India Insight

No anti-Muslim ideology in party – BJP’s Anurag Thakur

March 31, 2014

Many people see Anurag Thakur, 39, as the youthful face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress party-led government and the party of prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi. He is the son of the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s global young leaders this year.

In an interview with Reuters, Thakur spoke about Modi’s popularity as well as criticisms levelled against him. He also spoke about internal problems at the BJP, the party’s perceptions among Muslims, Congress PM contender Rahul Gandhi and more.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: The BJP has attacked Congress over many issues – price rise and corruption being the biggest. Do you think these problems will be solved if Narendra Modi comes to power?
A: Today, when the country wants someone who has experience, and can deliver, 65 percent people of the country want Modi as the PM. During NDA regime, there was hardly any price rise. There were no charges of corruption against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government colleagues.

Q: But the BJP chief at the time, Bangaru Laxman, faced corruption charges.
A: I think that issue has been taken care of by the judiciary. Now he is no more with us, I don’t want to question about that.

Q: Why do you think young people will vote for Modi and not for Rahul Gandhi, who is often pegged as a youth icon?
A: Youth is upset with the Congress. They know if the country has to survive, there should be a change in government. Rahul Gandhi can’t be a youth icon only if the Congress projects him like that. People have to decide. You have to make your way into the hearts of youth, and Modi stays there. Gandhi has failed to ask any question (in Parliament) in last five years, his attendance is only 40 percent, and he has participated in only two debates.

Q: Do you see any comparison between you and Rahul? He is the youth face of Congress and you are the youth face of the BJP?
A: He comes from a big family and [is] the vice president of Congress. I am a small party worker. I tried to perform in Parliament. Maximum attendance, maximum number of questions asked and maximum participation in debates.

Q: Do you think Rahul Gandhi’s shot to fame is that he was born in the Gandhi family?
A: See, that may be there, but, then aspirations are also higher. If you come from a family like Gandhi family, people have high expectations. He needed to perform. I wish Rahul could have more attendance, participated more, and believed in democracy, in the parliamentary system. He speaks more outside, less in Parliament.

Q: But Rahul says promises have been fulfilled – RTI, food security, women empowerment.
A: What food security? What RTI? What RTE? Congress has not even implemented Right to Education. Where food security act is concerned, I would like to ask Mr Gandhi, the quota of foodgrains has been reduced to half in Himachal Pradesh. Prices are high for ration, is this what he meant by food security? People want jobs and the Congress government has failed to give it to them.

Q: The BJP included Pramod Muthalik, who beat young people at a Mangalore pub in 2009 saying they were violating Indian values and culture. It dropped him the same day, but why did they consider him at all?
A: As the youth wing chief of the party, I condemn taking such people in the party. I am not in favour of that. I think someone at the local level might have introduced (Muthalik), but the party, within few hours, threw him out.

Q: Is there an anti-Muslim mentality among some leaders of the BJP?
A: Not really, nobody even talks about anti-Muslim ideology. We are a nationalist party. Everyone — Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian — living in the country is an Indian. We work for India, we work for Indians, we don’t work on the basis of caste and religion.

Q: A lot of senior leaders rue that they have been sidelined. Jaswant Singh, for example. Why?
A: Everyone wants to contest elections. But it is the central election committee and the party president who has to take the final call. Mr. Jaswant Singh has been MP for nine terms. People understand that if Jaswant Singh has been given external affairs ministry, finance ministry, defence ministry, all the important ministries, posts, party has given (him) so much. There might have been many contenders at that time also, but the party gave him the chance to contest.

Q: Arvind Kejriwal has accused that Modi plays into the hands of big business.
A: Who is Kejriwal? A self-certifying agency? Who has run away from a private job, then an income tax department job and then the chief ministerial post? He has never stuck to his post for more than a couple of years. He just makes false allegations, propaganda, to remain in news and he is going to be wiped off.

Q: Is fear among Muslims the legacy of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat riots?
A: Not really, a large number of Muslims are joining BJP, especially the Muslim youth, because they know that they have been used as a vote bank by Congress and other political parties. The real power has been provided to them by the BJP by giving them quality education, employment and opportunities to grow in life.

Q: There have been allegations that Adani Group’s profits have grown as an effect of Modi coming to power.
A: If companies are growing in the country, why not? They are creating jobs by not getting any advantage from the government. Don’t you want the country’s wealth to grow? Only then we will have money for the welfare schemes. We are not giving any undue advantage to any company. The companies are growing on their own – Infosys, Wipro, Tata, TCS, Adani, Ambanis, or many thousand other companies.

Q: What about reports that prime farm land was given at artificially low prices to Adani?
A: That has been procured from the farmers directly. You can check with the state government, I am not the person to speak on behalf of the state government. You can check with them, but as far as I understand, the land has been procured directly from the farmers.

Q: BJP accuses Congress of dynastical politics. But things are not much different in the BJP, are they? You are the son of a former chief minister.
A: You can say that. In BJP, our party president is changed every three years. In Congress, it is the one family which rules it.

Q: You faced corruption charges regarding alleged wrongdoings involving the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. What is that about?
A: It is false propaganda of Congress party. There are efforts to mislead the media and people. They say hotel has been built on a one rupee-lease land. We are paying 270,000 rupees (around $4500) lease amount annually. It is a false propaganda.

(Photos courtesy of Anurag Thakur)

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Amit on Twitter @leosamit and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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