Shri Bal Apte is vice president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is also incharge of workers training and Andhra Pradesh unit. Organiser representative Pramod Kumar spoke to him in New Delhi on different ideological and organisational issues pertaining to the party. Excerpts:
After elections the BJP National Executive met in Mumbai followed by a Chintan Baithak in Goa where you discussed party'spoll debacle? What is the action plan for revival of the party?
It was not a debacle even though we got less number of seats. We did perceive that even if we had won the elections, an assessment was necessary. The future plan did not relate only to the recent past or the loss of power in Delhi, but to the status of the party and the need to do something to improve. Now our approach is manifold. One, clarity at the ideological level as a party of governance. As leader of a coalition, the main objective was to run the government efficiently for progress of the country. We do believe that the progress of the country is understood on the basis of ideological perception. That perception has to be cleared. With the growth of the party, naturally the understanding of the ideological norms has to be related. That was perhaps not part of the party programmes. So, we put in efforts to do this through training and programmes, which are consistent with our ideological approach.
On many occasions our opponents talk about ?Hindu agenda? and enumerate two or three usual points. We believe that the agenda for national reconstruction (it can be called the Hindu agenda) is not confined to three or four points. The agenda is mainly for national transformation and touches every walk of life. And orientation of the party cadre on this behalf had to be the foremost task. We have always claimed to be a party with a difference and that difference was as much in the ideological thinking as in the organisational structure. Therefore, the organisation has to be built under the basic tenets of collectivity, mutuality and communication.
The workers need to be so active that there should be no distance between the leaders and activists. Whatever distance is there has to be eliminated. Everybody is working towards one goal i.e. national reconstruction. The fourth aspect of our emphasis is that good communication, establishing a complete rapport with all those who are part of this movement, can be achieved with little effort and that we are doing. It is for the first time that the continuous upward graph of the party from 1984 to 1999 or 2004 has received a setback in the recent elections. But we can convert the setback into an opportunity, by looking forward with a thrust for change.
But as far as the ideological aspect and the claim of a ?party with a difference?, are concerned, the BJP is regarded no different to the Congress as it allegedly compromised even on its traditional issues?
Our opponents identify us with Ayodhya, cow protection, Article 370 and Common Civil Code (CCC). These issues are part of our wider nationalist agenda, which is not confined to only these four issues but includes every vital aspect of national reconstruction that we call development. During our tenure we did many things, which had not been done for the last 50 years. These four issues were not part of the NDA framework. We could not execute all those for the simple reason that we had to take our 23 colleagues together.
Cow protection was made the part of the NDA agenda during the 2004 polls. Ayodhya is not only part of the BJP agenda but also of the Congress. The solution to this problem has to be sought within the constitutional framework and naturally by consensus. So far as Article 370 is concerned, it has to be analysed in a different manner. Since it was treated as a temporary provision, the erosion of the Article is such that today J&K is integrated with the country. That state is equally under the domain of Election Commission, Supreme Court and Planning Commission. The integration of J&K was better achieved during the last six years than any time earlier. So far as the CCC is concerned I don'tunderstand when it became a Hindu agenda. The non-Hindu communities need more reforms in their laws than the Hindus. They must appreciate that certain provisions that discriminate between man and woman have to be changed. We achieved this in consultations with the Christians. There was a disparity between man and woman within the law that governs the Christians; we brought amendment to that Act and now for Christians there is equality between all. The foundation of this approach is equality. The Muslims are also coming forward to propose certain changes in their laws. Ultimately it is the people belonging to the community who have to make their decisions. We will help them with a broader approach and with proper understanding.
But as far as the temple is concerned, as alleged by the VHP working president Ashok Singhal, the govern-ment did not do what it could have done, i.e. handing over the undisputed land to saints. Comment
That could be a genuine concern of Ashokji or a genuine complaint of the VHP. It is for us now to understand each other for the future and if something is not done that ought to be done unitedly. If there is a gap in communication that should be made up. There are many positive things that we can achieve.
There has been a lot of criticism in the media that after elections, the BJP is a confused party and that it has not been able to take the defeat gracefully?
Within two to three hours of counting of votes when it became clear that we were not going to win a majority on our own, the former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee declared that we would sit in Opposition. What more grace anybody wants in the acceptance of defeats. If people have given this mandate, we shall sit in Opposition for five years and go to the next elections. That was the attitude expressed by the party. So far as confusion is concerned, I fail to understand why people have come to that conclusion? But as I see that after every defeat or success, the BJP came to correct the future. For that we took time. We did not do it in haste. The elections were lost in middle of May and we met in the national executive in June. The theme of that Chintan Baithak was not election defeat but the tasks ahead. We came with a clear approach both to politics and the present government and of course, to future.
In fact those who call us confused are themselves confused about their objectives. The entire Left is a victim of that confusion. They are supporting this government, as they believe that if they do not support it, they will pave our way. This government is under their clutches. It is being blackmailed every day by the Left. It is the classic case of exercising power without responsibility. They are not participating in the government, but they are trying to influence every decision by blackmailing. This is the first opportunity for them during the last 50 years that they are getting, and I am sure this will be the last.
There has been a talk of better coordination between the BJP and other units of the Sangh Parivar. Do you think there is lack of coordination and if so, how are you going to correct it?
Actually it is not the matter of coordination but understanding. Because various organisation are working in various fields with the objective of national reconstruction. They are mass organisations. Therefore, none of the organisations work in isolation. There is a necessity of understanding between the organisations, which have traditionally existed and also have survived all the years. A little effort will again establish the same atmosphere, which was there earlier.
How are you gearing up for the Maharashtra Assembly elections and also for elections in other states due next year?
We have already started gearing up. In Maharashtra the structure is ready up to the booth level. There is a complete understanding with our ally, the Shiv Sena. The campaign will be joint and workers also will work jointly. There is a collaboration between workers from each constituency. Over 3,000 workers representing all the assembly constituencies have already launched a campaign for the party on August 20. Party leaders have already visited all the constituencies. There is a strong anti-incumbency feeling in Maharashtra.
In UP the BJP is in a bad shape and the workers are not able to take on the criminal activities of SP and BSP?
We are aware of the deficiencies in our set-up and we have taken energetic steps to correct them. Today the party is approaching the situation with confidence. All the leaders are geared. Now the challenge is not collective of SP and BSP. They are two different challenges and we have to fight against both fronts at the same time. Congress is even today a marginal runner in UP politics and it will continue to be marginalised. There is no space left for it beyond the SP, BSP and the BJP.
Every time when the BJP is in and out of power, it needs to be reoriented ideologi-cally? This kind of situation normally does not happen with the CPM, which is also a cadre-based party?
Ideological assertion from time to time is necessary. As time progresses, different approaches and circumstances arrive and every time we do check whether our approach is correct. Anybody who checks his approach from time to time is really a person who is vigilant and who is looking to the future. Anybody who assumes that everything is right, he doesn'tprogress. You cannot compare us with the CPM. The CPM does not need to be reoriented as it cannot expand. If you have to expand, you have to be reoriented. So, CPM is in status quo. We are progressive. This is the difference between us.