Millennium Post

‘My ties with Modi too deep to let anything spoil it’

Rajnath Singh is not an extraordinary leader. Though he has been BJP chief twice over – a feat that puts him on a par with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani – he is endowed with neither the seductive charm of oratory nor exceptional organisational skills. Yet he has achieved what neither of his illustrious predecessors could. As the BJP swept to power with a clear mandate, dhoti-clad Singh with all his ordinariness became a man of the history. Singh’s political ascendancy is always guided by his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.

If much has not been written about Singh’s role as a catalyst in the victory, it shows he is as adept in leading the team as in becoming part of the team. Though he has helped shape India’s recent political history, there are speculations about his relations with the PM in his role as the home minister. In a candid and freewheeling interview, Singh bares his emotional side, dwells at length on his equations with Modi and other colleagues, and also shares his views on a range of governance matters.

You had declared after the Lok Sabha election results that you would not join the government and would prefer to remain the BJP president. What made you change your mind?
It is true, but I never decide my own role. In this case, the party leadership in general and prime minister Narendra Modi in particular asked me to take up this assignment in the government. I decided to go by the collective wisdom of the organisation. That is how I have always conducted myself. There is nothing new, though it is true that I had expressed my desire to strengthen the party as it would have given me pleasure.

Any regrets for conceding primacy to Modi and joining the government?

You see, I have never hankered for primacy in my political life. Even in 1977 when I contested the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, I had not asked for it. Those who know me can vouch for it that I have never asked for anything. So there is nothing to regret about. Yet, I would like to point out that in politics, the most popular leader gets primacy. You must have seen me conceding primacy to Modi even at the BJP national executive in Goa where he was declared the face of the party’s campaign. I chose to speak before him, giving clear indications of his leadership position. He is the most popular leader of the country.

Moreover, in the Indian cabinet system, the prime minister gets primacy. This is a natural and legitimate position of the prime minister. As far as my role is concerned, I never worked to establish my primacy. You see, even a family cannot run without conceding primacy to someone. In Modiji’s case, his primacy is very natural and not imposed.

Historically there have always been speculations about the relationship between the prime minister and the home minister. In Nehru’s time, his relationship with Sardar Patel was a much-talked-about issue. More recently, even the Vajpayee-Advani relations in the previous NDA regime were discussed in the media. Similarly, in your case there is a lot of speculation about your relations with the PM. How do you see it?

Let me explain it. That may perhaps set speculations at rest. In public life, I abide by certain parameters about maintaining relationships. My politics is guided by those yardsticks. If I have established a deep personal and emotional bond with a certain individual, I cannot think of harming him or her in any way. I cannot commit the sin of harming someone close to me simply because I have developed some differences with that person. This is not my politics. I admit that there may be some people nursing grievances against me over some confusion in the past. I am open to talking to them and resolving the issues. You must have noted consistency in my conduct even when I faced friends-turned-foes in Uttar Pradesh. I have never used any derogatory description for my adversaries and never harmed them.

My question pertains to your relationship with the PM.
I am coming to that. Let me tell you that in the past one and a half years, our relationship has grown quite deep. He is the country’s most popular leader who has been steering the nation through difficult times. Those who are speculating about our relationship are totally unaware of its depth. It is too sacred, emotional and deep to let anything spoil it. I will not let this happen even if I am personally harmed. You see, in my public life, credibility is the only capital I have earned. And I am determined not to fritter it away and lead the life of an animal (pashuvat jeevan jeena sweekar nahin)

My question was rooted in the history of the supposed rivalry between the PM and HM. Why did the post of the HM evolve in such a way as to pose a challenge to the PM?
This will remain a history. Let me assure you that the future will be different and not a repetition of the past. Let us bury this history and move ahead. And let me also explain that despite misgivings in the media Atalji and Advaniji shared a very cordial and mutually respectful relationship.

OK. Let us move to another question about the impression that being the home minister is a thankless job. When something happens, he bears the brunt of people’s anger. But when you do something good, nobody appreciates. What is your experience?

I always take the post with a sense of responsibility. I try to discharge my duty with all humility and efficiency at my command. I am neither swayed by accolades nor distressed by criticism. As home minister, I am not given to curry favours with anybody. I am moving in my own way without disturbing my equanimity by such distractions. I am largely guided by my sense of duty.

