Capt Abhimanyu, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson and one of the party's faces in Haryana, is an entrepreneur and ex-serviceman. He talks to Aditi Phadnis about the party's stance on foreign direct investment and believes it's a good sign people from different persuasions are joining the BJP. Edited excerpts:
There is hardly any clarity about whom the BJP will ally with in Haryana. What is your view?
The BJP will contest this election in alliance with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC). The alliance has worked very well and we are confident of getting all 10 Lok Sabha seats from Haryana. We are also confident of forming the next government in the state.
This is despite the general impression that it is the O P Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) which will reap the benefits of anti-incumbency against the Jat-led Congress…
Right now, for the Lok Sabha elections, it is the Narendra Modi-mania that has gripped Haryana. The BJP and the HJC can convert this feeling into votes and seats. The INLD is a regional outfit. It has little standing in a Lok Sabha election. But even in the Assembly elections, there was a chemistry between the BJP and HJC, which will translate into significant gains for us. Between us, we represent all the significant sections of the society in both rural and urban areas.
But hasn't the INLD managed to win most by-elections?
The Lok Sabha by-election in Hisar saw the HJC winning the seat. Ajay Chautala was defeated. In the Ratia by-election, the INLD lost the seat and the Congress won, but the BJP and the HJC together polled double the number of votes they had done earlier. As I said, there is a chemistry between the two that is incontrovertible.
You are a co-coordinator for Uttar Pradesh (UP) with Amit Shah…
I handle western UP. Now that the elections have been declared, final touches are being put to the election campaign. The BJP has made impressive gains since we started working. What we found is that the state as a whole is craving for ideas of good governance and development. The general feeling in the state and voters is: we need to move away from caste and debate good governance practices for a state that has slipped backwards in the last few years.
But in almost all his rallies in UP, Narendra Modi has emphasised how his party has propelled him, a backward caste tea-seller, to a position of leadership. That doesn't sound as if the BJP is de-emphasising caste…
I am not saying caste is non-existent. But even in Modiji's speeches the primary theme is and will continue to be good governance and development. When he speaks about himself in relation to his party, he is pointing to the strength, maturity and democracy in the party which has nurtured him; a person born to a backward caste in a village and elevated him to his current status. When he talks about his origins, he is emphasising that the BJP is not a "dynasto-cracy" but a genuine democracy.
Let's talk a bit about the BJP's ideas on business and contribution to good governance. Your performance in Parliament is perceived as being obstructionist. You have raised specious objections about progressive taxation measures such as the Goods and Services Tax only to say when you come to power, you will implement it. Your ideas about personal taxation are fuzzy. Your opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail is protectionist…
That's a lot of charges.
Let me answer them one by one. I am informed by my own experience and growth. I am a businessman and an entrepreneur. Although I joined the Indian Army as a commissioned officer at the age of 20 and cleared the Indian Police Service in 1994, I did not join, opting instead to work in Haryana with my family. I set up Sindhu Tradelinks Pvt Ltd - Haryana's first NBFC, a public limited listed company which was RBI registered and ICRA rated. I set up the first computer trading terminal of NSE, BSE and DSE in Haryana - Indus Portfolio Pvt Ltd. I established the first-ever full spread Hindi daily - Haribhoomi - in Haryana, which is a leading publication in many other states now. So I know about business.
What the BJP tried to do in Parliament is establish that the current government is not genuine about any of the things it wants to do. Take the controversy on anti-corruption ordinances. The government tried to pass anti-corruption laws by fiat. But when it comes to the Lok Pal, the chairman of its own search committee resigns, protesting against a truncated brief and terms of reference. You're ready to circumvent the Constitution to act through ordinances but don't want to empower the search committee that you yourself appointed to choose the best possible Lok Pal.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has also not taken the Opposition in confidence. There was no participative rapport in Parliament.
On FDI in retail, we felt that it was not in the nation's interest. And frankly, it was not just us, it was also the Congress - I don't have to remind you about Kerala's stance, which is led by the Congress. We believe that the small trader and neighbourhood mom-and-pop store provide resilience to the Indian economy. It is the small local trading chains that distribute profits widely and fruits are spread over larger areas rather than giant retail.
If you need to experiment in retail, then there are already Indian retail stores that have been around for 10 years or more. You need to strengthen those.
But Indian retail is for the most part, doing really badly for a variety of reasons. What you're saying sounds a lot like protectionism.
Which country doesn't protect its own? And I am certainly not a votary of the predatory pricing practices that big foreign retail houses follow. We have to protect the farmers' interest as well as the traders. I manage agricultural farms in a co-operative pattern involving thousands of farmers. I know all about predatory pricing.
In the run-up to the elections, the BJP is transforming itself very rapidly. Many civil servants and army officers are joining the party. This could have an unsettling effect on those who have been slogging in the party for years; and also on those who have till recently worked with these bureaucrats and army officers as colleagues, and will now find they have donned a political hat.
I would disagree. It is a good sign that people from different persuasions who are experienced are joining the BJP. Lateral entry not only helps the government but also energises the party. Ex-servicemen are joining the BJP because national security and defence have been imperilled by the UPA government. Modernisation has taken a hit, the overall security environment needs to be improved. As for Gen V K Singh, he is himself a victim of the political conspiracy in a way. For the first time, a chief of army staff had to go to court against his own government. It is the responsibility of the government to have good relations with the armed forces. The chief of naval staff had to take responsibility for a lapse of the political leadership that did not pass files related to the modernisation of equipment and maintenance issues in the naval fleet. Can anything be worse than this?
But having said this, the BJP believes in the sanctity of the chain of command. It will never do anything to undermine the functioning of existing or future chiefs.