Considered a forerunner for the post of UP chief minister, Virendra Singh is known to be close to the PM and is a prime firefighter among the farming community in the post-demonetisation process in UP. (Photo courtesy: www.virendrasinghmast.com) Photograph: (Others)
WION speaks with Virendra Singh 'Mast', believed to be a front runner for the post of UP chief minister should the BJP win
On Thursday evening, even as television channels gave Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a clear lead over its competitors, the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine and Bahujan Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the party's strategist were still scratching their heads over if the projections were substantial enough to ensure a victory and not just a hung assembly.
However, that did not prevent supporters walking into BJP leader Virendra Singh 'Mast's' Lutyen's Delhi official residence and congratulating him for the party's impending victory. 'Mast' is a three-term Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh's Bhadohi that flanks Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Banaras parliamentary constituency. Considered a front runner for the post of UP chief minister, Virendra Singh is known to be close to the PM and is a prime firefighter among the farming communities in the post-demonetisation process. His recent speech in Parliament attacking the campaign of Opposition leaders like Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav and Congress's Rahul Gandhi had the PM in splits apart from striking a chord among BJP voters.
'Mast' told WION the BJP has been preparing its organisational for this victory in the state soon after its 2014 national election victory. A farmer's son, Mast bolsters his 'son of the soil' credentials with accounts of his athletic career as a traditional wrestler, something he claimed in his speech, Rahul Gandhi knows nothing about.
Q: Your name is doing the rounds as one of the fore-runners for the UP chief minister's post if the BJP wins. That will mean that UP will get a Rajput or an upper caste CM after a long time, how does that work for you?
A: I am an ideological worker of BJP. BJP is an ideology-based party and that’s why we are different. As far as a role in electoral politics is concerned, we have a system in place in BJP. I will accept the role assigned to me and take it to its logical conclusion. Like other parties, the BJP does not believe in creating leaders who belong to a caste or section. The BJP's central leadership decides roles.
Q: In politics, however, one has to keep caste arithmetic in mind because BJP's core vote is upper caste in Uttar Pradesh. Giving a representation to your core vote could be a reason?
A: I don’t think that upper caste, lower caste or middle caste is a criteria for this decision. BJP forms its organisation keeping a person's capability in mind.
Q: For a very long time, Indian home minister Rajnath Singh was named as the leader from UP's powerful Rajput community and a probable BJP chief minister from the state. Do you think work had started in the past two-three years to set up a new leadership on the ground?
A: Rajnath Singh is India's home minister and a BJP MP. I know him very well. My Lok Sabha seat was a part of his constituency earlier. He is also an ideological member of the organisation and he should not be known as the leader of a community. He is a national leader. We should not discuss him on the basis of caste. No one can present themselves as leaders of a caste in the BJP, otherwise he does not know the party. We are not a caste-based party.
With his uncanny way of expression, BJP MP Virendra Singh took a dig at the opposition in a video that went viral on the internet (WION)
Q: You were appointed the BJP Kisan Morcha (Farmers' Cell) chief at a very critical time right after demonetisation was announced. You were given the charge for handling a very important section of voters in UP. How much impact did demonetisation have on the state's farmers? How did you dispel those ideas?
A: I am a farmer and know about their concerns. People in Delhi who feel farmers were affected, they don’t know farmers. Only those with unaccounted wealth were affected. It is true that some people from other sections were also affected. That is not avoidable when you take a big decision like this demonetisation. But farmers and villagers did not face any difficulty.
Q: There was a time when it was felt that demonetisation may boomerang for BJP in UP polls. But that was not the agenda as per you. What was it then?
A: The agenda was development. The poor and marginalised saw demonetisation as a move in their favour. I have never seen another national leader being trusted like PM Narendra Modi in the villages of UP in my entire political career... People of UP feel that the state should develop with the rest of India and for that they need to stand with Modi.
