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September 18, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Uma Bharti

'When they see me, even chain smokers stub their cigarettes'

Uma Bharti What's the scene?" Uma Bharti is keen to know her pre-poll position. The BJP's star candidate in Bhopal and didi to all her party workers had been away in the rural area for almost a week.

Taking on Seva Dal president Suresh Pachauri, Bharti -- the former MP from Khajuraho -- is confident of busting the outsider jinx in the Madhya Pradesh capital. "The weather has been bad, but she has worked tirelessly," says her security officer Lalta Prasad Dohare.

Amused at the far-from-actual-representation of her pictures on the hand painted hoardings in Bhopal, she says: "The Congress must have hired better painters. Our party does not have that much money." Over the years -- Bharti -- who rode high on the crest of the Ram wave -- remains the most visible representative of the BJP's younger leadership. Her sanyasin image, saffron robes, firebrand persona and Hindutva ideology have kept her on the national scene. Bharti has been a member of both the Vajpayee governments of 1996 and 1998.

Seeking a fifth turn in the Lower House, she has set herself a gruelling campaign schedule. Between small villages in the Sehore district, Uma Bharti revealed her style of politics to Archana Masih and Vaihayasi Pande Daniel.

Bhopal is a new constituency for you, how confident are you of repeating your Khajuraho succeess here?

I am confident. My confidence rises from my righteousness. I always believe in good. I believe goodness never fails.

There have been many theories about why you left Khajuraho -- the constituency that sent you to Parliament four times -- we would like to know from you why have you done so?

All theories are wrong. That is just propaganda.

But why did you leave Khajuraho?

I just didn't want to fight from there again. That's all. Finish.

What was the reason?

No reason at all. I don't believe one should continue to fight from one constituency. Even Bhopal I will change after 10, 15 years. I will fight two, three elections. I will give some gift to Bhopal and move on.

What gift have you given Khajuraho?

The biggest railway line after Konkan. They are the two biggest railway lines in the country given after Independence. One was Konkan, the other was my railway line. And the wonderful thing is that it touches every assembly segment in my constituency. That's how I made it, you know. I planned it. That's what they wanted.

We hear Baby Raja and the rest of the BJP's Khajuraho unit was miffed with you and didn't want you to contest…

Oh my god! Pleeease! Pleeease! Pleeease!

So what is the truth?

I told you na?

There's no discontent?

No nothing.

What was their reaction when you decided to make this change?

Yes, they were unhappy. They cried a lot.

What about you? Didn't you feel bad about leaving the constituency that launched and sustained you?

No. Because what they needed, I gave. My duty was over.

What else did they need?

They only wanted a railway line. This was their demand for the last fifty years and every member of Parliament was promising them but nobody could deliver because it was impossible to get it done. I got it done and had it inaugurated by the prime minister last year.

You said that because of a bad back you were forced to change your constituency. You have been in Khajuraho for four terms, how is it that the roads are still so bad?

The roads are not my responsibility. They are the state government's responsibility. There are thousands of roads there. For fifty years no one could improve them, how do you expect me to do it?

Out of the thousand roads, how many have you been able to fix?

Many. Many. This is real nonsense that has been spread around that I have not done anything for the roads. I was there for 10 years, out of which my government was in power only for two. The responsibility of roads lies with the state government. What I could do with the help of the Centre I have done -- the railway line.

What are your other achievements as a member of Parliament?

I can't count. Each village has a gift from me. School or hospital or a road or a panchayat bhavan -- one thing is there in every village.

What kind of acceptance have you received by the people of Bhopal?

Very good. Same as Khajuraho. Because I meet people, instead of sitting in a drawing room and reading a newspaper.

Are you more popular in the rural area or the city?

It's the same. There's no difference. Mob frenzy.

How do you deal with this?

I am used to it.

What is your strategy for winning Bhopal?

I don't think of these things. I just work hard. I have to reach everybody and I will get their votes. I try to make sure there is no problem during polling. I don't divide people on the basis of caste, religion or community. I just go approach everybody.

What are the issues that you are highlighting?

Bhopal is very backward. It has the status of a capital, but has the look of a town. I want Bhopal to become a hi-tech capital.

Your party has fielded very few women candidates, why are women not encouraged to contest elections?

It is very difficult to bring a woman candidate out. They just don't want to come on the political scene. Without reservation this is impossible. They have the merit, talent but they don't demand. They don't apply and those who do they don't have the ability to win. Those who have the ability to win, they don't want to fight an election.

Reservations are a must. I have been evocative about this for a very long time. Women are more sensitive to issues. See Mamata. The way she fights for issues. Mamata and me are alike.

But you are more for reservation among the backward classes?

Backward classes also. In most cases it will be the women of the upper class that will come forward because in OBC families the women are not educated. If they are educated then they are too conventional.

Do you really think your party encourages women to come out on the national scene?

My party is the only party which encourages women. They made Sushma Swaraj the spokesperson. They made me president of the youth wing. I am the only woman in any party to get that post.

Apart from you both, there seems to be no one else in your party?

There are. We have Sumitra Mahajan… with the other women the problem that I just told you exists. They feel hesitant to come to a podium etc. Even if they do, men will push them and stand ahead. It is very difficult for women.

Is it difficult for a woman politician in male dominated political structure? What problems do you face?

When I first became MP, I was already wearing saffron. So I didn't have to face the problems that a common woman has to face. I am not aware exactly what problems women politicians face, but I know there are problems.

So is your saffron robe a kind of defence against the male world?

