New Delhi: Varun Gandhi is the only MP who visited the Ramlila Maidan where Anna Hazare was on a hunger-strike for a strong anti-corruption bill. Talking to NDTV's Sonia Singh on Your Call, BJP's youngest MP talks about why the Lokpal Bill is so important.
Here's the full transcript of that interview:
NDTV: What's interesting is it seems to become politicians versus the people of India. Why has that happened? Do you think many politicians are uncomfortable about that and do they feel that the two sides of this divide have been portrayed wrongly?
Varun Gandhi: No, I think the politicians in some sense have got it wrong this time, because when I go to Parliament, a lot of Parliamentarians have a private conversation and talk about the fact that they have been invited to the Ramlila Maidan, that they have not been asked to be a part of this movement. I don't think that people have realised that this is our movement; this is not Anna Hazare's or Kiran Bedi's movement. This is the movement for the next generation, for the India of tomorrow, for the rebuilding of systemic change. So it's all of our movement. I think people have understood it wrongly and let it affect the egos, when in fact, you know when I went to the Ramlila Maidan, I was a bit frightened, to be honest.
NDTV: You weren't invited?
Varun Gandhi: No I wasn't invited and I was a bit frightened because I thought, I hope I don't get lynched when I go there or something. But when I went there, the entire, thousands and thousands of people there were extremely gracious, big-hearted as Indians are, and welcoming. And they just said that we are delighted that you have come and we want all the MPs to come. We want all the political figures to participate and yes, it's an all-encompassing movement and it hasn't been portrayed as such.
NDTV: There is a contradiction there because the kind of language we've been seeing being used by certain members of Team Anna, where basically they have said that politicians are eating the people's money, politicians are corrupt; you've seen the whole call to gherao MPs houses, to gherao the PM's house. You don't think that it does set it to a confrontational path between politicians and Anna Hazare's team?
Varun Gandhi: It may do. It may do. But we have got to always carefully look at the larger picture, which is that if tomorrow we can have systems of accountability and transparency put in place, whereby powerful people are not allowed to get away with exactly whatever they want, then I think it is worth the price just listening to some people, who are also perhaps, maybe I am a little unkind, catering to the mob.
NDTV: You are saying that includes certain members of Team Anna?
Varun Gandhi: At the end of the day, a lot of people get caught up in the movement, so let's say there are 100,000 people cheering and waving, it is possible that they think there is some capital to be gained out of that movement. I think the way to look at this, both as a young person and a political person, is that there is no politics to be played here. This is not an anti-government protest, it is not an anti-corruption protest, not an anti-UPA or anti-politician protest. When I went there, the interesting thing that I realised after I had gone there is that a lot of people who are sitting over there don't know about Jan Lokpal. They are not there for the Jan Lokpal Bill. There is a basket of issues that has been tied in together. Some people are there because of the price rise. Some people are there because their child couldn't get a job because some big man put his son there, you know who is a failed lout instead. Some people are there because they feel that there is no accountability. Some people are there because of corruption. A lot of people don't understand what the Jan Lokpal Bill is. You know what I think that is fine, due to this 74-year-old man's courage, the strength of his truth, his personal convictions, a generation of India that is apathetic, that was happy to be silent, passive observers have deemed themselves powerful enough to become agents of change, right? I am one of those people. I wasn't involved in anti-corruption or RTI activism like that. But when I heard Shri Hazare and when I understood what was happening with our country after reading a lot of literature, after studying the government bill, the Hazare bill, you know Aruna Roy's bill, and a lot of these people, I then realised that something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.
NDTV: I think this is something very important. I mean people within your own party may not be as happy. You said that this is not an anti-government protest and BJP seems to have made it very clear that it is an anti-government protest. They don't feel it is an anti- corruption protest. You are not worried about what the senior leaders in the BJP will say to you?
Varun Gandhi: It is not an anti-government protest. I am telling you because I am the only MP who has actually been there. It is an anti-corruption movement. Everybody who is there is not shouting anti-government slogans. They are shouting anti-corruption slogans. They are saying that they want to get rid of this pain of corruption once and for all. Yes, this is a government that has seemed as more corrupt than most, but that is not to say that earlier governments are seen as completely sanctified.
NDTV: Anna Hazare today on stage has made the point that he wants the Opposition to make their stand clear. This comes after an all-Party meet where Team Anna said that there is a change in the government stand. All political parties basically have united to say that Parliament can't be held hostage. Deadlines can't be set to pass bills. What do you think on that? Do you think the Opposition perhaps been lax about some support to the Hazare movement? Do you think the Opposition has been soft in that way? Do you think they are playing a double game?
