New Delhi: In a candid and outspoken interview that will cause tremors in his Janata Dal (United) as well as its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the wider National Democratic Alliance, JD(U) national general secretary and chief spokesperson Pavan Varma has accused Narendra Modi and Amit Shah of deliberately pursuing policies that will divide India and disrupt the country’s peace and harmony.
Rather than tackle the economic, agricultural and employment problems that are serious concerns, Varma says Modi and Shah are pursuing policies like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which threaten “the fragile fabric of the country” and could, therefore, threaten its integrity.
He accused them of “arrogance and hubris” and said the attitude of the BJP is to believe its party manifesto is more important than the Constitution of India. He said Modi and Shah treat honest critics as anti-nationals.
Varma had broken ranks with his party leadership earlier this month on the citizenship amendment issue but had refrained from levelling accusations against the prime minister and home minister. In his interview to me for The Wire, however, the former diplomat-turned-politician used scathing language against Modi.
Modi’s comments ‘shameful, shocking’
Varma said the prime minister’s claim that the CAA “illustrates India’s centuries-old culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood,” simply shows that Modi does not know the constitution or has not read it.
He said the Act was “totally unacceptable” and that the inevitable outcome of the combination of the CAA and the NRC was that only Muslims who cannot prove they are Indian citizens will be deemed illegal and deported. “People of every other faith will be covered by the CAA. Muslims will be sent to detention centres and remain there,” he said.
Using language that will inflame the BJP, Varma further said this was reminiscent of “Nazi” behaviour.
Varma’s strongest criticism was reserved for the prime minister’s comment that protestors can be identified by their clothes. Varma said this was “shameful, shocking and unbecoming”.
Speaking about the way students were handled by the police at Jamia on Sunday, he expressed his extreme dismay. He called students “the flower of India” and said they must not be “beaten up” because they are protesting. He was sharply critical of the junior railway minister’s claim he had given “shoot at sight” orders for people damaging government property.
He said the CAA and NRC and the handling of the students by Delhi Police had damaged India’s standing internationally. He said Modi had made India “an unlikeable country” in the eyes of the world. The worst part, he added, is that Modi “doesn’t realise this or doesn’t care.”
Varma also said that as a result of the CAA “the northeast was in flames and the rest of the country was inflamed”.
‘Hindus want amity, not the issues BJP is pushing’
Speaking as a Hindu scholar whose books are widely read, he said he did not believe the majority of India’s Hindus support such measures. Varma also strenuously disputed the BJP’s right or claim to speak on behalf of India’s Hindus. He said India’s Hindus and Muslims live together side by side and Hindus want peace, amity and brotherhood.
He said they were interested in things like a better life, education, health and law and order and not issues that the BJP was focusing on in its second term, such as triple talaq, CAA, NRC, the Ayodhya Temple or the Article 370. He said this was a “bad” government.
Varma said he was disappointed and disillusioned with the BJP. Later, he used precisely the same words to describe how he felt about his own party leader, Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar.
Nitish’s support for NRC has ‘anguished’ JD(U)
Asked whether in the light of what he said he had just said the JD(U)’s alliance with the BJP should continue, Varma made it crystal clear that his answer was ‘no’. A party’s ideology, principles and constitution, he said, were more important than simply staying in power. He said his voice and that of Prashant Kishor’s were by no means the lone voices in the JD(U). He said Nitish Kumar’s insistence on supporting the CAA had “anguished” the party and created a serious issue of concern for many of its members.
Speaking in detail about Nitish Kumar and the CAA, Varma said that Nitish’s original position was against the move. In fact, he had conveyed this so to the party. Therefore, the JD(U)’s support in parliament was inexplicable.
Varma said that before he had publicly opposed this measure, he even spoke to Nitish to try and get the chief minister to change his mind, but failed.
Varma added that he was “disappointed and disillusioned” with Nitish at this point. He compared the Nitish Kumar of 2013-14 – who refused to support Narendra Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate and was prepared to lose power so as to uphold his principles – with the Nitish Kumar of today, who was sacrificing the same principles just to be certain he would continue to have BJP support as chief minister. The clear implication was that for Nitish Kumar, remaining chief minister after next year’s elections was more important than anything else.
Speaking about himself, Varma said his position in the JD(U) was “irrevocably untenable”.
Although he didn’t say it in quite so many words, he made it clear that it was only a matter of time before he would break with his party or the JD(U) would break with him. The end of the road is very near and clearly in sight.
Varma said that he wanted to devote the next few years to creating “a credible alternative” that could provide India the governance it needs.
The above is a very accurate paraphrase of Pavan Varma’s interview except, of course, where direct quotations are used.