Underlining the government’s tough stance against militancy in Jammu & Kashmir, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav said the government would “neutralise” every single militant in the Valley and that it does not distinguish between an “Indian militant and a foreign militant”. In a no holds barred conversation at Off The Cuff with ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta and ThePrint Editor for Opinion and Social Media Rama Lakshmi in Mumbai on 14 May, Madhav also talked about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political style is more presidential and how Hinduism and Hindutva are the same for him, among others. Edited transcript of the conversation:
RAMA LAKSHMI: For many of us, this is the first BJP government, full-fledged BJP government in India. How has this government changed India in the last three years?
RAM MADHAV: India is too big to be changed in three years. The question to be asked should be, whether we are changing the country in the right direction or not. We’re a different government. We’ve got a very different vision for the country. Last three years have shown that the prime minister and the government are definitely very different from the previous ones.
SHEKHAR GUPTA: Including Mr. Vajpayee?
RM: You can take it in terms of his style of functioning, he’s different from all others. Having said it, each individual is different, no two persons can be 100 per cent alike. We have taken the country in the direction of, I would say, larger consensus building. Three years down the line, if I had to add one more great attribute to PM Modi’s functioning, it is his effort to build larger consensus. When I say larger consensus, since you mentioned about Vajpayee ji, when Vajpayee ji was PM, we were able to bring together 22-23 parties. Today, the NDA has expanded, it has 33 parties. And outside of NDA also, there is much greater appeal for PM. More people who are probably not part of NDA, also come and express solidarity with him – sometimes on issues. So we are moving towards a polity based on greater consensus, which is a big achievement, I believe… I’m talking about at the end of the third year…In the first and second year, we’ve had many more achievements. The second thing I would like to highlight is that in a way, Modi ji has been able to effect a major change in the political system itself. We’re a parliamentary democracy, but what we actually see is a kind of a presidential type – Modi versus other leaders – whether it is national election or regional election. It does not mean others are less important or we’ve changed our political system completely. But, we are moving towards a presidential type of system – good or bad are things we have to discuss – but definitely, there is discernible change in our system.
SG: That is a very significant statement, that under Mr. Modi’s leadership, we are moving towards a presidential system or at least, a presidential style of system. You said we don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. What do you think?
RM: We have adopted parliamentary democracy after our independence… We’ve seen it for so many years…It has delivered so many good things for us, we should continue with the system. It is the best system for a country with this kind of diversity. But as I said, in terms of things happening today, it is the kind of style we’re seeing in the country.
RL: How would you compare that to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which was also a personality-based governing system? Was that also along the same lines?
RM: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had many achievements to her credit when she was PM, to that extent, she deserves praise – for providing a strong government and a strong leadership. But she had many negative things during her tenure also, especially when she became PM, India had to endure two years of near-dictatorship. I mean you all have been victims of that dictatorship, so you know better than I do, although I was also personally affected by that. So each leader has qualities and negative points.
SG: So you saw Mr. Vajpayee from close also – not this close, you were a much younger person, like we were – if he had majority, would he also be presidential? We say Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi are presidential, both had majority – would Mr. Vajpayee have liked to be presidential?
RM: I can’t give any hypothetical answer to that. Today’s political atmosphere in the country is that you see PM Modi as the most popular leader. I mean you see the second most popular leader, he would probably be 40 points behind him.
SG: He will also have only 44 points…
RM: PM Modi’s popularity ratings are very high in the country, and people have immense faith in him. In fact, I would put it like this, rather than talking about presidential and parliamentary – politics of hope is what PM Modi represents.
SG: So politics of hope and aspiration, yes, but in this period have there been failures as well or are there areas in which there could be more progress?
RM: No, I agree. Three years is not enough to judge any government in black and white. You have given us power for five years…We are in the right direction or not, if you ask me, yes. I don’t talk about success and failure in black and white. But if we have any challenges after three years, if you ask me, yes…There are a few challenges that the government has to tackle – security areas, there are challenges for us, Kashmir, there are issues, I’m sure many in the audience would like to hear more about it; India-Pakistan is an issue, India-China is an issue…But honestly without any intentions of blaming the predecessors, I would like to say that these are the problems we have inherited. We have to handle them, which we are trying to do to the best of our ability.
