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March 26, 1998


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The Rediff Election Interview/Ananth Kumar

'Ram Janambhoomi, Article 370, common civil code, these are the basic commitments of the BJP'

Ananth Kumar Union Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar wears his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh colours seriously. Only recently, he was photographed by a Bangalore daily while going through the RSS regimen, complete in the khaki regalia and all, but if he was bothered by the brouhaha it generated, he does not show it.

In an interview with Savera R Someshwar, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Karnataka lays his RSS views on the line, even if it currently runs counter to the BJP's own soft line.

To what do you attribute the rise of the BJP in Karnataka?

The Bharatiya Janata Party is riding on, or rather rode on, three major issues -- Ram, raitha (farmer) and rashtraprema (patriotism).

Way back in 1989, we won only 2.6 per cent of the votes. Then, in 1991, our vote share rose to 28.6 per cent, and we won four seats. That is because of the able leadership of B S Yediyurappaji, our president, who took up many agrarian issues like loan waiver, withdrawal of subsidies to fertilisers, the Krishna Cauvery irrigation project and many other things. He also launched a massive farmers' agitation in Karnataka. People then started thinking that the BJP is a farmer's party, and in fact we became a farmer's party.

Then, because of the Ram Janambhoomi agitation, Karnataka came to be known as the southern UP -- such was the crescendo of the agitation in the state. And the flag hoisting at Hubli, these things belonged to the earlier phase.

Afterwards, we took up the issues of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, slum-dwellers and women. On November 17, we held a massive SC/ST/slum-dwellers conference in which more than 50,000 people participated from all over the state. And in January we held a massive women's conference in Shimoga which was attended by 50,000 people from all over the state and even Advaniji quipped that it was the biggest mahila event he had ever seen in his life.

Because of all these pro-people's movements, many stalwarts joined the BJP -- from Ramchandra Veerappa to Scheduled Caste leader P Venkataswamy to so many others. As a result, our social bandwidth increased. Our social appeal increased tremendously.

And both the Congress and the Janata Dal are discredited. They are losing their grip more so because of their division. Deve Gowda and Hegde parted company. The Congress and Bangarappa parted ways. That is the third reason.

And the fourth reason is the national situation. The BJP is the only party which can offer a national alternative, with a respected leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

But the Congress is still a household name all over country, which is something the BJP has not been able to achieve.

Today it is a hollow name without any support. They have become a regional party. We were an all-India party in the making, we have become an all-India party in the real sense of the word. With our alliances in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa and West Bengal, we are the major force in the country.

Isn't it true that the BJP is tired of its clean image and clean politics; that, now, you are only interested in power? So you are willing to compromise with anybody. Today, the BJP is like any other party...

In my manifesto, I have clearly said that the BJP will pave the way for a magnificent Ram temple in Ayodhya.

We have clearly said that we will remove Article 370. We have said that the BJP is for common civil code. These are the three basic commitments of the BJP.

So why are your national leaders softpedalling on all these issues?

They are not softpedalling.

Assuming the BJP will go ahead with these issues someday, are you prepared for the backlash?

There will be no backlash. Even the Imam of Mecca has said that the land belongs to Hindus. As Mecca is sacred to Muslims, Jerusalem to Jews and Bethlehem to Christians, Ayodhya is sacred to Hindus. It is their belief. They have got tremendous faith in that. And it should be like that. There has been a functioning temple there for hundreds of years.

If you look at it that way, there are hundreds of temples all over the country... In Goa, for example, practically every church was originally a temple. Does this mean that the BJP is going to convert every such structure into a temple again?

The Ram Janambhoomi was a symbol. A symbol of cultural nationalism. The country has to decide who is its hero -- whether Ram, Ram rajya, Ram of Ram rajya as propounded by the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, or an invader Babar. That is the question. There are thousands of Ram temples across the country. There are thousands of mosques in the entire world. But the Ka'aba is special. There are thousands and lakhs of churches all over the world, but Bethlehem and Jerusalem are special, isn't it?

But doesn't this go against the very ethos of Hindu culture, which has welcomed and assimilated different cultures? This is a fact attested to by history. So why is there this specific need for a distinct identity that is not very tolerant of other religions?

