BJP general secretary in-charge for Karnataka Muralidhar Rao is a leader with RSS roots, who had worked as a pracharak in various parts of the country including in the trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir in the nineties. Currently, the party in-charge for Karnataka affairs, Rao in a freewheeling conversation with Anand Mishra and Ajith Athrady, tells Deccan Herald about the party’s stand on Citizenship Amendment Act and protests against it, partys' expansion plans in Karnataka, state cabinet expansion, the central government's approach towards Jammu and Kashmir and the future leadership of the BJP.
Q- Organisational Elections of the BJP are underway. Is it now clear that Party Working President J P Nadda will become party chief?
Ans- Who will become party president ultimately is a process of election. But as we have now J P Nadda as the Working President, everybody feels that after Amit Shah, he will take responsibility. This is what we all feel but ultimately it depends only on the election.
Q- Huge protests are going against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Did the government fail to visualize?
Ans- No the point here to understand what is this protest all over the country. When one goes into the details of the organisations, persons and groups involved in these protests, one comes to know that there is a kind of alignment among Congress, Communists or different left groups and anarchic religious and ideological groups. This alignment everywhere is clear and they are more interested in protest than the content of the protests. In this whole subject even remotely, there is no connection of people living in different states of the county—whether it is Muslim or anybody else to the present CAA. So this entire campaign is orchestrated and aimed at creating the violence, disturbance and ultimately to tarnish the image of the country at the global level.
Q- How big a challenge it is, and when it is going to be resolved?
Ans- I do not see that this will last. This protest has no ground. This protest has no substantial issue. So sustaining the protest for a long time is not possible. As people will come to know the CAA in detail and as they understand that there is no provision, which is affecting their lives, people will cool down.
Q- But the CAA is being linked with NRC at the national level and that is the provocation. Is it not clear?
Ans- Where is NRC. There is no draft. There is no provision. So what is the negative thing that NRC has got which is going to affect people all over the country? This is not even here. So when the NRC draft is not there, when there is no provision to discuss the negative implication, there is no purpose to discuss that. So there is no issue. It is only about creating anxieties and thereby creating insecurity. That is being done by this axis of the aligned forces.
Q- But you see a lot of parties are revising their position. Shiv Sena backed CAA in Lok Sabha but did not support this in Rajya Sabha. JDU was divided over backing CAA and now they ruled out support to NRC. BJD also echoes similar views. Shiromani Akali Dal is making a different noise. Are you worried about losing political support over it?
Ans- There is no such thing. When NRC comes, NRC will not come without proper consultations of different stakeholders including political parties. So there need not be any apprehension of gaining the political ground or erosion of it.
Q- Are you saying political parties will be consulted before bringing up NRC?
Ans- Naturally. Without consultation how can it happen? Right now it is a political declaration. But when you go to implement it, first of all, you have to discuss it at various levels. Without discussing it at various levels and without talking to the state government and other political stakeholders, how will NRC come?.
Q- On the handling of and Kashmir, the government is facing a lot of flak. There is total communication lockdown. Leaders have been detained. When do you see the situation normalizing?
Ans- First of all I want to ask the people who are talking about communication lockdown and disruption. How many of these people had raised these issues when they were governing. Do you think previously this kind of thing did not happen? What does it mean? Why are they saying these things now? Now you have to compare it with the earlier times. The violence level, the numbers of casualties, the number of incidents of protests have now come down drastically. And when you are going for the restructuring of something, you have to address some problem in a different way; naturally, you have to take some precautions.
And whatever the lockdown or anything has happened, it is based on some plans—not giving any scope to extremist, separatist fanatic elements to take advantage and create a problem. Because of this, it is being done. Earlier it was much more serious than it is this time. The present government is handling the issues in a more systematic way and in a more calibrated way. Everything is becoming normal, people are also being released. The number of persons under detention is coming down. And in a few months, everything will become completely normal. Elections have taken place for the local bodies and they have taken place with maximum participation. New leaders have emerged through elections in local bodies. So where are the negative talk and doomsday prediction?
Q- Do you see early release of detained politicians happening?
Ans-All this will happen- the release of those detained, establishing complete normalcy, undertaking development programmes all over the state and restructuring the administration and conducting elections after delimitation process and then ultimately going for elections to local bodies for local leadership in the union territory. These will be done first and then the other decisions like granting the status of state to Jammu and Kashmir will also follow.
Q- Off late BJP government has faced flak over falling employment and economic slowdown. How do you respond to the challenge on these two fronts?
