In its all-out campaign in poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, party national president Jagat Prakash Nadda is the pivot of the BJP’s ground game. The party is in power in both states. In Gujarat, it has ruled for over 24 uninterrupted years; and in Himachal, voters have alternated between the BJP and the Congress. Nadda, 62, who is known for his grassroots-level organisational skills, is pulling out all stops in the party’s Mission Repeat. Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Himachal Pradesh on October 13, his second in the last eight days, Nadda exuded confidence on the party’s poll prospects in an interview with Hindustan Times in Chandigarh on Tuesday. Edited excerpts:
What is your sense of the political landscape of poll-bound Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat? I can sense tremendous enthusiasm in favour of the BJP in both states. That is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji’s schemes for youngsters, women, farmers and marginalised communities. All these sections are feeling empowered. The Centre takes care of all states, but there is a double-engine impact in BJP-ruled states. In Himachal, Jai Ram Thakur’s government implemented these initiatives at the grassroots level in letter and in spirit. The hill state was first in vaccination and almost 100% coverage of the Ayushman Bharat and Ujjwala schemes. The double engine factor has given us a big advantage in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
Himachal Pradesh has a long-entrenched bipolar polity in which the BJP and the Congress have ruled alternately. What makes you confident about the BJP’s second coming ?
When it comes to changing ‘riwaaz’ (tradition), the BJP has done it before. In UP, the most populous state, we retained the government. Uttarakhand, since its inception, had alternated power. But we broke that with a second coming. In Goa, we are in power for the third term in a row. In Manipur, we won twice consecutively. In Gujarat, we are in the fifth term and will repeat it again. In Himachal, this time the BJP will change the ‘riwaaz’ because we have expanded our base through hard work. People are eager to reward us for our performance.
But your party suffered a defeat in all four by-elections, three assembly and one Lok Sabha, last year at the hands of the Congress? That result is not a reflection of Himachal’s mood; neither was it then nor is it now. We have reflected and taken corrective action.
What is your take on the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) challenge in Himachal and Gujarat? The AAP makes an attempt everywhere. It did so in UP and dreamed of even forming governments in Uttarakhand and Goa, but lost its security deposits at all places. Six months ago, in Himachal Pradesh they were touted as a serious contender. But they are nowhere in the fight now. They will meet the same fate in Gujarat.
The AAP got a resounding mandate in Punjab seven months ago by defeating traditional parties, including the BJP. The Congress and Akalis ruled Punjab for long. People were fed up. That benefited the AAP. The BJP has always been a small party in Punjab, confined to 23 urban segments out of 117 seats as a junior ally of the Akalis. After the break-up with the Akalis last year, the BJP got little time to prepare itself for the assembly elections. For the first time, we contested 76 seats on our symbol. Today, the BJP is spreading its footprint. Look at the number of people from the Congress and Akalis joining us. Soon, the BJP will emerge as an alternative in Punjab.
Who do see your main challenger in Himachal, the Congress or the AAP? The AAP is not visible anywhere. The Congress, though weakened, still has a support base, but the BJP has forged far ahead.
How has Himachal benefited from the double-engine factor?
On all fronts, I have witnessed Himachal’s progress for four decades. There was a time when the Congress ruled the Centre, and the special category status of our state was withdrawn. The Congress chief minister made no noise. Then came the 10-year economic package for Himachal by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government. Post-2004 when the UPA was the helm, this package was withdrawn on the pretext that it was discriminatory to neighbouring Punjab, Haryana and J&K. The Congress backstabbed the interest of Himachal. After Modi ji became PM, he restored the special category status when Congress’s Virbhadra Singh was CM. Now the state gets 90% share of development grants from the Centre. Nobody could ever imagine that the Indian Institute of Management would come at Sirmaur in Himachal. For a 7 million population, Himachal got a ₹ 1,470-crore AIIMS that will be functional in three years. Four medical colleges have come up at Mandi, Harimpur, Sirmaur and Chamba during the BJP rule. The Central University is there. Every district now has a mother and child hospital. Recently, we got one of three centrally-funded bulk drug parks that will transform Himachal. So, health and educational infrastructure has drastically improved. The all-weather Atal Tunnel project remained stuck in delays during 10 years of the UPA government, but Modi ji got it completed in four years. All this speak volumes about the benefit of double-engine sarkar. When Congress was at the helm, Himachal did not have a political voice. That has changed now, and people clearly realise the difference.
