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Apr 14, 2013 at 08:41pm IST

BJP is the most secular party, Modi is the most popular leader: Rajnath Singh

While speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh ruled out an apology from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Below is the full text of the transcript:

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. Could Narendra Modi be the great savior of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its biggest problem? That is the key issue I shall raise today with the party's president Rajnath Singh. I will begin by asking 3-4 simple questions and I request you to answer them briefly. Are you ready to admit that Narendra Modi is today the most successful Chief Minister the BJP has, as well as the most senior of your present chief ministers?

Rajnath Singh: There are no two views on how Narendra Modi has, as a chief minister, performed in Gujarat. As a result of that, Gujarat, in terms of development, has emerged as the model state of this country.

Karan Thapar: Would you also admit that Narendra Modi is today the most popular of the BJP's leaders?

Rajnath Singh: Definitely. Narendra Modi is the most popular leader of the country.

Karan Thapar: Would you also accept that for a year or more, opinion polls have shown, that 50, may be 60 per cent of BJP supporters want Narendra Modi as your prime ministerial candidate and nothing would make them happier than if that were to happen?

Rajnath Singh: I have no information that 50 or 60 per cent of the cadre want that.

Karan Thapar: Most of the opinion polls say 50 to 60 per cent.

Rajnath Singh: I can say this much, Narendra Modi is an extremely popular leader both amongst the common man or the BJP cadre. Nobody can argue that fact.

Karan Thapar: Are you ready to admit, that if it is a straight fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi would win comfortably?

Rajnath Singh: I cannot say whether the fight will be between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Only the BJP's Central Parliamentary Board has the power to decide who will be the final prime ministerial candidate.

Karan Thapar: Given that he is the most popular, given that he is the most successful, given that 50 to 60 per cent of your party cadres want to see him as your prime ministerial candidate, and given that he alone can easily defeat Rahul Gandhi, is he not the obvious, if not the only, choice to be BJP prime ministerial candidate?

Rajnath Singh: Karan, how can you believe that Rahul Gandhi will be the Congress' prime ministerial candidate? Congress has never announced its prime ministerial candidate.

Karan Thapar: If Narendra Modi can easily defeat Rahul Gandhi, he can easily defeat anybody else as well. That proves my point even more.

Rajnath Singh: Only the Central Parliamentary Board can set the parameters for choosing the prime ministerial candidate.

Karan Thapar: Is it at all possible that the Central Parliamentary Board will not choose the most popular BJP leader in the country? It will not choose the most successful chief minister you have ever had and will choose someone else as prime ministerial candidate? Is that possible?

Rajnath Singh: I would not comment on Central Parliamentary Board's authority. We would never want to break the system. Because if we try and break the system, whether it is a government or an organisation; not just the government, or that organisation, but the society al large is affected by it.

Karan Thapar: Okay don't break the system, but will you accept today that of all the potential candidates to be prime ministerial candidates for the BJP, Narendra Modi has to be the front-runner?

Rajnath Singh: Despite being the party's president, I cannot say who will be the prime ministerial candidate but I cannot deny the fact that Narendra Modi is the most popular leader of the country.

Karan Thapar: If Narendra Modi, you accept, without any doubt and hesitation, is the most popular BJP leader in the country, then let me reverse this discussion and put to you that the first problem you will face, if Narendra Modi were to become your prime ministerial candidate...

Rajnath Singh: That's a hypothetical question.

Karan Thapar: Yes it is hypothetical, but it is hypothetical because this issue is the most topical issue. The first problem you will face, if Narendra Modi were to become your prime ministerial candidate is that your single biggest ally, the JD(U), will break relations with you immediately.

Rajnath Singh: First of all, your question of hypothetical and hypothetical question cannot be answered. Secondly, if at all this is to happen, first let the Central Parliamentary Board to decide who will be the prime ministerial candidate. As far as JD(U) is concerned, I would like to say, our relationship with JD(U) goes back to 18 years and the relation will continue. This relationship will not break at any cost.

