'For how many years do you want the adivasis to wear their traditional finery and dance for you?'
Do you think the enthusiasm for the Muslims is going to last for the BJP?
We were given a Hindu image because the party was born out of the RSS. The Jan Sangh was born. Hindus were involved in it and so on. The Jan Sangh faded off, the Janata Party came into existence. The Janata Party broke off and the BJP came into existence. The Congress realised that we must give a certain image to the BJP for their disadvantage, so they started giving this anti-Muslim image. Right from its inception, the BJP didn't have any anti-minority policies. With this image being marketed by the media, it stopped many more Muslims from coming into the party. Today that is fading out.
Nitish Bhardwaj. Click for bigger pic!
But the Babri Masjid demolition is still so recent in Muslim memories?
I think today the most recent image is the Congress's apology. If they had not done anything in terms of the Babri Masjid demolition, what are they apologising for? They should explain. Is it for votes? If it is not a sincere apology, it is again gimmickry. If it is not that, then that means they are responsible for the demolition. Now they are victimising Narasimha Rao. He was the prime minister, but S B Chavan was the home minister. What was he doing at that time? Any such volatile decision is a Cabinet decision -- Madhavrao Scindia, Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar, Shankar Chavan were all Cabinet ministers. He has made it clear that around the Babri Masjid whatever statements were made were framed by Arjun Singh.
What about the assurance given by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh -- who is from your party -- that nothing would happen to the Babri Masjid?
But who is saying that the Babri Masjid was demolished by BJP activists? It was done by the masses. L K Advani was not even there. When mass hysteria takes place things are not in one leader's control. At that time the case was sub judice. The Congress government was at the Centre, it should have told the Allahabad high court to give the judgement before December 1. Everyone was willing to accept the judgement. Why didn't they do so? They know in their heart of hearts that they are guilty. It is the Congress and only the Congress that is responsible.
Just because the rath yatra was going on L K Advani and the BJP were given this facade, nationally and internationally, of being fanatics. If you wanted to stop it, why didn't you stop it? Why didn't you arrest him? What are you apologising for? The entire Cabinet was responsible for the demolition. Kalyan Singh resigned. That is called ethics in politics. Not sitting and continuing. After 1992 Narasimha Rao and the entire Congress government should have resigned. Why didn't they? Good they are apologising!
Bal Thackeray says a national monument should be built at Ayodhya. What is your opinion?
Big draw: The Babri issue.
My personal opinion is that for the growth of Indian society, we don't need any more friction points. Personally, I agree with Mr Thackeray. A national monument should reflect all the religions of India and should bear names of all freedom fighters who participated in the First War of Independence in 1857. I am categorically saying the First War of Independence because the British choose to call it a mutiny. It was not a mutiny. Even Karl Marx after studying the graph and scale of the uprising said it was India's first war of Independence. It should be dedicated to Rani Jhansi, Mangal Pande, Tatya Tope, Nanasaheb.
Have you had a chance to put this thought across to your party?
Not as yet. Mr Advani has said in one of his interviews that it is a good suggestion. When they actually sit together, they will decide. He has not denied the suggestion. I think that is the correct way because Ayodhya is an irritant. Finish it off. Now let's talk about issues. Something else is an irritant, finish it off in a similar manner. Find a solution. Unless we concentrate on the basic, basic issues, we cannot really achieve what we want to achieve.
You were denied a ticket in Jamshedpur this time. What was the reason that the ticket went to Abha Mahto instead?
I was not denied a ticket in Jamshedpur or anywhere else. It was my personal decision. The moment the 11th Lok Sabha was dissolved, I intimated my decision to the high command that I don't intend to contest a. from Jamshedpur and b. in this election. Bihar was in the first list, so when my name was not there people thought I was tagged along with Banwarilal Purohit, who was denied a ticket in Nagpur. After that Pramod Mahajan issued a press statement that I was not denied a ticket and it was my decision not to contest the election. He said, "We are still looking for a constituency for him." But I didn't want to contest.
As per my discussions with my high command, the party feels and I feel that if I contest I will be restricted to one constituency. I cannot travel around for the party's campaign. In my first leg, I went with the Shiv Sena. Next leg will be in Gujarat. Third, maybe Haryana. Then I come back to Maharashtra, go to UP. Both my party and me felt I will be utilised better that way.
You first said you didn't want to contest from Jamshedpur...
Nitish Bhardwaj. Click for bigger pic!
Yes, because it was very inaccessible for me. I don't live in Jamshedpur. I thought just going there for three days in a month was not enough because Bihar is ridden with problems, especially the Jharkhand belt. So you need a person from there. Abha Mahto is from there. She belongs to that community. She lives there.
Have you met her?
What do you think of her as a candidate?
I have never met her. How could I know? My constituency had two million people. How could I know her?
But she is Shailendra Mahto's wife. Surely you must have know her?
