POLITICS

Interview With Anurag Thakur: 'The Choice Is Between Captain Vikram Batra And Mohammad Afzal'

The 41-year-old lawmaker from Himachal Pradesh has emerged as BJP's star debater.

29/08/2016 11:48 PM IST | Updated 04/09/2016 10:57 PM IST
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NEW DELHI -- If you've been listening to debates in the Lok Sabha over the past few months, chances are that you've spotted Anurag Thakur, the 41-year-old lawmaker from Himachal Pradesh, who has emerged as the star debater for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

On several major debates, Thakur, the thrice elected Member of Parliament from the constituency of Hamirpur, has led the charge for the BJP, often going head-to-head with Congress Party's Jyotiraditya Scindia. Thakur has spoken passionately about the sacrifices of our soldiers in Kashmir, while pinning the blame for the violence in the Valley on Pakistan, and he has roundly criticised Congress Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi for "standing" with those students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who participated in an event to mark the third anniversary of Mohammad Afzal's hanging.

When Thakur isn't facing the rough-and-tumble of Lok Sabha sessions, he is busy in his role as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which is locked in an argument with the Supreme Court over the autonomy of India's richest sports body.

With the Supreme Court on a mission to ensure transparency in the BCCI, Thakur is walking a tightrope in trying not defy the apex court, while insisting that its directives are unfair.

Not only is Thakur the second youngest president of the BCCI, he was also the youngest ever president of a state cricket association. At the age of 25, he became president of the cricket association in Himachal Pradesh, a state where his father, Prem Kumar Dhumal, has twice served as Chief Minister. His grandfather served in the Indian army, and this year, Thakur joined India's territorial army as a lieutenant.

When HuffPost India caught up with Thakur at his residence in Delhi, earlier this month, he was busy meeting a motley bunch of people, and getting ready to dash off to Parliament. In a wide-ranging chat, he discussed Kashmir, attacks on civil liberties, and "saffronisation" of the school textbooks, and the judiciary.

Edited excerpts:

We often hear you citing figures, referring to what was said in previous sessions, tell us what goes into preparing for a Lok Sabha debate.

For people like me, who get less time for reading and more time for traveling, to prepare for a debate in less than 24 hours becomes an uphill task. You get a lot of information from the Internet and the Parliament library. In a Parliament debate, you can't give a speech. It has to be filled with a lot of fact. That is what I learnt in the last so many years. I think the great learning is to sit in Parliament as much as you can.

How so?

If you sit in parliament, and listen to people from various walks of life, various parts of the country, you get to understand their problems, how do they feel, how do they think. But what I fail to understand is why do the challenges remain the same in the 14th, 15th and 16th Lok Sabha? That means we are unable to address those major issues.

How do you handle the Opposition creating a ruckus when you are speaking? Is it intimidating?

It depends on whether you yield or not. If you are convinced with all your facts then you don't need to. Rather than engaging them, you must continue with your flow because they want to distract and derail you. I think that happens in life as well. I've learned a lot from my cricketing career. When a batsman is doing well, the fielders nearby, they speak a lot, they abuse you, they literally abuse. You have to be mentally tough.

During the Lok Sabha debate on the JNU row, you said, Ham Aam Aadmi, Rajwada Parivar se nahin aayen hain, par ham bhi sadasya hain is sadan ke. Do you feel pitted against the young leaders in Opposition, such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Rahul Gandhi, and do you try to cast them as privileged?

Not really. Both of them have been very kind to me in parliament, outside as well. It is not that I have anything against them, I learn a lot from them also. They are senior, the way they put things, they speak for their party, I have a lot to learn from them as well. But yes, they are the privileged ones, they have ruled this country from the last so many years, generations and generations have done that. The mindset of the royalty in India is that they know they are here to rule. But we are in the era of democracy, and you and I have an equal right.

The mindset of the royalty in India is that they know they are here to rule. But we are in the era of democracy, and you and I have an equal right.

But you are also from a politically elite family, you are also privileged.

If you look at most of the political families, if you look at their surnames, Rajiv Gandhi ji, Rahul Gandhi ji, Madhavrao Scindia ji, Jyotiraditya Scindia ji, Rajesh Pilot, Sachin Pilot, they have all carried on with their surnames. I'm the only one, when my father writes Prem Kumar Dhumal, from class 9, I have changed my surname to Thakur. My kids write only Jayaditya Singh and Udayveer Singh. Even today, 50 percent of Indian politicians would not know that I'm the son of Prem Kumar Dhumal. My kids should plan their own career and future.

