Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. On Thursday my guest became India’s newest MP dividing the Congress and the NCP and putting a warm smile on the face of BJP and Shiv Sena. Three days later, how does he look back on his debut in politics and how does he explain the controversy he has created. Those are the two critical questions I shall put today to Rahul Bajaj.
Mr Bajaj, just less than three months ago when the CNBC asked you if you would consider joining politics, you replied, “Mere ko pagal kutte ne kata hai kya? Pagal hai kya main? Three months later, am I to understand that you have gone mad?
Rahul Bajaj: Pagal hai kya main nahi, pagal hoon kya main. That’s what I said.
Karan Thapar: I think you actually spoke that with a Mumbaiya accent.
Rahul Bajaj: I did say that, which ever accent. I haven’t gone against that, I still maintain that. I don’t know which of us is mad I am not. That’s for sure.
Karan Thapar: But do you accept that today you are in politics?
Rahul Bajaj: Of course not.
Karan Thapar: Why not?
Rahul Bajaj: What makes you say that I am in politics?
Karan Thapar: Because you are an MP.
Rahul Bajaj: So?
Karan Thapar: MPs are in politics. Parliament is politics.
Rahul Bajaj: That is what you say. Is there a law anywhere? Can you show it to me?
Karan Thapar: That is a common understanding of the term. Are you changing that understanding?
Rahul Bajaj: There are many common understanding of terms which are wrong, which Gandhi changed.
Karan Thapar: You have said repeatedly to people who have interviewed you that you will not join politics, but you have.
Rahul Bajaj: No I have not joined politics. I have joined the Rajya Sabha. I am delighted to be in the Rajya Sabha.
Karan Thapar: But the Rajya Sabha is a part of politics, Mr Bajaj.
Rahul Bajaj: Being a citizen of a democracy you are also part of politics Mr Thapar.
Karan Thapar: No, being a citizen of a democracy is not what joining the Rajya Sabha as an MP is. Why are you so reluctant to accept that? I have repeatedly heard you saying in interviews that independent MP’s are not politicians but you are completely wrong.
Rahul Bajaj: I never said anything of that sort. I have repeatedly said that I have no desire to get into politics.
Karan Thapar: But you have just got into politics.
Rahul Bajaj: I have not got into politics. If I got elected in a party ticket or if I decided to work for a political party if I decided to work in villages if I decided to make slogans of garibi hatao, with no desire to do that, all that I will not do. I have not taken any obligations from any party. I don’t want to be obligated.
Karan Thapar: Mr Bajaj you are wonderful with words but the problem is that you are short on logic. Parliament and being an MP is part of politics.
Rahul Bajaj: Where did you go to school Karan?
Karan Thapar: Is that relevant?
Rahul Bajaj: It is very relevant because your logic is illogical.
Karan Thapar:If it is relevant I will tell you. I went to Doon School, Cambridge, Oxford and I know a lot about politics.
Rahul Bajaj: I went to Cathedral, St. Stephens, and Harvard, slightly better than you in every respect. So I understand logic. But I am a humble man unlike you.
Karan Thapar: I am not sure you are showing humility at the moment. You are showing a lot of defiance.
Rahul Bajaj: The audience will judge that.
Karan Thapar: The world assumes and has done so for generations, maybe even centuries.
Rahul Bajaj: Have you heard of Henry Paulson, the Chairman of Goldman Sachs? He just became the US Treasury Secretary.
Karan Thapar: So, he is in politics.
Rahul Bajaj: He is not in politics.
Karan Thapar: Of course he is in politics. Anyone who’s a minister in the US Government is in politics. It’s incredible for you to say to me that it’s not the case.
Rahul Bajaj: I think we have to change the subject.
Karan Thapar: I am very keen to change the subject but only when you answer me adequately.
Rahul Bajaj: Adequate answer is I am not in politics. I am in the Rajya Sabha. I continue to be an industrialist. I continue to be in a citizen of India. I will represent India, Indian interests, Maharashtra’s interests, Indian industries’ interests but not two-wheeler three-wheeler industries’ interests.
Karan Thapar: Do you have a complex about politics that you cannot accept that as an MP you are in politics?
Rahul Bajaj: No I do not have a complex but I cannot serve the people of my country if I join politics. Then I must serve them. I must be ready to get up at six in the morning and sleep at 12 at night.