Ans- Inflation for the large part in the last five and years was completely under control. It was well within the limits. Now for a few months because of slowdown for two-three terms, things are now becoming serious, which is acknowledged by the government and it is working on many fronts to address this serious issue.
There are cyclical issues, there are issues related to some sectors. Ultimately all these problems will be handled. But is it the first time that the economy is facing this kind of situation. Did we not have problems earlier? Did we not have challenges earlier?
Q- Some of the recent assembly election outcomes in which BJP could not repeat its performance point out a pattern in which people vote differently in state elections and election for the Centre. Is it a worry that while at Centre you are strong, states are slipping away from your hand?
Ans- Has this pattern come all of a sudden? This has always been there. For instance, if you take the example of Karnataka, every time we get fewer votes in the state polls compared to the national elections. In every state, this happens. And in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, we lost state elections but won handsomely in Lok Sabha polls. So what is the great pattern which was not there earlier and emerging now? In Maharashtra, we have not lost. It was the alliance of BJP and Shiv Sena, which went to the elections and we got the majority. Because of one of our alliance partner developed some ambition of becoming Chief Minister they realized that will not happen with the BJP, it aligned with the other parties that created this type of disturbance. Otherwise in terms of votes, in terms of percentage, where is this problem.
Q- In Karnatka, your most important leader B S Yediyruppa is now 76 and there is a frequent buzz about BJP’s trying to cultivate a new leadership for future. What is happening?
Ans- In India when a person is elder and is energetic, doing dynamic work, it is not auspicious and proper to discuss the ageing issue in terms of his successor. In no way he is crippled. He is travelling, he is focused and he has demonstrated his competence. He is addressing problems related to flood, problems related to farming community. He is even campaigning for elections. So the BJP was aware of his age even when we went into elections. There is nothing new that has come up all of a sudden. So he is there for the next three and half years. And afterwards, we have plenty of talent. We have many leaders in BJP. We have leaders with experience of cabinet state experience in Karnataka, those who have been elected three-four times in Assembly. Also, community-wise, region-wise we have most identified leaders. So we are not feeling insecure as a party and see a bright future for the party.
Q- How do you look at BJP performance in Jharkhand Delhi, Bihar West Bengal?
Ans- Uulitmatlely the BJP as a national political party is here to stay. We have good cadres, good leaders.
Q- In Karnataka, BJP basically took the space of Janata Dal in past and then the Lingayat base shifted from Congress to BJP. Do you see BJP’s footprint widening among any other community?
Ans- We have to understand BJP has now crossed another limit. Now because of Janata Dal’s decline and Congress leadership crisis and credibility crisis in its central and state-level leadership, we are getting traction even in those areas in the state, which were where the BJP could not penetrate in the last few decades. Now the BJP has become the unquestionable number one party in all aspects of the state. Taking advantage of the decline of the Janata Dal and also Congress, BJP is now the number one party in every district, every assembly. We will cross the 50 percent vote base even in terms of state elections. The situation is very conducive for BJP’s growth. After this election, many good leaders of Janata Dal and Congress are talking of joining the BJP. Several former Congress and JDS leaders became MLA on BJP ticket this time.
Q- Will it not create a problem of plenty for your party as there must your regional leaders already there.
Ans- So let us get plenty first. Let us become established in plenty. Then when it becomes a problem we will see.
Q- How will you accommodate all of them? Old-timers say you are giving posts to newcomers at their cost.
Ans- There are a number of positions of power both in Centre and state. So accommodation for BJP is not a problem. We will be able to satisfy everyone. We have many opportunities. After they have joined us, new old all are ours. Ultimately we are getting people from regions we have not been strong.
Q- Are there no challenges?
Ans- Unless there is challenge what will happen. Do you see BJP becoming a number one party in Karnataka in the next three-four years without having any challenge? How do you expect that? We have to face that. But understand wherever the BJP has been lean, not very strong, they are helping us. Accommodation is not a problem.
Q- First time violence took place in Mangalore during CAA protest. How do you look at it?
Ans- Violence in Mangalore is not on some local issues. It was part of a nationwide protest that also happened in Mangalore and it happened. The entire thing is because of the Congress, Communists and the fundamentalist elements. We will be able to handle the issue.
Q- When will the Karnataka Cabinet be expanded.
Ans- We have time. We are not restless. Normally is it is not auspicious time. The expansion will definitely be carried out. They (newcomers) will also be accommodated.