Uma Bharti, 52, is no stranger to political battles. And she is up for a decisive combat once again. Facing an all-too-familiar task, the firebrand leader must take on political opponents both within and outside the party.
Thus, six months and seven additional kilos since being re-inducted into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it is quite clear that no cakewalk is in store for her. What's more, she has been tasked with shoring up the party's fortunes in Uttar Pradesh where its graph has been dipping for five successive elections since 1999.
Amidst taking calls and meeting party workers, a rather tired looking Bharti settled down on a plastic chair at the VVIP guesthouse in Lucknow to speak to Hindustan Times. Excerpts:
Q: You are regarded as an outsider in UP by many BJP leaders. Without their cooperation, what chance do you have of making an impression during the UP polls?
I am certainly not an outsider. Not many may be aware that I almost became the in-charge of the 1991 BJP campaign in UP and eventually had a role in finalising the party's chief minister. Again in 2001, as a union minister, I had the responsibility of being the minister in-charge of the state. Even when Rajnath Singhji became the UP chief minister, I was the minister in-charge from Atalji's side. And when I was thrown out of the BJP, UP never accepted it. I took out a Ram-Roti padyatra till Ayodhya and was given a rousing reception in Lucknow by the people who included several BJP leaders.
Q: But don't you feel you are being treated like one (an outsider)?
That's a misconception. The party and its leaders here have welcomed me.
Q: Do you miss Madhya Pradesh?
The village I was born in is sandwiched between Tikamgarh district in Madhya Pradesh and Lalitpur in UP. That's another reason why I have never felt like an outsider here. I am as much part of UP, as of Madhya Pradesh.
Q: In your public meetings in Lucknow, you had tried to assuage the fears of the BJP leaders, reciting the following lines: mein tere angan ki tulsi hoon, kya tera mein le jaaongi, tujhko kuchh mein de jaaongi …
(Intervening) … lekin mein nahin jaaongi …(laughs)
Q: So is Uma Bharti saying that she is in UP for keeps? That she is going to stay on even after the state assembly polls?
Yes. I am here to stay. The first alphabet of my name is that of Uttar Pradesh too - U!
Q: Is Uma Bharti attempting an image makeover from being a fiery sadhvi to a rather subdued one?
I believe that one keeps on growing till 50 years. I have matured now. I used to be very hyperactive, still am. After being expelled from the BJP, I realised how precious the party was for me. I missed my family badly. I don't want to reflect on the past anymore. If anything, I want to atone for my sins by gifting UP to BJP. That would be my penance, my return gift to the party. If BJP wins UP, you would see me dancing. I would be the happiest person on earth, if the BJP does well.
Q: But how realistic are the BJP's chances in UP?
Very realistic. We are a serious contender to the Uttar Pradesh throne. The Samajwadi Party is a photostat copy of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party. The Congress has a lot to explain on the issue of corruption. We are
Q: You were a product of the temple movement of the 90s. At Ayodhya in November, you had spoken of Gandhi's Ram Rajya which had room for all, including Muslims. Is this a subtle attempt to woo the politically important minorities in the run-up to the UP polls, especially as the temple issue has lost political appeal?
Among the first few things that I did after entering UP since my re-induction was to visit the mother of Razia (name changed), the girl who was raped and hanged inside a police station in Nighasan in east UP. It was only later, while talking to her mother, that I realised that I was among Muslims. That would continue to be our approach. We will address their concerns, but not in the manner of the Congress which is trying to woo them with a quota within quota for Muslims on religious grounds. This is dangerous. At the same time, we wish to assure the community that we are not monsters out to eat them up. Look at all the BJP-ruled states where Muslims are doing better than other states. We envisage a similar lifestyle for Muslims here as well. As regards temple, it continues to be on our agenda. We want it resolved in the interest of both the Hindus and the Muslims.
Q: The BJP leaders have been repeatedly stating that they won't give support to the BSP after the polls. But, in the event of a fractured mandate, what if the BSP agrees to support the BJP? Would your party accept the offer then?
No. I don't think so. There is no question of any pre or post-poll alliance with anyone. The BJP intends to go it alone in the UP polls.
Q: There is considerable hype over who would be the party's CM candidate. Are you in contention?
I am doing the job that the party has entrusted me with.