‘Varun not BJP’s benchmark’

Interview ~ Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP spokesperson

by Bappaditya Paul

A former Union minister, Rajiv Pratap Rudy is now a national spokesperson of the BJP. Mr Rudy recently spoke to BAPPADITYA PAUL on the post-poll controversies that are pilloring the BJP and the saffron brigade’s plan for rejuvenation.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP spokesperson

After 2004, this time too, you lost the Lok Sabha election against Lalu Prasad. What really went wrong?

I must appreciate one point: whatever be the impression about Mr Prasad outside, in the past five years, his contribution to the parliamentary constituency of Chhapra (Saran) has been immense.

I don’t think in any district of Bihar, ever since Independence, so much investment was proposed with several railway projects to the tune of over Rs 8,000 crore. So, a parliamentary constituency getting so large an investment probably had a positive impact on the electorate in Mr Prasad’s favour.

Yet, I increased my vote share by about one lakh from the previous election. Out of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar, there are 26 seats where the winning candidates got less votes than me.

That’s why, I lost the election, but don’t stand defeated.

But wouldn’t these repeated failures affect your political career?

No, I don’t think so. My party chose to pitch me against Mr Prasad because I was considered the fittest one to take on a leader of his stature.

I may have lost, but the fact remains that my candidature from Saran created a real buzz and everyone was forecasting Mr Prasad’s defeat in the seat. Even Mr Prasad was so unsure of his win from Saran that he was compelled to contest from the Patna constituency also as a fallback plan.

And the deceptive wave that Mr Prasad is losing in Saran adversely affected his party’s poll prospects across Bihar. So, I virtually became a martyr and my martyrdom in Saran gave victory to the ruling NDA in the state.

Coming to the BJP’s poor show in this Lok Sabha election, what according to you went wrong?

It was because of the pre-election contradictions, clearly visible now, that we could not fare as expected in the polls.

But I personally feel that following the party’s National Executive meeting in Delhi on 21-22 June, the contradictions have more or less been sorted out.

All the grievances have been vented. All those view points, which were not taken into consideration earlier, were considered and those aspects, which are important for the party to reorganise itself, have been taken note of.

I believe things are falling in line now and we have the stamina to face the defeat and start the resurgence process.

But post-election, a serious question is occupying the public space. That is, which Hindutva the BJP stands for ~ the “inclusive” Hindutva that the party puts on record or Varun Gandhi’s brand of Hindutva that seems to be in practice?

It is really a sad situation that we need to define Hindutva again and again, especially in the BJP. The BJP and the RSS have always talked of Hindutva in the inclusive sense.

The inclusive Hindutva , which talks of tolerance, which talks of giving space to all religious denominations. We talk of constitutional propriety; we talk about nationalism or Indianism, which is part of a larger geo-cultural concept.

For us, all these sum up to a tolerant Hindutva and there is no scope for fundamentalism in it.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy BJP

But Varun Gandhi’s speeches during the campaign did not toe this line.

Absolutely not. (What Varun said) was never the party line and I say it categorically.

Why didn’t the BJP stop Varun when he went on making speeches violating the party line?

The party disassociated itself from his words. We were against the National Security Act being imposed on him, but no one at any given point of time endorsed his speeches.

Yet the BJP did not deny him a ticket?

That does not happen in politics. If an individual commits a mistake then there are processes in the party (based) on which, one has to take a decision.

The fact that the NSA was imposed on Varun created a situation that he had to be given the opportunity (to contest on party ticket). But we have categorically said that any individual should not become so important that he makes an ideological benchmark.

Varun is not a benchmark for the BJP’s ideology, but if you want to make him a benchmark, it is for you to decide and not us.

In an interview to NDTV, Jaswant Singh too has said that there was ambiguity on the BJP’s definition of Hindutva. How does the party response to that?

Mr Singh raised the issue prior to the party National Executive meeting in Delhi. But when the National Executive took place on 21-22 June, it was again reiterated that when the BJP talks about Hindutva ~ it is the inclusive one.
Mr Singh is now completely convinced, for he only wanted this explanation.

What about Yaswant Sinha? He has resigned from party positions calling for the top brass to take responsibility for the poll defeat.

He has expressed his point of view, and I think he did cross, emotionally trespassed, his own position by tendering resignation from party posts and that’s why his resignation was instantly accepted.

But what about the point that he has raised?

There are many issues that are raised and all such issues were raised openly during the National Executive meeting. But Mr Sinha made his point prior to the meeting and tendered his resignation.

If he was there at the National Executive, he could have raised the issue. But he crossed the emotional barrier and that was a mistake.

As far as fixing the responsibility for the electoral defeat is concerned, the National Executive heard all viewpoints and then gave LK Advani a full mandate to act on those.

While the party has removed Uttarakhand chief minister BC Khanduri for the poll debacle in that state, no heads are rolling at the central level?

The change of leadership in Uttarakhand was in consideration much before the parliamentary elections. It is not an outcome of the defeat. The change in leadership there cannot be exclusively attributed to as fixing the responsibility for poll debacle.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP spokesperson

What about the issue of passing the party leadership to younger hands?

This is a wrong question being posed. The BJP possibly has the largest spectrum of young leaders and the party does not only have first general leaders; we already have in place the second generation or third generation leaders and the fourth generation is just behind.

We have or had chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Vasundhara Raje, Sushil Kumar Modi or for that matter Narendra Modi ~ they are all young and can easily be categorised as the second or third generation leaders. Then we had several young Union ministers whether it was me, Shahnawaz Hussain, Ravi Shankar Prasad ~ many of them.

So, to say that there is a resistance in the BJP to allow the second generation leaders to come forward, is wrong. The second and third generation leaders are already playing very critical roles in the party.

By simply positioning someone in the Congress party who is a part of the dynastic rule, does not mean that the BJP which has hard groomed individuals, do not have a young face.

Can Narendra Modi be the BJP’s future face?

Well, Mr Modi is the chief minister of Gujarat and I think he has done very well there.

So you are not endorsing Mr Modi as the party face?

I am not the right person to decide his fate and being the party spokesperson, I cannot give my personal opinion.

Lastly, what are the BJP’s rejuvenation plans after this electoral rout?

It is not a rout; it’s a setback. The people of India have given the BJP the mandate to be the principal Opposition party and we still run six state governments.

The National Executive has chalked out an action plan that begins with the new membership drive and then organisational elections.

(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This interview originally appeared in The Statesman on 11 July 2009)

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