BJP’s general secretary in charge of West Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya, says Bengal’s vote for the party was a ‘reaction’ to the violence in the state, claims BJP got not just Left’s, but also TMC and Congress’ votes, and talks about ‘change of demography’ in Bengal districts
LIZ MATHEW: What were some of the challenges that you faced in Bengal?
After three decades of Left rule, Mamata Banerjee rose to power in Bengal after a big struggle. People expected things to change, they wanted democracy to be reinstated, they wanted an end to dictatorship and violence, they wanted peace and development… Unfortunately, nothing changed. An era of atrocities and murders began. At first, Congress workers were killed, then BJP and CPM workers. In the last four-and-a-half years that I have been the BJP in-charge of the state, 103 BJP workers have been killed, including a few after the election results
There is ‘syndicate raj’ in the state. While the government runs the state, syndicates control the districts. People affiliated to the ruling party in the state are part of this syndicate. One cannot even build a house in Bengal without the involvement of the syndicate.
There was an apprehension among people about which way to go, especially since the Congress doesn’t have any presence there and the Left is almost over. When I was made in-charge, our party president Amit Shahji told me that two states, Kerala and West Bengal, were tough to win and that I should take charge of West Bengal. When I first went to Bengal, I thought it would take us at least 15 years to be in a position to challenge the ruling party. After doing a tour of the state twice, I met the party president again. He said, ‘I have sent you for five years, not 15. I am standing behind you, just tell me what you need.’ Then, I got a flat in Bengal and began to visit districts to understand the problems of the people. I, along with Suresh Pujari, a party worker from Odisha, and Shiv Prakashji, our national sangathan mantri, travelled across the length and breadth of the state, both clockwise and anti-clockwise. By doing so, we were able to take two rounds of a district in one cycle within two- to two-and-a-half months. This led to large-scale mobilisation and our party workers gained confidence.
Subsequently, attacks on our workers also increased. No one was spared. Even the Trinamool and the syndicate in the state have two-three different groups. They fought amongst themselves, and in the last three years of Mamataji’s tenure, 65 Trinamool workers have been murdered by fellow workers. I think West Bengal is the only state where workers of the ruling party kill each other, and then blame the Opposition. More than 150 BJP workers, who haven’t even killed a mosquito, have been booked under Section 302 (murder).
Amid all these atrocities by the ruling party, it was an uphill task to strengthen our party base in the state. I think it is because of the leadership of the Prime Minister, political strategies of our party chief, and our efforts on the ground that we have been able to build and strengthen our network in every district of Bengal. We kept a low profile, didn’t do any publicity and just worked to strengthen the organisation.
Everyone thought since we had two (Lok Sabha) seats in Bengal, we would probably get four to six seats this time. I had set a target of 25 seats. People would laugh at it. But I told everyone it will be an astonishing result. We would have won 25 seats had there not been violence during the elections, because of which many people did not step out to vote. But even then, the people helped us win 18 seats.
LIZ MATHEW: Why were you chosen to handle the elections in Bengal?
You should ask Amit Shahji that (laughs). I think I have the most amount of experience among all party general secretaries. I have been a councillor, a mayor and and an MLA for six terms. Besides, I have seen violence very closely. In the ’80s and ’90s, Indore had many textile mills and trade unions. My father was a mill worker there. I lived in the mazdoor basti (workers’ colony). I have seen fights closely… In those days firearms or explosives were not as common, it was mostly swords and sticks. Amitbhai knew all about me and so he probably thought I could work in Bengal as I have seen it all.
RAVISH TIWARI: Your opponents say communal politics has helped your performance in Bengal.
We are not responsible for the situation in Bengal; Mamataji is. When I went to Kolkata for the first time, I saw big hoardings of people offering namaaz in the Salt Lake area. When I looked closely, I realised that the hoardings had Mamataji’s face on them. I was told that she often visited the area and offered namaaz. I have never seen a Hindu leader offer namaaz like this anywhere in the country. There is always a reaction when things are stretched too far.
