Union minister Kiren Rijiju says Ramjas controversy is an ideological battle between far-Leftists and nationalists, warns freedom of expression is not freedom to abuse nation, says Naga accord is still a framework agreement, and asks why ‘praising Muslims makes one secular, and praising Hindus renders one communal’.
RAHUL TRIPATHI: What is your assessment of internal security considering insurgency is making a comeback in the Northeast and Kashmir?
If you see the internal security status before our party assumed power and compare it to now, there is a big difference. There has been no major incident in the heartland, barring a few — Gurdaspur, Pathankot etc. By and large, the situation has drastically improved. I agree with the former prime minister (Manmohan Singh)’s statement that the greatest threat to internal security is from Left-wing extremism. But that was the case around two-and-a-half-years ago. We are on the verge of overcoming this threat and there has been major success in Central India.
Regarding the Northeast, except a few incidents in Manipur, we have been able to establish peace. J&K is an issue, unfortunately one or two incidents sparked problems. But the situation is under control and we are moving back to normalcy.
COOMI KAPOOR: Your government’s reputation for intolerance has come to the fore again, in the way you and others took on the young college girl, Gurmehar Kaur. Was it necessary to do that?
I think this debate of intolerance is misplaced. Some people are desperate as their ideology is being discarded and they are not getting the support of majority of the people, so they are trying to create a debate. The second point is that this problem, which we see in colleges and universities, is an ideological battle between far-Leftists and nationalists. Students themselves will have to decide what is best for their college and what is best for the country.
With regard to the government’s position, we are very clear. There must be absolute freedom for everybody to express their opinion in colleges and universities across India. There is absolute right for dissent and disagreement. Criticism of the government is very healthy in a democracy because that brings in accountability. The only line which I clearly draw is that don’t do it against the nation.
These far-Leftists celebrate every time a soldier is killed (but) every time there is some injury to a terrorist, they come out in support of that person. Their actions are always anti-State, anti-national. So we have to clearly say that freedom of expression is not freedom to abuse your nation.
Nobody has the absolute freedom or privilege to define nationalism. It is not mine or anybody’s birthright. Nationalism is a connotation, you can define it, but abusing the nation is anti-nationalism. I’m very clear that if you say divide India, if you raise slogans for the freedom of J&K, for Bastar, for any region of India, that is anti-India.
When they shout ‘I want azadi’, I pity them. People from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tibet, come to India because they get shelter in this country. If Indians were so intolerant, why would they come and suffer here? There is absolute freedom in India. .
COOMI KAPOOR: Which part of Gurmehar Kaur’s statement was so abusive to the nation that you as a minister had to get into the controversy?
I was busy in Manipur and wasn’t aware of what was going on. The whole day I was travelling in a helicopter in a remote area and there was no Internet. When I reached a place with Internet, a journalist from Delhi showed me the news that a young lady had tweeted that Pakistan didn’t kill her father, war did. Only to that extent I reacted, that we are not at war with Pakistan right now… All those jawans who lost their lives, it happened in peace time. Even the father of that lady, the martyr who was killed, it wasn’t during war, it was during peace time. So then how did she say he was killed by war? There’s no war. Our soldiers are losing their lives in peace time. Who are the people behind these killings? Who are the perpetrators? Who are the people funding and supporting these terrorists? Giving a clean chit to Pakistan is not good.
But I requested everyone to not look at my statement as against the young lady, she’s barely 20. She has the freedom to express her views but she has a limitation of understanding. I had targeted the Leftists who were polluting the minds of young students in colleges and universities. They were my direct target, and as I said earlier, it is an ideological battle. The Congress should not come into the picture because the Congress is an ideology-less political party; it is a dynastic party.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: You said it is the government’s job to uphold freedom of expression. This 20-year-old girl was forced to withdraw her campaign. Is that the failure of the government?
If somebody puts up something on social media for the nation to see, should nobody react? When you have put up certain things on social media, it is up for discussion. When somebody opposes it, you can’t say why are you responding to the post. A public post is for public consumption. It is for the public to respond, be it a 20-year-old girl, a minister or some officer or activist. You can’t look at Rijiju or Virender Sehwag’s response and say why are you attacking somebody’s freedom. You have the right to speak, as somebody has the right to respond. Please understand that. It is not a one-way traffic.
AVISHEK DASTIDAR: The PM said the Kanpur rail accident was a conspiracy, but all the evidence points to a technical failure.
There are many people in this country who are acting at the behest of enemies. We are identifying them and action is being taken. The Kanpur incident (November 2016) was unfortunate. I can’t disclose details about the material which investigating agencies have in their possession.
AVISHEK DASTIDAR: UP Police has been saying it is not sabotage…
The state police has its own limitations. It is not necessary for me to contradict what the state police says. When it is an act of terror, it is the Central agencies that investigate the matter.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You talked about integration and how nationalism is above everything. Your own party colleague, Sakshi Maharaj, who is an MP, said Muslims should be cremated as we don’t have space for graveyards. Then there is Yogi Adityanath who has been making communal statements. The Prime Minister has compared shamshans and kabristans. What do you make of these statements?
If you disagree with what the Prime Minister says, then dissent. It is your right. There is no problem in that, you can disagree with the government.
In this country, if you praise Muslims, then you become secular. If you praise Hindus, you become communal. This has been going on for a long time. You tell me, in this country do Hindus have extra status in general?
