New Delhi: In December 2005, Rajnath Singh took over as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from L.K. Advani and has since sought to restamp the party with aggressive nationalism, or “Hindutva," that has been the core ideology of the BJP’s mother organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As education minister in the first BJP government in Uttar Pradesh in 1991, Rajnath Singh introduced Vedic mathematics into the syllabus; and as minister for agriculture in Vajpayee’s government he was in charge of keeping tabs on a volatile area of the economy.

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96d444f2-a69b-11dd-9402-000b5dabf613.flvSingh has unabashedly pushed the Sangh’s agenda, including a “no compromise" position on building the Ram temple in Ayodhya. But, as the BJP prepares for the coming six Assembly elections, as well as the general election next year, he seems ready to abandon several core principles of the Hindutva ideology in the hope that the BJP will recapture national power. Edited excerpts:

I would like to start by asking you about the Assembly elections round the corner, which are being talked about as a mini-referendum for the Lok Sabha polls. What is your strategy to recapture Delhi?

Poll position: Rajnath Singh says he is confident that the BJP will retain its governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Ramesh Pathania / Mint

But what is your strategy this time?

As far as strategy is concerned, the BJP has formed polling booth committees in each state. The importance of polling both committees cannot be overestimated because its members are the ones that bring people to the polling booths.

I want to know about the issues on the agenda...

The prices of essential commodities have gone up so price hike is a major issue, the UPA government has mismanaged internal and external security issues, and food security has also worsened. During our NDA (National Democratic Alliance) regime, 20 million (tonnes) of foodgrain were in the godowns, but this has dropped to 2 million tonnes.

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Any other issues?

The way this government has destroyed social harmony...

You are not talking about Hindutva at all…

Hindutva is not an election issue. Even the Supreme Court has defined it: Hindutva is not a religion, it is a way of life.

Are you saying that the BJP is going to abandon Hindutva?

Not at all, we have full faith in Hindutva. We believe that it is an identity, a way of life in Hindustan.

When Advani, on the eve of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, launched a ‘rath yatra’ across the country and spoke of Hindutva, which became a very big issue in our country...

As far as Ram Janmabhoomi is concerned, it is a national issue, and it is natural that during an election all political parties put their views in front of the people. In this election too the Ram Sethu issue, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board issue, we will surely debate all these issues.

The BJP is very clear about the Ram temple, we have said earlier as well that the Ram temple dispute should either be resolved through mutual dialogue, or through the courts. But if this does not happen, then whenever we will get full majority in the Parliament, we will build it.

In the BJP national executive held recently there was no mention of Hindutva?

I think people are not clear about Hindutva. Hindutva cannot be circumscribed within any caste, it is a manveeya dharma (philosophical issue), a way of life...

So it is not an election issue?

How can Hindutva be an election issue? Ram Sethu can be an election issue, Amarnath Shrine Board and Sachar committee recommendations can be election issues, terrorism and price issues can be election issues...

There are reports that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is unhappy that you are moderating the BJP’s stance and moving away from Hindutva...

This is completely baseless, I don’t know who has told you this…

So the RSS is alright with the fact that the BJP is moderating its position?

There is no question of moderation. We are fully committed to the ideology and political thought with which we began our journey. We will not deviate even one inch from this ideology and political thought.

So what kind of a role does the RSS play in the working of the BJP?

I will only say that the RSS’ intervention in the daily working of the BJP is zero. The RSS does not interfere in the BJP’s functioning at all. The RSS is a cultural organization, and I believe it is the world’s biggest cultural organization.

So in the politics of the BJP, the RSS doesn’t play any role?

None at all, and if anybody believes that, then I think there is some confusion. However, I am also an RSS volunteer.

So you are a swayamsevak (RSS volunteer)?

Yes of course, I am a swayamsevak. Maybe some people have hidden this fact (about themselves), but I don’t want to hide this fact. The truth is the truth. Main hoon. I am (an RSS volunteer). But I do believe that the RSS is a cultural and nationalist organization and whenever there has been a crisis in our country, the RSS has played a very important role.

But you believe that the RSS and the BJP should be separate? And that there is no interference on the RSS part?

There is no need to say that, that is how it is. There is no interference at all. If there is any interference, it is because we are RSS volunteers, we believe in its ideology, we are committed to its thoughts, so we participate in its events.