Karan Thapar: Independent MP’s serve the country. They are in politics as much as anyone else. Why can’t you accept that?
Rahul Bajaj: Because it’s not a fact. I don’t intend doing that.
Karan Thapar: When Shabana Azmi and Kuldeep Nayar were nominated to the Rajya Sabha, they accepted that as Rajya Sabha MP’s they were in politics.
Rahul Bajaj: Lata Mangeshkar was nominated too but she did not open her mouth for six years and I hold her in very high regard.
Karan Thapar: She was in politics too. You fought an election, a very bitterly political election. That makes you a politician without any doubt.
Rahul Bajaj: That’s between the NCP and the Congress. That’s their politics.
Karan Thapar: But you fought the election.
Rahul Bajaj: I filed my nomination only.
Karan Thapar: So the bottom line is that although you are an MP, although you are a member of the Rajya Sabha, you refuse to accept that you are a politician.
Rahul Bajaj: Absolutely correct except in the technical sense. If the Oxford dictionary says that if you are an MP, in that context you are a politician, then technically maybe.
Karan Thapar: If people listening to you come to the conclusion that Rahul Bajaj has a complex accepting that he is in politics, and it’s got to do with his self-image, will you accept that too?
Rahul Bajaj: No why should I accept somebody’s wrong conclusion? Nobody will come to that conclusion. Karan Thapar would like them to come to that conclusion. It suits them to maintain his image of being a bully in an interview.
Karan Thapar: I am not being a bully, I’m simply trying to persist in insisting.
Rahul Bajaj: You are bullying a humble, simple, young man.
Karan Thapar: A humble, simple, young man, you definitely are, but an obstinate one who refuses to accept the obvious, that you are in politics.
Rahul Bajaj: I am not in politics.
Karan Thapar: Let’s leave that there, let’s come to the second issue. It’s not just that you are in politics but won’t accept it, what is perplexing people is the manner in which you have done it. You come from a family that’s been associated with the Congress and the Nehru Gandhi family for 70 years. Yet you took support from the BJP and Shiv Sena?
Rahul Bajaj: Did I? I didn’t.
Karan Thapar: Why? They voted for you. Out of the 195 votes you got the majority were from them. 110 votes were from them. Without their support, you wouldn’t have been elected.
Rahul Bajaj: Without the NCP and their support I wouldn’t have been elected. You should ask them why they supported a guy who has very different views from their’s on many subjects?
Karan Thapar: I will come to that in a moment’s time because I have a feeling that I know why they voted for you. But I want to quote something else first. Your grandfather Jamnalal Bajaj was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. He was a member of the Congress Working Committee. He was treasurer of the Congress party. He almost became Congress president. Your father, Kamalnayan Bajaj, served as a three-time Congress MP. Would they be happy that today their grandson and son has sought support from the BJP and Shiv Sena, parties that are branded as communal.
Rahul Bajaj: They will be very happy at what I have done and achieved.
Karan Thapar: How do you know that?
Rahul Bajaj: I knew them much better. They wanted me to work for India, for the poor, not for politicians or the party. I didn’t ask them for support. They offered it and I welcomed.
Karan Thapar: And you accepted it?
Rahul Bajaj: Of course.
Karan Thapar: You could have said no.
Rahul Bajaj: Why the hell should I say no? I am happy to be in the Rajya Sabha. I am not dying to be in the Rajya Sabha. Don’t look at your questions, you should have them memorised.
Karan Thapar: I am not looking at the questions, I’m looking at a quotation, so I get it right.
Rahul Bajaj: You should have learnt it by heart before interviewing me.
Karan Thapar: I am afraid your words are not so important that I would want to learn them by heart. On June 6, 2006 you said to The Hindu ‘Mine is a Congress family for the last 70 years and I am proud of the association.’
Rahul Bajaj: Correct.
Karan Thapar: Today you have weakened the party, you have destroyed and damaged it’s image. Are you happy with what you have done?
Rahul Bajaj: I have done nothing of the sort. You are insulting the Congress party, you are insulting Sonia Gandhi. If one individual, who is no one, gets into the Rajya Sabha because of the support of three parties who want to support him for their own reasons. They wanted to defeat the Congress candidate.
Karan Thapar: So you don’t think you have betrayed the family tradition? You haven’t let down or grandfather or father?
Rahul Bajaj: Not at all, he will be delighted up there that I am going to work for the poor for India.
