Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi, 39, is contesting his third Lok Sabha election from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. He spoke to Hindustan Times about his party’s prospects and the challenges he faces as he seeks re-election. Edited excerpts:
Q. What were the reasons for swapping your seat, Sultanpur, with your mother, Maneka Gandhi, who won from Pilibhit in 2014?
A. As loyal soldiers of the party, we will go by whatever the party decides for us. We are the only two people from a family, who have got BJP tickets… The party has given us a lot and we respect whatever decision it takes about us. Pilibhit is like home for us for the last 30 years.
Q. How sure are you about your victory?
A. Absolutely sure. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership generates a lot of hope, and it is benefitting all of us.
Q. How is this hope pitted against the caste arithmetic of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party’s grand alliance?
A. Two things have happened in the last five years. One is that the BJP’s social policy initiatives – be it agricultural, educational or health [related] – have transformed the rural landscape in terms of the delivery mechanism. For instance, this Kisan Samman Nidhi [under which farmers with less than two-hectare land will get cash transfers of Rs 6,000 annually into their bank accounts] … I did not realise the enormous impact it has had on the marginal farmer, which we found only when we started campaigning. A lot of benefits have gone to members of the SC [Scheduled Caste], ST [Scheduled Tribe] and minority communities or those of the backward communities. Therefore, there is a sense in them that the government has looked out for them in an individual as well as in a societal capacity. That in terms of voter share will blunt the arithmetical syntax of the grand alliance. A vote for hope and aspiration is not an abstract concept. It has to be realised on the ground in terms of benefits… So, there have been significant benefits and this has led to attrition in the monolith of the Maha Gathbandhan [grand alliance] vote bank.
Q. Will the government benefits ensure people will rise above their caste identities?
A. Identity politics is extremely difficult to break down… But my understanding of the identity is that economic transformation – whether seen in Bihar, Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh – has always trounced the feeling of clanship. The politics of the Maha Gathbandhan is largely medieval in nature. It is a politics based on clan identity. That is not a weak idea in India. But the idea that we see resurgent and formidable in all people under 50 is an idea of a better tomorrow and that idea has to have roots in economic transformation. So, all these initiatives have led to the emboldening of that idea, and have actually led to my belief that the BJP will do better than what pollsters are suggesting.
Q. How would you respond to the Opposition criticism that hopes have not translated into action?
A. Narendra Modi understood one thing which earlier prime ministers did not. And that is villages have to be looked at as social economic units, rather than looking at the interlinking of the economics of villages to city centres. So the benefits that have come from Narendra Modi to villages have been direct. It is for the first time and therefore you see a strengthening of the idea that there is a leader, and hopes and aspirations of the villages and villagers are directly linked to his coming back to power. That is the linkage between economic transformation and political dividends.
Q. What difference do you see between the 2014 and 2019 polls?
A. 2014 was an election centred on the persona of Narendra Modi. But he had not been tested. This time we can fight on the basis of the work that has been done. And so when we talk about it, then lots of hands go up. One can speak now with a certain amount of authenticity. That time it was based on dreams and hopes. This time, it is also based on results and the groundwork.
Q. Do you see a 2014-type wave for Modi and the BJP?
A. I see it. But the nature of the wave is different. It is a wave that is based on Modi’s coming of age as a leader, who has delivered what he promised and now there is hope as to how he can take things to the next level. It is like [former US president] Barack Obama’s wave in the first election and then his re-election in 2012. There was a wave both the times and he won with a big majority. In the first election, there was freshness and hope of the untested, and the second time there was a feeling that he has brought the country forward — he has delivered. So people wanted to see what he had to offer in the second term. So I would draw a parallel.
Q. Is the BJP also facing anti-incumbency?
A. A certain amount of anti-incumbency would have set in against individual candidates… But there is huge goodwill for Modi. The BJP’s ticket distribution has been on point and the organisational revamp has helped.
Q. How is the organisational revamp helping the BJP?
A. There is a huge impact. I have fought two elections, but this time I feel there is an army working for me. There is almost an invisible muscle that is working for you this time. I have a feeling that it is going to pay rich dividends across the country.
Apr 19, 2019 07:21 IST
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