Q: Has the Hindu-Muslim vote been communally polarised, especially over Modi 's statement that the state should spend equally on shamshaan's (cremation grounds) and not just kabristan (Muslim burial grounds). Was this polarisation already there or did the Hindu voters feel a resonance with what Modi said and had that consolidated the majority vote?
A: If someone speaks the truth and that is understood as creating polarisation, then that is a problem with the perception of those misinterpreting. If those in power secure some sections that are their vote banks and ignore others, then why won't the common man raise such issues. If the PM says worry equally about both, that’s his duty to do so. When Modi was the Gujarat CM, he was asked what do you do for the Muslims of the state, he said he did nothing. But, he said, he worked for all the people of Gujarat, including Muslims. If the other groups call it polarisation what can we do? For example, in UP, Muslim girls get scholarships in UP, but Hindu girls are deprived simply because of the community they are born in.
Q: Now that BJP is being positioned as a national party spread all over India like the Congress party of the old, will you try to bring Muslim voters into the BJP fold? Will that effort start from UP?
A: We can start an effort. I told Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United leader) once that the 'Muslims of India will one day question you'. They (secular parties) have been calling the Jana Sangh an anti-Muslim party since its inception, same with BJP. They kept saying that no government can be formed without Muslim voters. I can't say if the Muslims voted for us or not. They kept saying Modi is anti-Muslim. But in 2014, we came to power with full majority. Going by their logic, didn't we form a majority government without the support of Muslims? We don't raise this issue. Even today we build roads, we build railway stations. We speak for the welfare of Muslim women, we also provide Haj subsidy. That’s for keeping the country united. But the purveyors of secular politics have created hate for us and advised Muslims to stay away from us. Now Muslims understand that a majority government can be formed without their support. Those driving the debate on secularism should consider that they don’t raise new issues for creating hatred like the ' communal polarisation over Shamshaan and Kabristan issue'.
Q: Samajwadi Party is considered pro-Muslim, but the Muzaffarnagar riots took place under their watch. They didn’t do anything effective to tackle the situation and were busy in the Saifai festival. Yet the Uttar Pradesh Muslims believe in the country's electoral process. They vote and hope that their leaders will reach the Indian Parliament and work for some positive change. How do you respond to that?
A: Earlier, the Muslims were with Congress in UP, later with Mulayam Singh's SP. But the situation will change. They will understand.
Q. Many believe that Uttar Pradesh is too large and unwieldy and should be divided into smaller states. Do you concur?
A: My party believes in smaller states. But no state should be formed on the bedrock of hatred, we should not create hatred in society... It creates friction among hundreds of thousands. In a small state, things become convenient. But not that you form a small state so that you can work more effectively with your caste equations. Smaller states have problems like unstable governments and horse-trading. The stability of governments should also be considered in this debate. Like when Punjab was divided, it was further divided, Himachal after Haryana. Even now they lock horns over issues like river water.
Q: You mean that while your party believes in smaller states, you are worried that this will lead to hatred?
A: This is not my fear. Even you must have noticed how governments in smaller states are unstable.
Q: But when you speak about hate, do you mean that the regional aspirations of certain sections may be thwarted?
A: Yes, regional aspirations and caste is a factor. Like the Jat belt in western Uttar Pradesh. They would want a government from their community. So the holistic flavour of democracy is compromised. In other places, Rajputs or Brahmins may want to form their government. Then you will have caste-based governments, not state or national government.
Q: SP CM Akhilesh Yadav has a good image that he is a constructive CM...
A: His image is not bigger than Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam Singh has passed through the fire of political struggle. Akhilesh is a product of that movement. He hasn’t faced what Mulayam has. I may have many disagreements with Mulayam, but Akhilesh is not his father. Akhilesh was made CM by his father. For the past five years as CM, he never tried to set himself up for the role he is now seeking. A real race horse establishes his credentials right from the beginning. I still consider Mulayam Singh the winning candidate. And I don’t have an opinion on Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati.