BJP’s goal is to have only one government: Chidambaram

The Congress veteran says the BJP espouses a ‘militant, extreme, right-wing Hinduism’ which is also working in its favour in Hindi-speaking States while Hinduism is essentially ‘more inclusive’

Updated - April 13, 2024 03:38 am IST

Published - April 12, 2024 09:16 pm IST - Karaikudi

Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram at Karaikudi.

Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram at Karaikudi. | Photo Credit: L. Balachandar

Veteran Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram feels the fervour for militant, extreme, right-wing Hinduism is working in favour of the BJP in the Hindi belt. “Our Hinduism is more inclusive,” he says in an interview with The Hindu on Friday. He speaks on a range of issues including the alleged misuse of Central agencies, Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and more.


How does the current Lok Sabha election differ from previous elections? The Opposition in the country seems to be gripped with a sense of urgency and anxiety over the outcome of the election.

I can speak authoritatively about the situation in Tamil Nadu. I can speak to some extent about the situation in Southern States. Therefore I should speak about only what I know. In Tamil Nadu, the situation is no different from 2019 or 2021. The DMK-led alliance, the INDIA Front, will score resoundingly as it did in 2019 and 2021. In the Southern States, the situation has turned in our favour. In Karnataka and Telangana we have governments today. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) is on the verge of disintegration. In Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) is practically wiped out by the BJP. Therefore, in Karnataka and Telangana we hope to do far better than 2019 when we got two and three seats respectively. In Kerala, of course, the 20 seats will be shared by the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front (UDF). I think that the UDF will have a slight edge and nothing will be left for the BJP.

Do you think if the BJP is re-elected that will change the course of Indian politics and democracy?

It depends, if the BJP is elected to power. I hope it will not. Then, of course a new government will come to power in Delhi led by the INDIA front and we will reverse the damage that has happened in the last 10 years. We have said so in our manifesto. There is much work to be done to clean up the mess - legal, political, administrative. If the BJP wins by a resounding majority, I have already cautioned that they will amend the Constitution. They will change the Westminster principles of Parliamentary democracy. They don’t believe in that. They will introduce some kind of electoral autocracy. There will be a facade of the elections. All their other pronouncements lead to that conclusion: one nation, one election and one nation, one language. All that will convert India into an electoral autocracy. If the BJP wins by a small majority, it will hang on. It will become more repressive. It will try to crush the Opposition. Its goal is to get rid of the Congress, which is the only other national party and then deal with each regional party, State party on a case-by-case basis. I think there is much to expect; much to fear after the result of the election. So let us wait for the results.

What is the reason behind the substantial growth of the BJP?

What is working in favour of the BJP in the Hindi-speaking Northern States is the fervour for different kinds of Hinduism: militant, extreme, right-wing Hinduism. We are Hindus. But our Hinduism and practice of Hinduism is very different. We have great temples for Lord Siva, Lord Muruga and Lord Vishnu. But each one in Tamil Nadu has a family deity, what we call Siru Theivangal (Small Gods). Mariamman, Muthmariamman, Vekkaliamman, Vaiya Karuppan. Our practice of Hinduism is more inclusive. When you go to the temples of small deities, every community prays there whereas the BJP practices extreme, right-wing Hinduism and it is largely influenced by Varnashrama, the four caste divisions, which we reject. We rejected it in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh because of great social reformers like Jyotirao Phule, Narayana Guru, E.V.R. Periyar, Basvaiah and a whole lot of others. That social reform movement seems to have passed the Hindi-speaking Northern States.

The BJP has been accusing the Congress and other regional parties of promoting dynasty politics...

I have a long list of 110 leaders of the BJP who are dynastic, starting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s son, or Sushma Swaraj’s daughter. What about Karnataka? [B.S.] Yedyurappa’s son. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP’s ally N. Chandrababu Naidu is the son-in-law of N.T. Rama Rao. What about their ally in Karnataka? H.D. Kumarasamy, the son of H.D. Deve Gowda. What does the BJP mean by accusing us of dynastic politics? If you point one finger, three fingers are pointing to yourself. The BJP minus [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi is full of sons and daughters. Whether it is right or wrong is a different matter. You cannot accuse the Opposition of dynastic politics when you have so many so-called dynasts in your own party. It is a completely baseless allegation and proved on the ground.

