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Kairana is No Kashmir, Rajnath Singh Shuts Up BJP Motormouths

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh speaks to Network 18's Group Editor about the UP elections, among other things in a freewheeling chat.

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Updated:February 4, 2017, 2:30 PM IST
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Kairana is No Kashmir, Rajnath Singh Shuts Up BJP Motormouths
Seen here is Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh speaking to Network 18's Group Editor Rahul Joshi.

New Delhi: Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is a busy man these days. Back from a whirlwind tour of Punjab and Goa, he is just about to begin his campaign in UP that is going to polls from February 11.

Singh sat down with Network 18 Group CEO Rahul Joshi for an exhaustive interview, his first in more than a year, where he discussed a range of topics from Pakistan, policies of new US President Donald Trump, his equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the candidature of his son Pankaj Singh, and of course, his party’s plan to conquer Lucknow.

Here is the full interview:

Q. My first question is, as the Union Home Minister do you think Pakistan has acted against Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed by putting him under house arrest? Are they doing this because they are scared of sanctions by US President Donald trump or is it all just an eyewash?
A. Hafiz Saeed has been put under house arrest once before, after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. I feel this is a dikhawa (eyewash). If Pakistan is serious about taking action against Saeed, his terror organisation and other leaders of the terror group, they should take legal action. India has given so many dossiers to Pakistan, Saeed should be chargesheeted and put behind bars.

Q. What will be India’s next step?

A. We are continuously trying to ensure that action is taken against such terrorists, terror organisations and their bosses. Our Prime Minister has tried to get the international community on board on the question of terror, and in a lot of ways he has been successful.

Q. Our channel CNN-News18 had exposed that Dawood Ibrahim lives in Pakistan. In fact, we even showed visuals of his house in Pakistan. Yet Pakistan denies his presence in that country. Do you think Indian government can get Dawood back?

A. I am confident that sooner or later we will be successful in getting Dawood Ibrahim back to India. Our efforts are on. There is no two ways about the fact that Dawood is in Pakistan. We have repeatedly told the Government of Pakistan that Dawood is nowhere else but in Pakistan. Where exactly he is in Pakistan, that too we have told the Pakistani government. Our efforts are continuous and I am confident that sooner or later we will succeed in getting him back.

Q. This is your first big interview after the surgical strike. It must have been a well-thought out decision for you. What were the circumstances under which you decided that surgical strike is the only way left?
A. The PM took this decision after a lot of deliberation. All of us sat down to decide. We had to do this because an attack happened and we were told that after the attack the terrorists were hiding on the other side of the border in Pakistani launchpads. Then our soldiers crossed over (to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) 2 or 3 km inside. I can’t give details, but they crossed over. And they succeeded in eliminating a number of terrorists in and around the launchpads. We also gave this message to the world that if any one attacks India we have the wherewithal to give a befitting reply.

Q. Even after surgical strikes tension on the border continues. Pakistan has refused to mend its ways. You think in the near future you will have to take such strong steps again?
A. Pakistan is our neighbour. If it mends its ways then it will be a good thing and such an action will not be required in future. But if there is any mischief by terror organisations or by anyone else then I can’t guarantee that India will not carry out actions like the surgical strike again.

Q. The option of surgical strike will remain open?
A. We don’t want to take such action but if circumstances force our hand, then there is no other option left for us.

Q. You are apprehensive about a rise in hostilities with Pakistan in near future?
A. We always tried to ensure that hostilities with Pakistan should go down. Pakistan is a neighbour and we want good relations with all our neighbours. But Pakistan also will have to take steps. India has taken the initiative a number of times. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and prime ministers before him and after have all taken initiatives but we didn’t get the kind of positive response we should have got from Pakistan.