Because, while assimilating everything, you should not lose yourself, even your culture says so. Indian culture says you be strong, you be prosperous, you be tolerant. You don't be a pauper, you don't be a weak fellow. That does not mean tolerance. Therefore cowardice, weakness and bankruptcy are not tolerance. Tolerance is strength, and prosperity. That is what Hinduism says.

Today, if thousands of mosques and churches are there in my country and functioning, it is not because of the police, it is not because of the government's protection. It is because of the passive protection provided by the majority community here, by the Hindu community which is faceless.

Can you show such an example in Bangladesh, for example -- see how the minority community is treated there. How the minority community is treated in Pakistan. How minority communities are treated in China. What is happening in the erstwhile Soviet Russia. What's happening in Bosnia. What's happening to Afro-American citizens in the US. What's happening to minorities in Britain. What happened to you and me in Germany, in Europe because of racism? Apartheid?

India is the most tolerant. With such a vast majority, I am tolerant. Therefore I am assimilating everything and I am allowing every race and creed because I believe in the Upanishad vakya, 'All streams lead to the ocean like all faiths lead to Thee'. I believe in that. You show me one parallel in the other countries, then I'll accept it.

The BJP is today being recognised as a viable political option, except for the fact that it is still connected with the RSS. There is a fear that the RSS will end up running the government.

Ananth Kumar When India became free in 1947, we needed a massive voluntary movement in the country to inculcate citizenship qualities among the people of this country. What are the citizenship qualities? Patriotism... not fighting about caste, creed, region and linguistic feudalism. Next, dignity of labour. Social concerns. Discipline. Hard work. By inculcating these five cardinal citizenship qualities, the conscience level of the citizen increases and that is what will protect democracy in any country. There was no governmental effort; there was only one effort and that was by the RSS.

The RSS, through thousands and thousands of shakhas all over the country, engaged itself in a selfless dedicated activity, a movement, a silent movement -- bigger than the freedom movement, bigger than JP's movement, bigger than the Ram Janambhoomi movement -- a silent movement of building unity with national confidence. Of inculcating these five cardinal principles which are protecting the country now. Which is protecting the democracy, which is protecting the security, which is protecting the good government, which is protecting the innate human values. Therefore, we are proud that we are inspired by the RSS school of ideology and thought.

And I feel there is not even a shade of what I can call scare among the people that something wrong will happen. If it was so, we would not have got such a massive popular as well as electoral support. Some parties get electoral support, but we got popular support also because we are the only party which is marching from strength to strength right from 1989 through popular movement, not through the cobbling of false majority by backdoor conspiracies and manipulations. We have engaged in popular movements like JP's movement, like the movement against the tyranny of Indira Gandhi and the dark phase of the Emergency, Ram Janambhoomi, the movement of cultural nationalism. We are very proud that we are actually the people's politicians.

What is democracy? Demos and Craetos, the power of the people. We are invoking the power of the people for the resurgence of my country.

Do you think coalition politics are the future of India?

The coalition era is over. The people of this country are fed up with fragmented politics, elections after every one-and-a-half years. They don't want this tamasha to continue any more. They want a stable polity, they want an able leader and a strong government to rule their destinies, to shape their destinies.

But the BJP itself is part of a coalition government...

Haan! The thing is, all these things happen in politics. We had one strong pole till 1977 -- the Congress pole, the lone pole. The country's politics was unipolar till 1977. From then on, it became bipolar. And suddenly a situation came about... earlier it was the Congress against all others. Afterwards it started becoming the BJP versus all others. And from BJP versus all others, it is moving towards the BJP...

But it is still a coalition, is it not?

Now it is the BJP and allies. The BJP versus all others, the BJP and allies.

But it is still a coalition...

We are passing through that phase.

Is the BJP planning to pull down the J H Patel government in Karnataka?

Nobody needs to pull it down now. It will fall by itself. It is very shaky. It is so shaky, I don't know. I don't really know.

If J H Patel crossed over to the Lok Shakti, will the BJP allow him to continue as chief minister?

We want fresh elections in Karnataka.

Who would you project as your chief minister?

We have not really talked about this issue, but we have in the forefront our leader Yediryurappa.

What is your personal opinion about J H Patel?

As a person, he is jovial. As a politician, he is a tragedy.

Photographs: Courtesy


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