‘Will remove Article 370, it blocks integration of Kashmiris’: Ram Madhav
In an interview with Sunetra Choudhury, Bharatiya Janata Party’s national general secretary Ram Madhav spoke extensively on Kashmir, where he was one of the architects of the BJP forming an alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party in 2015 that broke down last year.
Q. You’ve been touring Jammu and Kashmir, where there’s anger against the BJP’s position on Article 35A and Article 370. Is there a divergence of opinion between you and other BJP leaders on this point? Your party leaders have spoken about doing away with both while you have been talking about a resolution through discussions.
A. No question because removal of Article 370 has been the core conviction of our party, right from the beginning. We are all committed to removal of Article 370 because we see it as a big hinderance in the process of emotional integration of the people of Kashmir valley with the rest of the country. It creates an emotional barrier.
About the process, yes, it has to go to parliament. That’s why it has taken so long and we are unable to see it happen. Article 35A is before the Supreme Court of India, let the court take a view because our main contention against it is that it was introduced in a surreptitious and illegal manner.
Interview I Ram Madhav on BJP’s post poll strategy, alliances and more
Q. The court seems to be very clear in not disrupting the status quo.
A. I don’t know what line the court will finally take but it is true that the legal process is taking time. If not today or tomorrow, the court will take a view on that.
Our case, by our I mean those who have gone to court, is very strong. Any amendment to the Constitution is the prerogative of Parliament but in this case, it was introduced through a Presidential proclamation. Presidential office, although very respected, doesn’t enjoy that power. That is the crux, it is a technical issue.
Q. Your former ally, the Peoples Democratic Party, says that BJP leaders make statements about doing away with 370 and 35A but let them come to the Valley and say it. Isn’t it true that you say something else there? Will you accept this challenge?
Valley is very much a part of India. What we say in Delhi or Srinagar or wherever, we say the same thing. I have said it myself. Sometimes media picks up a statement which is convenient for them, to say no, no, somebody has taken a slightly moderate stand. Our stand is very clear and we are committed to removing it.
Q, So is it just about politics?
A. No no, no politics. That’s why I said it in the beginning itself. It is one of our core convictions.
Q. In retrospect, when you think of it, as one of the architects of the BJP-PDP alliance, was it a mistake?
A. There was a peculiar political mandate in 2014 which created a situation where there was no alternative to these two parties coming together and forming the government. Otherwise, it was going to be President’s rule again and elections again. We felt since there was a mandate by the people, why not respect it, we attempted a coalition. We had a common minimum programme that spelt out our differences also... Remember, there was no compulsion to leave the government excepting the fact that in the larger national interest, we felt that continuing in that government is not serving the larger cause of the country. We simply walked out. We did not make any compromises.
Q. So, it was a mistake?
A. Not at all. This was a mandate to be respected. And when it didn’t work, we walked out. We walked out of Janata Party in 1980. Was it a mistake to join Janata Party in 1977? I would say no.
Q. There seems to be a divergence of opinion. The Prime Minister said so because he called the alliance “a mahamilawat’’ (grand adulteration)?
A. No no, Prime Minister did say that there was a mandate, a peculiar mandate, which ought to be respected by everybody. That’s why we attempted it. Ultimately we felt that no, we cannot.
Q. I think the word he used is “mahamilawat.” So he obviously thinks it was a complete mistake?
A. No no, you are only taking one sentence of his interview. Prime Minister Modiji was very much part of the decision and he was there when the government was formed. So there is no question of anybody saying that the whole effort was wrong.
Q. So there were compromises?
A. No, no, I am not saying there were compromises. The larger national interest calls for such alliances. We had samyukt vidhayak dal in 1967-68 where socialists and Jan Sangh worked together, arch rivals ideologically worked together for larger goal. In 1977, we merged Jan Sangh with Janata Party but in 3 years we realized it was a blunder. We came out and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party. So certain experiments are (being done) because of certain historical reasons.
Q. So what about the present allies and their open defiance of your stand? Nitish Kumar’s party has brought out a resolution saying abrogation of 35A is completely wrong. Isn’t that a problem?
A. No. Once Supreme Court takes a view, whether it is our allies or adversaries, everybody has to respect that view. As far as Article 370 is concerned, our view is not new. We have not articulated our view after we formed alliances, it has been there right from the days of Jan Sangh. Everybody who has aligned with us today or did so for some time, whether it was Omar Abdullah or Farooq Abdullah did they not know that we had our ideological commitment? They knew but today they may say anything.
Q. They say it was 2002 that was the turning point, that’s what Omar Abdullah has said.
A. No, everybody needs a convenient reason to then find a separate path.
Q. Forget Article 370 for a moment and let’s talk about the allies. Nitish Kumar bringing out a resolution right now, isn’t that problematic? Going into an election where numbers could go any which way, isn’t this something that could break you?