Let me ask you another contentious question. How did you feel when you were bypassed in the appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC) on matters related to crucial appointments in the government?
I am amazed at people’s tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill. This is a procedural issue which does not merit undue attention. I am doing what I need to do.

I have heard that in your first meeting with the bureaucrats in the home ministry, you assured them that they would not be transferred. Why did you take this status-quoist approach?
It was not a status-quoist approach. I would certainly assess their performance after a few months and take a decision. However, my assurance to officials in the home ministry was intended to convey a message that they would not be harmed if they perform. In fact, in my first conversation with officials of my ministry, I told them categorically that I trusted them. But it would be incumbent upon them not to break that trust. I asked them to do one thing: not to break my trust. This is not a tall order and I am sure my officials would easily pass this critical but easy test.

Can you tell me about the initiatives you have taken as home minister?
The initiatives will speak for themselves. I am not going to spell them out as it would amount to a disclosure of operational details. But let me assure you that our forces have adequately responded to ceasefire violations by Pakistan. My foremost task is to improve the morale of the forces. I have given clear instructions that we would not let our forces down, come what may. This is why we have decided to enhance the perks and allowances of security forces deployed in anti-Naxal operations and match them with those of the army. We would have a balanced aproach and a definite action plan to tackle the Maoist menace.

You have inherited the challenge of left-wing extremism which was described by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the biggest threat to internal security. How do you intend to take the anti-Maoist operations further?
Once again, it is not for me to discuss the operational details. But we are confident of achieving great success shortly. Are you aware of the fact that our jawans have been pushing deep into the woods in Maoist bastions and driving them out? We would certainly take all aspects into consideration but keep the operations under wraps.

 You talk about taking a tough stance against left-wing extremism. But how do you intend to tackle right-wing extremism which is often associated with your own party?

The BJP has nothing to do with any kind of extremism. Our party’s philosophy does not allow any kind of extremism. I would say any kind of extremism is unacceptable in a society. We do not approve of that.

But how would you explain this in the context of inflammable utterances by your party’s leaders in UP and their campaign against so-called Love Jihad? Does it not make your work difficult?
I am a believer of restraint in public utterances. I do not hear what is not worth hearing.

You recently appointed an interlocutor for the northeast. Do you propose to do the same for Jammu and Kashmir?
How long can we go on appointing interlocutors? The practices of the past which are non-productive must be severed. Therefore, I am not in favour of appointing interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir. Now the time has come to have a rethink on appointing interlocutors. Having said this, let me clarify that I am not averse to talks.

But I am also not in favour of non-productive talks which are carried out by anti-nationals to burnish their own political image in either Jammu and Kashmir or the northeast. Particularly in the northeast, we are keen to restore peace by empowering people, not those who are working against the country’s interests.

The national investigation agency (NIA) has sought legal authorisation for its undercover operations to tackle terrorism. Are you in favour of legal authorisation for undercover operations by intelligence agencies? The question is more pertinent with regard to implication of IB officials in certain police encounters in Gujarat.

I am not aware of the NIA’s demand. If I come across anything, we will judge it on its merit. But I am clear about one thing; that the IB’s information must not be leaked. The sanctity of this information must not be violated on any account as it is against national interest. When we talk about IB operations and their fallout, this fact must be borne in mind.

Some critics say the work of Aadhaar overlaps with that of the national population register (NPR). How do you reconcile the two?
I do not think there is any overlap. If there are any ambiguities, they will be sorted out soon. You see, the UIDAI would have a database of more than 65 crore people shortly and will prepare Aadhaar cards for them. The UIDAI and the NPR are acting in tandem. Moreover, we will roll out nearly 25 crore citizen cards by the next year under the NPR. This will cover a large section of the population.

My last question pertains to the appearance of a new video of Al Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri announcing plans to launch jihad in South Asia, particularly in certain parts of India. How prepared is the government to tackle this threat?
The international community must take bold initiatives to curb this menace. As far as India is concerned, this pernicious philosophy has few takers among Indian Muslims who take pride in India’s plurality and democracy. The state is capable of dealing with them.

By arrangement with Governance Now
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