Karan Thapar: Delighted that you are seeking support from a party that stands for the opposite of what he stood for?
Rahul Bajaj: What happened to Prabha Rao after the three-term elections?
Karan Thapar: He didn’t join the Congress.
Rahul Bajaj: He stayed in the Congo.
Karan Thapar: Yes, but he didn’t join the BJP or the Shiv Sena.
Rahul Bajaj: Why should he join the BJP? I haven’t joined the BJP. But can we have something more interesting?
Karan Thapar: You said a moment ago that these parties supported you for their own reasons. They supported you, because they were using you. They wanted to get at Congress and you were a tool. It wasn’t Rahul Bajaj they wanted to make an MP, that was incidental, they wanted to get at Congress. You have been used Mr Bajaj.
Rahul Bajaj: If I am used like this, I would be delighted to continue to be used like this. No industrialist in the last ten years has come to the Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha without spending a penny. The only money I spent was on 500 laddoos.
Karan Thapar:Yes, but in the process you have sold your soul to the BJP and the Shiv Sena so that they can score points of Congress.
Rahul Bajaj: That’s their problem. Congress is strong enough to defend itself. There is no question. In fact I am working for India.
Karan Thapar: Do you know what they say? They say the mighty Rahul Bajaj, who is so proud of himself, has become a political pawn in the hands of Sharad Pawar.
Rahul Bajaj: I am a stooge.
Karan Thapar: Yes. I wasn’t going to use such a cruel word but you used the word.
Rahul Bajaj: I have become a Rajya Sabha MP and I have not spent a penny. That is what the Hindustan Times said.
Karan Thapar: It is an accurate word. You are a stooge in Sharad Pawar’s strategy. You are a small pawn in the chessboard and he is calling the shots.
Rahul Bajaj: Mr Thapar, why couldn’t the Congress use such a strategy and offer me a seat like this with the help of NCP or nomination.
Karan Thapar: You have no qualms no reservations no doubt about what you have done?
Rahul Bajaj: I have reservations and qualms about India and the Indian poor. I have no qualms for any party. And my grandfather was like Mahatma Gandhi’s fifth son. He worked for the constructive activities of Mahatma Gandhi only because he said so.
Karan Thapar: But would he have been proud that his grandson has sought support form the Shiv Sena?
Rahul Bajaj: There was no Shiv Sena that time. He would have been proud that I have been helping India and the poor of India. He couldn’t care two hoots about which party.
Karan Thapar: Alright let’s come to another issue. You have said that in fact you had no intention of standing until Sharad Pawar rang you up. I believe he rang you from London. What was it that he said that so convinced you that you changed your mind about politics?
Rahul Bajaj: He has known it for sometime that after I handed over the day to day running of my company, Bajaj Auto and the group, to my brothers to my children that I had some free time on my hand and we used to joke about it. I used to say that I am not going to muzzle my voice. I cannot get elected, forget Lok Sabha at 68.
Karan Thapar: Can I interrupt?
Rahul Bajaj: Absolutely. This time I will allow you.
Karan Thapar: Did he simply know you had free time or did he also believe that you had a lurking desire to be a MP and he was fulfilling it?
Rahul Bajaj: I am coming to that. If you let me speak otherwise I will keep quiet and listen to you all the time. No problem with me. I will save my voice. He knew all about it. He is a very close friend and I am proud to have him as a friend and those who don’t like him that’s their problem.
Karan Thapar:But that is not the question I asked. Come back to the question, what did he say that convinced you?
Rahul Bajaj: He knew that I was not dying to get into the Rajya Sabha, that I was interested in getting in but as I used to tell him I am not a member of a political party, I have never worked for a political party why should a Rajya Sabha seat also be given to me. The only way I can commit is either as a nominee or you give money to a political party. I don’t want to come that way. That is disrespectful.
Karan Thapar: Forgive me. Don’t tell me what you told him. Tell me what he told you.
Rahul Bajaj: He asked if you are interested in coming. I said yes but how. I am not going to be a member of your party. He said as an Independent, supported by BJP, Shiv Sena, myself—guaranteed 180 seats. I said I only want two conditions: Independent, he said no problem. I said I want unanimous, forget about it there are just four parties in Maharashtra which matter.
Karan Thapar: In other words you want Congress support?
Rahul Bajaj: I said I did.
