Rajnath Singh: “We should not see India’s relations with Russia in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation…”
Amid the raging war between Russia and Ukraine, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said Wednesday he did not want to comment on any particular country’s stance, but that the confrontation must end. “India wants peace,” he said. In an interview with The Indian Express, Singh, who has campaigned extensively in Uttar Pradesh, also said he does not believe in differentiating between people in the name of religion or caste, and that the BJP stands for ‘justice for all and appeasement for no one”. Excerpts:
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What difference do you see in this election to the Assembly? Is it different from the Lok Sabha polls of 2017 or 2019?
For me, it’s the same as in 2017 and 2019. I say this based on the crowds at the rallies, their response and how they react to the speeches. I have also felt an extremely positive response to the social welfare programs initiated by both the Narendra Modi government in the Center and the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh. People are also happy with the law and order situation. The electorate tends to compare these things with previous governments and they seem to have concluded that this government’s welfare programs are much more useful to them and have made a difference in their lives. The other factor that people find us good for is the implementation process. There is no corruption and one has the feeling that they are treated on an equal footing. If the government has announced Rs 6,000, they get that amount. I think we will keep our seats.
But doesn’t the BJP now seem to be displaying the initial confidence it once had?
Not at all. Haven’t you seen the public gatherings I’ve had. Didn’t see the answer?
But the BJP leaders who claimed a clean sweep now admit that the Samajwadi party is a formidable opponent to the UP.
It is not like that. The fight is triangular in some places and four parties are there in others.
Is BSP a rival of BJP in UP? Does he support the BJP?
It is true that the BSP is a force to be reckoned with in some constituencies. In some areas, BSP is fighting. There are some areas where Congress is also fighting hard. But the impression that he (the BSP) is helping the BJP is not true. This is the fight. In fact, everyone is fighting against this election against the BJP.
You are a leader that many people consider a moderate face of the BJP. What do you think of the BJP’s “anti-minority image”?
The BJP is a party that wants to take everyone regardless of caste, creed and religion. Our position is justice for all and appeasement for none. Have you ever heard me violate that in any of my speeches? You will never hear anything like that from me. I’m not talking about Hindu-Muslims – I don’t believe in them. I don’t see any differences between Hindus, Muslims, Christians or any religion. Our party has an ideology and we are working on it. He does not discriminate between people in the name of religion.
Does this ideology have room for Muslims and other minorities?
Sure. There is no discrimination among Indians in the name of caste, creed or religion in our ideology.
But do some of your leaders make public comments against minorities?
There may be some who do not know or are unaware of our ideology. But no senior leader would talk like that. You see, during the Congress period, there were also some who spoke like that. Parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party engage in appeasement politics, because they want to keep certain communities as their base of support. But BJP is not like that. Some people try to confuse people.
What do you think of the Hijab controversy?
The case is before the court, awaiting its order. But I personally feel that everyone follows the dress code in a school that rises above caste and religion. If you have trouble with a particular school’s dress code and don’t want to follow it, don’t enter it. You shouldn’t force schools not to follow their dress code.
But in Karnataka, after the order of the government, a Sikh student was asked not to wear the turban.
I don’t want to comment on any particular school or issue. I say you shouldn’t force a school to change its dress code for you. Anyway, let’s wait for the judgment.
Over the past seven years, the BJP has passed a number of laws. But for laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act or labor codes, the rules still need to be formed. The government had to abandon the idea of the land acquisition bill and it withdrew the agricultural laws. Why does this happen?
With respect to the Farm Bills, we have brought them. But part of the population did not accept them. They led the agitation and we tried to convince them, but we couldn’t. So we removed them. For others, rules will be framed. It will happen.
You were a minister in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Prime Minister sent you to discuss with the leaders of the regional parties when there were issues on which you disagreed. Do you think the consultation process is now lacking?
There are ongoing discussions. With allies we discuss problems, with others too. Standing committees, joint committees and advisory committees are all bodies where members of many parties sit. Discussions abound. Some regional parties say they don’t want to hold talks – why can’t you (the regional parties) ask the government to hold talks?
You were interior minister in the previous Modi government. What do you have to say about the recent controversies regarding the governors of states not governed by the BJP?
He was still there. When Congress was in power, there were more serious problems. We had to be constantly on the warpath with the governors. I myself had taken MPs from Uttar Pradesh to protest against the governor. But we don’t do such things.
But if you say Congress used to do that, then what is the difference between Congress and BJP?
I meant that we don’t do such things. We don’t behave like Congress. We want the rule of law to prevail.
Where are the talks between India and China?
There is no problem. Talks are ongoing. We won’t be able to talk about its outcome until the talks are over. Now the talks continue. The WMCC (Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination) between India and China continues to have its sessions. The talks are not blocked. We expect good results.
Do you think the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine would affect India-Russia relations?
We should not see India’s relations with Russia in the context of this confrontation. I don’t want to comment on the position of any particular country. What India wants is peace. There should be no confrontation. Everything that is happening must stop. India still wants peace.
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But wouldn’t India’s transactions, including the purchase of S-400 air defense systems, be affected?
I cannot say what will happen in the future. Let’s see. We want peace.
After the disappearance of General Bipin Rawat, the government has not yet appointed a new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces? When can we expect it?
It will happen. We are reviewing it.
Has the government heard any service complaints about how all DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization) projects are delayed and often do not meet quality standards?
I do not think so. If you’re talking about a specific project, I can talk about it. Ho sakta hai (it can happen)…after all it is research and development work, there may be delays. But there are no deliberate delays or problems. Even if there are complaints, we can take care of them and rectify them.