So what, she never met me. She never met me. Shailendra Mahto was also a victim. I personally feel these adivasis don't understand the way city people deal. Imagine someone is getting a bribe and he is putting it officially in a bank under his own name! These are simple and straight people. The Congress made them political victims. And they were sincere and honest enough to accept, 'ha hame liya. There are thousand of millions that the Laloo government has eaten and they are saying, "Hamne kuch nahin kiya." Compared to them, these people have two odd millions, which is nothing. Of course, I agree, a crime is a crime.
Even now Laloo is using them. Nothing will happen. I have seen that the Laloo government has given sanctions on paper for primary schools. These people went to the secretariat in Patna where they were told there was no money. "Budget mein nahin hain. Tumko de diya hai, ab tum banao." People who don't have clothes to wear, you expect them to build schools? Schools are not built by four walls alone.
The Jharkhand area has peculiar problems. It has Bihari, Oriya and Bengali speaking people. In the Oriya speaking areas, sometimes the government education ministry deploys Bengali or Hindi speaking teachers. The teacher goes on blabbering, the children don't understand anything. The true nature of maintaining and supplementing India's cultural diversity is to keep the regional culture alive, along with the national spirit.
When small children go to school, the first language they understand is their mother tongue. That is the best medium of education. I was educated that way and in no way do I think I was at a disadvantage. Today I can speak nine languages.
When Sonia Gandhi went to Nandurbar, the next day the paper carried a flowery report: "Waha ke adivasi paramparik vesh bhusha mein aye aur nritya gaan kar ke chale gaen." (The tribals came dressed in their traditional clothes. They welcomed with singing and dancing). For how many years do you want the adivasis to wear their traditional finery and dance for you? I want them to maintain their culture, but they should also be educated. They should know computers. They must know Bombay. They must know the Internet. They must know everything! That's the development the BJP stands for. That's our vision for India. It is in no way different from the vision of Mahatma Gandhi. He also had the same vision.
Bihar: Doomed by its leaders.
As an MP from Jamshedpur, what were your accomplishments?
Let me tell you something, anyone who goes to Bihar and does anything it is good for Bihar because there is nothing. There is nothing. The MP fund we are supposed to spend on roads, schools. I raised questions on the educational system of Bihar. Examinations are never conducted on time. If they are, the results are not declared on time. Since the reputation is so bad, if a genuine student comes to Bihar for admission, his certificate is sent back to verify if it is a true certificate or a bogus one.
Then there was a strike going on for three months, because of which thousands of students have suffered. And we are talking of building India and saying our children are the future of this country. This is the reality of Bihar. I personally discussed these problems with the HRD minister of the UF government. They said they would do something, but God knows what they are doing.
You cannot keep the masses illiterate. I feel the Congress and UF want to keep them illiterate
so that the man sits 10 feet away from you on the ground and looks at you with awe when you go into a helicopter. They want him to remain sitting there. They don't want to give him the strength to stand in front of you and ask you a question that why haven't you done this? The kind of healthy politics that we need is not there. How will the change occur?
Educated people must enter politics. When we were discussing this Advaniji told me, "Nitish, what happens if I don't find a constituency for you?" I said, "No problem." I don't want to be in politics because I want a ticket. My importance does not go down if I am not an MP. I have my career. I am already a public figure. What matters is my contribution to society. When this misconception was conveyed that I was denied a ticket, a big party approached me with a ticket. But overnight, I cannot change my ideology for a ticket.
Which party was this?
Star attraction: Gautami, one of the stars who joined the BJP.
I don't want to name the party. It was a big party.
You aren't disappointed...
No, not in any way. Why should I? I am campaigning for the party in a much larger area. I also had my own restriction because my own serial is to go on air, and I am the producer-director of a mega serial on the Gita. I have to do a lot of post production work and it is a major, major job. That time in Jamshedpur, it was the party's need. It was not my native place.
I had never been to Bihar before that. The party understands that my use and appeal is broader than one constituency. I have so much work after the campaign that if I stood as a candidate I would not have any time to go back to my constituency.
Artistes like Arvind Trivedi, Deepika Chikalia also contested elections and faded away. Will you be able to sustain yourself in politics?
I don't know about them. I think Deepika had some personal reasons for not continuing in politics. She is the best person to discuss that. Arvind Trivedi did contest last time, but he lost. I would like to contribute on both fronts. On television, which is a very strong medium, and on a political platform. I would use my social standing to do things that are correct through the political platform.
The four years of my stay in England and the portrayal of India on the BBC and Channel 4 has given me a desire to be active in Indian politics. I want to see the Indian cultural fabric change towards something positive. I have not joined politics to be an MP. Period.
Vinod Khanna, Vijayshanti, Gautami, Dara Singh... why does the BJP have such an affinity for film folk?