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While speaking on Kashmir, you defended the Centre, and blamed Pakistan for the violence. There have now been unprecedented days of curfew and 58 deaths. Do you really think that the Centre is blameless?

If there is any shortcoming then it is how one militant becomes a hero. Anyone who is responsible, and who let it happen, should be held responsible for that. Nobody is saying that he (Burhan Wani) wasn't a militant. He was involved in killings, he was motivating the Kashmiri youth to turn militants. So as a country what do you do?

If Burhani Wani's message resonated with many young Kashmiris, must India not reflect on what is wrong, or would you blame than on Pakistan as well.

I think the issue is to sit across the table and speak to them, but you can't sit across when the stone pelting is on. You have to have a peaceful atmosphere. This Article 370 must go to have better integration between the two societies, without that, it is not going to happen. If you stay aloof, you live in a different territory, and say that we are different from the rest of the Indians, then this can't be resolved.

Let me read you something that Shah Faesal, a Kashmiri, who topped the Indian Civil Service exam in 2009, wrote in July: "Ask teenagers in Srinagar and they will tell you how all these years India has been communicating to Kashmiris through rigged elections, dismissal of elected governments, through encounters and corruption. They will tell you how India has become synonymous with a military bunker or a police vehicle or a ranting panellist on prime-time television. Is this the idea of India which can win Kashmiri hearts?" This is not Burhan Wani. This is an IAS officer.

I agree with him to an extent, but that is one side of the story. You have to give the other side of the story as well. The conditions prevailing are not the same as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or another state. It is a border state where infiltration happens every second day, where armed force personnel lose their lives. There is no support from locals when they fight with terrorists across the border. There might be mistakes from the side of the Indian government, but there is a larger problem because of Article 370.

There might be mistakes from the side of the Indian government, but there is a larger problem because of Article 370.

In view of the attack on Mohammad Akhlaq and the emergence of gau rakshaks, who harass Muslims and Dalits, are you concerned about intolerance under the BJP?

I think you must look into the details. There were incidents in Rajasthan and Haryana, where the Dalit villages were burnt and they were killed, during the Congress time, and not during the BJP time. You know the media is highlighting these issues, and not focussing on the development part under Modiji's time. The Prime Minister doesn't have to say everyday who are the cow vigilantes. Law and order is a state subject, please punish them under Indian laws. What does Modi have to do in that?

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By speaking against gau rakshaks, even the PM has acknowledged that there is a problem, so why can't you? In Una, in a BJP-run state, cow vigilantes had the audacity of uploading a video of them flogging Dalits.

The same BJP government has suspended police officials, held an inquiry, and they have not take any sides. So what do you do after a crime has happened? You hold an inquiry, you punish the police officials, you take all the steps which are provided under the law. But if you want to create a countrywide situation, I don't think that is fair. The same media has been silent during the Congress times, which had much more incidents.

But that still doesn't answer why gau rakshaks have become so emboldened in the past two years.

When the Supreme Court gives odd decisions, when they take away the power of the executive and the legislature, and try to make laws sitting in the courts, they are not being criticised by the media. Media feels that their hands are tied, and they may call them for contempt of court. There you keep mum, there you don't do your duty. But you do bashing for the politicians. People fear coming into India today because of Indian judiciary. Dalits have been facing flak for the last 70 years, where more than 30 million cases are still pending, and they can't identify what are the important issues to decide and where they have to intervene.

When the Supreme Court gives odd decisions, when they take away the power of the executive and the legislature, and try to make laws sitting in the courts, they are not being criticised by the media.

How do you feel about what happened to Mohammad Akhlaq?

Let the inquiry be completed, let the judiciary give its verdict, then I'll be in position to say something. On distorted facts, on media reports, and on half-truths, I can't give my comments. People should restrain from taking law into their own hands, there is a political system, there is a police system, there is a judicial system, there is an executive system, where you can file complaints instead of taking law into your own hands. You must restrain from acting in such a manner.

