Those who follow India closely are aware that a political churn is taking place in the country. Secularism as an ideology has taken a different meaning and the debate around it is not as much between the majority and minority communities now but within Hindus in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to lead an ideology that finds its ardent supporters and detractors across India. In state after state, one sees regional leaders with more than three to four decades of grass roots-level experiences and long established political careers joining the BJP and declaring support for Modi.
While critics claim that many of them are “surrendering to the BJP” because some of them face financial or criminal cases, it may not be the case with all. In Gujarat, some of those who have crossed over from Congress to the BJP enjoy solid credibility and have been championing people’s causes for decades.
Dinesh Trivedi, sitting Rajya Sabha MP, and one of the founding members of TMC, is one of the senior-most members of the current parliament. He is all set to formally join the BJP.
In an exclusive interview with the Gulf News, he spoke about why a “secular” leader like him is joining an avowedly saffron party.
Your party colleagues are dismayed to see you join the saffron party. Instead of strengthening the secular Trinmool Congress’ fight against the BJP, you have left the party at a crucial time. Your comments?
I think words like secularism are irrelevant. Today’s youth wants development. Why is West Bengal way behind in development? In the past, Bengal used to show the way. Presently, there is so much negativity.
There is no need of some platform to fight secularism because Hindus are inherently secular. Also what do we mean by 'being secular?’ It means looking after the humanity at large. For me the issue before the nation is only development.
Recently, many leaders of the Trinamool Congress have joined the BJP, how are you any different?
See, I am one of the founding members of the Trinmool Congress. When one starts the political party it’s with some ideology which becomes the ethos of the party. If that central ethos has gone away what do you do? We fought against the violence and corruption of the Left parties.
Now, on these two basic issues if our record becomes worse than them, then it’s the limit. One tries to rein in certain trends but if the leadership of the party surrenders to certain people and certain forces who were never there when the party began, then the very soul of the party is gone. Unlike others I have a full term of Rajya Sabha remaining with me, so my position is different.
TMC has fought intensely against communal politics. Has your definition of secularism changed over time?
Please don’t forget I was one of the founding members of Jan Morcha which got transformed into Janata Dal. Under the leadership of then Prime Minister V.P. Singh we had on one hand the BJP and on other end the CPI-M. We have worked very closely with them.
Also, TMC was the part of the Vajpayee government and we sat with the BJP and even won five-six seats with help of the BJP. TMC can’t boast exclusive rights over secularism. The BJP hasn’t changed, you have changed.
Also, when I was elected for the first time from Gujarat I won with help of some votes of the MLAs of the BJP. In politics, most of us aren’t sitting on the high moral ground claiming that only we are secular, and others aren’t. Janata Party experience involved us all.
The very fact that the people voted for the leadership of Modi and has replaced the centrality of the Congress party, now, can’t be ignored.
Its ridiculous to say that one small section of the population is secular, and rest are communal. It’s not done. The world is looking at us. The bogey of certain parties that only they are secular is just a political slogan.
How do you see yourself? Do you continue to hold secular values?
I have never entertained the word secular. When you try to appease a particular section of the society, it is not secularism. In India the secularism word has a convenient meaning. I stand by my version. Hindus are secular. Their mindset is secular.
The Indian philosophical scriptures don’t talk abut the Hindus alone, it talks to the humanity. It includes minorities and a majority. When we are talking about secular, it means we are talking to all, talking about all.
All these years you have been living in an eco system which was against the RSS. How will you adjust?
I think some people are misguided. The RSS is very patriotic. This view I held much before I resigned from the TMC. There are pseudo-intellectuals in India whose minds are closed. They don’t want to know the real portrait of the world of RSS.
What was the reaction of your secular friends when they heard you may join the BJP?
I reject the word secular as you define it. I don’t categorise people into the intellectual and not intellectual or secular or communal. To me all are human beings, and we have layers. We carry nuances. I did the Covid test, recently. Ravi Gupta, a health worker was taking my test. He told me how proud he is about the country. He said that in India and abroad there are ordinary people who wants to shake hands with PM Modi.
Let me tell you lots of my Muslim friends are happy for me. They said this secular-communal debate is the least they want. They want to be in mainstream India. And, let me tell you they will continue to be in mainstream India. The moment you dissect people in minority and majority you aren’t secular.
Will you be comfortable with your new identity now on?
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is a family) is my mantra. That’s what will remain with me.