Durga Puja is the biggest festival in Bengal. When a Durga visarjan procession is stopped because of Muharram, it will evoke a reaction. People had to go to the court and get permission for the procession. This also led to more than 10,000 people assembling at Durga Puja pandals, which otherwise would not have had more than a thousand people. That reaction was not ours, it was the people’s reaction.
(In 2016), the police station in Kaliachak area of Malda district was torched. Most of the Hindu families there were thrown out of the area. None of the media houses initially reported the incident, till a senior reporter from a big television channel went to cover the incident. That story showed how AK-47 rifles were used in the violence, and how so many people had to leave.
Therefore, despite the fact that we did not have workers to assist us in the election process, people still voted for us. This shows their sentiment towards the ruling party. In villages, despite bomb blasts at night, women gathered to vote in the morning. They called police and voted under their protection. It was all a reaction. Not a single BJP worker was involved in any of it (the violence). So, when they say that we did it (communal politics)… we did not. We might have benefited from it, but we are not responsible for it. The responsibility lies with the state government.
LIZ MATHEW: You say that there is fear among the people in the state. In that case, why didn’t all the Hindu votes come to your party?
That is why I am saying that the allegation that there was polarisation is baseless. Had that been the case, we would have got all the Hindu votes. We did not polarise. We put forward Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face and spoke about jobs for the youth, women empowerment, quality education and healthcare services… That is why we did not get 100% of the Hindu votes.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Did the Vidyasagar College incident harm the BJP in the seventh phase of the polls?
It is a matter of research for us. There were nine Lok Sabha seats (in the phase) and they were all very difficult for us. The Trinamool has more influence in the region, and above that, there was gundagardi (hooliganism).
RAVISH TIWARI: In the Lok Sabha elections, you sought votes in Narendra Modi’s name. The BJP does not have a face in Bengal. Will that affect the results in the state polls?
Before the Assembly election, there is the local body election. We might only get 10% of the votes in the local body election. It is not an election. The state election commissioner, the police, the Trinamool and its goons, together fight the local body elections. You must have seen the last panchayat elections. The situation there is very bad. The demographic of eight districts has changed entirely. When we visited some villages in these parts, it appeared that we were not in our country. To save Bengal, it is necessary to stop the entry of infiltrators and illegal operations.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: You claim that you don’t polarise, but then you say that certain areas in Bengal don’t look like our country. Your party didn’t give tickets to Muslims, you don’t talk about Muslim voters…
We had Muslim candidates. Our candidate came second in Murshidabad. We have also received Muslim votes. I never said that we didn’t receive Muslim votes. We have got Muslim votes, though less in numbers, but we have got them.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: In its campaign, the BJP spoke out against dynasts. But now you have Arjun Singh and his son, Mukul Roy and his son, in the party.
We had no other option. We had no candidate from Arjun Singh’s constituency (Barrackpore). I am not ashamed to say that Arjun Singh is very powerful there and our party didn’t have a sangathan in the region. We made our party’s office in his area, but his men captured it. We still had the office but with their party flag. (Arjun Singh defected from the Trinamool to the BJP in March.) In a democracy, the end result of an election is not a gold, silver or bronze medal. You either win or lose. In order to win, you need a good candidate.
LIZ MATHEW: Did you get all the CPM cadre votes in Bengal?
Remember the slogan Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave: ‘Chup chap, kamal chaap (Quietly vote for the lotus)’. It is interesting to see how intelligent the voters have become. In villages, people knew they wouldn’t be allowed to vote if they said they wanted to vote for the BJP. So they put on the Trinamool’s tag and went to vote. But, at the polling booth, they secretly pressed the lotus button (the BJP’s party symbol). The political violence and undemocratic activities are causing problems for the Trinamool in the state. We have got the Trinamool’s votes. We have also received the Congress’ and the CPM’s votes.