When (former prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, some years ago, said he was a swayamsevak, some people in the party began to ask whether he had forgotten that he was a swayamsevak?

I am telling you I am a swayamsevak because you are asking me. I am telling you this to remind you (laughs).

I would like to ask you about the coming elections. The entire senior leadership of the party, except Advani, people such as Murli Manohan Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj are from the Rajya Sabha. Will they fight for the Lok Sabha this time?

Some will fight.

Will you fight?

I will definitely like to fight for the Lok Sabha. I would not like to stay in the Rajya Sabha. I have told my wish to my colleagues. However, since I am a party president, the core group will decide.

From which seat?

Only the central election committee will decide.

What about your colleagues?

Some will fight, others have to stay in the party so as to make the others fight. Dr Joshi will fight from Benares. The others I cannot say.

Will Vajpayeeji fight the elections?

That will depend on his health.

What is wrong with his health?

That only the doctors can say.

But you are the president of the party. Vajpayee is a senior and very respected leader and the people have a right to know about such a senior politician.

Only the doctors can talk about such a senior leader. He has some problem in addressing public meetings, he has some weakness.

So will he address rallies?

If his health is all right, he will surely do so.

So can we say that this is the end of an era for Atal Bihari Vajpayee?

No, you cannot say this. We should not talk like that. Only because of Atalji’s desire has Advaniji been projected as the prime ministerial candidate in the elections, his agreement is there and the entire NDA has accepted Advaniji as such. So Atalji will continue to guide the party.

How was his health when you met him last?

He was fine when I last met him, he talked to me.

Different people say different things. Some people say he had a (heart) attack, some say he had a stroke...

I don’t know anything about a stroke. I only know he looks fine, and talks to people who go and see him. But it will be difficult for him to address public meetings.

Reports that you will ally with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal?

I will only say that the allies of the NDA are increasing. With Om Prakash Chautala, we have already made an alliance. All I can say is that some alliances will be pre-poll, and some will be post-poll.

There are reports that Kalyan Singh is upset that you will ally with Ajit Singh.

You must have seen reports that there was opposition even in Haryana (to our alliance with Chautala), but the decision made by the parliamentary board, everybody had to agree.

What will be the scene in the south?

There will be some alliances in the south, some could be pre-poll as well, but I cannot tell you beforehand.

There is a charge that your party is becoming like the Congress. There are reports that there are people around Advani who are not elected, there is no debate in the party..

Whoever says this is playing a mischievous role, and if this is someone’s observation, there is need to test his IQ. This is not correct. All our decisions are taken after debate within the parliamentary board, within the core group, and sometimes, as party president, I take decisions, too.

I want to ask you about the violence in Orissa. You have said that the Bajrang Dal and the VHP are nationalist organizations.

Absolutely. At least one thing is clear, they are not terrorist organizations.

Do you condemn the rape of the nun in Orissa?

Of course. Who will not condemn such a thing as a rape, I condemn the violence, too. Whatever has happened, no organization has owned it.

Do you believe that the VHP or the Bajrang Dal have any role to play in this?

Not at all, they have no role at all, as far as I know. I want to say this about all our parties, even if a worker is involved in any (heinous) act, does that mean that the whole party should be held responsible?

So who is responsible? It is your alliance partner which is in power in Orissa.

Yes, there is an alliance partner. But do you know that there was a spate of religious conversions going (on) in that state, the murder of Swami Lakshamananda, there was so much anger in the hearts of his followers. What does the VHP and Bajrang Dal have to do with this?

So you are justifying the violence?

There is no question of justifying the violence…As far as I know, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have no role in this. And I also believe that neither of these organizations believe in violence.

But these workers are still saying that they will continue with the violence.

If some people are saying this, what can I do? The Bajrang Dal has not owned this violence, maybe some individual has.

The question of Islam, is there such a thing as Islamic terrorism?

I have never talked about Islamic terrorism, I have talked about jehadi terrorism. And the country that has given birth to jehadi terrorism is Pakistan. I say this always, the Central government is confused about terrorism, it cannot separate the Muslim community from terrorism. Perhaps that is why it indulges in vote bank politics and cannot take strong action against terrorism.

So Islam can be separated from terrorism?

We cannot even think about it, the question of linking any religion with terrorism. Whoever is involved in terrorism, it is true that people from the Muslim community are involved.

But we still believe that we should not link terrorism with either the Muslim community or with Islam.