Karan Thapar: What did he say to that?
Rahul Bajaj: He said I cannot assure you. He said ‘once you confirm I will speak to Ahmed Patel, Praful Patel will speak to Ahmed Patel and you speak to Soniaji.
Karan Thapar: And did you?
Rahul Bajaj: Immediately I rang up.
Karan Thapar: What did Sonia say?
Rahul Bajaj: But she rang up around 1635 hrs. This was Sunday, June 4, the last date and time for filing the nomination in Mumbai and I was in Pune when the call came.
Karan Thapar: In other words before she rang you, you had already filed the nomination?
Rahul Bajaj: No. This was Monday 3 pm and this was Sunday.
Karan Thapar: Then what was the problem?
Rahul Bajaj: I had confirmed to Sharad and Praful and by that time Advani Ji and by that time Balasaheb Thakerey that yes I am standing.
Karan Thapar: Can I interrupt your flow. Did you ask Sonia Gandhi in that conversation for Congress support?
Rahul Bajaj: 100 per cent.
Karan Thapar: And what did she say?
Rahul Bajaj: I don’t want to misquote her, and this is personal talk, I don’t want to say many things.
Karan Thapar: You are not answering my question. What did Sonia say?
Rahul Bajaj: I will answer in my way not in your way. We are two very different individuals but we are still great. And the 24 minutes will be hopefully over.
Karan Thapar: You are not answering at all. Except that you are simply for time. Are you scared to say that Sonia said no? She refused support.
Rahul Bajaj: Sonia said more than that. What’s there to be afraid of. Why should I be afraid of anybody. Does she pay my salary.
Karan Thapar: Did she refuse support?
Rahul Bajaj: I got the impression from her, and Ahmed Patel said it, that three days ago we would have supported you. I know your family’s connection with the Congress family for 70 years. I hold you in very different regard than the other members in your community, other industrialists. But I will not be able to now withdraw my candidate because we were assured by NCP and Sharad Pawar that they will support our candidate, only today we have heard about this.
Karan Thapar: I will interrupt you. What she was indicating and what Ahmed Patel confirmed was that you were three days too late?
Rahul Bajaj: Not confirmed because Ahmed Patel spoke to me only once but what he mentioned was Rahul bhaiya we shall not be able to withdraw our candidate.
Karan Thapar: But if you had come three days earlier, they would have supported you because they know your family and they know you. Isn’t that what you say that a moment ago?
Rahul Bajaj: Absolutely correct.
Karan Thapar: So in other words you were three days too late?
Rahul Bajaj: I wasn’t a day too late because I did not know anything that was happening.
Karan Thapar: If you had gone three days earlier, you would have got the support.
Rahul Bajaj: I would not have gone. They should have come to me. How can I come to somebody and say give me an independent seat. They were going to put my sister, Prabha Rao from Varda.
Karan Thapar: I want to quote to you what you said to the PTI on June 11 2006. “I was named Rahul by Pandit Nehru, Idiraji named her son Rajiv, I named my son Rajiv, she named another son Sanjay, I named my second son Sanjeev.”
Rahul Bajaj: Correct.
Karan Thapar: You are very close families?
Rahul Bajaj: I think so, whether they think so or not I don’t know to be fair to them, because they have a reason to be unhappy that I have come to the Rajya Sabha.
Karan Thapar: Have you today damaged that relationship with the Congress party and more importantly with the Gandhi family?
Rahul Bajaj: The answer is categorical on my part. No.
Karan Thapar: What about Sonia Gandhi’s part?
Rahul Bajaj: Ask her. If a relationship of 70 years can be spoilt by such an action, that relationship is not worth having.
Karan Thapar: In other words if Sonia Gandhi has turned against you because of this, then it is not worth having a relationship with Sonia Gandhi. That’s what you are saying?
Rahul Bajaj: That’s what you are saying.
Karan Thapar: That’s what you said.
Rahul Bajaj: I didn’t say that. I said if a 70-year relationship with anybody can be lost because of an incident like this, then that relationship was not worth it and my relationship as you said is from the time of Gandhi, Nehru, Indiraji, Rajivji and now Soniaji.
Karan Thapar: But is it now a relationship in the past tense? Have you damaged it?
Rahul Bajaj: I have not at all damaged it. I think it will be better for the Congress and let’s check with Soniaji.
Karan Thapar: Well that’s your privilege and prerogative, I am afraid I don’t have access to her.
