‘When Did 2019 Start? In 2014’: Smriti Irani on BJP’s Preparations for Lok Sabha Elections
BJP's winning candidate from Amethi also expressed her jubilation that a single BJP party worker was able to take down the grand old party in the Gandhi bastion.
The BJP candidate was able to wrest Amethi from Congress, defeating its chief Rahul Gandhi with a margin of 55,120 votes.
New Delhi: BJP leader Smriti Irani attributed her stunning victory over Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in his home constituency of Amethi to the organisation of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that one could not be removed from the other. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
You defeated the incumbent, Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, by 55,121 votes. Although counting was still on, your challenger had already thrown in the towel. You were not willing to accept defeat even though the rival had conceded defeat.
That is the appropriate way to conduct oneself till the Election Commission does not announce you a victor and you are just a party representative. It is not appropriate to go tooting your own horn and saying I have won. It would be disgraceful conduct. It was gracious that the opponent made a public declaration. As a member of the BJP, it is a matter of pride for us that we could savour the moment because the contest there was between the Congress and the BJP. There were no other parties or no other individual who basically could splice away a few votes, here and there.
How does it feel? Has it sunk in?
Would it feel any different if you just address it as a ‘karyakarta’? I don't think so. I am elated that so many people have given me their best wishes. I am extremely grateful that so many people have given me their blessings. I see people on the streets, they walk around with a huge smile. People I don't know, they walk up to me. Somewhere they manifest themselves in this particular political match. It is an indication of the manifestation of the common Indian. The tenacity we all have it. Some get covered on a news channel, the others don't.
There is a sacrifice that has gone in as a person, as a woman, as a mother for you. Your children passed through their boards, you were on the campaign trail. You would have wanted to be there but you were out there, working and wanting to prove a point.
Not wanting to prove a point but fulfilling a responsibility. I think that would be an incorrect way of looking at it because when you're so focused on wanting to prove a point to somebody, then you tend to waver. I think you are focused when you just want to perfect whatever you are pursuing. For me, it was about a promise I made in 2014. Everybody who has covered the BJP knows that nobody in the BJP knows who will be a candidate for a particular seat. It is not a given. Given those circumstances, I was very, very focused that I need to keep my promises to the people and that is all I endeavoured to. It was an additional blessing that I became the candidate in 2019 but it was not a given in 2014 or from 2014 to 2019.
Politically it was perceived to be nurture. For me, I gave my word, I stayed there. That's it.
How much will you credit the organisation, how much will you credit the PM, if I say on a 100% scale?
The organisation, the PM, it is a part of the whole of BJP, you can’t dismember it. The PM is not distinct from the organisation. The PM has credited his rise to the organisation. This victory is also of the organisation of the PM.
Should Rahul quit as party chief, should he introspect on his political future?
I have said this two to three times, it is not the BJP's job to save the Congress or to direct the Congress president or for that matter any Congress leader on how to conduct themselves. As a BJP MP, I don’t need to indulge in that speculation or be in a position to give them advice on their career paths.
Did the missing MP barb ring a bell with the people?
It wasn’t a barb, it was a reality for Amethi. I think it resonated with each passing day because all we did was put facts on the table and people sat down and introspected whether their lives need to get better.
Somewhere did you think Rahul Gandhi did not fight hard enough?
Did they all not come down to fight?
He gave up with three lakh votes to count.
After the votes were polled. I think they all came down. I wouldn’t like to name but I had a sitting chief minister from door to door with the police force of that state, which is actually a violation of code of conduct. People said why don’t you protest and I said it is their president. For me, it was a matter of satisfaction that while their president and their whole system came down to fight, it was just one ‘karyakarta’ of the BJP.
But you had your ecosystem backing too. You had Amit Shah on the roadshow. You had UP CM there, you had the entire organisation muscle coming to help you.
My party president and my chief minister did not go door-to-door, that is the decorum, that is the respect we give because we are the foot soldiers. The chief minister has a state to run, Amit Shah had an organisation to run, I can’t expect him to sit there, either Yogi ji (Adityanath) to leave his state function and duties. That is why I was surprised that somebody found the time to let go off their own state and focus to win a seat for their national president.
You see the result what happened to that state?
It is for the Congress leadership to introspect, not my issue. When I talk about this gentleman, I think he did not do it politically, he was constitutionally responsible for his people. He thought a state can run in his absence, it took me by surprise.
Are you talking about the state of Chhattisgarh?
Like I said, whatever happened has happened.
How did the BJP do it? Break it down for us. When did the entire process start? At what point in time did it all click in?
It started in 2014. Did you see the PM take a single break? You cannot divorce yourself from political realities, from work. You cannot say I will be an organisational person only these few months before an election. When did 2019 start? In 2014.
So has 2024 already started? Do you already have a road map?
If you ask Amit Shah, I am sure. I think that is what as a ‘karyakarta’ my organisation endears to me. The fact that fine, we have won. Now let's get down to work, again.
Now speak to us about the PM. At various levels, everybody is intrigued about the political capital, the experience and how he manages to do it.
