FACE TO FACE: Najma Heptullah, Eminent BJP Parliamentarian

If we believe that our judicial system is unbiased, then we have to believe that Narendra Modi is innocent

Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi 

Former Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha and eminent BJP Parliamentarian Dr Najma Heptullah is not known for pulling punches. In this frank conversation with Hardnews, the eloquent Dr Heptullah spoke on diverse issues concerning the politics of the country. Excerpts… 

In the recently held assembly elections, we saw women’s representation actually dwindling. Of 70 seats in Delhi, only three women won; of 230 seats in MP, only 25 women won. Why do you think this is?

This is what we have been fighting for—that women be given a level playing field. It is not equal because men own the resources, money and muscle. That’s why we were asking for reservation. I was not in favour of reservation, but when we saw that there is no other way to bring women into decision-making positions, in the parliament and state assemblies, I got on board. Men are not allowing this to be passed. 

Do you think this is the only way to get India’s women into politics?

There are two ways in the system that we have today. At the party level, everybody gives 33 per cent reservation. But if every party gives 33 per cent of their tickets to women, it will be at risk because they won’t necessarily get elected. Without reservation, political parties should take a conscious decision of pitting women against other women candidates. That is how women will be elected. But no political party is going to agree to that. So reservation is the only solution.

The other way is through a list system. In certain countries, political parties have list systems where they put women on a higher level, so you simply tick mark them. Again, it is a kind of reservation. So that is the only way. 

There are rising incidents of violence against women in India. What do you think are the reasons, and how can they be tackled?

It is no longer taboo to talk about violence against women. Women are coming out now. Earlier, if there was a case reported in the paper occasionally, people would blame the girl rather than the perpetrator. That is why so many cases are reported today. Yes, there is increase in violence against women and this is because of uneducated and unemployed people, disgruntled elements in the society, who have access to filthy content on YouTube and the Internet, where they get their ideas from. They are frustrated. They often vent their anger at those who they perceive to be the weakest —women. There should be a moral change in our society. 

The Lok Sabha elections are around the corner. What core issues will the BJP cater to, apart from the development card played by Modi?

Narendra Modi has already cleared the party agenda, which focuses on development and different aspects of vikas—economic and social, in both urban and rural areas. He has also spoken about safety of women. If women feel safe, then they can come out and contribute. But if they feel unsafe, they will lock themselves in. Safety for women is important for their contribution in nation-building. 

Congress has backed off from announcing their PM candidate so far. What does this mean for the BJP?

I believe what Narendra Modi said about this. The Congress  somehow has accepted defeat. It will be a miracle if they get elected. The way things are, it is evident they have given up hope. They had given up hope in Delhi, also. At the last minute, there was no will to fight. And everyone, including the party, abandoned Sheila Dikshit. When they have given up hope, why would they want to use their ace card in a losing battle? They want to keep it safe for the next time because there is no acceptable leadership in the Congress.  Rahul Gandhi has not done well in state elections; he had campaigned there but it did not work. If they put him at the national level, and he fails, then his future is sealed. 

And Mani Shankar Aiyar made that comment on Modi…

It was derogatory; it was not against Modi, but against the dignity of labour. If my washerwoman does not wash my clothes, then who will? If my cook does not cook food, then who will? Everyone is doing their job according to their choice. You are denigrating a person for earning a decent and honest living, and people who are corrupt say this. If Modi was selling tea in trains, only in an India with strong democratic values can he rightfully aspire to be the prime minister of the country. He says it proudly that his mother used to wash utensils for a living. Earning a living, whichever way you do it, is never undignified. But making such a statement is extremely undignified. 

Minorities, especially Muslims, still carry wounds from the Gujarat 2002 carnage. Why do you think they should feel comfortable with Modi?

Everybody talks only about the Gujarat violence. Any violence is condemnable; be it in Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bhagalpur, or Bhiwandi. Who was responsible for that? After 2002, in Gujarat, there have been no more communal riots. But communal violence keeps on happening elsewhere; nobody reports it. The Congress and other political parties keep on reminding Muslims of the tragedy and scratch their wounds. Is this secular?

Tell them to forget it; we look forward to better things. But they are reminding and pushing them backwards. Somebody told me Modi refused to wear a topi [skull cap]. Muslims do not need topi, they need roti, and Narendra Modi is talking about roti. 

In November 2013, the BJP was accused of honouring its MLA who allegedly incited the Muzaffarnagar riots and polarized the two communities involved. What do you have to say about that?

First, ‘honoured’ is not the right terminology. Second, until and unless the guilt is proved, unless the court indicts them and sends them to jail, nobody can be called a criminal. The charge against Modi was that he was personally involved in perpetrating violence against Muslims. But the court has given him a clean chit. What system do we believe in? Do we believe in courts or not? If we believe our judiciary is unbiased, then we have to believe that Narendra Modi is innocent. Riots have taken place in this country. I have witnessed the Bombay riots when the Home Minister, Prime Minister, and Defence Minister were from the Congress. But they blame Amit Shah for instigating the Muzaffarnagar communal tension. But what of the riots that took place when Modi, Shah, or the BJP were not around? They do not know that people still remember history. Who is communal—a person who talks about riots all the time or a person who wants to talk about progress? I think those who keep on reminding Muslims about the riots are more communal. It’s time the country drops this secular–communal thing. Muslims have  nothing to gain from this lip service to secularism.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014