TAVLEEN SINGH, columnist: Do you remember that people used to say “After Nehru, who?”, then it was “After Indira, who?” So we’ve always had a presidential system disguised as a parliamentary system, so we don’t have the advantages of the presidential system, and have all the disadvantages of a parliamentary system. So do you have an objection to India actually having a presidential system? Because we are a very big country, and it is clear that the Westminster model hasn’t worked that well.
RM: It calls for larger debate – whether the present form of government suits us or not and all that. We’ve had enough discussion at the time of the making of our Constitution, and we opted for parliamentary democracy. If you ask me for my personal opinion, I think a country as diverse as India requires this kind of parliamentary system of democracy, where large sections of society find a voice in their public representatives. Whether the presidential system would be better, people like you have to debate, and then the Parliament has to debate over it and all that.
AJIT GULABCHAND, CMD, Hindustan Construction Co.: Presidential does not mean you don’t have a parliament…There is a full Congress, which is a directly elected parliament, the Americans even have a senate which is directly elected, and the president and the vice-president are directly elected. So it is not as though you lose the advantages of the parliamentary system, because the Congress can block what the President wants to do…
RM: That’s my point. When I said it gives people greater opportunity to represent in the political system, what I meant was not about just vote. In a presidential system, please don’t take me otherwise, a Deve Gowda, a Gujral would have lesser chance to become PM. We have adopted this system, I disagree with anybody who says this has not delivered. This has been a very vibrant system…we have changed governments at the drop of the hat.
BHARAT KEWALRAMANI, CEO, 3D Packaging: Ever since the Malay insurgency, it has been known that the only way to stop an insurgency is to win the hearts and minds of the people affected. Your government does not appear to believe in that. Would you like to comment?
RM: No, look, there is no one grand model to follow in order to tackle insurgency and terrorism. Malayan model is the universal model – probably you think, I don’t agree with that. There are different models practised in the world. What happened in your neighbourhood in Sri Lanka? How did they tackle terrorism? So there are various ways of tackling terrorism. I can tell you the latest example of the neighbouring state of Pakistan. How was the Taliban terrorism tackled by Pakistan? They used helicopter gunships. Who said this is the only way to tackle? Having said that, if you ask me what is our way of tackling it, I can tell you.
Take the case of Kashmir problem today, we see two components of it. One is the militants and the armed terror activities. And the other is, common people occasionally coming on the streets with stones in their hands. Number one, we do not treat them as similar, identical or same – they are two different groups. With militancy, we will act very tough, we will neutralise the last militant who is roaming around in the Kashmir Valley with an AK-47 in his hands. Take it from me. We shall neutralise the last militant. But when it comes to tackling people who are misguided, this can happen anywhere – this can happen in Maoist affected areas, people can come out shouting ‘lal salaam’. You have to deal with them differently. Largely, they are misguided, they are not terrorists. All that I say is there is no standard way of tackling insurgency. Each country has to choose a model suited to its own problem. The model that we’ve adopted in Kashmir, may not suit in Dantewada.
SG: Or Nagaland.
RM: yes, there are different ways. And we have held talks with many groups where dialogue is possible and necessary. We have been talking to NSCN – when I say, not we, these issues are a continuum…previous governments have done it, we are doing it. Where it is possible, yes, dialogue. Where it is not possible, other options cannot be ruled out.
SG: If I may just add to that, in the Northeast, the government of India, through great creativity, has added sub-clauses to Article 370 and 371 of the Constitution to answer some local concerns.
Dr. SHAILESH RAINA, urologist: Is there a difference in the mindset of the BJP government and the BJP party on Kashmir? Because I go there very often, and I was given to understand that the BJP government is not going to speak to the Hurriyat, whereas senior BJP members have gone there with a group of people to speak to the Hurriyat. So my question is, is there a difference in mindset of the BJP party and the BJP government on Kashmir?