Karan Thapar: This question is not hypothetical because JD(U) General Secretary KC Tyagi, in Saturday's Economic Times, has said and I am quoting, "We will reconsider ties with the BJP-led alliance if Narendra Modi is projected as its PM candidate." They are openly saying they will break the relations. And on Saturday afternoon, Sabir Ali, on CNN-IBN, said that we will not accept Narendra Modi. So I will repeat my question, if Narendra Modi becomes your prime ministerial candidate, your relationship with the JD(U) will break immediately.

Rajnath Singh: Despite being the president, I cannot say what will be the decision of the Central Parliamentary Board.

Karan Thapar: I know you cannot say what the decision will be, but you can say that if that decision is Narendra Modi, then JD(U) will immediately break ties with you.

Rajnath Singh: I can say this much that the BJP is a secular political party and Narendra Modi is a chief minister of this secular party.

Karan Thapar: JD(U) believes that the BJP is a secular party, but it definitely does not believe that Narendra Modi is secular. And whether you admit this or not, they are publicly saying it to newspapers and Nitish Kumar, who is in Delhi, is privately saying it to people, and you know that and I know that under no circumstances will he accept Narendra Modi.

Rajnath Singh: I would like to clarify that neither Nitish Kumar nor Sharad Yadav have spoken to me about the matter.

Karan Thapar: They have said it publicly in newspapers and in private meetings.

Rajnath Singh: I cannot comment just on the basis of what is published in newspapers. JD(U)'s national executive meeting is going on and may be the national council meeting will also happen. And I believe we should wait for the decision of the national executive and nation council meets.

Karan Thapar: But it is not just the JD(U) alone that has terrible problems with Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. Your second biggest ally, Shiv Sena, has reservations. Bal Thackeray, last year, had said he would prefer Sushma Swaraj.

Rajnath Singh: I am confident that our alliance with any of the parties will not break. But the decision on the prime ministerial candidate will be taken by the Central Parliamentary Board at the appropriate time.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, because the BJP's prime ministerial candidate will automatically become the NDA's prime ministerial candidate as well, can you accept that critical parties like the JD(U) and perhaps the Shiv Sena, should have a role, or at least a voice, in determining, who your prime ministerial candidate is?

Rajnath Singh: I believe that the prime ministerial candidate comes from the single largest party.

Karan Thapar: But if you will not give them a chance to give their opinion...

Rajnath Singh: Again, that is a hypothetical question. If BJP emerges as the single largest party and if it elects somebody as the prime ministerial candidate and if then there is an objection by our allies... that is a hypothetical question.

Karan Thapar: Are you suggesting to me that in fact the BJP will not choose its prime ministerial candidate until after the elections because you will first wait to see who is the single largest in the NDA?

Rajnath Singh: Even this decision cannot be taken by the president in the BJP and even this decision will be taken by the Central Parliamentary Board.

Karan Thapar: But then you have a second problem in your hands. Your first problem is that the JD(U) will not accept Narendra Modi at all. But your second problem is that it is widely believed that the JD(U) national executive on Sunday will pass a resolution demanding that the BJP announces the prime ministerial candidate before the elections and they would perhaps add, better sooner than later. How will you respond to that?

Rajnath Singh: JD(U) executive has never passed such a resolution till date, as far as I know.

Karan Thapar: All the newspapers are saying it.

Rajnath Singh: We will see what the resolution is on Sunday.

Karan Thapar: Aren't you trying to duck your head in the sand when you say no such resolution has been passed. You know and I know that is about to happen. Nitish is openly telling everyone that this will happen.

Rajnath Singh: When a resolution goes to the national executive, amendments keep happening till the last minute.

Karan Thapar: So you are hoping that when the resolution is passed, last minute pressure will change the resolution.

Rajnath Singh: It is better to let the JD(U)'s national executive meet to get over and the resolution to come, then we can do another interview.

Karan Thapar: The problem is not limited to either JD(U) or the Shiv Sena, the problem is even the parties whose support you will need after the elections to form a government, TMC, BJD, TDP, none of them will accept Narendra Modi as prime minister. Your current allies are against that, and the future hopefuls are also against that. I am saying to you that Narendra Modi may be popular in the BJP, but he is politically unacceptable to people outside the BJP.