Varun Gandhi: You know I don't think they are playing a double game. I think the truth of the matter is that it is possible that Shri Hazare has understood that the Opposition could have been more vocal and clear in their support. See I have spoken to the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha several times. It is clear to me that everybody supports Shri Hazare and his endeavour. Everybody wants to rid the nation of corruption. Everybody supports his tremendous tenacity as a human being. I mean who would have thought this was possible? See I am 31-years-old and for me this is a life changing movement. I haven't seen Mahatma Gandhi, I have barely even seen my own grandmother, I haven't seen Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan, I haven't seen Vinobha Bhave. So when I see a man like Anna Hazare, when I see him speak, when I see him stay hungry for 10 days because he believes in a better tomorrow for Indians like me, he may not be around to benefit from the India of tomorrow, it's improvement. It just moves me you know and I just feel fine. There is a party politics, there is Parliament decorum, there are rules and procedures. But there is a heart, there is a belief, a hope and a dream and as a young person, it is possible I think differently from someone who is 81.
NDTV: Do you find, you just mentioned that, you are the only MP of a mainstream party who has actually made that trek to Ramlila Maidan. It is just few kilometers from the Parliament. The irony of that happening few kilometers away and no MP is going there to see what is happening. Do you find it ironic? Do you find it sad?
Varun Gandhi: I find it sad and I am no one to pass judgement on anyone. But I will say one thing, that 25 years from now, when we look back at modern Indian political history, we are going to realise that this was a life changing and the game changing movement. And I don't want to look back 25 years from now and say that I sat on the fence, I didn't do enough, I didn't participate and I didn't stand up and be a part of it.
NDTV: When the report comes that Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said that she was upset that you did not consult her. You did not discuss the party line before you went there, are these true?
Varun Gandhi: No, I met her in the Parliament today and she told me, you know you wore a colourful kurta when you went there, why don't you wear nicer kurtas to the Parliament. You always wear the same old white.
NDTV: So we shouldn't believe everything we read in the papers then?
Varun Gandhi: No, you shouldn't.
NDTV: No, but that point you made and recently we saw a politician wearing Anna topi and going out to meet protesters.
Varun Gandhi: That's a bit gimmicky.
NDTV: People are often cynical about politicians and their motives and then they questioned you why you went there. They said, oh this is a typical political gimmick. What would you say?
Varun Gandhi: See, I didn't know too much about this movement. I am somebody that got involved because I studied it up and I spoke to some people who are not directly involved, but some of the young people who are not so famous today, but who are working for this movement in the background. Some friends of mine, they said that you have to get involved. Then that is when I made a statement, which was of course a symbolic gesture, when I said that, look if the government does not want to give Shri Hazare space you can have my government house, which obviously was a symbolic gesture. I obviously know that he is not going to come and sit in my house. And then I thought how can I get involved as a value addition, you know, like you said, if I'd wore a Gandhi topi and walked around, it would look silly. So I thought, okay, how can I get involved in a positive manner? So I thought let me introduce this Bill in Parliament. I knew it is a possibility that it may never get tabled, or even if it gets tabled, it may never become a law in that very way. But I wanted to introduce it in the Parliament because I felt even though it was not entirely a perfect piece of legislation, I think it needed to be debated, and I think it needed to get into the Parliamentary process and that I did.
NDTV: Many question what kind of movement it is. Some say it is an upper middle class movement, some would say it is a movement where Muslims are not associating with because too many Swamis and people have said that Varun Gandhi going there will alienate the Muslims. Some would say this is a movement that will ultimately be political as it is backed by the RSS. Don't you think people will say the RSS is backing it, Varun Gandhi is supporting it, will alienate Muslims?
Varun Gandhi: Firstly I have nothing to do with the RSS. I am neither a RSS member nor I have attended any RSS shakha.
NDTV: But when they link you with that, Varun Gandhi being there would alienate Muslims, what would you say?
Varun Gandhi: You know my family has stood for certain values for the last 100 years and I support every one of those values and I have got elected from a minority dominated constituency, where despite all the lies that people told about me, I won by over three lakhs and I got over 50 per cent minority votes. And mine is the only constituency in UP, where together the Muslims and the Sikhs and also the Christians, which are pretty good in number, outnumber the majority, the so-called majority of population, and all three of those communities supported me. Not with equal number but all of them did.
NDTV: Are you a different Varun Gandhi who has made that speech?
Varun Gandhi: You know I always maintain that I have not made that speech the way it was shown. I've always said that, and so did the forensic science laboratory. That's why there is really nothing on me now. But the truth is that I think I have mellowed a lot and you know I got married. I've had a lot of time to learn, unlearn, relearn and you know, I just think that, I think I had lots of time to both understand myself and understand my country and the world that exists around me and within me.
NDTV: Do you think others have moved beyond it? Do you think others have moved beyond that speech when they assess you?
Varun Gandhi: As I said, things were very badly misunderstood and there were certain political opponents that sought to do me down. But they couldn't, and my behaviour in Parliament has been nothing short of fair. And since then every move of mine, every thought of mine I have expressed, have been in keeping with the ideals that my family stood for, for the past 150 years.
NDTV: When you look back, which would you see as your biggest mistake? What is your regret today?
Varun Gandhi: You know, honestly speaking, what you mentioned, I think if I was to say if that whole episode did not deeply shake me as a human being, I think I would be telling a lie, so yeah.
NDTV: Let's just hear what other questions that we have.
Bulbul Neembu, caller from Bangalore: His party is not supporting Jan Lokpal Bill but he is seen at Ramlila Maidan. Is this not his double policy?
NDTV: Is this double policy, if your party doesn't support it how can you? I am not saying that your party doesn't support it, but your party is much, much more reserved. They said let the bill come to the Parliament, we will make all our views clear. Withdraw the government bill. How can your party and you have a different stand in support of the bill?
Varun Gandhi: You know the truth of the matter is that both the stands are fairly similar. I used the words similar, and not the same and the reason is that look I am the youngest MP in the BJP by quite a few years, about a decade, so it is possible that a young person responds to this movement is not the way that somebody in their sixties and seventies responds to it. So maybe I am just more inspired to, you know, get out there than somebody else. As I said, I believe this movement is beyond politics. It helps me to support it that I am an MP, it helps, that fact helps, but I am supporting it as an Indian, as a young person.
NDTV: What is interesting is that though you are saying that it is beyond politics, a lot of political thought going into the impact of it, and one focus is that Assembly elections coming up in UP, a state where you are very involved in. What will be the impact if this is huge anger against politicians from every party? Do you thing this kind of movement is affecting politicians in their elections?
Varun Gandhi: I think it is an excellent question and I think UP is a state that has been dubbed by the allegations of corruption, particularly the sitting government there. And I don't want to do politics here, but the truth is that well, it is a state which is very unique, because the two people which have ruled for the past 20 years both have disproportionate assets cases on them. This doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in local state leadership. But I will say, I hope it has an impact. And I hope that whatever party puts on dead honest candidates, the public comes out for them above caste and creed and elects them.
NDTV: Varun, it is easy to say these things. What will you do to change things within the party? It is easy to go to Ramlila Maidan, but you are a part of the main Opposition party, it is a party that is in government in many states. We have seen what happened to Mr Yeddyurappa, though he has gone, a key aid with corruption charges is in the Cabinet. How do you change things within your party and within the system?
Varun Gandhi: Look, I have never claimed to be a messiah or panacea for all evil. I can only do what I can do. As I have said, when a ship is sinking or a boat is sinking, somebody sticks a finger to plug the hole and somebody uses his hand to paddle. Then we do what we can. You are doing what you can as a media person in bringing up issues and I will do as a Parliamentarian, as a young person whatever I can. Because I was born into a privileged background perhaps my voice will go further than somebody else of my age in a similar position. So I will try and do more. I will try and speak more about this issue. You know, for instance, I never speak about myself. I never give interviews and I never come in front of the camera. But I am choosing to do this, to put myself in the line for this issue because I really and truly believe it will yield a better India.
NDTV: It is interesting, of course, but you talk so much about your family background, and some would say that are you doing this to come out with your own identity, very different from your cousin. It must be always difficult to have your own family member who is also in politics, who is in a different party. Is this a way to come out with your own identity?
Varun Gandhi: You know, to be fair I don't think I need to cover up my own identity. I think life will do that for me. So I think there is lot of time for me. I am not in a hurry and I think I have faith in time and space and let's see what happens. But no, I don't feel competitive towards anyone. I don't think you've heard of me saying a single unkind word about my cousins or anybody else who is not on the same political side as me, because I regard that as a sacrosanct, much above politics and I would never use an occasion to make a cheap shot against anybody.
NDTV: When you look at a legacy within your family, whose legacy do you look up to? What are the key bits you would take, if you looked up within your family?
Varun Gandhi: You know, to be slightly cheeky, the Gandhi all of us should look up to is Mahatma Gandhi. But to answer your question, I think there is good and not so good in every person, you know, executed in their lives. And the way to look at this is not simply to say that's my hero or that person was not good, to find the good in everybody, and if you look at that, I mean it's a slightly Zen way to look at things, but if you are peaceful yourself, you create more peace around.
NDTV: You have mentioned your father's recent political campaign. You were very young when your father died?
Varun Gandhi: A little bit, not too much.
NDTV: What would you think today when you are asked about...
Varun Gandhi: I would give you an example. Today I was in the Parliament and there was a Samajwadi Party MP from UP and his father used to be a Congress MP under my father. And he was telling me that when their family went through extraordinary bad times, because his father has passed away, my father visited them and had set them up in such a way that they would be alright even without the wages for the family. This is this afternoon, people come to me all the time and tell me, had your father lived, the country would have been a super power, it would have been different. Now I am nobody to judge that fact, because, as I have said, there are both sides. And so people say that you know, whether it's his creation of Maruti or his tree planting, the creation of Noida, which is such a huge thing now which he created, and lots of things, I am talking about very few things. I went to Agra recently I heard how he cleaned up half of Agra and got water. Today, the Congress bastions in Delhi, in east Delhi and Jamuna Par, those are all, those resettlement colonies are the creations of my father. Where he realised that people should not be living in those inhuman conditions and he built up what is Patpargunj, all what is all those areas today where people can enjoy their human dignity.
NDTV: It is always I suppose poignant to hear about your father but Varun Gandhi, thank you so much for being interviewed. A different Varun Gandhi I think from the perception that everyone has. I am glad that you got a chance to speak in your own words why the Lokpal Bill is so important. Thank you so much for joining us.