Are you famous? BJP wants you
The Bharatiya Janata Party has cornered the "space" the Congress party has occupied for decades in India and this is a good sign ahead of elections, says BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan.
In an interview, Mahajan said the opposition was rudderless even as it prepares to take on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) but admitted that Uttar Pradesh remained a source of worry for his party.
He also said his party welcomed people with "name, fame and wealth" joining politics. Excerpts:
The BJP has opened its doors to film stars, politicians and sportspersons. What message do you want to send to the people? The entry of Sanjay Gandhi's family -- Maneka and Varun -- speaks of a change of heart on the part of the BJP. How much use is this branch of the Gandhi family for the BJP?
I will start with Maneka. Yes, like (Congress party chief) Sonia (Gandhi), she acquired a Gandhi surname by marriage. She has also acquired a name and place for herself in Indian politics and social service. You may like her or you may hate her, but you cannot ignore her. She has been a minister in (Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee's government. So why don't you take Maneka as an individual?
As for Varun Gandhi , I can say from personal knowledge that he has tremendous knowledge about Indian and world politics. He is a writer and poet himself. So he is one of many young, promising Indians, who would like to make politics his mission. Looking at the qualities he has, we have favoured him. With dedication and hard work -- read my lip -- he has a bright future .
Then the others like Vivek Oberoi, (Navjot Singh) Sidhu, Jitendra, all have name, fame and wealth. They want to be in active politics. This is the 21st century and if people like them want to take to politics, what is wrong?
What kinds of issues are likely to be thrown up? Do you think development and things like that are going to get you votes in a caste-ridden society?
The basic issues are three -- Vajpayee as the leader, NDA as a stable coalition and five years of progress in the country. The rest of the things will depend upon the regional and local issues.
As far as caste is concerned, it is a common denominator for all parties. There is nothing special for the BJP. Every party does the social engineering to the best of its capacity and we will also do that. People may vote for caste but they cast their votes also. We cannot shut our eyes to the ground reality. But over and above this ground reality, the three points I mentioned gives me the winning edge.
What kind of campaign is it going to be? Will it be Sonia vs Vajpayee, directly or indirectly? Isn't the BJP following the Congress culture of depending on one person for electoral success rather than depending on the party or its performance?
We are not following any Congress culture. We are saying: Look at Vajpayee as a leader, NDA as a coalition and five years of his government's performance. At the same time, can we fight the war leaderless? We have to tell the people 'this is our general'.
We are going to the election with a crystal clear strategy . We are clear about who our leader is and who is going to be our Prime Minister, while our opponents are still in the dark. That is why I can't say it is Atalji vs Sonia because we don't know whether Sonia is their leader or not. So I have a leader, I have a coalition and I have a programme. The other side is blank on all these three and groping in the dark. So I don't know why people of the country should follow them in the dark if light is available on the other side. Sonia's foreign origin will be an issue, but it will not be the main issue.
You have set a target of 300 seats, while you are going to contest just about 350 seats altogether. Can you explain how you are going to achieve this feat? Where are you hoping to get additional seats and where do you think you may lose?
I don't think I need to explain. It is the target. Targets are always fixed. We have 182 seats and we have come second in 112 seats (in the last elections) and that makes it 300. That is one way of looking at the figure. There are many states where we don't have 100 per cent seats except Goa and Delhi. Still there is scope in Mahdya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Assam.
There is a criticism that the BJP has become the 'B' team of the Congress in every respect including leader worship.
Who says the BJP is the 'B' team of the Congress? Is Atalji a Congressman? We have been going from success to success in the last six elections. One must understand that the BJP was born in 1980. In the 1984 elections we contested for the first time and won two seats, while the Congress won 400-plus. Today the BJP is 182 strong and the Congress 112. The Congress has lost 300 seats in the process and the BJP has gained 180 seats. If this is not progress of a party, what else can be?
Also, ideological differences between various political parties are shrinking all over the world. We have already taken the Congress space.
Do you agree that unless you improve the tally in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the BJP's final tally will not go up? How are you planning to do this?
What do you mean by improving the tally in Bihar? Laloo is facing anti-incumbency of 13 years. Yes, you can say Uttar Pradesh is a challenge. From 50 seats our tally came down to 29 in 1999, a fall of 21 seats. We have to go back to our original position. There is no specific medicine for that. We are giving more attention to Uttar Pradesh. Kalyan Singh's return is also good.
What is going to be your electoral strategy? Are you depending on the divided opposition and a weak Congress to put you back in power? How do you plan to overcome the anti-incumbency factor and, in some NDA-ruled states, the double anti- incumbency?
I am depending on my leader and my party's performance. I am not depending on a divided opposition. Having said so, let me hasten to add that it is not our responsibility to make the Congress strong and the opposition united. It is their responsibility.
If anti-incumbency is a 10 per cent problem for me, it is a 90 per cent problem for the Congress, which is ruling half the country. As far as the final outcome is concerned, the Congress has to worry about anti-incumbency more than us. As far as the central government is concerned, the anti-incumbency may affect a non-performing government. In our case it will be pro-incumbency and not anti-incumbency that will work.
Are you not being complacent?
No, in fact I tell our workers to feel good but also to work hard. I am confident that it will be pro-incumbency for us.
Will the BJP have its own manifesto or will it be a common NDA manifesto?
The BJP will not have its own manifesto. With our allies we will come out with a manifesto. There may be some changes but the NDA manifesto committee and NDA convenor George Fernandes will look into this. What we have already performed we will put on our credit side and what is to be fulfilled will be put into the debit side, and the rest will be put into the promise side.
Is not the vision document being prepared by (Law Minister) Arun Jaitley a kind of BJP manifesto?
Yes. After all, the BJP is an individual party and it has some issues. As far as the government is concerned, it will be the national agenda.