AAP leader Rajendra Pal Gautam, who resigned from his ministerial post following the conversion controversy, told The Hindu in an interview that he too formally embraced Buddhism at the October 5 event in the Capital. He said he will continue to be a part of such conversion events, as he had done for the past two decades, and hoped that the police would arrest him so that the “atrocities against the bahujan community”, that he has been raising, would get more attention. Excerpts:
Q / At the time of the conversion event did you think it will become controversial?
A / The BJP has no other issue to get people’s votes and that is why it has made this into an issue to polarise votes in Gujarat. They want to portray that [Delhi Chief Minister] Arvind Kejriwal is against the Hindus. But this is not true in any way. Arvind Kejriwal and AAP were not part of the programme (conversion event). I had not even informed the party that I was joining this programme. For about 25 years I have taken part in such events. I did not think that it will become a problem.
Q / Will you take part in more such conversion events in the future?
A / Deeksha (conversion to Buddhism) will go on until and unless India becomes a casteless and classless society based on equality. And I will take part in these conversion events in my personal capacity.
Q / What about the police inquiry into the event? Do you think you will be arrested?
A / I’m requesting them to register a case against me and arrest me. I will feel very happy if they arrest me because no media or political leader speaks about the injustice and atrocities committed against my community. They all keep quiet. The entire country has stood with me through the current issue. If I get arrested, the issues of my community will come into prominence. Rajendra Gautam is just a small soldier of [B.R.] Ambedkar.
Q / When did you convert to Buddhism? What was the reason?
A / The atrocities against the bahujan community compelled me to follow the path of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. I have been following his teachings for the past 25-30 years. But now I am officially declaring that on that day [October 5] I took the vows... I took deeksha. I will declare it as my official date of conversion on paper. Before that [event] officially was not [a Buddhist].
Q / Who asked you to resign?
A / No one from the party asked me to resign. It was my decision. After the event I was busy meeting people and the party leadership was busy in Gujarat.
Q / Why has the Aam Aadmi Party been silent on the whole issue?
A / The party has taken the right decision as the Gujarat election is drawing near. I stand with the decision taken by the party and Arvind Kejriwal, who is my leader.
Q / When you were called in for questioning by Delhi Police, there was no support from the party. This is very different from how AAP responded when Satyendar Jain or Durgesh Pathak was questioned.
A / Considering the election in Gujarat, the party has taken the right decision. The BJP wants to make this an issue in Gujarat and AAP does not. So, the party has taken this decision.
Q / Will you continue in AAP?
A / Why not? Being a Minister is a small thing. Positions are not permanent, they come and go, but my issue is what is important.
Q / You became a Minister in 2017 and the same year the water portfolio was taken away from you. Earlier this year, you were divested of Women and Child Development Ministry. After the October 5 event, you had to resign as a Minister. Would it not send a wrong message on how a Dalit leader is being treated?
A / I don’t want to discuss these issues now. I just want to say one thing that Arvind Kejriwal says, ‘ Mein kattar deshbhakt hun, mein kattar imandaar hun (I am a staunch patriot and completely honest)’. I want to add one thing to it, ‘ Mein kattar Ambedkar wadi hun’. I worked honestly in all Ministries that were with me.
Q / But still isn’t AAP sending a wrong message to Dalits by removing one of their leaders from two important Ministries?
A / Arvind Kejriwal is my leader and the Chief Minister has the right to give any department to anyone. It is his prerogative. Only a Chief Minister can decide it. So, on that issue I do not want to say anything else.