To what do you attribute the rise of Hindutva? Many BJP supporters say the country is going through a Hindu awakening and Hindu assertion after years of humiliation meted out.

What humiliation?

Humiliation in the hands of colonial rulers and before them the Muslim conquest.

Colonial rule is a fact of history. Before that, Mughal rule is a fact of history. But before that, there were other dynasties and empires. You cannot alter history. It is a fact. You can only shape a new India according to the needs of times. What India needs today is not going back to old, premature, pristine Hinduism. What India needs today is a secular nation wedded to science and technology and taking 142 crore people forward. We are the largest population in the world. This large population can survive only if we have secularism, tolerance and brotherhood. The country cannot survive if we divide on the basis of religion or language.

Why then is there a North-South divide on the rise of Hindutva? Is radical Islam across the world complementing the Hindutva forces?

It has nothing to do with Islam. It has got to do with history and the pace of development of south India. Education, healthcare, social reform movement and the rise of regional parties have made south India a more progressive part of India, whereas the northern Hindi-speaking States are clearly among the most backward States. They are poorer, they have less education, less healthcare, less infrastructure and therefore a clear socio-economic factor difference from southern and north India. Therefore they are vulnerable and amenable to these extreme appeals to religion, culture and language whereas we are more inclined to accept science and technology, industry, and education alone would take us forward. Add to that the BJP is seen as a north Indian party led by Hindi-speaking leaders and there is a natural suspicion of the BJP. For example, Mr. Modi knows English, but he refuses to speak English when he visits south India, whereas Mr. Deve Gowda, when he was the Prime Minister made an attempt to speak in Hindi to a Hindi audience. [P.V.] Narasimha Rao was fluent in English and Hindi. Therefore, what we ask is, don’t impose one language, one culture and one social structure on States of India. Respect every language, history, culture, tradition, every way of worship. But the BJP wants a uniform India and not a united India.

The Opposition including the Congress is against the CAA. But former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in an interview had made it clear that every refugee who had come to India should leave the country one day…

I don’t know if Indira Gandhi said that. But please understand there is a treaty of law of asylum and India is a signatory to the treaty. It is based on international consensus, human rights of refugees. Therefore we have to enact a law on asylum and abide by that law. Again migration is a fact of history. Many many thousand Indians migrate from India every year. Therefore those who have come here 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, how can you throw them out? Where will you throw them? Enact an Act on asylum in accordance with international convention and then enforce that law. Nobody is preventing the Government of India from doing that. But those who have already come to India by a particular cut-off date, you cannot discriminate against them on the grounds of religion. They have come here for various reasons, essentially persecution and discrimination. They have come to India, are living in India, working in India and their families are here. How do you distinguish between them and discriminate between them on the basis of religion?

Do you think that the National Population Register (NPR) and the Aadhaar have been powerful tools in the hands of the BJP to further its political agenda?

Aadhaar was introduced by the UPA government. Aadhaar is supposed to be an identity to receive socio-economic benefits. The Supreme Court has categorically pronounced that the law on Aadhaar requires Aadhaar only for socio-economic benefits. You cannot use it for any other purpose. But the BJP government is mischievously insisting it for every purpose and we are opposing, challenging and fighting it. Aadhaar, if confined to socio-economic benefit, is a good means of identity. But going beyond Aadhaar, they are using NPR to discriminate against people on the basis of religion. The exercise in Assam ended in complete fiasco and they did not expect that the bulk of excluded persons who were enumerated under NPR will turn out to be Hindus. That is bound to happen if you have the wrong purpose and it will end with surprising results. Therefore, for the Hindus to remain and the Muslims to be put in virtual prisons they introduced the CAA. It is the result of the NPR fiasco in Assam. People are not able to connect the dots because the NPR exercise was a complete fiasco. They have to introduce the CAA and together they are patently discriminatory. Discriminatory on the basis of religion.

