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|February 25, 1998|
The Rediff Election Interview/Chaitanya Shambu Maharaj
'I want to teach Advani a lesson'
Tall, lean, bearded and looking every bit an ascetic, Chaitanya Shambu Maharaj is the son
of Hindu fundamentalist leader Shambu Maharaj who fought for
a ban on cow slaughter during the 1960s and 1970s. Shambu Maharaj contested,
unsuccessfully, the Lok Sabha election in 1971 as a Jan Sangh
candidate from Ahmedabad and then joined the Ram Rajya party.
Chaitanya Maharaj is a more refined version of his father. He demands
and drinks not
Chaitanya Maharaj is a more refined version of his father. He demands and drinks notGanga jal, but Bisleri water. He is constantly on the cellular phone. Accompanying him on his campaign in rural Gandhinagar, V Gangadhar found women touching his feet and asking for his aashirwad. But will they vote for the Rashtriya Janata Party candidate from Gandhinagar, the man whom Shankarsinh Vaghela convinced to take on Bharatiya Janata Party president L K Advani?
What is your background? How long have you been in politics?
My father, the late Shambu Maharaj, was a well-known Hindu leader who fought for a ban on cow slaughter. I had been doing social work in this area for the past ten years, I also conduct religious discourses, Bhagwat Katha, and donate the proceeds to charity. I joined the RJP in 1996. Normally, I am not interested in electoral politics, but this time I volunteered to contest against the all-powerful Advani.
BJP outsiders like Advani and Atalji contest and win elections from Gandhinagar and then ditch the voters by resigning their seats on some pretext or the other. This is not fair to their supporters. What did they do for the constituency? Advani and Atalji never bothered about railway facilities to the state capital, the Narmada project or reopening of closed textile mills in the area. These issues should have been tackled at the national level. But they simply used Gandhinagar and the local BJP for their political ends. I wanted to expose them.
Why did you support Shankersinh Vaghela?
He is a man of the masses. When he was chief minister he tackled long standing issues quickly and took immediate decisions. The power position improved, farmers and widows were helped a lot, a special board was constituted for the welfare of the minorities. No chief minister achieved so much in such a short period.
Do you think the Muslims will support you, a representative of the Hindu priesthood?
Why not? By supporting me, the local Muslims can prove they are secular. The minorities, Dalits and the OBCs trust me and I am assured of their support.
What kind of Hindutva do you believe in?
Not the BJP kind. For them Hindutva is a political weapon. For the sake of votes, they have changed their stand on this issue. The Ram mandir is no longer on their agenda. The BJP talks of Ram. We shall offer the people true Ram Rajya.
How should the Ram Mandir issue be tackled?
It is not an issue for politicians or the judiciary. I feel that religious leaders from both communities should be asked to handle it and find a solution. Of course, it may take time, but that is the best solution. Only rational, sensible religious leaders can solve this dispute.
How do you organise your poll campaign?
I insist on a house to house campaign and have completed most of it. There are street-level meetings along with the assembly candidates from my party. My chances are high in rural areas though Advaniji may get more support in the urban sectors. But I am confident of victory.
You are basically a man of religion. Don't you think religion and politics should be kept separate?
I regard myself a social worker because I help people with all their problems. Religion is part and parcel of the life of an Indian. You cannot isolate it from political issues. Unlike politicians we do not politicise issues like Hindu-Muslim unity or the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
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