Rajnath Singh: As far as Narendra Modi is concerned, he is not just popular in the party, he is also popular with the public. But I am repeating, the decision of the prime ministerial candidate will be taken by the Central Parliamentary Board. I cannot do that. Who will support, who will not support, it is too soon to say that.

Karan Thapar: You say that the decision will be taken only by the Parliamentary Board but the truth of the matter is that Narendra Modi is carrying out a blitzkrieg. In the last one week, he is visiting India and delivering not one, but sometimes two or three speeches a day. He is promoting himself.

Rajnath Singh: He is not promoting himself. He is being invited by different organisations and forums to speak on how Gujarat has been developed as a model state.

Karan Thapar: You are saying, "I don't drink, I was forced to drink." Narendra Modi is promoting himself.

Rajnath Singh: I don't admit that. Other chief ministers are also called to other states. I am not a chief minister, but I still go to other states and speak at different forums. If Narendra Modi goes, what is the harm?

Karan Thapar: Do you know who handles the press and publicity for Narendra Modi when he comes to Delhi or Mumbai or Kolkata? His own team, not the people who invited him.

Rajnath Singh: I think this is an allegation. There is nothing like that. He does not want his personal projection. He goes to forums because he is invited. It is not like his personal staff manages the program.

Karan Thapar: He doesn't want just personal projection. He is deliberately, consciously and strategically pushing himself forward for the post of the PM. And I want to put this to you. Is he creating a problem for you with your allies? Is he creating a problem for you with the people you will need after the elections? Because everyone is thinks that he is about to become the prime ministerial candidate. It is just you who is saying that no decision has yet been taken yet. But your allies are getting scared. Is Narendra Modi creating a problem with your allies?

Rajnath Singh: Ever since I have become the party president, I have spoken to Narendra Modi and he has never said that he should be projected as the prime ministerial candidate. Not even once.

Karan Thapar: That is because he is doing that himself. There is no need for him to say it. Press is accepting that and increasingly, the public has also accepted it, but your relations with your allies are getting affected because of it.

Rajnath Singh:Let me assure you that our relations with our allies will not be affected.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, for BJP supporters, for BJP cadres, Narendra Modi becoming your prime ministerial candidate will thrill them. It will energise and galvanise your party. But for your allies, it will be hateful and it will isolate the BJP. So the key question is, do you gain more or do you lose more by making him your prime ministerial candidate?

Rajnath Singh:The decision of the BJP Parliamentary Board will not create any crisis. I am confident about that.

Karan Thapar: Chances are, if Narendra Modi keeps on promoting himself...

Rajnath Singh:He is not promoting himself.

Karan Thapar: He is! He is doing it so cleverly or so bravely that he is promoting himself and you are not even able to admit that fact, therefore he is getting the best of both worlds. He is succeeding in promoting himself. His party claims he is not doing it. The allies are getting annoyed. You are ending up with a problem. He has got everything going for him.

Rajnath Singh:I do not agree with you.

Karan Thapar: You don't agree with me?

Rajnath Singh: No, no. I don't believe he is promoting himself.

Karan Thapar: Mr Rajnath Singh if one problem with Narendra Modi becoming your party's prime ministerial candidate is his political unacceptability.

Rajnath Singh:I don't believe that he is politically unacceptable.

Karan Thapar: But that was a Pat-1 debate. Now I am asking you a second and a bigger problem, his moral unacceptability.

Rajnath Singh:How?

Karan Thapar: Let me explain. In September 2003 the Supreme Court in open court said that they had lost all confidence in Narendra Modi government. In April 2004 the Supreme Court said that he was a modern day Nero who deliberately looked the other way as innocent children and helpless women burnt to death. In February 2012 the Gujarat High Court said that the Narendra Modi government was guilty of not anticipating the riots, of not taking action when they began and this has shirked its responsibility. Should a man, who has been so seriously criticised by the Supreme Court and by his own High Court, be your party's prime ministerial candidate?