A. Firstly, things are not going to go any which way. They are only going in one direction of PM Modi returning to power with absolute majority at the Centre. Number 2, these are not new things. In any case, we will cross this bridge when we reach it. We are not worried about it.
Q. But the fact that they brought this resolution out in election time, isn’t that problematic?
A. Fair enough, that could be their conviction. Probably their party has a view and it’s a democracy, every party has the right to its view.
Q. What do you make of the video that has gone viral of the Prime Minister singing Vande Mataram and Nitish Kumar not joining in?
A. I haven’t noticed it, I am sorry. But I don’t make anything of it. They are our alliance partners, we are together and we are contesting elections in Bihar together. And when we come to the stage of discussing issues, we will discuss it.
Q. But doesn’t it show that on major issues, whether it is Akalis or JD(U), there is a sense of discomfort with the BJP?
A. Those who know about alliances understand that alliances are about adjustments, about understanding of differences. If everybody thinks alike, why should there be many parties.
Q.So you are confident that whatever happens, JD(U) is sticking with you?
A. I sincerly hope that we will sail together.
Q. Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has said that there were multiple surgical strikes. PM Modi has now said that by saying this, he’s just being “me too’’. Some people feel that this is playing down the achievements of the soldiers and people who were involved.
A. Firstly, let the Congress party now stop criticising us for politicising the actions of the military. Now that their own former Prime Minister came forward to say they did, or so and so did. I saw Army give a reply last year that they have not with regard to surgical strikes all these years. Army doesn’t know, nation doesn’t know, Parliament doesn’t know, it is only known to former PM Manmohan Singh. Such mysterious surgical strikes if they happened, we do not know.
Today more than we, the BJP, it is the opposition which is trying to make Balakot and surgical strikes an electoral issue. By raising questions over it, by challenging the claims of not BJP but the Army itself. As far as we are concerned, we are focusing on five years of Modiji’s governance and five years of Modi ji as leader for this country. That’s our focus in election.
Q. But listening to election speeches, it doesn’t seem like that? It seems like security is your main issue. You are not even speaking about Ujjwala or other schemes.
A. Are you saying that if PM Modi speaks for 30 minutes, he is only speaking about national security? No. You please listen to his speeches. He talks about so many good programmes that he has undertaken in the last five years.
Q. But every news item talks about polarisation, about the (surgical) strikes, about the Citizenship Ammendment Bill, which is also not the development agenda.
A. Absolutely. You are mistaken completely. National Register of Citizens (NRC) was about development. Are you saying that the AGP’s agitation and those taken by AASU and other organisations was not about development of Assam? It is all about their livelihood and how it is being threatened because of infiltration.
Q. But AGP left you on this?
A. AGP is there in the alliance today. We are fighting the election together.
Q. They came back. But your leaders are saying if we don’t have this act then Assam will go to Jinnah. That’s not development, that’s polarisation.
A. I don’t know which leader you are talking about. We are talking about NRC as an essential commitment. Not just we, but Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru gave it to Assam. The first act for promulgation of NRC was made by Nehru in 1951? It’s another matter that Congress didn’t have the courage to implement it.
Q. It has torn apart the Northeast?
A. Not really. You are exaggerating, there was no tearing apart. Northeast is intact. We had the most peaceful election in Northeast.
Q. But your allies like the AGP and Conrad Sangma in Meghalaya walked out over it?
A. That’s because they had certain apprehensions. We tried to clarify these apprehensions by saying that the identities of people in different groups of the Northeast shall not be compromised. We know the importance of protecting the identity of culture and language, we gave them full assurance. They are fully with us. Conrad Sangma was present when Prime Minister Modi filed his nomination in Varanasi.
Q. Final question, you said you don’t need kingmakers, you are feeling very comfortable. But where will you get the numbers?
A. First of all, we have the king so we do not need any kingmakers. You said about Northeast, BJP’s strength will at least double there. We are hoping to get 14-15 seats for the BJP plus our alliance partners, we will get 20 out of 25 seats. In Assam, we are hoping to win all 10 seats we are contesting. We are getting many seats from Odisha and Bengal and Karnataka is going to give us more seats. We are hoping to pick up more seats in Telengana where we have one but we might pick up a couple more. So overall we are not expecting any big losses.
Q. UP will be a loss because of the arithmetic.
A. If at all we lose, we will lose only very few seats in the states we have gained maximum. We are trying to maintain our numbers in places like Kashmir and other states. If there is a shortfall, we will make up in states like Bengal.
Q. In case it doesn’t work, are you in touch with Biju Janata Dal, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Jagan Reddy of the YSR Congress?
A. Our best case scenario is 2014 performance, our worst case scenario is together with the National Democratic Alliance. We will get 300 seats.
Q. But are you in touch?
A. Rest of it is strategy and strategy is not discussed in front of cameras. Anybody else is welcome to walk into NDA.