Uttar Pradesh chief minister from 2000 to 2002 and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president between 2005 and 2009, Rajnath Singh is among the party's key campaigners for the coming elections in India's most populous and politically significant state. "There is no chief ministerial candidate for the party in UP. Uma Bharti is one among the several leading the campaign," he tells HT, opening up on a range of poll specific issues.
Is BJP lagging behind Congress in UP?
Congress is fighting the elections for staying relevant. We are fighting to form the government.
Do you think you have a chance, when reports suggest otherwise?
UP public has seen the work of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and BJP. There is no reason why they should elect SP or BSP and plenty of reasons to vote for BJP. Not a single corruption scam erupted in the state when we were in power. The BSP and SP are immersed in corruption. The latest health (NRHM) scam happened during the regime of both. And Congress is taking support from both to rule at the Centre.
Are you a contender for the chief minister's post?
No. As soon as I became the party president, I made it clear that I am no longer in contention.
Is Uma Bharti your CM candidate? Why are you reluctant to announce one in UP, unlike your practice in other states?
Uma Bharti is one of our leaders. There are others also. Kalraj Mishraji, Surya Pratap Shahi etc. In some states we announce, in some states we don't. In UP, we do not have a CM candidate.
Then why is Bharti a candidate in UP? It is unprecedented that someone who has been a chief minister of one state contests election from another.
The Bundelkhand region in UP, where she is contesting from, is contiguous to Madhya Pradesh where she was CM. She has been involved in the politics of the region for long.
Your vision document for UP is silent on Ayodhya. Have you abandoned the issue?
Ayodhya is not election issue for us. It is a national and cultural issue for us. In any case, after the Allahabad high court verdict, there is no dispute that Ram Lalla was born there.
Is opposing separate reservation for Muslim OBCs going to be a major campaign issue for you?
Caste is not a part of our agenda. Governance will be the main election plank.
Politics has taken a toll on your favourite pastime…?
We are opposed to it. When I was CM, we had sub-categorised OBCs and Dalits so that weaker sections within these groups also got the benefit of reservation. Under that system, Muslim OBCs were counted as Most Backward Communities along with some Hindu castes. Reservation cannot be based on religion.