New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain may not admit on record, but he is in a sulking mode.
Hussain is one of those leaders known to give their piece of mind when ignored. But unlike others he refuses to acknowledge his unhappiness in public or at press gatherings. His outbursts are meant only for those responsible for his despondent mood.
In fact, Hussain's withdrawn attitude is symbolic that all is not well around him.
The cause allegedly is BJP President Nitin Gadkari announcing his new team of office bearers, wherein Hussain's name was not among a dozen general secretaries, but amidst half-a-dozen spokespersons.
A well-recognised Muslim figure in a party with a Hindu base, Hussain was sure to be given a position of stature. Thus, a matter of interest for those around was not who all had made it to the prestigious positions, including vice-presidents, but why was Hussain was ignored? Ever since, he has not been seen at party forums. In his first interview in the last one year, Hussain speaks exclusively to Gulf News.
GULF NEWS: Recently, the BJP President announced your name as one of the spokespersons of the party. But it's being said that you are unhappy.
Shahnawaz Hussain: I am not unhappy. But even if I am, I have to be unhappy with my own party, not others. I have had a talk with my party president and he informed me that since I am a known face of the party, I should function as its spokesperson. When I was first appointed as minister in the BJP government in 1999, I became the youngest cabinet minister at the age of 30, which is a record in the history of Indian politics.
What was the reason for your unhappiness?
There was no reason. I take it as my responsibility that being from a Muslim community, I have to convey their feelings to my party and vice-versa.
Being a Muslim face in the BJP, how do you cope with situations like the Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat riots when you have to defend the indefensible?
When Babri Masjid issue was at its crescendo, there were different mindsets and thinking in the Sangh Parivar. But I never once doubted the intentions of the BJP. The issue now has to be resolved, either by talks between the Hindu-Muslim communities or abiding by the decision of the court.
As for the Gujarat riots, I am happy that in the last 8-10 years there has been peace in that state. I was against it [the incident] and still call it a black spot. During that time whatever I could I did to help the people of my community.
When Varun Gandhi made a hate speech [against the Muslims] in the last elections, although he claimed they were not his remarks, I came forward and condemned his remarks. In our party, we are given the liberty to speak.
And that's why the liberty of making a volatile speech was taken by Varun.
Yes. But I condemned what he said. And the party distanced itself from his remarks. In fact, his recent statement about Mayawati's statues are also his own. It's not the party's stand.
National Secretary of BJP Varun had recently stated in a public rally in Lucknow that if the party came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 assembly elections, it would replace Mayawati's statues in the state with those of Hindu deity Ram.
What's your role going to be in the forthcoming Bihar elections and how confident are you of the National Democratic Alliance coming to power again in the State?
There's no doubt about our winning. We have given a better government and are now expected to give the best. But since Bihar is a caste-based state, the fight will be tough.
You talk about caste, but sometime back, your party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that the era of mandal (OBC reservations) and kamandal (Hindutva) was over.
The era of mandal is not over as one can see the reaction to caste-based census in the Parliament. And kamandal is not our word.
BJP's detractors gave the word kamandal. But yes, the Ram temple movement is not related to any community. It's the country's honour. After all, 80 million people's desire that there should be a Ram temple on the disputed site is because they have faith in it. And there is nothing anti-national about it.
Where it should be constructed could be a matter of dispute, but no Muslim has any dispute on the construction of the Ram temple.
Hardcore Hindus say that BJP is not taken seriously because it has lost focus on Hindutva.
BJP was not after the temple's construction, nor has it gone back. The issue has to be decided by the Court.
There has been a perception that aligning with the unpredictable Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren has proved that BJP is a power-hungry party.
The Shibu Soren story began when he voted against us. We were supporting his government to stop the Congress Party. But the situation later arose when he said we should run the government in Jharkhand. Now, we are a political party. Should we have said, ‘no, we will not govern?'
Gadkari is trying to woo the minorities. Do you see the section of minorities who've never supported BJP, now aligning with the party considered untouchable?
It is not easy to unite the minorities. Since Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's time, the Congress has been maintaining that Muslims are poor, backward and unemployed. And that it is because of the BJP.
We are going to the minorities with the Sachar Commission Report, which says that Muslims of India are poor. But now we want the Commission to find out who's responsible for their poverty, because it's the Congress that has been in power all these years.
How would you rate the status of the Muslim community in India?
After Indonesia, India comprises the highest number of Muslim population. And the census could even prove that India now constitutes more Muslims than any other country.
I can vouch that nowhere in the world [do] Muslims get as many rights as in India. It's not an iota less than Hindus. I feel proud to be an Indian Muslim and can say that not a single Indian Muslim is involved in terrorism. If you take Kashmir, it's an old issue, which exists from the time when there was no terrorism in the world. But the so-called jihad cannot be connected to Kashmir. In fact, Muslims of India have been the first to reject this.
What is your opinion on the country's largest Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband declaring Muslim women working in banks as unislamic and insurance policy unlawful and against the tenets of Islam?
I don't want to get into this fight.
It's an interesting fact that Muslim leaders like Sikander Bakht, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and you, given positions in the party, have Hindu wives.
I can only say that it's incidental. My wife and I married for love and we never questioned each-other's caste.
Fact file: Who is Syed Shahnawaz Hussain?
- Syed Shahnawaz Hussain was born in a Sunni sect to mother Naseema Khatoon and father Nasir Hussain on December 12, 1968 in Samastipur's Buzurg Dwar in Bihar.
- Early education at St Williams School, Supaul in Bihar.
- Diploma in Electronics Engineering from Pusa Polytechnic in Patna, Bihar and New Delhi.
- Worked as an engineer with private companies before entering politics.
- All India Secretary, BJP's youth wing.
- Elected to the Lok Sabha and appointed Minister of State, Food Processing Industries - 1999-2000.
- Minister of State, Youth Affairs and Sports - 2000.
- Minister of State, Human Resource Development - 2000-01.
- Minister of State, Independent Charge, Ministry of Coal - 2001.
- Civil Aviation minister - 2001-03.
- Minister of Textiles - 2003.
- Elected to the Lok Sabha in a by-election - 2006.
- Re-elected to the Lok Sabha - 2009.
- Spokesperson of BJP - 2010.