in daily contact with ministry officials and direct them when required. After all, the work has to be done through a bureaucratic system. But then I need to talk to two to four officials on a regular basis over phone, which I keep doing. And if I am in Delhi, I call for a meeting. Some days ago for instance, I had a meeting with the national security advisor, home secretary, IB director and the RAW chief, and every two to three hours, no matter where I am, I receive information about what is happening across the country.
Now that the election has been wrapped up in most areas, what is your assessment? Which way is the Uttar Pradesh election going?
The BJP will get an absolute majority.
You say this despite the fact that a section of Jats were angry in areas that went to polls in the first phase and voted against the BJP and for the RLD?
I don’t believe that Jats have fully voted for the RLD. The BJP has also got a good number of votes from the Jat community.
Has this election taken a turn from development to 'Kabristan versus Samshan'. Why has this happened?
The prime minister’s statement should not be wrongly interpreted. What the prime minister meant was that in the spirit of his sabka saath saka vikas slogan, individuals should not be discriminated against. There shouldn't be any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion. We can't do more for one community and less for another in the name of vote bank politics. If such actions are guided by need-based requirements, then there is no objection. But if that is done keeping vote bank politics in mind, then that is not good for society and the nation. Politicians should stay away from these things. Politics, as I keep saying is not only for forming the government and coming to power but to govern and build the nation.
Do you really believe that Akhilesh’s Samajwadi Party government has been discriminating against people on the basis of caste, community and religion — on Samshan versus Kabristan or on hajj subsidies?
The Samajwadi Party government, I must tell you, has always believed in the 'divide and rule' policy. It has been its policy since the very beginning. The Samajwadi Party has never practiced politics of carrying everyone along, and neither has the BSP.
You mean to say Yadav and Muslims?
Like they say, "This community is voting for us, that community is voting for us". I can never say that this community is voting or not voting for us. If one community is not voting for us today, then it will vote for us tomorrow.
Why is the BJP accused by the Opposition of playing polarising politics?
I seriously hate politics of polarisation. I don’t accept politics of polarisation in any form and in a country as big as India, it is injurious. This should never be done. Politics has to be only of insaaf and insaaniyat (justice and human values).
In these elections, many personal attacks have been launched against the prime minister by your political rivals. What do you have to say?
Everyone should be conscious of the words they use. One should also not forget that the prime minister is an institution in himself and the dignity of institutions should be respected; no attempts made to lower their dignity or break the system because the country has to pay for its consequences.
What about this 'insider-outsider' campaign by the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine?
The prime minister belongs to the country and to say that he is an outsider (laughs) has no meaning
How potent is the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance? How big a threat is the Rahul-Akhilesh friendship to the BJP?
Minus plus minus will always remain minus. Minus multiplied by minus is plus. This is no merger, two weak elements have come together to fight (laughs). But in this case, minus is adding to minus. There is no question of this alliance having an impact.
What do you have to say about Akhilesh’s 'Gujarat ke Gadhe' remark and the words he said about Amitabh Bachchan. It can have various interpretations?
It is most unfortunate. If I was in his place and had said something like that, I would have withdrawn my statement. Although, I have never said anything like that.
What do you think of the controversy around the prime minister's 'raincoat' remark against Manmohan. Does today’s political class not understand humour and is it intolerant to sarcasm?
One should understand that the prime minister, in a way, honoured Manmohan. His government may have been mired in many corruption cases, but they haven't left a single black spot on his persona. One should not forget that the former prime minister spoke on demonetisation and called it 'the biggest organised loot or organised crime'. Who loots? The other interpretation is that the prime minister is a looter; Biggest organised crime — who commits a crime? A criminal. Then by interpretation, the prime minister becomes the biggest criminal. If we had interpreted it that way, we would have become angry at him (Manmohan). But we didn’t do that. But they went on wrongly interpreting the 'raincoat' remark.
What’s your opinion on Rahul Gandhi as a leader? The other day Sheila Dikshit, the Congress’ retired chief ministerial candidate said he needs time to mature because he is only in his 40s.
(Laughs) I will say he has my good wishes. He should emerge as a seasoned and mature leader.
Is he not mature now?
I have not said that. He has my good wishes and blessings that he emerges as a mature, seasoned, dynamic and visionary leader.
Earlier you had spoken of a 14-year vanvaas for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. What makes the BJP such a strong force 15 years after you had to relinquish power in the state?
The reasons are known to me but I will not tell you (laughs). What I can tell you is that BJP's credibility has increased. People believe that there is no difference between the words and deeds of the BJP. Also after seeing the Modi government's work and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government's, while noting that there hasn't been a corruption charge against anyone, has helped. GDP growth was at its highest highest. People are seeing the Modi government performs. India is now the fastest growing economy. All these factors make BJP the most credible party.
Much is being said about the BJP not giving a ticket to any Muslim candidate. Does that not hurt the 'sabka saath sabka vikas' plank of the party?
It’s true. A ticket is given on the basis of winnability. Perhaps such a candidate did not exist and therefore, was not given a ticket. But it’s not like that. In future, we will take care in Uttar Pradesh. Persons from the minority community should get it. We have given them tickets in several parts of the country. In Gujarat, there was no one in the Assembly, so he (a minority community member) was made an MLC and then made a minister. In Rajasthan, we have a Muslim minister. At the Centre, we have always had Muslim ministers. Now Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and MJ Akbar are ministers. It would have been better if a (Muslim) candidate had been fielded.
How much do you miss Vajpayee in these elections? You represent Lucknow, which had been his constituency and your style is also a bit similar to his.
I can never forget Vajpayee. I am deeply influenced by him. So far as his legacy is concerned, people like us can’t ever become become Vajpayee. He had few God-gifted things. Even today, he is respected despite not having been in active politics for the past 10 years, but people still applaud his name.
You have worked closely with both BJP prime ministers — Vajpayee and Modi. Do you find any similarities in their strengths, what makes them similar and sets them apart?
I don't think it's fair to compare any leader with another leader; you wouldn’t be doing justice with either of them. Each one has his own merits, each one has a distinct working style, and that style has its own characteristics. The two of them shouldn’t be compared with one another.
You are Modi's contemporary. You had been party president when he was the prime ministerial face of the BJP and now you are home minister, practically in the Number Two position at the Centre. How are your relations with him?
Our relationship remains the same as it was. But yes, we all must be conscious of the fact that he is our prime minister. Maryada and shistachar (protocols, dignity and discipline) have to be honoured. I too am mindful of that.
Updated Date: Mar 02, 2017 14:32 PM