In his first interview since Varun Gandhi became BJP's youngest-ever general secretary in BJP chief Rajnath Singh's team, the 33 year-old MP from Pilibhit talks about his politics to TOI exclusively.
Expectations from the youngest in the team are high. Is that a lot of pressure?
My appointment is a credit to BJP's commitment towards India's youth. Being appointed the party's youngest-ever, general secretary is a tremendous honour and I am determined to prove worthy of the trust and hope reposed in me.
Given the impending elections, it is only natural that expectations will focus primarily on these polls and their results. But that is only the short-term view. I see a larger task ahead. As a young person, I regard the young people of this country as my natural constituency and I do believe that going beyond these elections, my job must be to reflect concerns and issues that engage India 's youth towards a better, brighter future for us all.
Apprehensive of resistance from BJP seniors, who might feel your name decided your selection?
Our party is blessed with a bank of senior UP leaders whose political backgound and experience will be an invaluable support as we work together for a peaceful and prosperous UP under an able BJP government.
While my name might have helped me get a ticket at age 29, thereafter I've had to work as hard if not harder than anyone else. Like Abraham Lincoln said, ""You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was."" I won in UP with the highest margin among the party. Subsequently in the run-up to the assembly elections, I organised and addressed rallies in support of some 30 candidates, 25 of whom won. Within a cadre-based party like BJP, a family legacy is not necessarily an advantage. Often it means one has to jump hoops higher than others.
How do you intend to go about UP?
Fundamentally I want to shift focus from the divisiveness of caste calculations to the unifying force of people's aspirations. No matter our caste or creed, we all basically want the same things -- healthcare, education, employment, security and justice.
In the current climate of cynicism, BJP must emerge as a symbol of hope. We have to remove the insecurities that encourage casteism and inspire the confidence to elect principled representatives. Our job will be to field competent candidates based on efficiency not just ethnic identity. Regional parties like SP and BSP draw their strength from the feeling of alienation that occurs when we fail to empathise and engage with local aspirations. We have to recognise the distinct social reality of each area. The issues that plague the sugarcane farmers of western UP are different from those of the 2.5 crore riverbank-population whose lives are annually disrupted by floods. We have to empower local leaders that embody local aspirations.
Finally, we need to identify constituencies where winning is at least a 50% possibility and concentrate on victories where they are possible.
Who do you draw your inspiration from?
The best teachers are those who tell you where to look but don't tell you what to see. I am inspired by different qualities in different people. From my mother, a six term MP, I have learnt the values of courage, compassion and commitment. I admire the vision of Sardar Patel and the generosity of Nelson Mandela. I find Mahatma Gandhi's simple yet ingenious common sense approach as relevant today as ever, as are the teachings of Lord Krishna in Bhagwad Gita. If there is a single composite that I aspire to, it would perhaps be that amazing ideal conjured up by Rudyard Kipling in the poem, "If."
If you were to judge yourself, what's the big negitive?
How do see your future for yourself, from where you stand today?
For myself, I am grateful for the present and content that the future will unravel itself. For my country, I see a huge resurgence fuelled by the ambition,determination and nationalism of Young India.
You'll always be compared to your cousin Rahul Gandhi. How do you deal with it?
While I understand the inevitability of the comparison, I question its aptness. My cousin is 10 years, a whole decade older than me. Having had a long innings in the ruling party, he is, by now, a seasoned politician. I, on the other hand, am just setting out on my first major assignment. We may be in different parties but we remain family.
A national general secretary has to look beyond UP. Are you prepared?
Although I have been to several parts of India... you don't have to physically traverse the country to understand India 's tremendous diversity. For all our differences though, I believe we, as Indians, have an essential sameness. Our strength is rooted in tolerance and our incredible patience must surely come from knowing that there is another life to set right whatever went wrong in this one!
What I would like to work towards is building up throughout the country a sense of ownership and national pride. After WWII the Japanese consciously repaired not their shattered buildings but their national pride. Everything else followed to turn them into the economic giant that they remain.
What does ambition mean for you?
How can the sky be the limit when there are footprints on the moon? I am enormously ambitious for Young India. 630 million Indians or double the entire US population, are under the age of 30. We can become the greatest force for progress and prosperity in human history. Not because we love India less but because we love India more, we have a duty to engage, examine, scrutinise and fault find so that we may course correct and become the world beaters we can be. The 1% movement by young people in New York grabbed the imagination of the world. Just imagine what a 60% movement by India 's youth could accomplish.
How do you look back on the hate speech episode?
The entire episode proved a huge learning for me as I saw how dangerously the law could be misused for political ends. Even though its own forensic report clearly stated that the tape was edited, the government lodged false cases against me, accused me of being a threat to national security, even sent me to jail. There was no 'hate' and not even 'the speech' as shown. Perhaps the whole thing may best be explained in the context of the anger and anguish expressed by young people in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape in Delhi last year. In 2009, when told of a similar crime against two young girls in my constituency, I felt the same sense of outrage. After four long years, I am glad the court has finally cleared my name. I reiterate my commitment to a strong and secular India.