Q. A number of questions were raised about India's involvement in Balochistan. Especially after the Indian Prime Minister spoke about this publicly. Pakistan made this an issue at international platforms. What is our reaction on Balochistan?
A. I want to make it clear that India has no role in Balochistan. However, it is true that if a violation of human rights happens anywhere, then India does give its reaction sometimes. There were some human rights issues there and keeping those in mind our Prime Minister made some comments. Beyond this we have no role in Balochistan. But Pakistan should introspect that a state created on the basis of religion has not been successful in keeping together any of the cultural identities. Be it Pakhtuns, Sindhis or Kashmiris, no cultural identity has been kept together by Pakistan. They should introspect why that has not been the case. On the other hand, in India, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis all live together.

Q. Kashmir is the other issue linked with Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi told me in an interview that Kashmir needs both vikas (development) and vishwas (trust). Do you think you have managed to inculcate vishwas in the hearts of common Kashmiris?
A. I can say that majority of people in Kashmir – and by majority I am not referring to religious majority, I mean most people there in general – trust India. I have said this before, we want Kashmir to be with India, not by terrorising them but by their love for India. You must have seen when Kashmir was hit by floods, our PM reached Kashmir without wasting time. To the extent possible we ensured relief for Kashmiris.

Q. So you think in the last few months the situation in Kashmir has improved? People are more receptive? Things are more under control now than before. The decision of Donald Trump to ban travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries has seen a lot of protests. Are you disappointed that Pakistan is not among the seven banned countries?
A. Why should I be disappointed on Trump not banning Pakistan? What a sovereign country does is not an issue for me to react. The fact that they have not named Pakistan as one of the seven Muslim countries (who are banned) is not a question to be disappointed about. Today some other country (Kuwait) has released a list of countries whose citizens are banned and Pakistan is one of them.

Q. The US has said in future if needed they could ban Pakistan.
A. Whether US does it in the future is their decision.

Q. But do you agree with the decision taken by Trump?
A. I think terrorism is not an issue for one country. The world community should come together on the question of terrorism. Like you have seen, right from the start India and our PM have worked in this direction. A country like Saudi Arabia too has joined the world community's fight against terror. But whether the decision of US President is right or wrong, is not for me to react or judge. He has made this decision based on his country’s assessment of the terror situation and threats.

Q. The best friend and supporter of Pakistan right now is China. What impact does this friendship have on Indo-China relations?
A. What relations China and Pakistan share is not for me to comment on. But India shares a good relationship with China and it will only better with time.

Q. China has never supported India be it the question of UN Security Council membership or membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group or banning Masood Azhar. Why?
A. Our efforts are on...we are not disappointed.

Q. But you are still hopeful that our relations will improve?
A. We are hopeful China will stand by India on the question of terrorism and in UN on the Security Council seat.

Q. Masood Azhar was not proscribed as a terrorist because of China’s objection. Are you disappointed?
A. I believe he should be jailed and his organisation should be banned. In this we need the support of all. Perhaps China didn't support us because of its own internal issues but in future they will support us. That is my hope. They will support us to ban Masood Azhar.

Q. The Modi government’s biggest move has been demonetisation. Do you think this has impacted black money? What is the real benefit to the ordinary person?
A. Note ban was a big decision and it showed the determination of the Prime Minister. This decision was not taken keeping in mind any potential political gains, but keeping in mind national interest. It has been successful to a large extent in stopping and bringing out black money. Even terror financing has been hit. In Naxal-affected areas people who tried to change old notes have been intercepted and their activities have been affected. Hawala channels have been disrupted and money flowing through those channels has come down a lot. We are trying to minimise corruption and stop the generation of black money. That’s why we are trying to steer the country towards cashless transactions. To be hundred percent cashless is not possible, but our efforts are in that direction.

Q. To what extent was terrorist financing and fake currency reasons for demonetisation?
A. There were a lot of reasons which were considered before taking the decision. A lot of thought was given to what will be the gains of demonetisation.

Q. A lot of economists have criticised the move.
A. But a lot of economists have praised the move. A lot of articles have been written, and economists of international standing have supported the move.

