Rajnath Singh is a busy man, balancing his poll duties with those of the home minister. The senior BJP leader is keeping a hectic schedule as five states vote for new assemblies.
Uttar Pradesh is a high-stakes battle for the party and for Singh it is personal too -- his son, Pankaj, makes his electoral debut from Noida. But Singh didn’t visit Noida even once, he left it to his wife, Savitri Singh.
The party’s decision to field Pankaj invited accusations of dynastic politics, a charge the BJP has always hurled at the Congress. “Can you find any one family with dozens of MPs and MLAs in the BJP,” counters Singh.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times on Wednesday, the 65-year-old leader talks about wide-ranging issues, including the demand for him to return as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Q: Are you worried about losing UP like you lost Bihar?
No. UP will in fact compensate for the loss in Bihar.
Q: Will UP elections have a bearing of BJP’s national plans?
Our strength in the Rajya Sabha will go up by half a dozen and our 2019 (Lok Sabha) win will be sure.
Q: The BJP is short of experienced leaders for the chief minister’s position. Are you under pressure to move from the Centre to state politics?
We have so many leaders in our party. There is no reason to think on those lines. MLAs will elect one.
Q: What if the party high command or MLAS want you to return as the chief minister?
I don’t think MLAs will make any such demand though I am very close to them. But the parliamentary board will meet and decide.
Q: Will BJP give a woman chief minister to the state?
Let the MLAs decide.
Q: Are you going to give a young chief minister as the Congress-SP alliance represents the youth power?
It is not a question of young or old. What is important is the leader’s efficiency, image. He should be hard working and a visionary.
Q: After the SP-Congress tie-up, the BJP is being described as an aging party.
To be young is a merit but for a state like UP, you need a leader with vision, capability to understand the state and its requirements. We are going to bring a change in the system to minimise corruption.
Q: You think Akhilesh Yadav failed to deliver as he’s young?
I don’t want to talk about individuals but the whole government and its efficiency. The SP government led by Akhilesh Yadav was not decisive and it failed on governance front.
Q: According to an ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms) report, the BJP has the most candidates with a criminal record in UP.
No one can be dubbed a criminal just because cases are slapped on the person for taking part in a dharna or a protest demonstration.
Q: While your party raises issues such as “love jihad”, the manifesto promises a re-look at triple talaq.
Issues like love jihad, migration are not party issues, they have been raised by individuals.
Q: Is the BJP indulging communal polarisation?
No, the accusation is baseless and usually levelled by those who are communal themselves.
Q: If the election throws up a hung House, will you revive your ties with Mayawati to form government or prefer President’s Rule?
It’s a hypothetical question. We are getting absolute majority and will form government with our smaller allies. People are going to reject both the SP and the BSP as they have not kept their promises while credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP is high.
They approve of demonetisation even though they suffered for some time and they appreciate the surgical strikes. People know that under Modi’s leadership India is growing into an economic superpower.
Q: But voters have rejected the BJP for 14 years and preferred to go with regional players.
There is a reason. Public did not approve of our alliance with the BSP.
Q: What are the issues in this election?
People want development and governance. Local issues are also important.
Q: You are talking about a loan waiver now. You could have made the provision in the budget.
As elections were round the corner, we avoided making such promises. But as the agriculture minister, I had reduced loan interest rates for farmers.
Q: The BJP has been the loudest critic of dynastic politics. But children of many party leaders, including your son Pankaj, are in the fray. Is dynastic politics an issue?
We do not promote family politics but we don’t even deny opportunity to deserving and dedicated party workers only because they belong to a political family.
Q: In your election speeches, you ask people to rise above caste, communities and religion but the BJP has not fielded even one Muslim candidate in UP.
The sense of fear among Muslims is gradually giving way to a sense of confidence. Now, Muslims are looking at the BJP positively. We are coming to power. We will identify talent and give them their due. We much rather sit in opposition than divide society along religious lines.
Q: The BJP is losing in Punjab. What about other states?
We are getting absolute majority in Goa, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Despite media reports I am not ruling out the possibility of a clear majority in Punjab also.
Q: Do you think the party faulted in continuing alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal?
We don’t believe in breaking our relationship with our allies. Senior Badal (Parkash Singh Badal) is a very respected politician of Punjab.