Kirti Azad: People of this country want the PM to speak up on Rafale deal

Kirti Azad is one of the old-timers in the BJP, having joined the party in 1992. In 2015, he was suspended by BJP after raising allegations of financial irregularities against Arun Jaitley

NH Photo by Vipin
NH Photo by Vipin

Dhairya Maheshwari

Cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad is one of the old-timers in the BJP, having joined the party in 1992. In 2015, he was suspended by the BJP after raising allegations of financial irregularities against Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

The outspoken MP says he does not have a 56” chest but cheekily declares, “I am a fighter. Chhati pe marta hoon, chaati pe khaata hoon. Zindagi bhar yehi kara hai (I play with a straight bat). He justifies his criticism of the BJP leadership by saying,

“I never said Arun Jaitley himself was corrupt or that the Prime Minister is the wisest fool…” Excerpts from his conversation with Dhairya Maheshwari

You were a vocal supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the 2014 elections. Now, you are seen among the most strident critics of the BJP. What has changed between 2014 and now?

I belong to a family of freedom fighters. My father was a freedom fighter, so was my grandfather. They always spoke the truth. And I learnt to be honest from them. If there were criticism against me or anything that I didn’t like, I always thought that I should speak up my mind. That’s how it should be in a democracy. The Indian Constitution gives you the strength to do so, to speak your mind without fear.

Unfortunately, I was suspended from my party for speaking my mind.

But in politics, you can’t afford to do that.

Before I got into politics, I was a sportsman representing my country. We sportsmen are emotional fools, since we just represent our country. I believe in the Constitution of this country. I believe in oneness of India. I believe in all the religions equally. I don’t belong to any religion,caste or creed. I am a sportsperson. I believe in my country.

Why are you disappointed with BJP?

I joined BJP in 1992, although I belonged to a staunch Congress family. My father was the youngest Member of Parliament in 1952. My father was handpicked by late Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira ji appointed him as a member of her Cabinet. Then, my father was appointed as Chief Minister of Biharunder the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi.

And yet, I chose to go to the BJP. I was inspired by Atal ji.I was inspired by Advani ji. As a child, I had met Mrs Gandhi. She had come toour home on many occasions. Then, Shri Rajiv Gandhi had come to my wedding reception. Everybody, cutting across party lines, had come to my reception.

I joined the BJP in good faith. And, what did I get in return? Suspension from the party for speaking the truth and asking for an enquiry. I didn’t say that Arun Jaitley did it. But I did say that Jaitley knew that corruption was taking place and he did not take any action. There is a Supreme Court ruling that says even those who know that corruption is taking place, even though they may not be directly involved, are also corrupt. I didn’t mean to say that, but I did eventually in front of the party leadership.I was suspended for that, for speaking the truth.

Par, agar sach bolna gunaah hai, toh main woh gunaah hazaar baar karoonga (If speaking truth is a crime, I will commit the crime a thousand times).”

In 2014, BJP had solicited votes in the name of fighting corruption. But, now they are the ones who are seen supporting corruption. Will it affect their prospects in 2019?

See, I have been a three-time Member of Parliament, having been elected for the first time in 1999. Before that, I had been an MLA from Gole Market constituency in New Delhi and had lost the re-election by a thin margin to Sheila ji. I remember that during the 15th Lok Sabha, we had raised a number of issues, including 2G and Coalgate among others. Now, again you have again rising petrol and diesel prices, which was another major issue we had raised while in opposition. I fail to understand as to why we are not able to control rising fuel costs.

There is also the big issue of Rafale coming in. I don’t believe in the allegations being thrown around, but I do expect an answer from the government. After all, the honest tax-paying citizens of this country, like myself, expect the Government to come clean.

Congress is calling for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Rafale deal…

I don’t understand what’s wrong in speaking out against the Rafale deal. The Congress president is alleging that the UPA had decided a price of Rs 526 crore for each Rafale aircraft. The new price, negotiated by this government, is over Rs 1,600 crore. We certainly need to know the truth.

I have gone through news reports and it appears that logistics of aircraft selected during the UPA are the same as chosen by this government. I heard the Air Chief Marshall saying that Rafale is going to be a game-changer. Nobody is doubting the credibility of Rafale aircraft. The question here is not about the capabilities of Rafale aircraft, but the commercial aspects of the deal.

Then, there are questions over the contract for building Rafales being taken away from HAL and given to Anil Ambani, who I heard had formed his company 12 days before the deal was announced. I heard that out of 240 Sukhoi commissioned to HAL, 199 have already been delivered. So, you can’t question the ability of the HAL to manufacture aircraft either. So, I just want to know what’s wrong with HAL, that’s been around for 70 years?

I don’t mean to doubt Shri Anil Ambani, but the people of the country want the Prime Minister to speak up and clear the allegations around the deal. When I ask this question, it’s neither criticism nor I am saying anything ill against the government or the party. All I am doing is expressing the sentiments of people of India, which include the people of my constituency that I have been representing since 1999.

So, the Rafale deal is an issue in your constituency and in Bihar?

Whether the issue of corruption would affect BJP’s prospects or not, I know one thing for sure. Corruption was rampant in Bihar. It is still rampant in Bihar. Then, there are certain changes in MGNREGA that have been introduced by this government. What these changes have essentially done is legalise corruption.

There are other schemes like Swachh Bharat. I would say that it is a very good move by the Prime Minister. But there is no water to support the Swachh Bharat mission. Look at the Ujjwala Yojana. I think it is a beautiful programme. We gave up our subsidies. The government distributed free kits. We gave away free gas cylinders to begin with. But nobody is going for the refill because gas is now Rs 926. They can’t afford to buy it. So, the people are back to burning wood.

These are the issues we need to raise. We can’t turn into Mohammad bin Tughlaq, who was known as the wisest fool. He also had very good programmes, but their implementation was wrong. And please, I am not calling anyone in the government, including the Prime Minister the wisest fool. But it does remind us very much of Mohammad bin Tughlaq. If you can’t take criticism,there is no difference between you and others.

You have also raised questions over the silence of Prime Minister and the BJP president and their inability to defend senior party leaders from vicious trolling and attacks by core supporter base of the party.

What’s happening these days is that if you are slightly critical of the government and speak up your mind, you are an anti-national and should go to Pakistan. That’s what the prevailing sentiment is.

I mean I have been trolled and very badly at that. But I don’t care. Dogs bark, but that doesn’t mean I stop my car and start shooting them. If they troll me with constructive criticism, I will accept that. But if they are trolling me just like that, I would understand that they are just andh-bhakts. And who cares about andh bhakts. I don’t care about these people.

You have also been among a few ruling party MPs to have raised voice on the recent spate of mob lynchings that have rocked the country.Would you say these incidents are just a law and order problem?

I know the cow is scared to me, but it may not be sacred to others. Except the Hindus, followers of most faiths like Buddhists, Jainis, the Sikhs and others believe that cow is just an animal. We can’t do anything about that. It is a belief that they hold. If you even go overseas, they eat beef there. We can’t stop trading with the US, Europe or Australia just because they all are major consumers of beef.

One needs to understand that belief is personal, and you can’t force it on others. I don’t buy the narrative that Hindutva is tantamount to Hinduism. And, there is another big debate as to who exactly the Hindus are.The term Hindu has been borrowed from Arabic merchants who couldn’t pronounce Sindhus (those living by the Indus River) and instead used the word Hindus…

Arvind Kejriwal had also accused Arun Jaitley of corruption but had to settle out of court. You too have gone on record making serious allegations against the Union Finance Minister. Do you really believe he is corrupt or he shielded the corrupt?

In 1982, during my cricketing years, there was a CBI raid at the premises of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) at Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi. Most of the suspected individuals were arrested for embezzlement of funds and other gross irregularities.

In 1999, Mr Jaitley came to me and said that one of his college-time friends, who happened to be the Vice-President at DDCA, wanted him to contest for President. I told Jaitley that you speak well, so you may go ahead and contest. I did also mention that I didn’t know of his capabilities as an administrator. But I supported him at the time, though I also asked him to beware of people within the DDCA. DDCA, as it was, had a very bad reputation.Money allegedly changed hands regularly, then women were apparently being used to gain favours from officials, etc., at the DDCA.

So, I, along with former Indian captain Bishen Singh Bedi,warned Jaitley about all the bunglings that took place within the DDCA.

Despite our appeals, the bunglings and the financial mismanagement within the DDCA kept taking place, coming to light within couple of years after Mr Jaitley was elected president in 1999. I highlighted all these concerns to Mr Jaitley, but he didn’t listen to us.  Several past cricketers then went to meet him as well. I then started to write to him and urge him to act against corruption at the DDCA.