Q. But a lot of economists have also said that it was a political move – and not an economic one – starting with a jolt to the SP and BSP in UP and improving the image of the BJP.
A. I want to ask the critics: What is the political benefits that PM Modi and the government sought to reap? I want to clarify that we practice politics for the benefit of society, not just to form governments. This decision was taken after a lot of thought in national interest. We wanted to stop the extent of black money and end the income disparity between rich and poor. Also, we wanted to end terror financing.

Q. Amit Shah told me in an interview a few days ago that all the money that has come back into the system is not white money, there is a component of black in it.
A. That’s correct.

Q. Will there be an income tax crackdown in the coming years to unearth black money?
A. The nation as a whole has been supportive of the decision to demonetise. We didn’t intend to harass anybody. There was an income disclosure scheme and it now has become clear who had how much. Whatever we do we will do it with sensitivity.

Q. Do you think an income disclosure scheme along with demonetisation would have netted more money?
A. No, we decided to go step by step. We thought that if people wanted to disclose income they will. A lot of people did, but not as much as expected. Black money has come back into the banking system. The law will take its own course, but there will be no harassment.

Q. Coming to UP elections, you are the biggest face from the state in BJP. But the BJP is fighting the UP polls without projecting a face. Why is this so?
A. Every political party has a strategy. As far as the BJP goes, there have been many Assembly elections where a CM candidate has not been projected. Also some where a CM candidate has been projected. For example, Chhattisgarh, where I was the in-charge, we didn’t project a CM face. In Haryana we didn’t declare a CM candidate, but were voted to power and formed the government. In Maharashtra too we didn’t declare a CM candidate. This is a well-thought out strategy that in UP we will not project a CM candidate. But I believe that the BJP will form the government in UP with a clear majority.

Q. The party must have surely approached you with a proposal to project you as the chief ministerial candidate. Was this issue discussed within the party to make Rajnath Singh as the face of UP campaign?
A. I was the Chief Minister of the state before 2002. A lot of time has lapsed since then. There are many faces in the party who can become the chief minister of UP.

Q. But it is being said that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar may go back to Goa if there is a need, so if an opportunity arises will you become the CM?
A. There is no such proposal. Manohar Parrikar is a popular leader of Goa. The people of the state trust Parrikar. What we have said is that he will continue to guide the state and government work.

Q. Even Parrikar has said it himself, given a choice he would not have come to national politics. He would have stayed in Goa. My question to you is that if you face such a situation would you want to go back to UP? If the party asks you to consider it.
A. It is a hypothetical question.

Q. You are not saying yes or no…
A. I am the Home Minister, I cannot have all the posts for myself. That would be unfair. Others should get a chance too.

Q. How will you fight Boys of UP (UP ke ladke, the campaign slogan of the SP-Congress alliance) that is Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav? Like in Bihar they had created a campaign knit around Bihari vs Bahari. Now in UP Akhilesh and Rahul say outsiders are coming to the state to manage elections. You are the face of the party in UP, how will you take this issue up?
A. I feel Congress and SP are making these allegations out of sheer despondency and dejection. They are trying to mislead the people. UP elections are being managed by the local people. Our own BJP leaders are managing the polls. They are the ones campaigning. The PM is an MP from Varanasi and hence from UP. I am starting my campaign from today. Everyone is campaigning. There is no substance in this allegation.

Q. What is the possibility of BJP winning UP polls? How many seats do you think party will win?
A. I will not comment on the number of seats. But I do feel that under any circumstances the figure should not be less than 250. This is what I feel. This figure can go upward, but it cannot be less than 250.

Q. Amit Shah too talks about a two-third majority.
A. This is an estimate. I can’t say much about it. After analysing the current equations and candidates it is my assessment that BJP should not win less than 250 seats.

Q. Which party are you in direct contest with?
A. Samajwadi Party and BSP will have to decide who is directly challenging the BJP. Had they been confident about their prospects, SP and Congress would not have joined hands. And you have seen how Mulayam Singh Yadav who established the SP expressed his disappointment on the Congress-SP tie-up. He was hurt. Mulayam said that he could never imagine that SP would align with a party like Congress, a party which has destroyed the country for 70 years after Independence. Poverty, unemployment and corruption has increased during this period. SP today is tying up with such a party.

