Former Prime Minister and late BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s clip from his 1998 interview with Pritish Nandy and Javed Akhtar on ‘Face Off’, where he claimed that India is a secular country because India’s 82% population is Hindu, went viral on social media.
In the clip, Javed Akhtar cited Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 9, 1947, speech wherein he claimed that Pakistan would be a secular country, which never happened. Javed Akhtar blamed Jinnah’s tactics claiming that the powers he unleashed to form Pakistan never let him create a secular state.
Furthermore, citing Jinnah’s example, Javed Akhtar asks Atal Bihari Vajpayee “whether the elements BJP unleashed to gain power would allow them to create a secular society?”
Atal Bihari Vajpayee replied to Javed Akhtar’s question stating that “Bharat is not secular because of BJP or RSS.” Javed Akhtar interjects saying, “It is in spite of that.” Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed with Javed Akhtar and said, “82% are Hindus. It (secularism) is the mindset of Hindus. Hindus are not tied to a single book. Hindus are not tied to a single prophet. Even an atheist is a Hindu, and it is a part of our culture.”
In the interview, Javed Akhtar asks Atal Bihari Vajpayee whether there is a difference of view about minorities in India between him and former Deputy Prime Minister and BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee replied to Javed Akhtar’s question and said, “There is no difference of opinion. We all share the same view. The complete party has the same view. When we formed Jana Sangh or now, we work under the name of Bharatiya Janta Party, our doors have been open for all. We have not opened the doors so that the door remains open and no one walks in. We genuinely want that Muslims join us; therefore, not just the doors to the party but the doors to our hearts are also open.” Furthermore, he said that the party believes that minorities are the citizens of this country and that they have equal rights and obligations in the country.
He said that the BJP has said that India was, is and will be a secular state. He claimed that “minorities must not be afraid of it; however, the opposition has created this fear.” Furthermore, he alleged that the minorities are experiencing that the opposition intends to use them as a vote bank without thinking of their welfare.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee replied to Javed Akhtar’s question asking him to define communalism and nationalism and said, “If the Hindus demand extra rights because Hindus constitute 82% of the population, and the rest of the population are lesser in number, therefore, they should have fewer rights, then I would say that’s communalism.”
Furthermore, he added that chances of injustice against minorities are reduced when everyone has the same rights protected under the Constitution, an independent judiciary to interpret the Constitution, elected representatives, and a vigilant press.
He distinguished between a Hindu Raj (theocracy) and a Hindu Rashtra. He claimed “no one has asked to discriminate against Muslims on the grounds of religion. Neither this has ever happened in the country before nor it will happen in the future.” He clarified that the concept of a Hindu Rashtra states that India was not born in 1947 but is an ancient state. Furthermore, he said no one has asked to declare the Hindu religion as the state religion. The Hindu majority should be thanked for upholding secularism in the country.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee replied to Pritish Nandy’s claim that he is attempting to redefine the BJP to make it appeal to everyone and whether he thinks that BJP is eroding that in the process, and said, “We are not eroding that, we are multiplying it. We are getting more mass support; we are going to areas where BJP was never a strong force. Now we are getting tremendous support of the people, the results will show that we have made effective inroads in the southern states, particularly Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. So there is no question of giving up the hardcore support.”