There was also a time when Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had rebelled, and Ashish Nehra had supported Sehwag. These cricketers were rebelling against all the irregularities happening at the Delhi Board.Despite all this and numerous newspaper reports on alleged corruption at DDCA,nothing happened. So, I raised the question in Parliament and Sachin Pilot, who was Minister of State (Independent) for Corporate Affairs at the time, took cognisance of the matter and a Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) enquiry was instituted into the matter.

I don’t understand why it got diluted and the Director,Registrar of Companies (northern region) became the head and there was only one guy from the SFIO who was there. They found that there was a misuse of accounting standards on 62 counts. They also reported in their enquiry that crores of rupees were bungled. No tenders, the companies were fake, the addresses were fake. There were 13 or 14 companies where same directors of the DDCA were there. Only the chairmen changed. Crores and crores were given to certain individuals and there were no accounting standards. This is all therein the report.

I didn’t hire any lawyer and I myself intervened. I told the court that there were illegal squatters who had been there since 2002. I also highlighted all the illegal construction taking place in the DDCA. So, I hadfull papers on it.

They appointed an administrator from the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Mukul Mudgal and subsequently Justice Vikramjeet Sen of the Supreme Court. A financial audit followed and they all found that financial bungling had indeed taken place.

I simply asked for an inquiry into the entire matter.

Haven’t been able to meet Amit Shah despite repeated attempts

How would you compare the BJP when you joined the party in 1992 and the BJP of today?

Well, I don’t see any similarities as such. The recent killing of an Apple executive at the hands of a Uttar Pradesh Police cop, or the murder of the mayor of Muzzafarpur in Bihar demonstrates the sad situation we as a nation are confronting. How law and order has gotten out of hand. You get news from across the country as to why this is happening.

Although I am suspended from the party, I feel proud of the fact that most of the states are governed by the BJP. However, I also feel sad and angry about the fact that shameless killings are happening. More shameful is the fact that law enforcers have become law breakers. That’s the most unfortunate part and I really feel very sorry about it.

My head hangs in shame whenever I am asked such questions about my party.

And how would you compare the leadership styles of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee with that of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah?

If we had any reservation at the time of Vajpayee ji, we would go to him or Advani ji directly and discuss. We didn’t have to get an appointment and the matter would be solved within minutes. Now, to be honest, I find it very difficult. I tried meeting the Prime Minister after my suspension.I met him once. I tried to meet the party president but wasn’t given any time.This is the maximum I can say. But you must have heard of the beautiful phrase that silence is golden.

I dont have a 56” chest

There have been news reports about the RSS conducting an internal survey, which found that poll prospects of the BJP for upcoming elections are not as rosy as they once were. In the backdrop of these internal surveys, there has been a rise in aggressive rhetoric from BJP’s leadership...

I can tell you that when I go to my constituency, people ask me these questions, as to what happened to two crore jobs that the Prime Minister had promised in 2014. The people question me on smart cities, or the collateral-free loans that were supposed to be given to the youngsters. They ask me about slogans like Bahot huyi petrol diesel ki maar, abki baar Modi sarkaar, or another slogan bahot huyi naari pe atyachaar, abki baar Modi sarkaar.

People question me about the promise of Rs 15 lakh to be awarded to every account holder of India. Now, they have started to talk about the Rafale deal. I am not able to answer them.

Will you contest 2019 elections, considering that you areunlikely to get a BJP ticket this time around?

Sure, I will. I gave up my commentary, my job as a senior manager with the Bokaro Steel Plant. Had I still been working there, I would have been a MD or a Director at SAIL. So, I left my job, joined the BJP and have been serving the party since.

While I have been suspended for speaking the truth, no matter what, I will continue to stay by the side of the people and speak the truth. I will continue to fight for the rights of the people.

And if BJP doesn’t award me a ticket, then so be it. While I have tremendous respect for Modiji, I don’t think I won in 2014 because of the Modi wave. What wave was then there in 2009, or in 2004  or 1999?

It is just the love of people in Darbhanga that I got elected to the Lok Sabha from the same seat three times in a row. No other leader has managed the feat.

If people tell me that I have been wrong in speaking the truth, I would pack my bags and leave politics.

If raising a voice against corruption is a crime, then I am a criminal. But I will leave it to the people of Darbhanga to decide. But I will leave it to the people of Darbhanga to decide.

I am not a pessimist but an optimist. I am a fighter. Chhati pe marta hoon, chaati pe khaata hoon. Zindagi bhar yehi kara hai. Par meri 56”ki chaati nahi hai (I have always played with a straight bat. But I don’t havea 56” chest).

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Published: 16 Oct 2018, 8:09 AM