Q. But you will agree that people have forgotten about the anti-incumbency factor because of the family feud within SP?
A. No. People will never forget it.

Q. It is being said that Akhilesh did development work and then by striking this deal he has stitched an alliance between Muslims, Yadavs and the core Congress vote bank including a section of Brahmins…
A. The people of UP are politically aware. It would not be correct to say that people vote only on caste lines. As far as BJP is concerned, we get support from all sections of the society. We do not indulge in politics of caste and religion. And no one should think on these lines. As far as the SP feud is concerned, no one would be happy if such a situation prevails within a family. But yes, it has been detrimental to the state because the entire family was part of the power structure. Had the family not been in power, the matter would have been sorted out. The people of the state have had to suffer because of the war within the family. As far as the state government is concerned, law and order is in very bad shape. What is the development that has taken place under Akhilesh? How many people have got employment? Do people feel safe? UP has seen a flood of communal riots. Whenever SP comes to power, there is a spurt in communal riots. Why does this happen? There is peace and tranquility when BJP is in power.

Q. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat raised the issue of reservations just before the Bihar polls and BJP had to face the consequences. Now once again RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya has given BSP supremo Mayawati a handle by raising the issue of reservations…
A. I want to make it very clear. BJP has a very clear policy regarding this. That the current policy of reservations will not be touched or tampered with.

Q. But why does RSS make such statements before the elections?
A. No. They clarified later that the statement was misintrepreted. BJP has repeatedly made its position clear on the issue of reservations. Those doing politics of caste and religion unnecessarily rake these issues up.

Q. But don’t you think that leaders should be a little careful while making statements, especially during elections? These are sensitive issues and by raising them you are exposing yourself to political attacks.
A. Yes, one must be careful in making statements. And one must be alert.

Q. BJP isn’t aggressively making demonetisation part of its election campaign…
A. No, no. Why not?

Q. So you are saying with full confidence that the note ban was a correct move and it’s an important election issue?
A. In all the election meeting we have addressed, not only in UP, we have got a tremendous response from the people on demonetisation.

Q. But it does not reflect in your campaign.
A. I am starting my UP campaign from today. I have spoken about it while campaigning in Punjab and Goa. And we have got tremendous response on it. We will take this issue to the people.

Q. But the manifesto speaks more about migration, cow slaughter, triple talaaq and even about helicopter services to Hindu pilgrimage sites like Varanasi, Chitrakoot and Mathura. Is the party returning to soft-Hindutva?
A. First we will have to define Hindutva. And SC has already done that. Atleast, please do accept Hindutva the way it has been defined by the SC. As far as exodus is concerned, I want to assure people of UP that we will ensure that if BJP is to come to power in UP we will stop migration. We will make fool-proof arrangements for that. And strong action will be taken against those who force people to migrate.
As far as helicopter facilities are concerned. It is the responsibility of the government to provide facilities to the people of all faith, whether one is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Buddhist. This should not be linked to Hindutva.

Q. How big is the issue of migration in western UP and who do you hold responsible for it?
A. Governments should take care that such situations don’t arise. Whatever has happened is unfortunate. All I can say is that in the future, we will make sure that nobody has to flee from not just Kairana or western UP but from anywhere in the state.

Q. Yogi Adityanath compared Kairana to the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir. Do you really think the situation is that bad?
A. You can’t say the situation is that much out of control. But you need a government whose intentions are clear.

Q. And you’re saying the SP and BSP don’t have clear intentions?
A. No, they don’t have. All other parties play politics of religion and caste. Politics should not be done by dividing society. Politics should be done by bringing society together. That is why, you must have seen when we were fighting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Prime Minister gave the slogan – Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas.

