Vinay Sahasrabuddhe describes himself as a nationalist by heart, a political scholar by profession and a politician by elevation. A prominent ideologue of the Bharatiya Janata Party, he currently serves as the party’s national vice president and oversees its affairs in Madhya Pradesh. In the latter role, Sahasrabuddhe saw the BJP defeated after 15 years in late last year’s Assembly election, but he claims the party will get the majority of the state’s 29 parliamentary seats – for which polling will be held over the last four phases starting April 29 – in this election.
The BJP has asked Sahasrabuddhe to personally oversee the campaign in Bhopal, where the party has fielded Pragya Singh Thakur, one of the main accused in the 2008 terrorist bombing of Malegaon which killed six people.
Thakur’s candidacy – she is up against former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh of the Congress – and her controversial remarks have put the contest in national spotlight. Many observers see this as a blatant attempt by the BJP to communally polarise the election.
Speaking to Scroll.in, Sahasrabuddhe rejects this assertion and defends the BJP’s decision to field a terrorism accused. He also speaks about the party’s campaign planks and Narendra Modi. Excerpts:
Why did the BJP pick Pragya Singh Thakur, who is accused of terrorism, as its candidate in Bhopal? Who made this decision and did it have to do anything to do with the Congress fielding Digvijaya Singh?
The BJP is one of the few national parties that does not function at the whims and fancies of a dynast. We have a constitution and a procedure for selecting Lok Sabha candidates after due consultations. Sadhvi Pragya’s selection happened accordingly. She represents all those women who have been victims of custodial torture and atrocities. She represents the fighting spirit of a woman. She also represents the forces that are waging war against the vote bank politics being perpetuated by many political parties in India. She is challenging a leader who symbolises bad governance, corruption and vote bank politics.
How do you think people will react to her candidature? Don’t you think voters would prefer a candidate with a clean record, not someone accused of carrying out terror activities?
If you leave aside the fabricated charges that the National Investigating Agency has now found to be baseless, her record is perfectly clean. Simply because a section of the media believes so, you cannot punish a victim of a media trial. People are justice conscious. They will come out and support this daughter of Bharatmata. Remember, those advocating further vivisection of India, saying “Bharat tere tukde honge”, are fighting the election and openly propagating their agenda. As against them, I am convinced that the people will prefer those who have been working for national integration and social unity.
The Congress has accused the BJP of creating a communal divide by fielding Thakur in Bhopal. Chief Minister Kamal Nath said the people are intelligent enough to know this “communal card” is being played for political purposes. Is the BJP banking on such polarisation to win?
This question needs to be asked of those who oppose our bill rescuing women from the threat of triple talaq. What is communal about her candidature? She has already said she wants to represent the entire population of Bhopal. If at all there is any polarisation, it is on account of the performance of contesting parties when they were in government. The BJP is known for the politics of performance while the Opposition is indulging in the politics of paranoia.
Hemant Karkare’s family have accused Thakur of doing “cheap politics over his martyrdom”. How do you respond to what she has said about the Mumbai police officer who was killed during the 2008 attacks on the city?
Pragya ji has already clarified her statements and also apologised. No further explanation is needed. Our party respects all martyrs, including Shri Karkare ji.
Thakur claimed she was among those who brought down the Babri Masjid in 1992. What does the party have to say about this?
The whole matter is now sub judice. It is better we discuss it only after the Supreme Court delivers its verdict.
She also said the BJP will build a Ram temple where the mosque once stood. Why has the BJP gone silent on the Ram temple issue? Has it lost its appeal among the voters?
It is a canard. There is absolutely no question of any silence. We are committed to building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Read our manifesto.
There is talk that several BJP leaders in Bhopal are not happy with Thakur’s candidacy and they even skipped a meeting called by you recently. Are there difference within the party’s local leadership over this matter?
Again, it is a case of wanton indulgence in spreading misinformation by a section of the media. The majority of those invited to the said meeting participated. There’s no question of any differences whatsoever.
You once claimed that Hindutva also means development. Can you elaborate on that?
Hindutva, as explained by the Supreme Court, is a way of life. It is also a worldview. Hindutva means what I describe as spiritual democracy. Sarve bhavantu sukinah, sarve santu niramaya – may all be happy, may all be healthy – is Hindutva’s one-line manifesto. For all to be happy and satisfied, we require development or vikas. Tell me, where is the difference between Hindutva and vikas?
Many observers say there is no “Modi wave” in this election, unlike in 2014. If so, are there any other factors that could favour the BJP?
People travelling on the ground have realised there is a powerful undercurrent in favour of the BJP. And three important factors are entirely in our favour. First, the purity of purpose that goes with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is not even an iota of doubt about his honest intentions across regions. People vouch for his integrity.
Second, his emphasis on the flawless implementation of welfare programmes which has created a huge positive impact. Third, his extraordinary leadership which has become synonymous with decisiveness. The way his government has handled our defence, issues related to internal security and external affairs, people are deeply impressed.
Why then is the BJP, including the prime minister, not talking about the welfare schemes or other developmental works done by the Modi government? Why are most of your leaders talking only about Pakistan and the Gandhi family?
That is absolutely untrue. Scan the speeches of the prime minister and our party president Amit Shah. They devote considerable parts of their speeches to issues of development but the media only highlights points with more newsy content.
When issues of national security are part of the national discourse, how can we not refer to the country that poses a severe threat to our security and sovereignty?
When we talk about the years of Congress rule, the majority of which were under a Gandhi family member as prime minister, we cannot help but talk about the family and its misgovernance.
What do you make of the Opposition’s accusation that much of the Indian media favours the ruling party?
It is the other way around, in fact. Unlike in the past, a section of the media is seen as wantonly mixing their personal views with news. They are seen as playing politics of vocabulary and punctuation marks. Many are also driven by political correctness that often goes against the ruling party, as negativism is seen to be more easily marketable than all that is positive.
Questions have been frequently raised about electronic voting machines being manipulated to benefit the BJP? How do you respond to such allegations?
It is for the election commission to respond to this. EVMs are not our invention. While democracies the world over are appreciative of our election management skills, some of our own politicians are creating suspicion. This sounds like the Opposition parties preparing to face their resounding defeat. But what is worrying is the body blow this irresponsible discussion might land to the credibility of our democratic governance.