RM: As far as a dialogue with different groups in the Valley is concerned, in our common minimum programme, we have clearly stated that the state government is open to, or I should say duty-bound to talk to all the different stakeholders in the state, and we’ve added the phrase, including Hurriyat. They are a part and parcel of the state’s citizenry, they have every right to talk to the government. Government is obliged to talk to them, the government will talk anytime to those people. But as far as the government of India’s position is concerned, talk for the sake of talks, are just to please some intellectuals sitting in TV studios in Delhi, it would not happen that way. If somebody wants to talk to the government, they also have to listen to the government. Talks cannot be a one-way road…You have pathar (stone) in your hand, you promote violence, you fly Pakistani flags, and you say talk to me. This is a different govt., you cannot talk that way. You want to talk, you show that sincerity. That sincerity is lacking in the separatist leadership in the Kashmir Valley. So any question on whether Government of India wants to talk or not talk does not arise, as long as the separatist leadership continues with this policy…You see making innocent citizens scapegoats in their game is unacceptable to us. That must stop before anybody talks about talks.
RL: Let me ask you a question. There are about 250 militants right now operating in the Valley. About 100 are foreign, and about 150 are local Kashmiri militants. You talked about neutralising the last militant, are you talking about the Indian-Kashmiri militants also? Is there any difference in the way your government and the previous government deals with Kashmiri militants?
RM: I don’t qualify militant as this or that, militant is a militant. Somebody who holds a gun in his hand, would you let him enter this hall or not? Will you not throw him out of this hall if he wields a gun in his hand? You cannot say he’s sitting in the last row, what is your problem? Either you follow the democratic system, you go to the government of the day, talk to them, or face it. When I say militant, there is no qualification. Militant is that person who is wielding a weapon in his hand, and killing people – innocent or not innocent. I mean these are all the judgments one makes. How do you explain the killing of Lt. Fayaz few days ago? So no question of qualifying militants as local, outsiders, this and that. If you are a militant, you have to be ready for consequences.
SG: So you will not treat Indian militant as misguided youth, as used to be…
RM: I don’t qualify anybody as Indian militant or foreign militant.
SG: So the moment he picks up the gun, he will be neutralised, he will be killed.
RM: against the state or the people…Is not accepted in our system.
RL: You just mentioned the Sri Lankan model. What do you think of the Sri Lankan model – the way they quelled the insurgency there. It has many critics not just in Sri Lanka, but around the world. You think that’s an effective way…?
RM: I’ve only said…I’ve not justified either the Malayan experience or Sri Lankan experience. I only said there are different ways of dealing with terrorism. Each country has to devise its own way of dealing with terrorism. A big challenge while dealing with terrorism is the question of human rights. How do you ensure that not a single…I’m not even saying a few…not a single innocent is affected? How do you ensure that? It’s a very big challenge, and the intensity of this challenge is known to us because we see it every day in the Valley. The amount of brunt that our forces take on themselves, in order to ensure that not a single innocent is injured or killed, is what we experience on a daily basis, friends. It brings tears in my eyes. They accept 150 stones, but don’t fire a single bullet. This is the commitment we have for human rights. But then you say, show the same human rights sentiment to the militants and terrorists? Sorry, this government doesn’t show that. We don’t believe in making Kashmir an integral part…We believe that Kashmir is an integral part of India…has been an integral part of India. You tell me what is our problem with OBOR?
SG: Because it goes through territory that’s our own…
RM: We say it’s physically not in our control today. It is illegally controlled by Pakistan. Yet, as a government, not just our government, Manmohan Singh’s government, refused to engage with China on OBOR. Why? Because we believe it has been an integral part of India. So, nobody is talking about making it an integral part of India. There are leaders who talked about making India into a nation, but I belong to a school, which believes, that this country has been a nation since time immemorial. This nationhood is based on a particular cultural identity. This is my interpretation, there can be disputes, there can be different arguments…India is a land of arguments. You can have your own version, convince people.
Q: I feel the government at Centre and the state in Kashmir is acting very soft on Hurriyat. Why is their financial support from India and Pakistan not cut off? And if they are acting very tough and making anti-national statements every day why are they not put behind bars?
RM: The financial channels have been strictly controlled and cut off. You see the result of it, the result is today like looters and burglars they are going after the banks and ATM vans. The very fact that today they are forced to go and loot banks, although when they go to loot banks today we have ensured that banks do not have hard cash and they end up looting the guns of the security personnel standing outside and the security personnel ordinarily carry 303 rifles. So there is a desperation, we have tightened the channels of money flow to them. Then I must tell you this whole myth that we are providing security to separatist leaders etc is just a myth. We have not been providing any additional security. Every citizen is entitled to a particular amount of security. That much state is duty bound to provide. That we are providing. Beyond that somebody who is not entitled for more security we are not providing.
We have a security assessment system based on that every citizen requires a particular amount of security. Rest of it law should deal with it. Legal system should deal with it. We are doing something illegal law should take care of it. Law will catch up with everybody.
AJIT GULABCHAND, CMD, Hindustan Construction Co.: What is the Indian dream? In US the US dream is anybody who lives there or migrates to that place can succeed in any walk of life if he works hard enough and has the opportunity to do so. If you are a citizen already you can even become a president whatever it satisfies you and when it looks at the world it looks at the world as a force for good. So it’s a kind of dream that people live because this is what people live in order to stand where I’m is a good place I want to be here and it does give me success. What do you think is the Indian dream of your party?
RM: The great Indian dream that we have in mind… India is 1.25 billion people and there will be, I mean everybody has at least two dreams so that there will be 2.5 billion dreams but as a party as a government if you ask me what’s our great Indian dream I would say five things. Very quickly. Samman: respect for last Indian under a flyover. Samvad: greater engagement between the people lesser divisions lesser conflict greater samvad. Samruddhi: last man should have his needs addressed, samruddhi. Suraksha: every Indian should feel secure. And the last, sanskriti and sabhyata, the civilisational and cultural values of this land are kept, held up, kept intact, presented to the world. In my view these five things comprise of our great Indian dream. We as a government organisation working towards achieving this.
RL: You have been very active and you have been the architect of government in Assam and the election victory there, in Manipur. How important are these states ruled by BJP to your party culturally, politically and geostrategic position and does it play a part in your Act East push?
RM: Northeast, number one it’s important because it’s an integral part of India. Every small part of India is important for us. From the point of view, they are like any other state. Assam is like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra it is one of the Indian states. It has to occupy the same I mean it deserves the same amount of focus and respect as other states too. But for us, couple of very important sentiments inspire us when we work in the northeast. Number one, it’s one area where traditionally the party has been weak, except for Assam where we have good number of parliamentarians, 7 out of 14. In other states party’s presence is relatively weak. So growing in areas where party is weak is always a good thing for us. It’s a good challenge for us at one level but also a good motivating thing for us. In that sense yes the new states in northeast, in elections and other ways also, and I tell these days that to form a government you have to have that skill, you don’t have to face the election also.
RUHI TEWARI, Associate Editor, ThePrint: During the previous NDA government there were tensions between, under Vajpayee of course, there were tensions between Sangh and BJP government. It seems to be fine and far smoother now. As somebody who is both a party person and the RSS, can you tell us something about the coordination that happens and why is this smoother now?
RM: I was there very much in Delhi at the time of the previous government also. In fact, I was the spokesperson of the RSS at that time when Vajpayee ji was the prime minister. There were differences on issues I don’t deny that. But tension used to be more in the studios. Tension is a big word. There were issues on which we had a difference of opinion which is quite normal. In this government there are issues where the organisations in the parivar have a different view point, different take. We sit across the table more often, there is a system in place. There was a system in place at that time also.
Maybe I’ll give credit to all of you because we realised that there is too much attention on the fault lines, not on the larger family ties. Probably based on the experience the leadership is more careful. I agree with you. There is a mechanism in place for you to understand, there is a mechanism in place. RSS, I’m from the RSS with full responsibility I’m saying, although I’m not authorised to speak for the RSS, but as an RSS member with full responsibility with experience I’m saying it does not interfere in the day to day functioning of our government. They restrict their role to giving their view points to us from time to time there is an issue. In fact today morning we had a long discussion about Kashmir. The RSS leadership came over to the party leadership, they gave their opinion about what should or should not be done in Kashmir this exchange happens we have a mechanism in place. But RSS does not interfere in day to day functioning of the government. So there is no tension.
SG: So is there much divergence between RSS’s view on Kashmir and the government’s?
