soniasarkar26

‘I come from BJP ideology. I am not imported’ :Kiren Rijiju

Posted on: January 28, 2015

Discrimination against those from the North­east is a subject that’s close to minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju’s heart. The home ministry is recruiting around 160 police personnel from the Northeast for the Delhi police, the MP from Arunachal Pradesh tells Sonia Sarkar

This is my first visit to the office of the minister of state for home affairs but I am assured that I am in the right place when I enter the waiting room. All the seven people seated there are from the Northeast, and each of them is hoping to meet the young minister, Kiren Rijiju.

Rijiju, who is a member of Parliament from west Arunachal Pradesh, is the Northeast’s point man in Delhi. One of the visitors, a public sector employee in Guwahati, wants a transfer to Delhi. Two are contractors from Imphal, seeking the minister’s intervention on extortion calls from militants. There is also a social activist from Itanagar, who wants help to run his school project.

The 43-year-old minister doesn’t disappoint them either. But then, Rijiju stresses, he seeks to deal with issues that affect the region. To begin with, his ministry wants to check acts of discrimination that the people from the northeastern states face in many parts of India.

The ministry has proposed amendments to the Indian Penal Code by inserting two new sections for dealing with violence against people of the Northeast. It spells out punishment to those using derogatory words or gestures for racial features or racial behaviour, culture, customs, way of living or any other practice. Anybody who intends to use criminal force against a particular race or causes fear or alarm or insecurity amongst racial groups may face imprisonment.

Is the government planning a separate law on anti-racial discrimination? “This is enough to deal with the problem,” Rijiju replies.

Discrimination is a subject close to his heart. As a young student at Hansraj College in Delhi, and later at the law faculty, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rijiju had witnessed acts of discrimination against Northeasterners. And he regrets that nothing has changed since then.

“We have to change the mindset of the people. To change the mindset, we need a strong law,” he says. ” Sahi tareekein se kam nahin chalta hai to danda chalana parta hai (You have to wield a stick if people don’t listen to polite words),” he says in his heavily-accented Hindi.

But much of the harassment comes from a department that’s under his ministry – the Delhi police. To deal with this, the home ministry is recruiting around 160 police personnel from the Northeast for the Delhi police.

“Of Delhi’s 90,000 police personnel, only 39 are from the Northeast now. It is strange that we don’t have even 0.5 per cent representation from the Northeast. It is important to have them to deal with issues of the region,” he says.

But there is widespread resentment even against local police forces in the Northeast, I point out. The people of Assam and Manipur, for instance, complain that the police harass women and extort money from the locals. Will they be any different in Delhi?

“They will be forced to be nice. We know how to deal with them,” Rijiju says.

He speaks the language of a tough policeman but looks like a corporate head honcho in his grey suit and white shirt with a matching striped tie. But even that is deceptive – for beneath the suave exterior is a shrewd politician. And that becomes clear when I ask him a spate of uncomfortable questions.

He evades answers on most issues relating to his ministry – from the rise in the number of attacks by Maoists and recruitment in the ISIS to blasts in Burdwan and the recent killings of more than 80 tribals in Kokrajhar by militants of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland.

“We have achieved so many things,” he replies, skirting the core issues. “Whether it is disaster management or police modernisation or strengthening of internal security, we are going in the right direction. The security apparatus of the country is foolproof,” he asserts.

What does the ministry plan to do to counter militancy in Manipur and extortion and kidnapping by militants? “I will not talk about all this. These are big subjects,” he replies.

I remind him that in October last year, he had announced that India would construct a frontier highway in Arunachal Pradesh bordering China. How far has the project moved?

“We are planning to do something but if I talk now it will spoil the atmosphere,” he says. “Our good intention of developing (the region) for our own people in the border area could be taken as an aggressive posture. We are taking care of our borders. That’s all I have to say.”

I realise that he is on a different page when he places his smartphone in front of me. “Have a look at this video where (Atal Behari) Vajpayee is speaking about me,” he says.

The video clip is part of a media interview in 2005 in which former Prime Minister Vajpayee had praised Rijiju for his work as a young parliamentarian. I tell him that I’ve seen it, but he insists that I see it again.

After we finish watching the video, I grab the opportunity to ask him about the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. How does he see the transition in the BJP from Vajpayee’s era to the Modi regime?

“It’s a great transition,” he replies promptly. “Vajpayee was such a great leader. We are happy to have replaced him with a great Prime Minister like Narendra Modi. India needs discipline and to enforce discipline you need a strong leader like him.”

Rijiju has old links with Modi. When Modi was the national secretary of the BJP in the mid-Nineties, the minister was the party’s general secretary in Arunachal Pradesh. “I had the pleasure of working with him then. I am happy that I am back in his team.”

He stresses that he has old party links, too. “I am one of the few original BJP members,” the minister, who started his political career as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activist, adds. “I come from BJP ideology. I am not imported.”

I refer to reports that suggest Modi has been relying heavily on Rijiju’s colleague in the ministry – minister of state Haribhai Chaudhary, a four-time MP from Gujarat. He is believed to be very close to Modi, I point out. “I don’t care about that,” he retorts.

And what about reports that Rijiju’s relationship with Union home minister Rajnath Singh is choppy? “We are working together,” he says tersely.

His heart may be with the BJP but Rijiju has had one breach with his party. The minister, who became an MP for the first time in 2004, lost the 2009 election by 1,319 votes, following which he resigned from the party. News reports had then suggested that he had joined the Congress.

Not true, he says. “Our local BJP leaders wanted me to have an understanding with the former Congress chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee Khandu, and support the Congress candidate (in the 2009 poll). Khandu offered me the post of the deputy chief minister but I refused. I only extended my support to it but never joined the Congress,” he says.

Months before the 2014 election, he returned to his party with a public announcement. “I am a BJP man. I had to be here,” he says.

Rijiju, who is from Nafra in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, belongs to a political family. His father, Rinchin Kharu, was a pro tem speaker in the state’s first Assembly. Rijiju says he was active in social work from his schooldays.

When he was 14, he was drawn to the teachings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), though he initially looked at it with suspicion. “As a young boy, I used to think that the RSS was communal. So I attended an RSS camp in Arunachal. But I realised that there was no organisation as patriotic and nationalistic as the RSS,” he says. “People who accuse the RSS of being communal should attend their camps.”

From the austere RSS, Rijiju may have picked up the habit of simple living. After becoming a minister, he stayed in a single room in a state bhawan in Delhi with his family (his wife, an alumna of Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, teaches history at the Dera Natung Government College in Itanagar). He moved from Arunachal Bhawan to Andaman and Nicobar Bhawan while waiting for the bungalow allotted to him to be vacated by former defence minister A.K. Antony.

He has now shifted to the sprawling bungalow on Krishna Menon Marg but complains that he barely gets time to be home. “I am not enjoying life in a bungalow. I just go there to sleep because there is no end to meetings,” he says.

I move on to another thorny issue – conversions. How does he react to moves within the Sangh Parivar to convert people to Hinduism? As a Buddhist, what does he feel about the recent conversion of 500 Hindus in Bihar’s Gaya district to Buddhism?

“There should be no forceful conversion by any religion,” he says sternly. “I don’t want to pass any judgement or opinion about any high funda thing. Hindu is not religion but a way of life. If you are living in Hindustan, you are Hindustani but that doesn’t make you Hindu.”

Rijiju has said what he wants to – at least for the time being. There are men waiting for him in the visitors’ room. And the Northeast is his constituency, after all.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: