Interview | Poonam Mahajan Lok Sabha Election

‘70 lakh Mumbaikars will use Metro by 2021’

Poonam Mahajan  

Ahead of the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Poonam Mahajan fends off questions on Hindu majoritarianism and the party’s nationalistic pitch. The incumbent MP from Mumbai North Central talks about the identity of candidates and the illegal hoardings issue. She also says her party’s Hindu rashtra sankalpana will prevail over the Congress’ tukde tukde narrative. Excerpts:

Is Marathi, non-Marathi identity of candidates still an issue in the elections?

Not at all. I am a Marathi girl, who speaks fluent Hindi. Be it the country or Mumbai, fabric is the same. There are no ghettos in Mumbai.

Won’t Marathi people feel alienated as their issues are not at the forefront?

Why? CM is Marathi, MP is Marathi; Marathi leaders like Uddhavji, Athawaleji are there.

There was this issue of illegal hoardings being put up by your party where the matter went to court as part of a PIL.

I had no idea. Someone filed a PIL. That thing was discussed there (in court). We have been asked to file an affidavit; we will put forth our answer (in court).

Your election affidavit was in the news recently for the drop in assets between 2014 and 2019...

It’s true. When you are doing private business, it may not do well. So instead of keeping it like that (debts), it’s better you sell off everything and start a new life. It is okay we lost it; we will fight again and bring back our life together.

There is a transgender candidate from this constituency. Even Priya Dutt reached out to the LGBTQ community. How are you reaching out to them?

I have been an activist much before (joining) politics. Equal rights have been imbibed in me by my parents. So many of my best friends are... why even say (from a) community, they are just us. They are my friends. But I don’t want to market (publicise) it. Please read Arun Jaitley’s views on this (LGBTQ rights). It’s in our shastras and sanskars (equality). Nothing new, not a new phenomenon.

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi has fielded a candidate from here.

I wish him good luck. It does not matter. If you have confidence in yourself, your work, your people... Voters know whom to vote for.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming to Mumbai on Friday. The biggest issue Mumbaikars are facing is its crumbling infrastructure, a bridge collapsed near CSMT recently...

It’s called super dense load. But the authorities have taken strict action (in the CSMT collapse case). We are not running away from problems. As the only MP part of the CM’s war room, I am proud to say this is the first CM who has thought so much of Mumbai. By 2021, 70 lakh people will be using the Metro and the load on the suburban railway will be reduced.

Coastal road project has thrown up environmental concerns.

Both are important. Coastal road is very important to decongest the city, but at the same time, people have raised concerns over mangroves. Aarey (Metro car shed issue) is sub judice. I don’t want a single tree to be cut, but with super dense load, we need to create more lungs and the government is trying.

About one lakh people may be displaced due to Metro work…

Have you seen the project affected people (PAP) projects (rehab buildings)? They are beautiful. PAPs’ rehabilitation is very important to us. That is why rehabilitation of 80,000 people from Mumbai airport land could start.

People are facing inconvenience due to Metro work...

I also face it. But by 2021, we will have Metro network. We actually wanted it by 2020, but there is a litigation, and we have to answer to the court also. Meanwhile, Santacruz-Chembur Link Road will have three more bridges by year-end for going in and out of BKC. I request Mumbaikars to have a little patience.

Your ally Shiv Sena has not been able to fix Mumbai roads.

Pavers have been removed. A lot of things are changing on Mumbai roads. By monsoon, everything will be alright.

You are the Yuva Morcha president and the one issue that concerns the youth the most is jobs. Considering the NSSO report…

Have you seen the EPFO report where 1.8 crore people in the past 1.5 years have joined EPFO, which is an indicator of employment. There is no unrest on ground; the youth are not questioning. Only a few people from opposition are questioning because they will be jobless on May 23 (election result day). I have seen tremendous changes through PM Kaushal Vikas Yojana, and in Maharashtra, through Pramod Mahajan Kaushal Vikas Yojana. We are changing the narrative of jobs. And people are accepting and supporting it. When you have ₹20,000 crore seed money for start-ups, when you have Atal tinkering lab in schools, when you have incubation centres for businesses, when you don’t see unrest on ground, and (only) unrest from the Opposition, you should understand it is more political.

Any comment on the mahagathbandhan?

It is Mahathugbandhan (grand alliance of thugs). Those who fight in their villages among each other like cats and dogs, today, just to stall progress… they are the princes trying to save their princely states. The agenda of the Opposition and of mahagathbandhan is very clear. Have you ever seen an elephant riding a cycle, only in cartoons. Mayawaitiji and Netaji (Mulayam Singh), when they come together on stage, you can see nok-jhok (banter) on stage. This is not a true alliance. It is superficial. First-time voter does not want to get into all this. He just wants a decisive government.

Your party’s election rhetoric is centred around Balakot...

No. Otherwise, the Election Commission (EC) would have sent us 50 notices. Being a nationalist and talking about strengthening our army, I don’t think it is political. Where it is coming from, that is also important. If the Opposition is questioning it, it’s very sad because before 2014, our jawans’ heads were cut off, bodies were never returned. But making politics and rhetoric out of it was never the BJP’s job.

BJP leaders have slammed the Congress for dynasty. But the Congress can say the same about you.

I am not contesting from my father’s constituency. This is not the constituency I got after his demise. I did not get the position (in BJYM) after his death. I started in the Maharashtra Yuva Morcha, slowly worked my way up, lost an election, won an election, not from his constituency. Being someone’s son or daughter is not what we are questioning. Dynasty also has to be accountable. You (Rahul Gandhi) are a PM’s son. But after 20 (electoral) defeats also, you are leading a party. That is questionable.

Mr. Gandhi said the PM is ageing...

Yes, just like his (Mr. Gandhi’s) old Rafale speeches.

The BJP’s vote share in 2014 was only 31.4%, but the party leadership now talks a tone seemingly representative of 100% electorate. Is the party thrusting a majoritarian view on all?

You see the 31% mandate is a large vote share, which has been the largest since the late 1990s when only fractured verdicts were the trend. Having said that, the party’s motto has since been sabka sath sabka vikas, in which the youth are at the centre of it all and not divided as per caste, religion and language. All aspirations are aspirations and that is what Narendra Modiji has worked on.

So when Maneka Gandhi warns minorities of votes in return of development, does it not represent the BJP’s politics of majoritarianism?

Keeping aside what she said and what the EC took cognisance of, she was following the law of the land and did not mean what she said. I think we should move beyond that and look at the many years of work Ms. Gandhi has put in.

The BJP’s Hindu rashtra ambitions are based on two slogans: mandir yahi banega and garv se kaho hum hindu hai. What do these words mean to you personally?

Firstly, there is nothing wrong in taking that (Hindu rashtra) ambition forward, and being a nationalist too is not a crime in this country. The BJP’s Hindu rashtra sankalpana is not based on any religion rather on the foundations of Hindu traditions and value systems. Secondly, Hinduism is not about slogans — but a big society coming together under the umbrella of rashtra prem for this land which has given us everything. For the BJP, Hindutava and development go hand in hand unlike the Congress’s manifesto which professes divisiveness (tukde tukde tere hindustan).

But it seems this election, the Hindutava narrative is overriding the development narrative and anybody opposing is warned of being tied to rocket onwards Balakot?

I have not heard Pankaja Munde’s comments on Mr. Gandhi, but like I said, being a nationalist is not a crime in this country. What is a crime is sayingBharat tere tukde honge hazar, which the Congress manifesto says is not. That is more worrisome. Being a true nationalist, I don’t understand why her comments are questionable, but instead one should be asking who has misguided the younger generation of the country.

The candidature of Pragya Singh Thakur may antagonise minority votes in large numbers in your constituency?

I do not agree; then people should be upset with Mr. Gandhi in Amethi and Wayanad, and with Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli. They should be more upset with a convict (Sanjay Dutt), who is a star campaigner in my constituency.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2020 8:21:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/70-lakh-mumbaikars-will-use-metro-by-2021/article26947307.ece

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