Interview with Pramod Mahajan, general secretary, BJP.
Pramod Mahajan, the Bharatiya Janata Party's general secretary in charge of party affairs in Maharashtra, is the architect of its Assembly election campaign in the State. He spoke to Dionne Bunsha about the BJP's strategy for the coming elections. Excerpts:
What is the BJP's strategy for the Maharashtra Assembly elections?
This is a regular election. So naturally, the main issue is the performance of the incumbent government. We feel it is the most non-performing and corrupt government Maharashtra has ever seen. There are four or five factors: The number of farmers who have committed suicide is the highest since the creation of Maharashtra. That itself shows the plight of the farmers. The number of Adivasi children who died owing to malnutrition is the highest [in the State]. It even prompted Sonia Gandhi to visit the State, which shows the gravity of the situation.
Maharashtra completed its rural electrification in the 1960s. But now there is unprecedented load-shedding in the State. Rural Maharashtra is not getting electricity for around eight to 10 hours every day. In the past few years, the government has put a ban on recruitment, which has led to large-scale unemployment. With riots and bomb explosions I don't have to explain the deteriorating law and order situation. Last but not the least, right from Telgi to sugar, you have had a scandal almost every month for the past five years.
All these factors put together have led to resentment in the people's mind. That is why even during the Lok Sabha election unlike the 1999 election, the Congress and NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] fought together. Still, we were able to snatch 25 seats. Although there is a tough battle ahead, I think there is an advantage for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.
Despite these problems, why has the BJP taken out the Tiranga Yatra and brought forward issues like Savarkar and Afzal Khan's tomb?
As far as the Afzal Khan issue is concerned, it was not raised by the BJP. The VHP takes up such programmes throughout the country. None of the BJP leaders made any statement nor did anyone from the BJP participate in it. I don't think Afzal Khan is an issue.
As regards tiranga or Savarkar, both of them have nothing to do with the Maharashtra government. It was brought up by the Congress. Something happened in Andaman and Savarkar, being a national hero and very special to Maharashtra, it was discussed for the last few weeks. Similarly, since Uma Bharati's yatra is going from Karnataka to Jallianwala Bagh, it would naturally pass through Maharashtra for a couple of days.
We have emphatically said that whether Savarkar or tiranga, these are issues of national importance, but as far as Maharashtra elections are concerned, they are not fought on these issues.
How would you judge the success of the Tiranga Yatra?
How would I know? Why should I judge it? Overall it seems that people are receiving the yatra enthusiastically. But nowadays, I am concentrating on the Maharashtra elections and am not commenting on anything but that.
A section of the media is repeatedly bringing up Savarkar and tiranga, when I am saying repeatedly that these are not my issues. These may be issues of national importance, but they are not an issue for the Maharashtra elections.
In which regions do you think there will be a tough fight?
I see a good lead in Vidarbha, a slender lead in Marathwada and north Maharashtra. We will lag behind in western Maharashtra. I see a good lead in Konkan. And, I feel that Mumbai is the key. For Mumbai, I would normally have predicted a very strong lead. But after losing five Lok Sabha seats, I am keeping my fingers crossed. From rural Maharashtra, we will come with a lead to the gates of Mumbai. If we maintain the same lead in Mumbai, we will enter Mantralaya or we will stand outside. That is my assessment.
After the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP decided to focus on Hindutva. How does that translate into tactics on the ground level?
These are national issues. One must understand that elections are separate. Ideological issues are not tested every time in elections. I am of the firm opinion that ideological issues give you reasons to be in a party and stay in that party. But you don't fight elections on ideological issues.
Elections are fought, unless it is an abnormal election, on normal daily problems - bijlee, pani, sadak (electricity, water, roads). If there is something like the Emergency or Ramjanmabhoomi andolan, at those times, the normal issues subside and emotional issues take over. I don't think that the elections in Maharashtra are fought on emotional or ideological issues.