You belong to Himachal. Do you feel the burden of expectations for victory in your home state? I never feel that way. Ours is an ideology-based and structured party. I have the same degree of concern for Gujarat, UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Bihar. I take my job not as a burden but with responsibility. And, the responsibility is shared by all from top to bottom in our cadre-based party.
The BJP has been conducting an exercise , Lok Sabha Pravas, focusing on 144 seats it lost in the last elections. What insights have you gleaned from the exercise so far? The pravas allowed us to focus on seats that need more concentration. We planned it accordingly. We deputed people there. These 144 seats include ones that we won with a narrow margin ; we want to win with a huge margin next time. The ‘booth shashtikaran’ programme is a key part of our action plan for these seats. We are strengthening 100 booths in each Lok Sabha constituency and 25 in each Vidhan Sabha seat. This is a continuous exercise. The gameplan is to enlist more and more voters as our workers and spread our ideology to the maximum number of people. If we are in government, we see to it that the last mile delivery takes place in all welfare schemes.
How will the BJP gain in the South where there may be a communication gap for a Hindi-led party? Language may be a handicap but we are addressing the communication gap by building an indigenous leadership so that people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka take over. We have given them enough representation in the party as well as the Union cabinet. When they become stronger, the party will automatically gain. Of course, Modi’s personality and performance has traction across the length and breadth of the country. In Puducherry, we formed the government for the first time since Independence. That shows our expanding footprint in new territories.
How do you look at the Congress presidential poll? That is their internal affair, but incidents which have happened in the run-up to the elections tell what kind of organisational health the Congress is in. When you don’t allow anybody to grow, the party becomes crippled. They are facing that problem.
How is the BJP’s process to elect its president different? Some say it is opaque. It is very different. First of all, we have a membership drive. There is a clear concept of an ordinary member and an active member. Then, there is the process of verification and only an active member can participate in elections at the booth, mandal and state levels. After that, the national president’s election takes place. It is a scientific process. As we are a cadre-based party, a lot of things we do are by consultation. But there is a democratic methodology. We are the only national party in which elections are not only free and fair but also inclusive.
The PM and you have consistently spoken against dynastic politics.
When a family takes important decision-making positions, the cadre is not going to grow. That is why the BJP practises the one-family-one-post principle. There is a larger meaning of dynastic politics. You take the example of the Samajwadi Party. In Mulayam Singh Yadav’s clan, one member was chairman, one was patron, and all family members are on the parliamentary board. When such politics is the helm of affairs, the ideology is diluted; rather no ideology is left. So they are not for people but for the family. Which is a greater challenge to democracy. It will never happen in the BJP.
Earlier this year, you said only the BJP will be left as a political party. What did you mean? Do you think regional parties are dying?
My statement was taken in bits and pieces and didn’t convey what I meant. How has the Congress, once a national party, shrunk?” First, at the national level, its ideology got diluted and was overshadowed by the dynastic instincts and leadership. A national party is expected to be uncompromising on national issues and giving space to regional aspirations. The BJP has done that. For years, there were demands for Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The BJP government in Vajpayee ji’s time, created these new states peacefully. That underlines our national commitment with regional concessions. The Congress was strong in Tamil Nadu and ruled there for years together but stands diminished today as it could not align itself with regional aspirations. It met the same fate in Andhra Pradesh though it was the Congress that created Telengana. The Congress couldn’t understand the Sabarimala issue in Kerala and lost the elections. On Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress stand was out of sync with the regional sentiments. The regional parties grew when they articulated the local cultural issues. But, very soon they turned into the family parties. Look at Jaganmohan’s party, Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Stalin’s DMK, TMC, SP, KCR in Telengana, Akali Dal in Punjab, National Conference and People’s Democratic Party in J&K. They would have remained relevant if they remained espousers of regional sentiments and were not turned into family fiefdoms. They are sure to lose their relevance. How long can one sustain one family in politics? The BJP, on the other hand, has been consistent on ideological issues. We stand for national commitment with regional aspirations.