Rahul Bajaj: You don’t? What a shame, Karan.
Karan Thapar: Mr Bajaj now that you are an MP, explain to me how a man who is worth some Rs 420 crore can believe that he is the right representative for the people of Maharashtra?
Rahul Bajaj: I don’t like this word Rs 420 crore. The figure is Rs 419 crore and including my wife it is Rs 473 crore. My children and brothers are not included.
Karan Thapar: Alright not Rs 420 crore. You are associating all sorts of mischief with the word Rs 419 crore.
Rahul Bajaj: Rs 419 crore is a much better word.
Karan Thapar:How do you represent the people of Maharashtra when you are so rich?
Rahul Bajaj: To me whether you represent Maharashtra or India or an industry, in general because as I said earlier, I will not represent two and three wheeler industries.
Karan Thapar: You are an MP from Maharashtra whether you like it or not?
Rahul Bajaj: Hundred per cent.
Karan Thapar: Your first duty is to represent the state. How can you claim to represent the poor of Maharashtra when you are yourself worth Rs 419 crore and that’s what you admitted to? God knows how much more your worth but you haven’t admitted.
Rahul Bajaj: I don’t have anything unofficial. I don’t own a penny, which is unofficial.
Karan Thapar: How do you understand the poverty, the farmer suicides and about the children dying of malnutrition, which afflict this state?
Rahul Bajaj: If you think only the poor understand the poor and only the rich understand the rich and only a politician understands a politician and only a journalist like you understands a journalist, you are far away from truth. It’s only the rich who understand the poor and also an occasional genuine honest poor will understand the poor.
Karan Thapar: Only the rich understand the poor?
Rahul Bajaj: I didn’t say only. I said the rich and also the poor, but not the slogan-mongering politician who want votes. So it is irrelevant if I am rich or poor.
Karan Thapar:You sound just like a slogan mongering politician to me. You have adapted to your new role with alacrity.
Rahul Bajaj: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: You sound like an exact sort of person that inhabits the Rajya Sabha. You have taken like the fish takes to water.
Rahul Bajaj: When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Karan Thapar: So you are accepting it?
Rahul Bajaj: Of course. I am going to function as I am supposed to function in Rajya Sabha. I will not function in the Rajya Sabha as I am supposed to function in the boardroom of Bajaj Auto. It will be stupid.
Karan Thapar: Are you saying to me that you are going to become a convention typical Indian politician?
Rahul Bajaj: I don’t know what that is. If your conventional Indian politician is good that’s what I will be if he is corrupt, useless and a criminal, I will not be.
Karan Thapar: Can I put a question to you?
Rahul Bajaj: Yes.
Karan Thapar: 89 per cent of the farmers in Maharashtra are in debt. Their quantum of debt has increased by 232 per cent since 1991. As a result in the last one-year 550 suicides have taken place in just one district, Vidharba.
Rahul Bajaj: Very wrong question again.
Karan Thapar: But an important one.
Rahul Bajaj: Just say the farmers are in trouble in Maharashtra and Andhra and some other places and I know that.
Karan Thapar: But I am talking of debt in particular because can a man who is worth Rs 419 crore understand what it is like to be in debt to the point at which you take your life. Can you understand that?
Rahul Bajaj: Let’s say that I can’t understand.
Karan Thapar: Well if you can’t understand then what sort of representative will you be?
Rahul Bajaj: What are the other 800 doing and what have they done about these farmers? You find out what I will do after 6, 12, 18 months and four years. That’s when you will find out what Rahul Bajaj does. And he is not presumptuous enough just unlike you. Rahul is not presumptuous enough to believe that out of 800 MPs, one MP will do any magic for anybody, leave alone the farmers. I don’t want to shed crocodile tears for anybody and I will not.
Karan Thapar: But will you be able to do a job that will make Maharashtra proud of you.
Rahul Bajaj: That time will tell. It will be presumptuous.
Karan Thapar: Are you confident?
Rahul Bajaj: I will do my best and I am confident that till now whatever I have done, I have achieved a very little modicum of success. And I hope to achieve with God’s good grace and cooperation of friends. I hope to achieve a very small modicum of success in the Rajya Sabha during my remaining four-year term.
Karan Thapar: Rahul Bajaj on that note, Good Luck as a Rajya Sabha MP. We will be watching you.