The Northeast is a key area of focus for the BJP, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has said. He said his party's goal is to have a footprint in all the states in the region. In an exclusive interview with WION News's Kartikeya Sharma as election fever rises in three states in the region, Rijiju said the BJP intends to change the nature of political discourse and put development on the agenda instead of just identity and regionalism.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: How important is North East for BJP?
A: Any election is important but NE is important because PM has set the agenda of Act East policy which can only be implemented by an honest government. Many governments in this region in past indulged in corruption. This time BJP has gone full steam to rest the power from the Congress. We are not giving a token fight. We have made an arrangement with newly formed NDPP. We have a seat sharing arrangement with them. I'm overseeing the entire election and response has been tremendous.
Q: Earlier there was an impression that BJP was primarily focused on Tripura?
A: Tripura came into focus by the national media because it has been ruled by the Left party for decades and BJP unexpectedly took CPM head on. When BJP picked up, it became a big news. In Nagaland, the talks are also going on and it is a 70 year-old political problem. We need to tell the people that we are committed to solving the Naga problem. As a minister from NE, I'm right now concentrating on Nagaland.
Q: In NE BJP did not show leap of faith which it showed in Maharashtra and Haryana?
A: In the context of Nagaland, we could have gone alone but we took sensitivities into account. We wanted a regional party to be part of 'us' to implement the Naga Accord as and when it is signed which we are expecting soon. If we had gone alone, it would have given the impression that we are only interested in wresting away power. In Meghalaya, we are going alone. We only have an understanding.
Q: When do you intend to announce the Naga Accord? The term of the government would expire next year?
A: It is not a question of tenure. It is a question of commitment. PM from the day one has said that he wants to solve the issue. The talks are progressing smoothly and nearing the agreement which we are looking forward too. I feel that it should not take too much time. Some critical issues remain and they need to be settled and once they, we can implement it.
Q: There is lot anxiety about the details of the draft agreement or what would the accord look like?
A: It was not an agreement. It was a framework agreement on which the talk would progress. It was a confidence building measure. It is on that basis the talks have progressed. Some political parties like Congress tried to give a spin but did not work.
Q: Are you saying that by this year it could be announced?
A: If you give a timeline, the problem starts. It is not the question of how soon. It is a question of commitment, and we are committed to it.
Q: NBCC wrote a letter to various political parties referring to BJP and Hindutva. Your response on it?
A: Nagaland would be governed by Nagas. It is a Christian state. The CM, elected representatives and ministers are all Christians, so where is the question of imposition? The Constitution would guide us. No one can be discriminated on the basis of identity. Everyone is an Indian. Bringing religion in politics is not at all appreciated. If you target BJP, then someone benefits. I have said that we are secular party functioning under a constitution which is secular in nature and there is no question of imposing faith on other people. Nagaland would be ruled by Naga people and there would not be any bearing on adverse impact on faith.
Q: Are you saying that Church has become a political player in Nagaland?
A: We do not blame the church as not all the churches are of the same opinion. May be one or two people have raked up the issue to benefit a political party but we have effectively communicated to people that politics is about governance and has nothing to do with faith which is about an individual choice. No one should interfere in people's faith.
Q: Lot of people would say that BJP becomes another person when in North East? Unlike what it is in mainland?
A: Obviously, India is a large country and every community has its own say in its domain area. If someone from JK goes to Tamil Nadu to say that their customs should be followed, the people will not listen. People in Nagaland have different food habits and lifestyle and they are entitled to it.
Q: Is Congress still a force in North East?
A: Congress is paying a price for its misrule. They have been in Meghalaya for a long time. In Nagaland, Congress was strong, but today they are not at all in the fight.
Q: Is your Mission North East in line?
A: Yes, it is. One day we will be there in all the states.
Q: Elections in North East are about everything but development why? It takes 3 hours to reach Kohima from Dimapur which is only 70 km away.
A: Yes, I know. It is pathetic. Development has never been the agenda in election and it was always about identity, regionalism and emotions. We are bringing back the agenda of good governance.
Q: Should North east have a separate time zone? What are you doing on this front?
A: This is an issue which has been raised many times. There is a concern that 1.5 hour difference leads to daytime loss. I handle a ministry which looks into this issue, so I would not like to comment on it but as a member from NE I would say that if all the CMs from NE come forward with a coherent plan then we can think about it. But it needs to be discussed. It will have to be managed. Bhutan is half hour ahead of Indian time and AP is on east of Bhutan still goes with Lucknow time.
Q: Has PNB bank scam affected BJP's election campaign?
A: These are the scams which have genesis in Congress regime. If something stumbles out from our tenure then we would be responsible. It is having a positive impact on us as it did not happen during our tenure.
(This interview was originally published on WION)