I think the political history that was written yesterday is on many levels of deep interest to me. Two to three things. An entire ecosystem which was very vibrant under the Congress, which spoke about 72,000 package supposed to enchant India into voting for the Congress. I think that the political maturity of the average Indian voter is something we need to salute. They saw a rhetoric and compared it to the development on the ground. People came together, in the so-called ‘mahagathbandhan’, not because they had a vision for the country, but because they had a desire to retain power for themselves. The Indian voter saw through that.
The fact that here was Mr Modi, from 2014, started working and told people that everything I do will not be popular. I will take tough decisions. People accepted that honesty and voted for that honest leader.
I think the time has come in our country where if a leader holds no bars and has that direct engagement, it is a sign of a healthy democracy that the citizens of this country stood up with Mr Modi. Because not a day went by, especially, when the venom from the opposition did not peak. They were personal attacks, attacks that sought to humiliate the PM nationally and internationally. They did it on social media, on EVMs, on the EC.
What is this attitude?
I think if we're not in power, there is something wrong with democracy. The fact that we're entitled to born and rule. I am eternally grateful to the Indian voter who said no, we choose every five years. And we make you accountable for every minute you spend in the 24 hours every day as public representatives. Whether you deserve support, whether you deserve our blessings.
How did you deal with the amount of vitriol that came your way?
The PM got a lot of it. You take a leaf out of how he handles it with such grace. I think it was extremely graceful of him. Somebody who called him a ‘chor’ and had all his people not only humiliate the PM but also drag in his family and other members. The venom was toxic. For the PM to accept it all, I think was very gracious. And when the leader does that, how can you be less?
For you as the representative of Amethi, what are the two to three issues you'll undertake?
Amethi has a plethora of issues. Amethi will see a representative who will visit every village. I think we need to start from scratch -- be it health, education, the building of roads, clean water or irrigation for that matter. We have many things which have been a challenge for the people. I am grateful, I have a responsive PM and an equally responsive state machinery. I am hopeful that these issues that have not been addressed for decades, now will find a solution.
What is the roadmap for the PM?
The PM declared his agenda in the Red Fort when he said that when India gains independence in its 75th year, we need resolve for a stronger and resilient India but also ensure that the social essentials that are needed for people to aspire to a better tomorrow.
How is there going to be an opposition in this country?
I think it is unfair to expect the BJP to nurse the opposition. It is for the opposition to make its space among the voters. The opposition could not get gain confidence of the voter. Why is it that the BJP has to worry about the opposition? We're answerable to the people 24x7. The BJP has fulfilled its responsibility and hence has been given a bigger mandate and margin. The opposition has to introspect.
Has Priyanka Gandhi delivered? How have you taken the jibes that have come against you?
She has delivered for me. I wouldn't take the jibes.
Are you expecting a ministerial berth? What is your task going to be?
Amethi MP. That's the privilege I will wear it with pride.
What's your take on the entire EVM bogey that was raised?
I think it reflects the weakness of those political organisations.
Were all the 27 independent candidates propped up in Amethi?
I think it done and dusted. This was a straight 'aar paar' ki ladai. If you're reading out the numbers, the maximum on the third position was 7,000 votes.
The argument is there were 26 candidates who totally pooled about 60,000 votes. Your margin is 55,000. Would you say Smriti Irani did not mind these candidates?
Is the contention of the person who has floated this theory they needed not only the SP-BSP but also 27 candidates? Is that how weak the Congress candidate was? They needed two political parties plus 27 candidates to fight one Smriti Irani? I have no roots in Amethi. The only people who have roots is the family that claimed this is their bastion. How could I have possibly picked up 27 people and made them stand against a family where nobody had the guts to speak against?
You also had a ‘sangathan’ backing you.
I had a ‘sangathan’ backing me because I was one person in the ‘sangathan’. Not the 27 others who we did not have any role to play with or did not represent us.
Seventy-six women MPs, 34 from the BJP. Highest number ever. Will we see the Women's Reservation Bill come to light?
The PM will make policy announcements and he will make policy commitments. I will only say the BJP has been consistent on its stand on the reservation policy. The BJP was the first one to give reservation within the party. In fact, I was one of the beneficiaries of being chosen as a national secretary because of this policy. Better yet because the party president took that decision. So, the BJP's stand on women reservation has been very consistent.
The PM's support for issues with regards to safety and economic upliftment of women is not only a stated fact but we've seen the policy drive behind it. The PM has spoken that gone are times when we spoke about only women's development. Now, India needs women-led development. I think that is a huge change in looking at governance.
We got you ‘izzat ghars’ and toilets, now we're going to get you drinking water.
Can you imagine after 70 years you have a PM who is giving you a toilet and drinking water? Can you imagine if we had a PM like this before where we would stand as a nation today? So we're making up for time lost.
Did this win you the election or Balakot?
For me, as a woman, I saw the toilets resonate a lot. I saw housing resonate a lot. The Ujjwala scheme resonate a lot. The fact that the PM is strong on the national security issue is not something one has to preach, that is something which is known and accepted about Modi.
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