RAVISH TIWARI: On one hand you say that Muslims voted for you, on the other you claim that in certain parts of the state, which have a larger Muslim population, it doesn’t feel like your own country. These are contrary viewpoints. When we talked to the people there, it felt like this was not a part of our country. Their behaviour, mannerisms, implied that they are not a part of this country.
VANDITA MISHRA: What kind of behaviour?
If you go to any part of the country, people have a welcoming attitude. In any village, if you ask people for directions, they will first ask you if you have had any food or water. This is the culture of our country, atithi devo bhava (the guest is god). But when we went to some of the places in Bengal, it felt like we were a burden on them. It’s a mindset. I go to a lot of Muslim areas where I get a lot of love from the people. I attend many Muslim events in Indore. I have also got Muslim votes in Indore. It’s not like we don’t go to Muslim areas, but in that particular area, we felt unwelcome.
RAVISH TIWARI: You have worked in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and now West Bengal for the BJP. The political violence aside, what difference do you see in the politics of these states?
In Uttar Pradesh, there is a politician in every second house. If you talk to a Jat in UP, he will tell you the entire history of the community. A Yadav will tell you how they have been oppressed for ages. The voter in UP is very politically aware. Haryana’s voters are the most honest. I went to Haryana for an event of transporters. They gave me buttermilk and looked after me well. When I asked them whether they will vote for the BJP, they said we are Chautala’s men (laughs). I have never met such honest people anywhere else in the country. In West Bengal, people read a lot of newspapers. They read and they think. It is tough to talk to a Bengali because they don’t open up easily. They are very proud of their culture and language and are very emotional. Women in West Bengal are very concerned about their children’s education and how the quality of education is falling.
RAVISH TIWARI: Why did the BJP lose the Madhya Pradesh polls?
There are two reasons. Firstly, we were in power in the state for 15 years. In this time period, we built roads and infrastructure. We had nothing new to show this time. Someone who was four-five years old when we started in Madhya Pradesh, could now vote. He didn’t know what the BJP had done in these 15 years. Rahul Gandhi said he will waive off farm loans in eight days, but nothing happened. He said he will give pension to the unemployed. No money was given. The Lok Sabha results were an answer to this politics of cheating.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Ram Navami celebrations are now held with much more fervour in Bengal. Some Bengalis have stopped eating non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays because they worship Hanuman. People from West Bengal have always been Durga worshippers. How did this happen and how did it affect the voting?
Every action has a reaction. Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti were not celebrated in West Bengal till four years ago. The celebrations were curbed. Children who wore Hanuman costumes and went around with gadas (maces) were slapped with cases under the Arms Act. People holding Ram Navami processions without permission were thrown into jails. So there was a reaction from society. If people said Jai Shri Ram, they were slapped and arrested. (In these elections), a whole village voted while chanting Jai Shri Ram. This is Newton’s law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
ANANT GOENKA: How do you think the social fabric of Bengal will change in the next 10 years?
If there is a BJP government, we will conduct the National Register of Citizens drive. Over a crore intruders will be identified. These people are taking away the resources and jobs of Bengal’s people. Strict action will be taken against them.
ANANT GOENKA: And if Mamata Banerjee continues to be CM, how will the Centre-state relations play out?
The Prime Minister recently said that we are with the people who trusted us, and those who didn’t, we will strive to win their trust. We go by his motto of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’. The PM called Mamataji after the cyclone, she didn’t pick up his call and then said that she doesn’t consider him the Prime Minister. That’s her prerogative. The PM did his duty.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Why didn’t the BJP perform well in Kerala?
We have shattered the belief that the Trinamool cannot be defeated. Once that happens in Kerala, when people start believing that the BJP can win, we will get their votes. We haven’t been able to create that environment in the state yet. The day it is created, the BJP will win in Kerala too.