MUZAMIL JALEEL: In recent times, many NIA officers investigating Hindutva terror cases have been removed.
Can they not be removed? A case is dealt with on the basis of merit. If you think those appointed by the previous government cannot be removed, then you are wrong. Every new government has its own policies and programmes.
This government is not duty-bound to follow the steps of the previous government unless it is a case of constitutional continuity.
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: It has been one year since we last heard of the Naga accord. Can you share some details about what is happening on the ground?
When the framework of this agreement was signed, all the chief ministers of the Northeast, especially those of the Congress party, flooded us with congratulatory messages. After three days, Sonia Gandhi made calls to all the CMs telling them, asking them why they were praising the BJP government. So then they made counter statements. But you can’t suddenly delete your Twitter and Facebook posts, so it (the congratulatory messages) still remains. The Congress president made jokers out of the chief ministers. They were forced to withdraw and change their statements within three days. It is all politics. We are very clear: The framework agreement is an understanding between the Government of India and the representatives of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) group. The government of India has said we recognise the unique history of the Nagas which has been presented by them since 1946, and they also identify the spirit of the Constitution of India. On the basis of this understanding, the talks will progress. So this is a framework agreement, it is not the final accord. The accord will take place once the talks conclude positively.
AMRITH LAL: You said that the framework agreement recognises the position of the NSCN-IM and that the Nagas have a unique history. The position of the Nagas has always been that they are not Indians. Is the Indian government accepting that position?
No. That is non-negotiable. Everybody is Indian and everybody has to comply with the spirit of the Constitution.
They (the Nagas) have been struggling for independence before India got Independence. They are Indians and they want to make their identity very clear. They have an issue that is long-pending. They had signed an accord during Nehru’s time, they had signed many agreements before, which were not acceptable to all the Nagas.
The status of every state is not the same. In the Constitution of India, the status of Nagaland is different from the status of Maharashtra, the status of Maharashtra is different from the status of UP. There are special provisions in the Constitution for each state. So, Nagaland will be given a special status. In the Northeast, some states are given special status. The Sixth Schedule does not apply to Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, whereas it does to Assam, Mizoram and Meghalaya.
AMRITH LAL: What is it about the word ‘azadi’ that gets the ABVP and BJP members all worked up?
Before Independence, azadi was a very beautiful slogan: ‘We want azadi’. After 1947, if some Indians still want azadi from India, then you should ask them. Our opinion is very clear: India is already azad. Every Indian is enjoying freedom. Could you abuse Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi? When somebody wrote something against Sonia Gandhi, Facebook was called by the Home Ministry. You couldn’t go against the leadership in those days. Now tell me, has anyone who has abused Narendra Modiji or the BJP been pulled up? It is only when you abuse the nation… It is unprecedented how a Prime Minister has been abused every moment in this country and you still say you want azadi. What more azadi do you want? You abuse the Prime Minister and still the government takes no action against you.
ANAND MISHRA: You said the Ramjas controversy is an ideological battle initiated by the Left. How do you see this ideological battle panning out in the midst of the UP elections? Is the BJP comfortably placed given this controversy?
We are ready for any ideological battle because we are an ideology-driven political party and so is the Left. We are ready for this battle, but peacefully. Anybody who propagates violence is wrong. That is why the police has taken action even against policemen who were found not acting in a proper manner on the day the ruckus broke out in Ramjas. We have told the police to take action if anybody has committed a mistake. Shun violence. Go for a peaceful discussion, debate and dissent. We are ready for that. We are ready for this ideological battle. People of India will decide which ideology suits this country the most and make it a strong nation.
I don’t see any link between this and the UP elections because we have not told these people to create the controversy. The ABVP did not fix the dates for Umar Khalid and the others to come to the university. It was their programme. They chalked it out.
SHALINI LANGER: You said that any protest against the armed forces will be considered anti-national. So what about the Manipur protests? What about Irom Sharmila’s 16-year protest or the bare-chested march against the armed forces. Would you say somebody was polluting their minds as well?
You can protest against the action of the Army. If any action of the security forces is wrong, there is an internal mechanism such as court-martial, to deal with it. You can protest against the act but don’t protest against the Indian Army.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Would you also agree that people such as Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid have freedom of expression? Shouldn’t they be allowed to say whatever they want to in colleges they have been invited to? Is there any action being taken against those people who pelted stones and did not allow the seminar to go ahead?
The Union minister cannot direct college authorities on how they conduct their academic and co-curricular activities. It is their prerogative.
RAHUL TRIPATHI: Coming back to Kashmir, the Army chief recently said that locals who obstruct counter-insurgency operations should be treated as over-ground workers.
The Army chief has made it very clear that when an encounter is going on, how can your own citizens try to shield terrorists and create obstacles for the security forces? He has not made a political statement. He has made a statement on the basis of the problems they face during operations.
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RAHUL TRIPATHI: Do you think the government should order an investigation into the Kalikho Pul suicide note?
It is difficult for me to speak when the allegations are directly against Supreme Court judges and some of the former Union ministers and state politicians. If the accusation in the diary weren’t directly pointing fingers at the Supreme Court, then I could have spoken more elaborately. But the late Kalikho Pul’s diary has pointed fingers at the top judiciary, so I am not in a position to comment on the case.