Intolerance debate in Parliament would be great opportunity for us
Ahead of a crucial Parliament session, Commerce Minister and feisty spokesperson for the Modi government, Nirmala Sitharaman, takes on the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on the intolerance debate, the award-wapsi brigade, the fallout of the Bihar drubbing on Parliament, the threat over the reforms agenda, the controversy over Tipu Sultan and much more. Excerpts of her exclusive interview with FPJ[/alert]
New Delhi : Q: Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the star campaigner of the BJP and the Centre’s work was being drummed up in the campaign, isn’t the Bihar defeat a reflection on the performance of the Modi government?
A: Not at all. If that is the case, what explains the BJP doing well in the Kerala local body polls? Results coming from the states have a big importance for the party but to construe it as a verdict may not be right.
Q: But there is a charge from veterans like LK Advani, MM Joshi and others that the people who were responsible for the campaign are shying away from accountability. How do you look at their complaint?
A: They are very senior leaders of the party and also part of the Mardarshak Mandal … (though) it may not be part of the party’s framework of things. Party has responded to them and I’m sure the leadership is engaging with them.
Q: After tasting victory in Bihar opposition parties have hinted that they would form a coalition against the government in the forthcoming Parliament session. How much of a challenge is that for the government?
A: Well, even earlier many parties were
together and periodically challenging
the government. I don’t think it would
be unique to post-Bihar elections. One has seen it but that’s not to underestimate. I am sure the parliamentary party has thought about it and taken this as a factor.
Q: Sensing the mood of the opposition are you worried that the economic reforms agenda may be stalled for a long time?
A: The economic reforms agenda is very important for the country. It is not going to benefit only BJP-ruled states but the entire country. So, when it comes to issues before Parliament I think all parties will have to see it in the national context, in the context of the economy, whereby the benefits would accrue to all the people. Therefore they must look at it from that perspective and work together.
Q: The opposition is gearing up for a resolution in Parliament on rising intolerance under the Modi government. Will the government agree for it?
A: The parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naiduji has made it clear that we are ready for any kind of debate in Parliament and, if I recall, it includes intolerance. There should be no hesitation in debating anything on the floor of Parliament.
Q: Won’t the government find it difficult to reply to such a debate?
A: Not the least. I think it would be a great opportunity to reply to what has ironically turned to be an environment created out of completely unconnected issues and incidents…incidents happening in non-BJP states, except one in Haryana. Some even relate to periods much before our government came to power.
To add heat to this, the intellectuals, the writers who have returned awards, has only highlighted how ironic this whole Award Wapsi campaign is. And to top the irony, the Congress party Adhyaksha chooses to go the Rashtrapati. I would like to ask, is the situation in 2015 so different from 2014, 2013, five years ago or a decade ago. I’m not even going back to the Emergency days. Why choose to give the award back now and not when bigger incidents took place? And to put everything at the doorstep of the Prime Minister.
Q: But the charge is even if incidents may have occurred in various states it is the atmosphere built up by elements in the BJP and your ideological parivar which led to it.
A: How prejudicial they can get…how prejudging it can be? Take the church attacks…a series of it happened…but not one was attributed to the set of people these people were attributing it to. What a presumptuous way of throwing allegations! Later how many came to apologise?
But to top the irony the Congress president goes to the President. Let her look at the facts. Some of them (incidents) happened in her own states. Ma’am, may I ask, are you going to President to complaint against Siddaramaiah? And are you suggesting that the PM should speak about the failures of Siddaramaiah?
And to think that they wanted to honour Tipu Sultan on Diwali. That is the day when Mysore Mandayam Iyengars were slaughtered in hundreds by Tipu. Tipu has claimed in his own letter. You want that vote behind Tipu Sultan, have it, but think of the collateral damage. Is Sonia Gandhi going to President on this intolerance of Siddaramaiah?
Q: What about fringe elements in your own party? Are they not derailing your agenda?
A: Not at all. Not every group has anything to do with the BJP. It has become a habit to push everything at the BJP’s door if there is disturbance of a certain kind. It doesn’t work that way. Every state has had disturbances in the past and many have gone unpunished. And where is the intolerance today? Has the environment changed? Nobody is left with awards to return? Where have they all gone?
Q: Your colleague and alliance partner Ram Vilas Paswan has hinted that Mohan Bhagwat’s comments on reservation may have damaged your prospects in Bihar?
A: I think the party has responded to this that there is absolutely no co-relation and we have said this before.