Are the provisions of PMLA, enacted to comply with international obligations to prevent money laundering, being misused?

It is. The PMLA is there in every country. But who has weaponised it? There were two treaties and they are mainly concerned with drug trafficking. They are also concerned with human trafficking. Because vast amounts of money is used for human trafficking and drug trafficking, the countries in the world got together and wanted a money laundering Act. Money laundering is narrowly defined. Are money laundering Acts in other countries used to throw dozens and hundreds of Opposition leaders in jail? Show me, one country which has used the money laundering law to throw the entire Opposition in jail. This is happening only in India. The PMLA has been weaponised. It is no longer a law. It is a powerful weapon to browbeat the Opposition, prosecute them and imprison them. Eventually they will be acquitted. But the process is a punishment. The process of detention, bail, rejection, further appeal, rejection, is a punishment. Now, (Delhi Chief Minister) Arvind Kejriwal is in jail. Hemant Soren (former Jharkhand CM) is in jail. Manish Sisodia (Aam Aadmi Party leader) is in jail. By the time they get bail, the election is over and the purpose is served. We have made it clear in our manifesto that we will repeal the law and enact a new law consistent with international principle of money laundering.

Do you think the PMLA has included too many predicate offences? The ED seems to be overactive mainly because they seem to be able to enter the picture whenever any FIR is filed?

Predicate offence is the essence of the law. There must be an offence and that must be investigated by the State police or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). That offence must be proved. Mark my words: those offences may or may not generate a crime. Money laundering law in only concerned with the proceeds of crime. For example there can be murder - simple murder, murder with robbery or murder with burglary. The first crime is not a predicate offence under PMLA, because it is simply a murder. The second offence is a murder for gain. Whoever has the proceeds of crime is prosecuted under the PMLA. But the ED has reversed the matter. There are cases the CBI has not even filed the chargesheet for the predicate crime. It had not even completed its investigation. It has not come to a conclusion and charged the accused. The ED goes ahead and files a chargesheet or complaint for money laundering.

The Supreme Court Bench of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan, last week said if there was no predicate offence, how can you have money laundering at all. Here the ED is doing the job the CBI is supposed to do. Suppose the CBI comes to a conclusion that there is no crime, what happens to the trial under PMLA? Please understand that the ED is being used to punish people even before the predicate offence is established. Unless there is a predicate crime and prima facie you must establish a predicate crime, the PMLA according to me cannot be used to register a case and it is only after the conviction and predicate crime you can start a trial in the PMLA case.

Do you believe the INDIA bloc would be able to defeat the BJP in the Hindi heartland and usher in a new regime?

I do not know. In the Hindi heartland the fight is being led by two parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. One is the Samajwadi Party and the other is the RJD. If they put up a strong fight, those States account for 120 seats. In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, the fight is led by the Congress party and I hope we will do very well in Haryana, and I don’t have any information about Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In West Bengal, the fight is between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress and the CPI(M) and these are the States that have a large number of seats. Of course there is Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, the alliance of Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will do very well.

Do you think the BJP would redraw the boundaries of the Lok Sabha constituencies after the election?

One hundred per cent. They have already done it in Assam. They will use every law and every rule to re-engineer the electoral map of India. They broke down Jammu and Kashmir into three parts. Why do you think that they will not do it in Maharashtra or in Tamil Nadu? The BJP’s goal is a single government at the Centre. All other units are like the old palayams (kingdoms). Reduce them to smaller sizes and keep them under their thumb. Actually keep them under their feet. It is the national Opposition they want to destroy and today the national Opposition led by the Congress and other regional parties realised the dangers. Hundred per cent, I believe the BJP will amend the Constitution and steer India to a unitary form of government, making the government less responsible to the Parliament. It will be a more Presidential system of government and the States will be reduced to municipalities.

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