Q. How important do you think the Ram Mandir issue will be in this election? Even now, you have mentioned Ram Mandir in your manifesto. However, every time you bring up Ram Mandir you talk of ‘Constitutional provisions’. So people say that BJP always raises the issue but doesn’t take any concrete steps to build the Ram Mandir.
A. First of all, I would like to make it very clear that the Ram Mandir issue is not a political issue for us. Not at all. On the question of Ram Janmabhoomi, the High Court has issued its verdict and the matter is sub-judice in the Supreme Court. I think we should wait for the SC verdict.

Q. As the election draws closer, some of BJP’s motor-mouths have started playing the communal card. Take Sangeet Som, for instance. Sakshi Maharaj went as far as to say our religion doesn’t talk of ‘4 wives, 40 kids’. Some leaders attack Shah Rukh Khan as soon as they get an opportunity. What would you like to say to party leaders such as these?
A. My opinion is that politics should never be based on communal card – whether it is by Congress, SP or BSP. I have seen that these other parties, whenever they get the chance and whenever the need arises, play the communal card. But we should avoid this. If we want to take a big nation like India to new heights, we have to bring everyone together. We cannot make this a great country by sparking hatred in people’s hearts. It can only be done by bringing out the love in people’s hearts.

Q. Will you condemn Sakshi Maharaj’s statement?
A. I cannot condemn someone’s statement without seeing what has been said. I have not heard the statement or what context it was said in. I am just giving my opinion.

Q. There is a lot of talk around the BJP and the SP-Congress alliance but not so much around the BSP. She has given tickets to 100 Muslims and a lot of strongmen, who have quit the SP, have joined BSP. Many of these people, like Mukhtar Ansari and Ateeq Ahmad, have influence over a few seats. Do you think Mayawati is a dark horse in this election?
A. I can’t say who is a dark horse or blue horse or yellow horse. In some areas, our main competition is against the alliance and in some places BSP will be our competition. But the BJP is in a fighting position all over the state. I am certain that BJP will get a clear majority in this election.

Q. BJP workers seem angry over two issues. First, they are angry over “outsider” candidates, who have joined from other parties, getting tickets. Second, they are angry that despite the PM’s plea, a lot of children of senior leaders have been given tickets. How will you deal with this?
A. First, I would like to say that no political party keeps its doors perpetually shut. Unless people from outside join, it will be difficult to increase the party’s support base. In the history of political parties in India and all over the world, people have often forsaken their old ideologies and joined new political parties. Even here, people have joined BJP, like they have in the past. However, I would like to assure my party’s workers that we are sensitive to the fact that workers be accorded the respect that they deserve.

Q. There is also some unrest over family members of politicians getting tickets. Kalyan Singh’s grandson has got a ticket. Your son Pankaj Singh is also contesting from Noida. What would you like to say on this?
A. First of all, let me talk about Pankaj. In 2007, when AB Vajpayee and LK Advani were in-charge of the party’s election committee and I was BJP national president, Kalyan Singh had proposed Pankaj’s name as a candidate. I said I would not accept it but Vajpayee said that the entire election committee wanted Pankaj to contest. He said that it should be on record that the committee did not agree with me, the party president. I still did not agree and Vajpayee asked Ananth Kumar to announce Pankaj Singh’s name as a candidate. Then I came home dejected and Pankaj wondered why I was upset. He asked me if I was unhappy with the decision and I said I can’t give a ticket to my own son while I am the national president. It would not be fair. That is why I was upset. Pankaj was upset over his ticket getting cancelled but I asked him to meet Vajpayee, seek his blessings and say that I cannot accept the ticket since my father is not happy about it. He went to Vajpayee and apologized. Even then I had said that just because someone is a leader’s son, it doesn’t mean they will never fight elections. However, they should work as a common worker for at least 10 years. I have no role to play in Pankaj getting a ticket.

Q. Another major election is taking place in Punjab. Polls suggest the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress are gaining. What do you think?
A. I think the BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) alliance will form the government again.

