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The Rediff Interview/Manohar Joshi
July 14, 2004
Despite his defeat in the Lok Sabha election from his Mumbai North-Central constituency in May, former Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi was considered a shoo-in for the Rajya Sabha, what with his seniority in the Shiv Sena and his political experience.
But to Joshi's shock, that did not happen.
Joshi was the first Speaker of the Lok Sabha from the Sena, and his elevation gave his party much-needed respectability at the national level. His candidature surprised many, but few opposed the suave Joshi, except for the Communists, old enemies of the Sena.
Earlier, as minister for heavy industry in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government, Joshi was criticised for stalling the reform process with his objections to divestment that neglected workers' interests.
Currently, Joshi does not have any responsibility in the party, but apparently remains an active source of strength for Sena leader Bal Thackeray.
After the Sena's two-day executive meeting in Aurangabad last weekend, Joshi spoke exclusively to Senior Correspondent Vijay Singh.
What type of changes can we see in the Shiv Sena after this two-day executive meeting?
Right now we don't have any agenda of change in the party's executive body. This meeting was only to take a decision on the party's policies in Maharashtra in view of the forthcoming assembly election (due in September-October).
When Uddhav Thackeray [youngest son of Sena leader Bal Thackeray] became working president, the party adopted a softer line on the minorities. But now you have decided to revert to an aggressive Hindutva ideology. How do you define these changes?
We have always stood by our agenda of Hindutva. Even now we are following the same thing. I don't think there was any change in the party's ideology after Uddhav became working president. Hindutva has been our ideology since 1985, when we fought a by-election in Mumbai and our candidate, Dr Ramesh Prabhu, won. We have been consistent with our agenda since then.
But the party had visibly softened its stand against the minorities. Sena candidates even sought their votes in the May parliamentary election.
We are consistent on our Hindutva ideology. That does not mean we oppose the Muslims. We just desire that people living in this country should not betray it. This is not just for Muslims. The same thing applies to Hindus as well. We hate all those people who betray our country, no matter what religion they profess.
Who will lead your election campaign during the assembly election in Maharashtra?
Our election campaign will be lead by party chief Bal Thackeray along with other senior party leaders.
Is the party satisfied with Uddhav Thackeray's performance in the general election? [The working president had run the party's campaign.]
The media underestimated us in the parliamentary election, but we won 12 seats, and we are satisfied with our performance. We had 15 seats earlier, and in this election we lost three seats, two of them from Mumbai. We felt bad about that, but these things happen in an election.
Do you think the party's Mee Mumbaiker campaign affected the result in Mumbai?
We lost two seats in Mumbai, one of which was mine. I know what exactly happened in this election. I had seen that people did not have any opposition to me. They were favouring me. But the Muslims of my constituency were very much upset about the Gujarat episode. Because of that reason they opposed the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, and the total Muslim vote went to the Congress.
The other thing that affected our result was our Mee Mumbaiker campaign. We lost North Indian votes because of that. The North Indians misunderstood our Mee Mumbaiker programme and thought that it was against them.
These two factors caused us to lose the parliamentary seats in Mumbai. Otherwise we would have won those seats very easily.
But our voting percentage has increased in this election. And assembly segment-wise we have scored better votes than the [rival] Congress-NCP alliance.
You mean to say that Narendra Modi cost you the election? [Gujarat Chief Minister Modi had campaigned for Joshi in the election.]
No. What I said was that what happened in Godhra was not publicised on a large scale. But what happened after Godhra all over Gujarat, but mainly in Ahmedabad, was publicised on a large scale, and this affected the Muslim votes.
Will your party invite Modi to campaign for the assembly election in Maharashtra?
Sure, why not! If we feel the need, we will invite him. The Shiv Sena has its own stand on Hindutva. Modi also has his stand on Hindutva. According to our need we will think about it.
What will your party's strategy be now to attract North Indian and Muslim voters?
Party strategies are confidential matters. We never announce them publicly.
I think the North Indians now understand the reality of the Mee Mumbaiker campaign, that it was not against them. [The Shiv Sena quietly dropped the campaign after the election.] And I am sure that this time they will vote for us.
As far as the Muslims are concerned, they just showed they will vote for us, but didn't actually vote for us. This time we will not believe them (Muslims).
What are the main issues in the assembly election?
There are lots of issues we have for this election. The way the Congress-NCP government is working, every day we get new issues. Issues related to the poor, the farmers and the workers. The people of these sections are very angry with the state government. So the anti-incumbency wave in Maharashtra is at a high level, which can only help us.
That means you don't need to work hard to pull down this government?
No, I always think that every examination is tough. In this examination also we will work very careful and very hard to pull down the Congress-NCP government.
Which top NDA leaders do you expect to campaign for your alliance?
See, our star campaigner is Balasaheb Thackeray, and our other leaders can also run good campaigns. We will organise joint meetings [with the BJP] during the election at which top leaders of both parties will be present. We [Sena and the BJP] have a very good understanding.
What was your experience as Lok Sabha Speaker? Do you miss it now?
I miss it very much, honestly speaking. I was handling that responsibility very well with sincerity. All parliamentarians were also very happy with my work. Many party leaders wanted that I continue that work, but unfortunately I am unable to do so. I miss them a lot and am sure they are also missing me.
Image: Uday Kuckian
The Rediff Interviews