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During the debate on the JNU row, you condemned the slogans raised on the campus. But do you think if a student believes that Kashmir should be independent, and that Mohammad Afzal's hanging was a mistake, then she or he can say these things without the fear of being accused of sedition or being chastised as any less Indian.

Tell me something. How many Indians do you want to be killed by militants? 100, 2,000, 5,000? Was Afzal a hero for you or was Captain Vikram Batra a hero for you?

Why did the same guy, who, before his arrest, want to divide India into pieces, who wanted to say that Afzal is a martyr, after a few days in jail, why did he say, "Bharat mata ki jai." Why did that enlightening happen during a few days in jail? Then he should have stuck to what he said earlier, because he knew that he was wrong under Indian law.

Was Afzal a hero for you or was Captain Vikram Batra a hero for you?

The courts still have to decide which slogans were raised and by whom in JNU. My question is whether students, if they so believe, have the freedom to say that Kashmir should be free and hanging Mohammad Afzal was a mistake.

I'm answering you very clearly, Vikram Batra and the soldiers who are defending this country are my heroes. And the people who are dividing this country are not my heroes, and they cannot be given the free speech to go to every nook and corner of this country, and divide. No you can't. Thousands of soldiers have died for this country, a few people, with foreign funding, cannot be allowed to divide this country. It cannot be allowed.

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On education, there is concern that BJP governments in states such as Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat are trying to "saffronize" education. Shankar Katheria, when he was the junior minister for Human Resource Development, said that there would be "saffronisation." What do you make of this?

Bhai, saffron is part of our national flag. Saffron is bhagwa, and sadhu-sants always have bhagwa.

What distorted facts have been put out in history books, which are not even close to the truth, have been given by the leftist mindset over a period of years. There have only been a limited number of people, who have been shown as heroes of our independence struggle, which is not right. Maharana Pratap kahin nazar nahin aayenge, par aise log nazar aayenge jinki koi contribution nahin thi. Sardar Patel nahin nazar aayenge, but woh log nazar aayenge jinka lena dena door door tak nahin tha. Theek hai, woh nahin cheezen jo ab tak history books se door rahi woh uska hissa banen (You don't see Maharana Pratap but those who had no contribution are visible. You don't see Sardar Patel but those people who had no connection are visible. So it is good if those things which are not party of history books should be included).

What distorted facts have been put out in history books, which are not even close to the truth, have been given by the leftist mindset over a period of years.

Why introduce passages from the Gita and Vedas into moral science textbooks, which typically carried stories about values such as kindness and honesty, without religious undertones.

I think everyone should read the Gita. Have you read it? Once you do, you will say, yes, this should be part of the curriculum. When we started doing Yoga, 170 countries started doing Yoga. Now again, there has been an element connected to this, saying, oh, this is not secularism. What does Yoga have to do with secularism?

But then you would also have passages of the Koran and the Bible in the textbooks as well?

See, the Bible is available globally, kept in various hotels, and they have Koran. How many hotels have the Gita available? If they can do that in their country then why can we not do that here.

But in a moral science text book?

I think that morality is very very important in this country, the way that the crime against women is going on, there should be more lessons on morality, and that will come through the Vedas and Gitas. It gives you a real lesson of life. Seriously, you must read it.

Why and who have showcased Bhagat Singh as an extremist? Someone who has sacrificed his life to give us independence, and after independence, he has been shown as an extremist. How do you justify it? Why should you keep listening to half truths, let there be a revision of that, why not? It is a continuous reform, as far as our education system is concerned. You bring in changes to the syllabus over a period of time. If you feel that there should be further changes after ten years then let it happen after ten years.

Why and who have showcased Bhagat Singh as an extremist? Someone who has sacrificed his life to give us independence, and after independence, he has been shown as an extremist.

Vasudev Devnan, the junior education minister in Rajasthan, said that schools books were being changed so that "no one like Kanhaiya Kumar is born in the state." It sounds as if the BJP does not want students to think and speak freely, or register dissent.

Let me be very clear. No country will give you free speech to destroy your country, and I will never be in favour to destroy India or to destroy the idea of India. From day one, the communists never believed in one India, they believed that there are thirty different states, and they worked with the communist mindset which was never accepted by the Indians. And globally, except China, they have been sidelined. But they are very much in the media, and the education-system, and that is why we have to change certain things in the education system.

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