Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari asserts that the Opposition made Shaheen Bagh an issue and not BJP, denies that one of the reasons for the party’s Delhi loss was lack of enthusiasm among cadres, and claims that the NDA government has never said no to any immigrant
ABHINAV RAJPUT: In the recent Delhi Assembly polls, the BJP managed to win only eight seats out of 70. Why did the party fail? Have you analysed the results?
We are working on assessing the situation… The primary reasons that we have understood so far… With 33% vote share, we had won over 30 seats in Delhi (Assembly polls) in 2013. We thought if our vote share goes beyond 38%, we would be able to cross 36 seats (more than the halfway mark of 35). In 2015, a new party had come to power. The environment was different and people had not tested the party’s work. But after five years in power, their work would have been tested in different fields. So we thought that the elections this time would not be like that of 2015… Despite our vote share being nearly 40% (38.51%), almost 8% more than what it was in 2015 (32.3%), we could not translate it into seats because the election was totally bipolar.
We didn’t figure that a party (the Congress) that once had over 9% of the votes (9.7% in the 2015 Assembly polls) would come down to 4.2%.
ABHINAV RAJPUT: But weren’t there other factors as well that affected the results?
I have been in politics for the past six years. Small reasons like anger over ticket distribution don’t matter much… In fact, several Aam Aadmi Party supporters were angry with their party as well. Some AAP leaders who were sidelined were against the party. But the public voted for the party they wanted to vote for.
RAHUL SABHARWAL: Many political experts believe that people voted for the AAP because they had a CM face. If you had named a CM candidate too, would it have improved the BJP’s chances in the elections?
We used to have this discussion whether or not the party should have a CM face as well. It was a collective decision to not go ahead with it. The result is in front of us. We will ponder whether there was another way… Right now we accept the results.
LIZ MATHEW: After the defeat, many BJP leaders and workers pointed out that when they met people, they were informed that the local leaders never visited them. As a state leader, do you hold meetings often?
There can be no success if you don’t connect with the people on the ground. We are assessing as well as collecting information from the ground as to what happened — why didn’t we convey the central schemes… Even if people were aggrieved about ticket distribution, we don’t believe that one person can make a difference.
MALLICA JOSHI: Who were the people working against the party?
We do not believe that a person can deliberately get someone defeated or make a big difference. When we were fighting the Lok Sabha polls (in 2019), there were several people who opposed us. Some even opposed the party openly. But our candidates won by big margins. Currently, the result is being reviewed and we are also trying to find out if there are instances where lack of enthusiasm on the part of some MPs, contestants or prominent workers has led to such a result. The review is not just for the sake of review. You will see the effect of these meetings in time to come… This time, based on the feedback of the review meetings, the matter will be dealt with strictly.
MALLICA JOSHI: Which policy of the AAP government do you think resonated the most on the ground?
There was a lot of noise around freebies… The BJP also gives out a lot of things for free. But there is a capping and the freebies are for the economically weaker sections like gas connections (the Ujjwala Yojana), toilets, medical treatment worth Rs 5 lakh (Ayushman Bharat). But in the last three months, the way the AAP made bus rides free for women showed good impact on the ground, especially among daily travellers.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Recently, Union home minister and BJP leader Amit Shah said that statements like ‘goli maaro’ affected the party’s result. So why did the party’s top leadership end up making statements such as ‘press the button so hard that the current is felt in Shaheen Bagh’?
On Shaheen Bagh, the party’s stand is same today as it was yesterday. The BJP disagrees with those who have misguided innocent people and made them sit for protest in Shaheen Bagh.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: But why doesn’t the BJP talk to the protesters?
On different occasions, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has invited them (the protesters at Shaheen Bagh) for talks. We cannot talk to 10,000 people. We can talk to their representatives. We have called them many times, but they did not turn up. Later, even the home minister invited them. There did not participate.
Yes, there were hate speeches and we do not support them. When it was from our side, we have condemned the speeches and those involved were pulled up. We also condemn the hate speeches given by protesters or people sitting in Shaheen Bagh.
ABHINAV RAJPUT: BJP MP Parvesh Verma in a speech called chief minister Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist. Union minister Prakash Javadekar defended that speech in a press conference which you also attended.
I have condemned that (speech). And I did that before the elections. The Prime Minister and home minister have also condemned it. There are provisions in our Constitution to punish gaddars (anti-national) and I have full faith in them.
Yes, he (Javadekar) sat beside me and said so. But I have two points to make here. Whatever the context, it was hate speech and our party had to face losses due to that. We condemned that speech then as well as today.
ARANYA SHANKAR: In an interview to The Indian Express prior to the Assembly polls, you said that police had entered the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia on December 15 while chasing rioters but that it had not entered the library. But, in the past few days, CCTV footage has emerged showing policemen hitting students and breaking CCTV cameras in the library. Do you stand by what you said?
The videos that have emerged say everything — the circumstances under which they (police) had to enter the library… I have seen the videos, and (they show) how people, with their faces covered and stones in their hands, are brought inside the library and made to sit. Then the policemen come in. We have asked for an investigation. If anyone is found acting against the law, action will be taken against them.
SOMYA LAKHANI: In December last year, BJP leader Kapil Mishra took out a pro-CAA rally in Delhi’s Connaught Place, where he and his supporters kept raising the ‘goli maaro’ slogan.
It did not come to my knowledge when he raised the slogan. I want those who make such hate speeches to be permanently removed. Let us start a system where people who give hate speeches lose their legal right (to fight polls). And if such a system is put in place, I, as an individual and not as party president, will support it. And everyone should be inspected, be it (Okhla MLA) Amanatullah Khan or (Hyderabad MP Asaduddin) Owaisi. Our country is the most beautiful country.
When the War Memorial was being inaugurated, I saw that a Hindu pandit first recited a mantra, followed by a Christian priest, a maulvi, a Buddhist priest and someone from a gurdwara. I felt very proud. We have been successful in stopping terrorist attacks in our country and securing our borders. But when political leaders spread hatred or attack homes, cases should filed against them and they should be punished.
SOMYA LAKHANI: Is ‘Shaheen Bagh mein current lagna chahiye’ not hate speech?
Shouldn’t those spreading a bhram (myth) about Shaheen Bagh feel the current? A child died in the cold. Who is responsible for it? We are not saying anything to those people who are sitting there, they are confused. But no one’s citizenship is being taken away by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: The RSS has criticised your election campaign and strategy. In its weekly, Organiser, it termed the BJP campaign language ‘horrific’ and compared it to Sonia Gandhi’s ‘Maut ka saudagar’ statement. The RSS said that it was because of this that many voters distanced themselves from the BJP. The other thing that was pointed out was that while Kejriwal campaigned on local issues, and spoke of schools, colleges and hospitals, you were preoccupied with Shaheen Bagh, Pakistan and Article 370.
Let me read what they have written. The RSS is an organisation whose comments we pay close attention to. It is an organisation which is dedicated to serving the country. We will read what they have said. But I want to say that we didn’t make Shaheen Bagh an issue. Read our manifesto. It talks of providing clean water to every home, ending pollution in Delhi, making bus transport system more efficient, giving flour, currently priced at Rs 10 per kg, at Rs 2 per kg to the poor, giving cycles and scooters to girl students from poor backgrounds in schools and colleges respectively. We didn’t make Shaheen Bagh an issue; the Opposition made it and also benefited from it.
I am that MP who was beaten up and shooed away from the inauguration of a bridge (the Signature Bridge in Wazirabad) in my own constituency. How is this an action of ‘sabka mukhyamantri (everyone’s chief minister)’? Protocol dictates that the MP and MLA of the constituency should be invited.
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: Don’t you think the government has failed to explain the CAA to the public?
You could be right that despite many efforts we were not able to explain it. I spoke to many people and they said they don’t have a problem with the CAA but with the NRC (National Register of Citizens). But the NRC has not come… Now what can we do about this? So roads are blocked for something that has not been introduced. The PM has said that even the draft of the NRC has not been prepared… If we have failed to explain the CAA, then even media organisations have failed. I don’t think that people didn’t understand the CAA, everyone understood it.
ABHINAV RAJPUT: AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj has said that Sunderkand (a chapter from the Ramcharitmanas) will be recited on the first Tuesday of every month in areas in his constituency. How do you see this?
I feel happy and want to congratulate him. But why are you doing this for the media?… We are not stopping anyone. But you give monthly wages to the maulvi and not the pujari. If you give them both their wages, then I will agree that your ideology is correct. In Delhi, a maulvi gets Rs 18,000 per month. Give it also to the Hanuman temple, Valmiki temple and Ravidas temple priests. Whatever you do, do it for everyone.
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: You mentioned that people still haven’t understood the CAA and NRC. But home minister Amit Shah, who was earlier the party president, said that the NRC will be implemented. The party manifesto also says that the NRC will be implemented.
The CAA and NRC shouldn’t be linked. That is a mistake. The Union home minister did say that we must stop illegal immigrants and we abide by that. If any member of the Opposition thinks otherwise, I would like to talk to him. We want to stop illegal immigrants but the NRC hasn’t even been drafted yet. They (illegal immigrants) can be terrorists too. There are stringent laws and heavy security at the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir only because of these people. We have never said no to any immigrant. People like Salma Agha and Adnan Sami have been given citizenship. We are not denying citizenship to anyone… The government is working towards providing facilities to everyone. People from different religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism are a part of this country and the Narendra Modi-led government will never hurt them.
RAHUL SABHARWAL: How do you plan to play the role of a constructive opposition in the Assembly for the next five years?
In the last five years, we have never been biased towards anything. We kept working to improve the Metro services. The state government tried to stop the progress but we continued and constructed the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways. Over 60,000 trucks that would come into and
drive around Delhi have now been diverted to routes outside the city. We are also working on cleaning water (in the city). The Shahdara Jheel is being made. Who benefits from this? The state government can take the credit for it. We are making the Bharat Vandana Park in Dwarka, which will be spread over 200 acres… We are constituting a Colony Vikas Board for development of the now-regularised unauthorised colonies.
BADSHA RAY: Since 2019, the BJP has lost many Assembly polls though in these states, PM Modi had campaigned extensively. While at the national level, the Modi factor looks to be working for the BJP, at the state level, it seems to have failed. Has the overdependence on Modi backfired for the BJP?
It you look at the history of a few years ago, you will realise that Modi magic works powerfully. Before 2014, whenever a BJP government came to power in any state, it would fall by the next term. But now, we are positively moving forward in every state… People are very intelligent. While they have made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister, in states, they keep experimenting.