BJP national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao believes that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s track record is already before the people, the opposition is still squabbling over who to project as their prime ministerial candidate. In an interview to Manish Anand, Rao also asserts that the NDA will gain more allies, and that the results of all the state elections since 2014, not just the three recent ones, will influence the 2019 Lok Sabha verdict. 

Is the 2019 electoral narrative evolving into a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi contest?
That Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an important leader is a settled issue. Modi’s performance  in the last four and a half years and his approach to various issues are before the people. So his is a tested case. However, opposition to Modi is not yet a settled issue.

A few days ago DMK leader M K Stalin proposed Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial face, but a number of opposition leaders immediately rejected the idea. Evidently, Gandhi is not being taken seriously by other Opposition leaders. There are a number of contenders in the Opposition camp vying with each other. We sense that a face against Modi isn’t yet a settled issue. Except for being anti-Modi, unanimity and consensus among Opposition parties are still missing.

Do the recent state poll verdicts change the electoral narrative for the 2019 elections?
Every election is important. While I don’t say that losing elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattishgarh would have no impact, I don’t agree that elections in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh, and others states wouldn’t have any impact on the 2019 polls. It’s a continuous process, and so every election will have some impact.

 
 

The BJP has won many elections after 2014, and lost a few states. Besides, the elections in MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh were to decide governments in states, not a government in New Delhi. Viability is also equally important, and people have in recent times not voted for instability, disorder, and squabbling.

 

The 2014 mandate was for development, including employment opportunities for the youth, but the NDA government appears more focused on welfare. Is this change of stance hurting the BJP in polls?  
Modi has dealt with development and welfare in a very balanced way. He’s never neglected the welfare aspect, whether it’s Ujjwala, Ujala, Ayushman Bharat or Awas Yojna. Growth has seen a robust pace. The approach on welfare schemes has been on targeted delivery in a time bound manner, resulting in a total of 22 crore beneficiaries, which excludes 32 crore beneficiaries of the Jan Dhan scheme.

The growth achievements on the other side reflected in construction of national highways, ports, railway lines are all there for the people to see. Even in the agrarian sector, reforms initiated by this government in a short span of time will have positive and beneficial consequences for the farmers in the long run. 

Is the fatigue factor catching up with relentless electoral machinery of the BJP, as seen in the recent state verdicts? 
I don’t think that the fatigue factor seen in MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh would be there during the national elections. Ideological struggle is more pronounced and sharp at the national level. The Congress alignment with different anti-national and anti-people group just to serve their political interest is well understood by our cadre. Our cadre is committed to nationalism and they understand the challenges before the party and the country very well, so the fatigue factor will not be there in 2019 polls. 

Do the recent state poll verdicts give the Congress an advantage while attracting allies? 
The BJP still has far more to offer its allies. Modi as an NDA leader is a great asset not just for the BJP, but for NDA. BJP’s cadre strength and organisational penetration would also be of great advantage for the allies. We have grown organisationally not just in conventional areas, but even in areas seen earlier as weak for us in the last four and a half years. So a comparison with Congress isn’t possible. Even in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress victory isn’t overwhelming. Alliances are not just based on principles, but on relative strength. We will have more number of partners. 

Now that the long established leadership in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan have been voted out, do you foresee leadership change in these states?
The BJP promoting new leadership has not stopped in any state at any time, including the three states you mentioned. New leaders have always come up, and the party has created multiple opportunities for young leaders to take up responsibilities. We have leaders from these three states in Delhi. The rule of one person one post has helped the party groom leaders.

The chief ministers of the three states have owned up the party’s electoral losses. Will the national leadership also own up responsibility?
We have a collective process. The president as the head of the party represents everybody. We never say victory is mine and loss is of others. Ethos of my party is different from other parties. The Prime Minister, party president and other leaders campaigned hard, besides there was a candidate selection process. So, I don’t think a single individual is responsible for a win or defeat. 

Did the debate around Ram temple and other Hindutva issues hurt BJP’s development plank in the state elections?
Discourse during election time is not dictated by a political party. Discourse is influenced by contending players and outsiders. And, you’re responding to different challenges. Therefore, it shouldn’t be seen that we have discarded the development plank. Development and nation first can never become marginal in BJP’s election narrative. The Middle class had much of hope from Modi during the 2014 campaign, but there appears disappointment that they didn’t gain much. 

The Modi government delivered “single rank, single pension”, the Mudra scheme, and improved ease of doing business, which cater to the needs of middle class. Modi has blended growth and welfare in a very balanced manner. Ours is not a socialistic welfarism. We have made our government walk on two feet –welfare and growth for sustainable development.

If you only pursue growth and discard welfarism, you will have a large number of marginalised people who could become frustrated. In fact, corruption-free government is good for the poor, entrepreneurs, and the youth. This government has delivered on this count. Availability of power, communication, transport has made all sections comfortable. The BJP is pursuing the path of sustainable development along with improving the lives of the downtrodden. 

Is KCR still an NDA plus or is he pursuing an independent path for Federal front?
Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is the only party with which the BJP has no truck. TRS has done business with both the Congress and TDP. Besides, TRS is also a dynastic party on the lines of Congress and TDP. The TRS also indulges in similar vote bank politics. We believe that neither a Federal Front nor a Congress plus front could provide a stable government at the Centre.    

The BJP adopted Mission South on the premise that the gains would compensate for any losses in the traditionally strong areas where the party gained maximum in 2014, but the Telangana verdict suggests otherwise. Our position in Karnataka has gone up from 42 to 104 after the 2018 state elections. In vote percentage, we have not come down in Telangana, but because of preponed poll the issues changed and  we couldn’t extract advantage. But when it comes to Parliamentary elections I don’t see the same situation. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we will have good partnership and powerful NDA.

Will the BJP have a pre-poll alliance with YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh?
In Andhra, my party hasn’t taken any view on this so far. The TDP has gone out of NDA, which was a good riddance. N Chandra Babu Naidu’s graph in Andhra has nose-dived. My party president (Amit Shah) and Prime Minister will visit Andhra in the coming days, and the national leadership will sit and decide on our Andhra strategy.

(Source: The New Indian Express)

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