‘Ideology is passé, Phule, Shahu, Ambedkar are poll rhetoric:’ Ram Naik | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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‘Ideology is passé, Phule, Shahu, Ambedkar are poll rhetoric:’ Ram Naik

May 02, 2024 09:08 AM IST

He represented Mumbai North for five straight terms from 1989 to 2004 and has both, a grounds’ up as well as a bird’s eye view of the city politics

Mumbai: From a wet-behind-the-ears RSS pracharak in the 1960s to Union minister for petroleum and natural gas in the Vajpayee regime followed by a five-year stint as Uttar Pradesh governor, Ram Naik has had a long and varied journey. Recently-turned 90, Naik, the 2024 recipient of Padma Bhushan, has an eagle’s eye for elections and electoral mathematics, which he calls his first love.

Mumbai. India. April 30, 2024: Former Uttar Pradesh governor and Bharatiya Janata Pary leader Ram Naik gives the pose during his interview with Hindustan Times. April 30, 2024. (Photo by Raju Shinde/HT Photo)
Mumbai. India. April 30, 2024: Former Uttar Pradesh governor and Bharatiya Janata Pary leader Ram Naik gives the pose during his interview with Hindustan Times. April 30, 2024. (Photo by Raju Shinde/HT Photo)

He represented Mumbai North in the Lok Sabha for five straight terms from 1989 to 2004 and has both, a grounds’ up as well as a bird’s eye view of the city politics like none other. Over cups of ginger tea, he spoke to Hindustan Times about the role of ideology in today’s politics, how his old constituency of Mumbai north has changed and the high point of his Parliamentary career.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What’s the big change in electioneering in the last five decades?

A: Life was less cluttered in those days, it was simpler and it reflected in the elections as well. They were contested on a shoe-string budget. During my first assembly election in 1978, I used to hop around the constituency on my creaky scooter. Things have changed now.

Do you recall how much you spent on your first election?

I can’t recall exactly except to say that I was well within the limit set by the Election Commission. You can find out from the EC archives. In those days party workers would spend from their pocket for tea and snacks. There was much camaraderie and bonhomie between political parties in those days.

There has been considerable criticism about the loss of working hours in Parliament these days because of walk-outs, disruptions and so forth.

It’s a matter of grave concern for every political party. Elected representatives need to respect every minute of the two houses. The standard of debate in the Lok Sabha too has declined over the last few years. Actually, the overall level of public discourse is worsening.

You think newly- elected MPs should be put through the paces?

We, in the BJP, have been conducting a course in democratic functioning at the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini at Uttan near Mumbai. That said, one also learns on the job as an MP. In the 1990s I got Bombay re-named as Mumbai. This was my personal initiative as an MP. Then, as you may know, every Parliament session begins with ‘Vande Mataram’ and ends with ‘Jana Gana Mana’. This happened because I had asked for a half-hour-long discussion on the issue. This was the most blazing moment of my career as MP.

On both occasions I was in the Opposition. Yet, the government agreed to consider my proposal. P. V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister then.

Doesn’t this show that the Congress government behaved generously with the Opposition?

But then so did the Opposition. The Lok Sabha buried party differences to congratulate Indira Gandhi after the Bangladesh liberation in 1971. Atalji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee), who occupied Opposition benches had showered handsome praise on Mrs Gandhi. This doesn’t happen today.

The Opposition hasn’t said a kind word for Prime Minister Modiji who has introduced a clutch of welfare measures for the people of the country. Small gestures go a long way to strengthen democratic traditions.

Maharashtra has seen considerable political turmoil and institutional deterioration after the 2019 state assembly election. Comment.

This was started by Sharad Pawar. Soon after the 2019 poll results were out he issued a statement saying that his party would honour the popular verdict and play the role of constructive Opposition in Maharashtra. However, even before the ink on that statement had dried, he persuaded Uddhav Thackeray to snap ties with the BJP. They floated the Maha Vikas Aghadi with the Congress Party in tow, throwing all democratic norms to the wind. This was against the popular mandate and thus sparked political crisis in the state.

But then BJP got into an overdrive, teamed up with Eknath Shinde to topple the MVA regime, split the Sena, and the NCP too.

What was the way out? The MVA was an aberration. They had to be brought down. It has to be tit for tat in politics.

That’s a vicious circle. That this should happen in Maharashtra, which has been weaned on egalitarian principles, does it make you sad?

Ideology is passe. Equality, social justice, Mahatma Phule, Dr Ambedkar and Shahu Maharaj have become part of the poll rhetoric. People are wary of politicians who invoke the legacy of these great men for votes. When I joined the Jan Sangh in the 1960s Maharashtra was one of the key centres of the Socialist movement. The Communists too were a force. Political parties, whether the Communists, Socialists, the Jan Sangh or the Congress, would routinely conduct study circles and workshops to groom their party workers. This isn’t happening today. Politics divorced from ideology is a matter of deep concern for me.

Why do you think it took the Mahayuti this long to finalise its Lok Sabha candidates in Mumbai? They couldn’t find good-enough people?

The party has an elaborate process of choosing its nominees. Prolonged discussions often delay the list, this is not a serious matter.

How do you make of the choice of Ujjwal Nikam as the BJP’s candidate for Mumbai north-central? He is a senior lawyer, but for the BJP rank and file he is a rank outsider.

Now that Nikam has joined the BJP, he is our party functionary. Second, the party thinks it will profit from Nikam’s expertise in the field of law. Political parties are always eager to spread their net wide. Journalists, film personalities and sportsmen have been elected to the Lok Sabha in the past.

But trusted BJP ‘karyakartas’ may feel slighted.

True, but such cases are few. The BJP is a well-knit party.

How has Mumbai North changed in recent years ?

Earlier, it was a massive tract of land, 113 km between Jogeshwari and Tarapur. The Palghar assembly constituency boasted Adivasi-tribal population, while Vasai-Virar had a high percentage of the Koli (fishermen) community and Christians.

Mumbai North shed its rural character following the redrawing of boundaries. Today, Mumbai North is spread over 13 kms, and takes in its sweep Borivali, Kandivali and Dahisar to which were added three assembly segments: Magathane, Charkop and Malavani. Mumbai North is now an urban pocket borough with a sizable Gujarati-Jain population. This has, in a way, enabled the BJP to strike roots here. Muslims constitute nearly 10 to 12 %, and are concentrated in Malwani. Marathis have a very good presence, especially in Borivali, Magathane and Dahisar.

Piyush Goyal has a clear edge over Congressman Bhushan Patil of the Maha Vikas Aghadi. The MNS, which has a good presence in the constituency, has joined Goyal’s poll campaign.

How much has the BJP changed in the years that you have been associated with it?

A whole lot, but it hasn’t swerved from the party’s aims. I think prime minister Modi has before him Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay’s ideal of integral humanism and ‘Antyoday’, the erstwhile Jan Sangh’s agenda—except that Modiji has tweaked it a bit to suit the pulls and pressures of the present times.

You sound like a BJP spokesperson.

A: (Laughs.) Of course. I am first and foremost a BJP ‘karyakarta’. Once a scout always a scout.

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