Not defence, but they have always felt I am above them. I have always felt a distance and get their respect.

This is a sort of barrier?

Not a barrier but a distance. When they see me in the lobby, even chain smokers stub their cigarettes.

You said some time back that you don't divide people on religion, caste or community but ever since the demolition of the Babri Masjid you have had a virulent Hindutva image. Have you made an attempt to break that image?

Maybe it exists in the minds of the people because I have definitely been associated with Ayodhya. But I never try to use or play that card. Never before also, not even in my constituency. I don't ask for votes because of that.

But people still harbour that image?

Maybe they do, but I myself don't divide people on those lines. I go to Muslim bastis. They also welcome me, garland me. I don't feel that I divide people, if they feel divided then I don't know.

If you win in Bhopal with a 27 per cent Muslim presence, yours will be a test case. How do you think people like you in the BJP will bring in some Muslim votes?

No they are 18 per cent. The Congress people are in the habit of exaggeration. I will not do anything to get their votes. If I don't make any extra attempt to get Hindu votes why should I do that to get Muslim votes? I will not do any such thing. I will not change my views. I will not change my ideology. I will not compromise. I have promised them one thing that I will take care of everybody.

Whenever they come to me in time of need I will not ask which religion they belong to. That is my only promise. I have already told them clearly that I will not wear a green dupatta around my neck to please them. Nor have I asked them to wear saffron.

What has been their response to this?

The response has been very good. That's why Bhopal is so calm and quiet. Otherwise they were thinking that my filing the nomination would create such communal tension. Have you noticed any tension?

Have you been to Muslim areas?

Yes. All Muslim areas.

You just said you are not the one who will compromise on your ideology, but in the National Democratic Alliance there are many issues that the BJP has put on the back burner…Ram Mandir, Article 370…

The government will be working on this ideology and I will not go beyond that ideology. But I will never tell my people that I will do this and I will do that for you. I don't believe in this. My commitment is to fight injustice and poverty. Ayodhya came in between.

What about your commitment to the Ram Mandir?

Ram lalla is sitting there. No one can move him.

What about the construction?

Construction is the VHP's responsibility. My job is to see that Ram lalla is not shifted from there. And that I know nobody on this planet can do it.

Don't you think the commitment of the BJP has been diluted?

There is no problem for the worker. There is no problem for the public. Nobody has ever asked me why we have left those issues. It's the media that has this on their mind. If we talk of Ayodhya -- that's wrong. If we don't talk of Ayodhya -- then also we are wrong.

But it's a diversion from ideology?

No, it is not. We are not saying we've left it.

But if the BJP comes to power on its own…

We will stick to the agenda on which we fight the election. I think all this is in the mind of the media than the public. The public is more concerned about corruption, unemployment, poverty, Kashmir, national security.

Don't you think the Madhya Pradesh BJP is straddled with the old guard like the Patwas and the Thakre -- and needs younger leaders like to take charge of the party in the state?

This is the problem in every party.

But the Congress has younger people…

Like who?

Like Digvijay Singh, Madhavrao Scindia…

Arrey Digvijay is 50, 55. Madhavrao is 50. Why do you guys call him young?

But they are younger compared to Kailash Joshi and Sunderlal Patwa?

They are old also. Once you cross your 50, you are old. Madhya Pradesh has many young BJP leaders too.

There was a demonstration by certain members of the state BJP after your candidature was announced…

Nothing happened. It was all hyped by the media. They were 30, 40 hired goons of the Congress. It was all a propaganda and I don't know why it was done. The trouble is with media people. I don't know what wrong have I done to the media.

It has also been said that as minister of state for human resource development you did not go to office for many months…

No, I used to go.

...That there was a miscommunication between you and your senior minister, Murli Manohar Joshi?

I will not talk about it. No comment.

What are the immediate needs of this constituency?

Immediate needs of rural Bhopal is roads and hospitals. Drinking water is what is required in the urban area. I am going to work for that. Moreover, Digvijay Singh has put professional tax on working people. For this I will have to pick up a war against Digvijay Singh because as a minister I can't do anything for that. I will have to fight on the street for this.

Do you know him personally?

I know him very well. He was the one who organised my religious gathering in Ragogarh. He treats me like a daughter, like a sister.

So you won't have to fight him so hard?

Personally we are very affectionate and respectful, but politically we are arch rivals.

How do you adjust to this dichotomy?

I don't know. Ask him. It's very difficult. He tries to cut my throat and I don't spare anything to attack him. Yes when I'm eating he takes care of me -- when in Delhi he invites the MPs from Madhya Pradesh as chief minister. It's a strange kind of relationship that we share. I think he feels threatened by me.

Would you like to be chief minister of this state?

I don't think anything about myself.

You don't want to?

I don't think about it.

As someone who has worked closely with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani -- who are you more comfortable with?

I have learnt more from Vajpayeeji because he is very patient. Calm and composed. Personally Advaniji has influenced me more. From Atalji I have learnt more. I am more friendly with Atalji. With Advaniji I keep a distance because I respect him so much that I cannot do any nonsense in his presence.

It has been felt for a long time that L K Advani is a good prime ministerial candidate himself. Don't you think it's time he too came forward?

We don't even think about these things. Either Advaniji, nor Atalji. What they want is that the BJP should come to power. Who becomes PM is very irrelevant to them. But since Atalji is more popular in rural and urban India, more acceptable in other parties also, he was the natural candidate for the party. There is no envy. No resentment.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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