Rajnath Singh:Karan, I want to ask you that the present Congress led UPA government, who is ruling at the centre, has also been criticised by the Supreme Court many times. Does that mean they should quit? Government should submit resignation?

Karan Thapar: Yours is a party with a difference and that difference is the moral superiority. Your moral superiority will vanish if Narendra Modi becomes your prime ministerial candidate. That is why I am asking.

Rajnath Singh:Whatever you are saying is based on Godhra riots. I have been a chief minister myself and no chief minister would want a state of Anarchy. Narendra Modi initiated the riots there and then favored a particular community, this is not expected from any chief minister nor will anyone do it.

Karan Thapar: Modi faced two allegations in Godhra riots.

Rajnath Singh:What?

Karan Thapar: Number one, he was involved in the riots or he allowed it. And second he never took any action after those riots.

Rajnath Singh:If I say that Narendra Modi was hand-in-gloves with those who spread violence during Godhra riots, then would it be right to say that SP was also involved in the riots that took place in their region during SP's rule.

Karan Thapar: Are you comparing yourself with Samajwadi Party? Is that what BJP is reduced to? Where is your moral difference now? And how is BJP a party with difference now?

Rajnath Singh:That is why I am talking about Congress, Samajwadi party and CPM, because these parties claim to be the most secular ones. And I want to say that if we have a most secular party in this country, then that is BJP.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, you are questioning the allegations that I am reporting. I am only quoting the Supreme Court, these are not mine. In fact the Supreme Court went beyond words, the truth is in August 2004 they reopened 2108 out of 4256 cases, two of those high profile ones, 'best bakery' and 'bilquis' who have transferred out of Gujarat, every single prosecutor appointed by the Narendra Modi government was changed. A clear proof that Supreme Court had no faith in Mr Modi's government.

Rajnath Singh:I think we should wait for the final judgment. We can not reach any conclusion until the court's final verdict comes.

Karan Thapar: Can I ask you one thing, there is an idiom in English 'Caesar's wife should be above suspicion', what about Caesar? Is it ok for people to be suspicious of Caesar? And Narendra Modi is getting ready to be your Caesar.

Rajnath Singh:No, I don't believe this. Karan, if we talk about Narendra Modi, it can never be said that he was anywhere involved in initiating the riots or instigating them or even encouraged any particular community for riots. This can not even be imagined.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, both the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi have apologised for 1984. Narendra Modi hasn't even expressed regret for 2002 and when pushed in interviews, he walks always. I have an ordinary question, should such an arrogant man be your party's prime ministerial candidate?

Rajnath Singh:I would like to say one thing. When Sonia Gandhi apologised for 1984 Hindu-Sikh riots, I believe that, she needed to apologise for inflammation of those riots. Because at that time Rajiv Gandi said that when a tree collapses....

Karan Thapar: I am not talking about Rajiv Gandhi or Sonia. You are knowingly misunderstanding my question. I am saying that Narendra Modi never expresses any regret over this issue and when he is asked about this subject, he walks out of that place without answering.

Rajnath Singh:Modi have said several times that what happened, and all such incidents that take place, are very unfortunate. But there is no reason to express regret. Because Sonia Gandhi expressed regret because of Rajiv Gandi's comment 'when a huge tree falls, earth shakes', that comment instigated the riots.

Karan Thapar: Then who talked about action-reaction? Why are you forgetting, Modi reply to 'action-reaction' in Time of India.

Rajnath Singh:It could have been Times of India but I don't believe this. No chief minister wants a riot in his state, I have been a chief minister myself, I know this well.

Karan Thapar: My last question. BJP was so proud that it was a party with a difference, that difference was moral superiority. But if Modi become your prime ministerial candidate then that difference would erase automatically.

Rajnath Singh:No, I don't believe this. What will happen, who will become the prime ministerial candidate, the final decision regarding all these issues would be made by our central parliamentary board, as per the tradition of BJP. I do not want to break that tradition, nor do I want to change the current system of our party.

Karan Thapar: I let you have the last word. A pleasure talking to you Mister Rajnath Singh.

Rajnath Singh:A pleasure talking to you Karan.

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