RM: Not much divergence. But RSS sees it from a slightly different perspective. For us we have at one level our commitment but also at another level we are the ruling party in the state also, not just at the Centre, and in this state as a ruling party we have a partner also. It’s not just the BJP government there. So we have a different way of handling things. We explain our position on those issues that are dear to us…PDP-BJP government is not opposed to those issues.
SG: So you are not one of those who say that this alliance has failed, bring in governor’s rule.
RM: If it fails at any point in time, the natural course for government will be to bring in governor’s rule. But right now I do not agree with the conclusion, if anybody has, that the government has fully failed. No. In fact, Valley situation is improving on a daily basis.
ASHWINI KUMAR, Professor, TISS: On a lighter note, you are Ram and Madhav also. You agree with that? You are Ram Madhav. So Hinduism and Hindutva are the same or different like Ram Madhav?
RM: I’m Ram and Madhav and together is me. As far as Hinduism and Hindutva is concerned, you know you try to find some arguments for the sake of argument. When I say you, not you, generally how to find fault with some thinking so you say that Hindutva is different from Hinduism. I come from Hindutva school, for me no difference. If any difference is there I don’t accept it. I accept only the traditional Hindu view of life as Hindutva. Nothing else. Not me every individual in the parivar accepts this, should accept this.
VARANK TRIVEDI, entrepreneur: My question is about Pakistan. After the Uri attack, prime minister very deftly used the best weapon we have against Pakistan which is water and suspended the meetings of Indus water commission. I understand the meetings have been resumed in the last two months. One meeting in fact took place in March. What has changed in Pakistan’s behaviour that we are rewarding them with these meetings?
RM: These are policy issues. Diplomacy requires certain refined approach. Let the government handle it. Look for the results. When prime minister said we will respond appropriately response also has been given. Today even Iran is putting pressure on Pakistan. Today USA is openly coming out and putting pressure on Pakistan to behave. These things are not happening automatically, remember. There are certain things happening, the result is what we see today but as I said you can’t gloat over everything, boast over everything that we are doing this we are doing that.
SANYA DHINGRA, Reporter, ThePrint: This whole strategy of bringing in rebels of other parties within the BJP… do you think in the long run it would leave the party ideologically diluted or confounded perhaps?
RM: No, when we bring them in we also put them through a gruelling training session. Don’t worry.
SG: Do you re-educate them?
RM: No, it’s not easy to be a member of the BJP. They learn the hard way. When they come, they get a lot of respect. They understand that we stand for the country. They like it, and they continue.
Y.P. RAJESH, Executive Editor, ThePrint: You’re an expert on China, you’ve written a couple of books on China. How did India’s relations with China come to where it is today that we have to boycott a meeting? You talked about why we are doing that, but from the time that Prime Minister Modi and Xi Jinping sat on a swing in Ahmedabad, today we’re at a stage where we’re having lots of tensions. Why has it happened and how do you see this being resolved?
RM: Firstly, I’m not an expert. I do study foreign policy closely and China also. Secondly, to put it very directly in an answer to your question, the India-China relationship has seen a number of ups and down. Today, it is generally, under Prime Minister Modi, in an upward kind of curve. OBOR is one issue in which our differences are well known, it’s not that we done anything suddenly. The position of India on OBOR, especially the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), has been consistent right from the time it was announced in 2013 by China. So, we are only following a consistent policy.
Yes, on that issue we have a difference of opinion but don’t take it that it will lead to any great deterioration in relations. You also must remember, when you talk about OBOR and our reluctance to join that group, we have joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, we are very much there in the Asia Infrastructure Bank, both of which are driven by China. We have nothing against China per se. But certain issues which involve sovereignty questions, India cannot compromise. That’s the reason we’re not at the OBOR summit today. It does not signify anything other than that one limited issue.
SG: Before I let you go, I know you have a flight to catch, two things. Article 370 and Section 377. One of the IPC, one of the constitution. What is your view on each of these?
RM: Both need revisiting.
SG: Which one needs revisiting more urgently?
RM: No, no, both need it. On Article 370 our position is well known so I don’t want to repeat it again and again. I can only reassure you that it has not changed. It remains. On 377 I said it, and an RSS leader has also said it sometime back, that the criminality part of it needs to be looked into again. Let it be revisited. That I think is the fair position.
(Transcribed by Sanya Dhingra and Rajgopal Singh)