In a freewheeling interview with Manish Anand, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe argued that Modi has been a victim of misperception created by a section of the media and intelligentsia.
How do you decode the 2019 Lok Sabha verdict?
I believe it is a watershed verdict in the electoral history of India. Never before has identity politics been pushed to the periphery so convincingly. There’s a new phrase which has taken the centre stage and which has everything to do with emerging aspirational India — and that is about development nationalism. PM Narendra Modi, in one of his speeches, has elaborately explained — Is Swachh Bharat not nationalism? Is ‘Make in India’ not nationalism? People kept on asking us whether it’s (poll plank) development or nationalism, as if they’re anti-thesis of each other. I believe we can take legitimate pride in our national identity if we’re a developed country. And if we’re to be a developed country, the journey has to begin from when we take pride in our national identity. Without that, how can you work for the nation? In that sense, I think this is a watershed verdict that has changed the grammar of Indian politics.
The BJP has been able to improve its vote share from 32 per cent to 37.5 per cent. Where does the party go from here?
One factor is clear — that the BJP has emerged as the central pole in Indian politics. Earlier, when we started our journey with the Jan Sangh, we were confined to a particular section of society. Now, we have come a long way and there’s no section of society which doesn’t look at the BJP as its own party. We’re rightly described as a cadre-based party with a mass following.
Is the BJP a beneficiary of the leadership vacuum in the Opposition?
I don’t think that it’s (leadership) vacuum, but (lack of) a sense of purpose which the Opposition could have worked with. They didn’t come up with an alternative narrative. When we were talking of performance and development, I don’t recall the Congress coming up with different model of development citing some examples from their track record, which I think should be huge since they had been in power for about 55 years and are still in power in seven states. But the Congress, unfortunately, failed to provide an identifiable and distinct model of development.
They’re still in the old days of capitalism, socialism and things like that. The world has moved beyond. In our society, all such labels have become meaningless. Had the Congress and Opposition truly worked on a distinct narrative encompassing all issues which are critical for the people of the country... this perception about vacuum wouldn’t have existed. After all, their vote share is not very insignificant even now. Congress continues to be a Grand Old Party with four states under its rule.
PM Modi has said he would not take decisions with ill-will. What do you make of it?
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and this government have been painted with the brush of prejudices... This is not the first time he has spoken. In fact, in one of his speeches in Parliament, he had said that we are human beings and may commit mistakes but our intentions should not be doubted. He has repeated that and that much of confidence and trust we must allow him and the BJP.
Modi also said that two decades of the politics of secularism is now on the margins. What’s your comment?
First of all, the presumption that a particular section of society has not been able to use its tactical vote base to stop a party from winning elections is a contestable proposition. The practicality of judgment to decipher what’s good and wrong with rationality is with every section of society. That they would behave in a particular way when it comes to voting is just not possible.
Having said that, I think Ambedkar’s formula for marginalised sections — that of economic empowerment — is equally applicable to others. Not for no reason had he appealed to the young members of the Scheduled Castes that they had to become job creators through economic enterprise. This is applicable for the minority community as well. Besides, this government has done wonderful work for economic empowerment of the Muslims and other marginalised sections.
The ‘liberal’ voice within the intelligentsia has a lot of apprehensions with the kind of mandate the BJP has got. What’s your message for them?
I would only say that please remove your blinkers and look at the performance of the Modi government and do justice to whatever the government has done. Unfortunately, PM Modi is more sinned against than sinning and he has been a victim of misperception wantonly created by a section of the media and intelligentsia. Which is why, a certain section is not doing justice to the work he has done and resolutely achieved in his first term. I believe if one does an objective performance audit of the government, there would be many things one would find worth praising.
The 2019 mandate has also pushed dynasty-based political outfits to the margins. How do you look at their positions?
The point they have perhaps missed is the changing contour of Indian politics. If today you’re continuing with discussions that Jatavs or Vokkaliggas would vote this way, this is abysmally wrong... Such identity based political outfits should be working for every strata of society and every geographical region.
You’ve been party in-charge for Madhya Pradesh. Will the Kamal Nath government stay in power?
The Kamal Nath government came to power with a wafer-thin majority. The performance of this government isn’t satisfactory, whether it’s waving the farm loans or giving unemployment doles. Law and order situation is also not good. Their performance doesn’t create confidence in the minds of the people. That is why people have given a resounding mandate to the BJP (in the Lok Sabha polls). Anything can happen.
Has Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s victory vindicated the BJP’s stand on the issue of ‘Hindu terrorism’?
It was a symbolic fight in the face of vote bank politics which created a case in which Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur was implicated.
The Congress, particularly Digvijaya Singh, in their pursuit to gain from vote bank politics, sought to put the blame on other sections of society for terrorism. Out of this mindset, they created the slogan of ‘Hindu terrorism’ and Pragya Thakur went through the kind of ordeal which is an example of how innocent people were tried in fabricated cases... Her decisive win has busted the conspiracy of ‘Hindu terrorism’.
What’s your wish list of reforms in agriculture?
The Prime Minister and his government are acutely conscious that so much of reform works which are already in the pipeline would improve the situation in agriculture. The sector requires many more reforms in the field of irrigation, agri-based businesses which are already on the agenda of the government.
The BJP’s Sankalp Patra talks of Rs 100 lakh crore investment in infrastructure and Rs 25 lakh crore in agriculture. Are these figures realistic?
These are matters of detail. It may happen in phases as well. The manifesto is for five years and there is every reason to believe that practical calculations must have gone behind the figures mentioned in the Sankapl Patra.
Would there be changes in the BJP after the massive verdict?
Change is the only constant in human life. With the installation of the new government, there would be some changes within the BJP as well.
You’re heard within the party on foreign policy issues. What are your expectations?
We have said in so many words in our manifesto that India has been asking for greater democratisation of world bodies, including the United Nations so that the voices of the developing countries gain more prominence. In the last five years under the Modi government, India has marched ahead on development diplomacy in the field of international solar alliance and climate change and it may continue doing so.