After the BJP got an absolute majority of its own in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, some of your long-time allies left the NDA. How do you look at this? First of all, we have been honest in letter and in spirit and have not made anybody uncomfortable. We have not sent anyone out. But, the BJP is a party that is continuously growing. Alliance and adjustment doesn’t mean that we should stop growing. They have their own reasons to exit. Before the 2017 assembly polls, everybody advised us to abandon the Akali Dal and fight it alone in Punjab. It was Modi ji who said that they are our oldest partners and we respect Parkash Singh Badal, and we will not break our alliance. We knew what the result would be. Even after we lost in Punjab, they were part and parcel of the NDA government. When the decision on three farm legislation was taken, they were very much in the Union cabinet. Later, they disagreed with the decision and walked out of the NDA. Nitish Kumar ji left due to his own reasons. We have not pushed him out. A week before they left Amit Shah ji and I had said that we want to go to the 2024 elections in alliance with the JDU. The Shiv Sena did the same thing.
Several senior leaders from other parties, especially Congress, have lately joined the BJP. How do they fit into an ideology-driven party? They are happier here. They have confided: “Nadda ji hamein maloom hai ki hamein is line mein lagna hoga. Us party mein toh koi line hi nahin hai.” We don’t take everybody. We look at pluses and minuses and how they will adjust in our party; whether we have place for them or not. Our party has a system of absorbing people coming from other parties. It takes time but they are settling down.
How about the BJP’s long-time ideological project on the Uniform Civil Code? Will you put a timeline to that?
We will do it with consensus. We will keeping working on it and look for the right time. But there cannot be a time frame.
How do you respond to the opposition parties’ accusation of the ruling BJP creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred in the country?
We have never done it. But we are on high alert to expose those who have been doing it. Who started the discourse of Jinnah in UP elections? We never do it, but they do such things to polarise. I keep a strict watch on such things in my party. Sometimes, there are utterances from our party. We are a large party and some people go beyond limits. But we see to it that action is taken and ask them to withdraw their statements.
How do you look at the opposition parties’ efforts to stitch up an anti-BJP front in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls? It is a democracy. They can try doing what they want. People have seen different ‘morchas’ and what they did to the country. They also know well how by supporting an ideological-based party the country can take major decisions. Now our democracy is mature enough. We have full faith in the electorate.
How do you explain the absence of any Muslim MP among the BJP’s Lok Sabha members? In elections, we give representation to them and will do so in future too. But making them win is in the electorates’ hands. For long after Partition, there has been an attempt to paint us as anti-Muslim, which we are not. Those who couldn’t win election, we gave them representation in the Rajya Sabha and MLCs and in Raj Bhawans. But we believe in justice to all and appeasement to none.
Your three-year term ends in January. How do you look at your contribution in making the BJP a formidable political force? Our party grows in continuity, not in experiments. We have come a long way. Rajnath ji as president started the ‘each booth 10 booths’ concept, Nitin Gadkari took it forward, and Amit (Shah) ji made it 20 booths. I am taking this to panna parmukh level. I’m not doing anything special. Processes are in place. I am only making them more meaningful and giving more strength.
The talk is that you are going to get an extension as BJP president. Are you looking forward to that? In this party, I am so secure that I have never thought about myself. I should worry only about my performance. That is my responsibility. The rest, the party will decide.