Does PM Modi want growth or Hindutva ?

He remains one of the few consistent voices against right-wing politics and refuses to be cowed down despite the Congress party being decimated during the 2014 general elections. While his party is still figuring out how to tackle the growing influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP across the nation, senior leader Digvijaya Singh seems to have found the issues that he knows will bring about the downfall of the NDA regime with Modi at the centre of it.

As a member of the Rajya Sabha, Singh spoke to Firstpost on the challenges ahead, which he claims are more for the BJP than the Congress.

Is Narendra Modi really the ‘strong’ prime minister the BJP making him out to be?

A. You need to define what you mean by a strong leader first. In a democracy we need to have a prime minister who understands the idea and ethos of India, someone who knows the sentiments of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversity of the country. In a democracy, a strong PM would also be someone who respects other’s point of view, a democrat with sensitivity and all-pervasive mindset of inclusive politics.

He should also be someone who enjoys the trust of the underprivileged sections of society who don’t have a voice and minorities who don’t have the strength to influence the body politics of this country.

Hitler was a strong leader, but where did he lead Germany to? A strong democratic leader may lead the country to fascism and dictatorship. Pandit Nehru himself was a strong leader, yet he had the highest respect towards the Opposition and other Members of Parliament.

Q: How would you rate Modi as a prime minister based on his government’s performance so far?

A. A: He claims to have been elected on the ‘development’ agenda, someone who would turn around the economy for the benefit of the country. Till now in the last seven months, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has come down from 5.7 to 5.3 despite a major reduction in crude oil prices. The Balance of Payments (BoP) has been negative although import bill has come down. Even Current Account Deficit has gone up while export earnings have gone down.

The agenda of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and the Bhartiya Janata Party is to carry out the wish of their founding president Dr Hedgewar, who believed in ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Now BJP stands for ‘Hindutva’, a word coined by Veer Savarkar. The party has to clarify its stand on Hindutva and conversion. These are basic issues that the prime minister to address. He has to clarify whether he prefers Hindutva to growth.

Q: Is there a growing displeasure within BJP about Modi’s style of politics where other leaders are reduced to mere spectators?

A. That’s their problem and their own choice. His track record as Chief Minister of Gujarat shows that he has utter contempt for the legislature and the lawmakers. One of his legislators in Gujarat told me that if anyone went to him (Modi) for work, he would tell them “I know who you are, why you have come and I know what you want. I’m not here because of you, but you’re here because of me, so get lost”.

Even in assembly, he’s created a record for any state assembly in suspending Opposition members for the maximum number of times. So basically he’s a person who believes in himself and this is where his belief comes to an end. The rest of the BJP leaders have been marginalised. Most of the key portfolios have been allotted to those who are from Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and not Lok Sabha (Lower House). Ministries such as Finance, Defence, Petroleum, Coal, Power, HRD, Forest and Commerce have been given to people who owe it to Modi.

Q: What about concentration of powers in the NDA Government?

A. Another thing has come to my notice that in allocation of ministries, a new word has been added that in case of any policy change of any ministry, it will be the responsibility of the PM himself. So, all policy matters irrespective of the minister under Presidential notification, is the responsibility of the prime minister himself, which has never been there before. Even in Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), the normal procedure was that all files relating to appointments in government were routed through DoPT, Home, Cabinet Secretariat and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), but now the DoPT secretary is putting up the file directly to the PM short circuiting the Home Minister and DoPT Minister.

The files are now put directly to PMO and it is only after the approval of the PM, the Home Minister is informed of the decision taken. Which means that the decision to appoint Secretaries or other important positions are all done without specific suggestions of Home Minister who is a member of the Cabinet Committee on Appointments.

Q: What about the issue of Reconversion, and why is PM Modi silent about it?

A. Every citizen of India has a fundamental right to adopt, practice and preach a religion of his choice. Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution give every person this fundamental right to choose his religion. There have been instances in the past of forced conversions and conversions due to inducements particularly in tribal areas. But if you see, especially in Chhota Nagpur belt that the tribals who converted to Christianity became more educated through mission schools and missionaries also did an excellent job in remote forest areas.

To some extent, I blame the rigid Hindu religion for denying equal rights to all those who follow the ‘Sanatan Dharm’. The neglect and socio-economic exploitation of Dalits and Tribals has also resulted in mass conversions which we should avoid. For example, I’m very surprised that if a Hindu gets converted to Islam or Christianity, it’s called conversion. But if a Christian or Muslim gets converted to a Hindu, it’s called ‘Ghar wapasi’ or homecoming. How can you differentiate between the two of any case based on religion if not willingly done?

As far as Anti-Conversion law is concerned, if government is prepared to discuss with all political parties and frame a law which is not outside or does not infringe upon the fundamental right of every citizen, we have no objection.

Q: What is your take on BJP speaking in different voices?

A. Mr Modi's claims of having got the mandate on the issue of ‘development’ with a slogan Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas (Everyone’s support for everyone’s development). If he sincerely believes in that, then he should firmly tell the VHP, Bajrang Dal and Dharm Jagran Manch, all organisations of the Sangh (RSS), and also restrain BJP MP’s like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj not to give provocative statements.

In spite of the fact that he gave an assurance in Rajya Sabha that he will ensure that such statements are not made, it lost its meaning when Sadhvi was appointed as a star campaigner in election going states. Mr. Giriraj Singh who says that all those who don’t support Modi should go to Pakistan is made a minister, an accused in Muzaffarnagar (UP) riots is made a minister.

All those accused of Muzaffarnagar riots are honoured on stage by BJP where Modi had to make a speech. In Lok Sabha, the discussion on communalism is started by Mahant Adityanath who has been making provocative statements that he would be attending Ghar Wapasi programmes and also asking Sadhus and Mahants to take up ‘Bhaala with Mala’. (Trident with Beads) and ‘Shastra with Shaastra’ (Arms with Religious Scriptures).

The Dharm Jagran Manch chief has given a statement recently that by 31st December, 2021, all Muslims and Christians will be converted as Hindus, so the question arises whether it is Modi who is himself conniving or whether fringe elements of Sangh are harassing the PM? The prime minister himself has to act and show that he believes in the ‘development’ agenda and not the agenda of communalism, hatred and violence.

Q: What about his ‘reach out’ initiatives like Mann ki Baat on radio?

A. He loves to give bhashan (speech) although the content is not there, but delivery is good. Mr. Advani himself had pointed out that he (Modi) is a great event manager and a good marketing brain. Therefore he’s been able to project his image as larger than life.

Q: What about the comparison between prime minister and Rahul Gandhi, don’t you think Rahul needs to rework his image?

A. Let me tell you very clearly that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t hanker for power. He’s a true democrat who believes in decentralisation of power and grooming new leadership which is quite opposite to Modi’s style of functioning. He is the vice-president of the party and he is consulting all senior leaders to prepare a roadmap for Congress to follow. Antony Commission report has already come in and Rahul will draw the roadmap and put it through the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to the Congress president and it will then be adopted by the All India Congress Committee.