Q. But all the opinion polls suggest that AAP and Congress are leading and there is massive anti-incumbency.
A. Opinion polls aren’t necessarily correct.

Q. The Akali Dal says that if AAP wins the elections it will lead to a rise in militancy since they are close to Khalistani extremists. As the Home Minister, are you worried?
A. As Home Minister, all I can say is that we will control any situation that arises.

Q. Looks like there is a close race in Goa too so much so that BJP President Amit Shah has talked about sending Manohar Parrikar back to the state. Why is it that BJP is having a tough time there?
A. No, there is no tough time for us in Goa. We are heading towards a clear majority. We are getting a tremendous response from Goa.

Q. Coming back to the national capital, people say former Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung quit abruptly because he was tired of the brinksmanship between the Delhi state government and the Central government. That he ended up becoming a punching bag.
A. That interpretation is not correct. He was a very efficient L-G.

Q. Then why did he resign all of a sudden?
A. See, he has been saying earlier also that it’s been a long time… he didn’t quit because of any other difficulties. He was a good, efficient governor. I want to congratulate him for that. He was an impartial governor. And he is on record saying that there was no pressure on him from the part of the Centre. You must have noticed that he also said specifically there was no pressure on him from the Union Home Minister.

Q. But usually, governors don’t resign like that before their term ends.
A. L-Gs don’t have any such fixed terms

Q. But the fight between the Centre and Delhi state government is a fact. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal says Centre doesn’t let him work. That the L-G does what he wants and besides, the state government doesn’t have any control over Delhi Police.
A. Well, you would agree with me that governments should work within the framework of the Constitution. The Delhi government has gone to the courts many times against us, and every time they had to return empty-handed. If they make demands that are not within the framework of the Constitution, how can we agree to them?

Q. They complain that the Centre has put CBI and Enforcement Directorate after them…
A. Well, the CBI is autonomous. They do their job, and I don’t want to comment on what they do. We don’t ask CBI to raid someone or put someone behind bars.

Q. But almost the entire Opposition alleges that this government misuses CBI for political gains. Mamata Banerjee says this, the Gandhis say this. They don’t agree with you that CBI is autonomous?
A. All I want to say is that before tarnishing autonomous bodies, they should look at their own past.

Q. When Narendra Modi was announced the prime ministerial candidate of BJP, the party had to embark on a heavy consensus-building drive. The party had to bring aboard a lot of veteran leaders. So, how is your personal equations with PM Modi now? Besides, how is it to be like working with a workaholic Prime Minister?
A. I don’t understand why you have to ask this question (laughs)

Q. You have been working with him for a while now…
A. I am reluctant to talk about this because this question itself is irrelevant.

Q. No, I have nothing else in my mind in asking this. I just wanted to know how your personal equation with the PM is…
A. Well, if you look back at my life, I became an MLA from Mirzapur, UP, when I was just 26 years old. The friendships I make, I see to it that they never break. The friendships I have made when I was just 26 have stayed on with me till today. With regard to your question on working with a workaholic PM, he is has amazing energy. I sometimes ask him how do you manage to work all the time. It’s not possible for people like me to do work hard like this and still not show any sign of tiredness. God has blessed him a lot.

Q. You mentioned that you keep the friendships you make. In fact, people say, you are friends with the Opposition leaders too…
A. Well, I talk to everyone (laughs).

Q. They say you are friends with even those who oppose the BJP.
A. (Laughs) I speak to everyone and will speak to everyone. I am not going to stop that if someone tells me not to.

Q. How do you manage this?
A. There is nothing to manage. If you are impartial there won’t be any room for animosity towards any one.

Q. I have heard you use to play kabaddi in your youth. Does that help in politics?
A. Yes, I use to play kabaddi before I was in the 8th standard. It has now been recognised as a big sport. As for politics, there is no need to play kabaddi. In politics you play fair and with good intentions. What has to happen, will happen, there is no point worrying about anything. In politics you always think about what you can contribute to the society.

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