Why, the Congress had Rajesh Khanna. Dev Anand had campaigned for them years back. It is an old tradition. Dilip Kumar does it. Even Shabana. It is the artist that has the affinity, not the political parties. What you are talking about is what Raj Babbar did last time in Lucknow. He took Farah and blah, blah... on the dais. That was a show.
Don't you think political parties cash on the popularity of stars?
Nitish Bhardwaj with wife Manisha. Click for bigger pic!
Why are you saying this only in India, political parties worldwide do this. Arnold Schwarznegger belongs to a party. He campaigns for that particular party. Artistes are sensitive, they have the urge to contribute and politics is another platform through which they can contribute. Political parties realise that and they also would like to cash on that.
I saw Arnold on The Oprah Winfrey Show a couple of years back. Till then I thought of him as a muscle man, but the way he spoke on the show? He is an educated, sensible man. He made sense. I became a fan of his. After that look at him, the way he's trying different things, Junior and all that. His interview changed my perception. He's capable of talking, so what's wrong? He doesn't stand on a dais and say, "Hey, I am Conan The Barbarian, vote for Kennedy." He talks about burning issues.
If I talk about the issues of India, what's wrong? But if I go and start saying some shlokas from the Gita, he'll clap and say, "What's next, what are your issues?"
Mr Advani has promised a separate state of Vananchal, comprising of 13 districts in Bihar. Do you think such appeasement can solve regional problems?
Why do you say it is an appeasement policy? Considering the growth and multiplication of India today, it is best that there are smaller states for better administration. We need Uttarakhand. Maharashtra needs Vidharba. Vallabhbhai Patel said it is important to maintain cultural diversity, now Vidharbha has its own culture. In a large state if a special status needs to be given to a dialect, other regional languages would get ignored.
Now Vananchal has natural reserves, the benefit of which is not happening there but somewhere else. As a state, it can decide what can be done with that money. So subsidies from the government reduced, fiscal deficit of the budget reduces. Everything reflects on the deficit. Smaller states can generate more money and better governance. Implementation of programmes will be easier.
Deve Gowda promised Uttarakhand from the Red Fort on August 15, but did he even present the Bill? He said that because August 15 was very close to the 1996 UP assembly election. If you promised, why didn't you do it?
But Meghalaya became a state in 1972, how prosperous has it become?
It depends on the state assembly. On the demands made by the state from the central government. The entire North-East is so inaccessible, how will it grow? You're talking about Meghalaya, let's talk about Ranchi -- you can call it a kind of a gateway to the North-East. There was one Rashtriya Sahara and one Indian Airlines flight to Ranchi. Those flights have also gone and there are no road network. No electricity. Without infrastructure, how do you expect them to prosper? Can anyone cancel flights to the metropolitan cities? No. It is up to the state governments to make it feasible.
But infrastructure is a problem common to the whole of India...
That is why the BJP says let the MNCs come in first in infrastructure. I also eat McDonald's burgers, but do you really need a McDonald's burger for India's growth first? Let's set our priorities. We need power, roads, ports, education, population control... This is where we should be concentrating for the next 25 years. Then nobody minds a Pizza Hut coming.
Fall guy?: Narasimha Rao.
The old RSS guard is known to be disapproving about new entrants in the BJP. Have you felt any discomfort on that front?
Not as yet. But I believe the entire political system is undergoing a change. The Seva Dal, a Congress organisation, will have to undergo a little change in dealing with the society. The RSS will also have to undergo a little change. Sure they are all educated people sitting at the top. They don't need a Nitish Bhardwaj to tell them that.
They realise that and that's why they are coming out of that old shell.
In a political organisation it is very easy to convince the followers. For a non political organisation, it is not easy. They will say, "We don't want power, so why are we doing it?" They will change according to the changes in society. Now India has entered into a new age, the public psyche is changing, accordingly they will change. It will take some time.
They will not compromise on the basic structure of nationalism, culture. If we change our basic ideas on that, India will lose its identity. Just because McDonald's has come, Enron has come, we cannot just jump around Michael Jackson for 365 days of the year. Cultural indulgence in art forms is not essentially compartmentalised.
I like Ravi Shankar, Pandit Jasraj, old Hindi film songs; at the same time I listen to Michael Jackson. It is very natural for a human being to have all these things and still be Indian. I don't agree with people who say that if you listen to Michael Jackson you are westernised. I don't think so.
You said that your ideology found oneness with that of the BJP. What were the concepts that you identified with the BJP?
Number one -- cultural nationalism.
What is cultural nationalism?
Retaining India's culture. Feeling a sense of pride in being Indian through basic issues. Pride doesn't come by flag hoisting or giving a speech. Unless you give the basic necessities to the Indian people they will not feel proud. 1942 -- Mahatma Gandhi's fervour is gone. Now we are on our own.
Number two, is to treat everyone fairly and equally. I think it is very difficult to find these things in any other party.
Nitish Bhardwaj photographs: Jewella C Miranda