An ex-AAP co-founder and former activist in Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement, Shazia Ilmi has now been in the BJP for four years. Delhi BJP vice president and spokesperson, Shazia says she has found a true political platform to continue her fight against corruption. She was recently among the BJP leaders picked to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow in Varanasi. A former TV anchor, Shazia had unsuccessfully contested on AAP tickets from Delhi’s RK Puram Assembly seat and subsequently from Ghaziabad Lok Sabha seat before quitting the fledgling party in 2014.
In an interview to DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTY, she says Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign inspired her to join the BJP and that the Modi government’s triple talaq Bill vindicated her move. Excerpts:
Q: How did being from a family with diverse political affiliations shape your thinking as a child and later as a politician?
A: I grew up in Chamanganj in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in a Muslim ghetto where my mother wore a burkha. My father Ishaq Ilmi was a clean-shaven Maulana. He was an amazing intellectual and the Deoband School conferred on him the title of Ilmi for that. He ensured we brothers and sisters got the best education. He started an Urdu paper called Siyasat Jadid. My sister and brother-in-law Arif Mohammed Khan greatly shaped my thinking. When I was growing up, the Shahbano case happened. I saw how my family was attacked. I saw the ugly face of communalism as also the anti-Sikh riots. I used to run around father’s newspaper office. He would often ask me about the latest news. He kept my interest alive in politics.
Q: From being a television anchor to being part of Anna Hazare’s ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign and then becoming an AAP leader – how did it all happen?
A: I never imagined I would join politics. After being a TV anchor for over a decade, I wanted to be a catalyst of change. Anna Hazare had just begun his anti-corruption movement. I joined him and after Arvind Kejriwal asked me, I started helping them with media management. I have seen the hypocrisy of the Congress party since Arif bhai (Arif Mohammed Khan), my brother-in-law, was also my guardian, and then what they did with him in the Shahbano case. So, I decided to join politics full-time.
Q: In 2013, you were caught in a political storm in the wake of a sting operation on alleged corruption in the AAP.
A: The aftermath of this fake sting took away a lot of my crucial time. Arvind Kejriwal did not show up to campaign for me in RK Puram on the last day of campaigning despite being in the nearby Cantonment area. In a way he betrayed me. The Aam Aadmi Party humiliated me and treated me very badly.
Q: What prompted you to join the BJP bandwagon in early 2015 after your resignation from the AAP?
A: I did not ask for a ticket after I joined the BJP…Arvind Kejriwal had asked me to get out of AAP as I was asking him too many questions after the Lok Sabha elections. The relation between me and Arvind deteriorated after he became Delhi Chief Minister. When he wanted to boycott the Republic Day, I was the only AAP leader to oppose it. I had apologised for the language used by Somnath Bharti. I was the first to leave AAP after all this.
Q: Why did you think of joining the BJP and not any other party, the Congress for instance?
A: I could never have joined the Congress party. As a liberal Muslim woman who thought about welfare of the community, I thought there was space for me in the BJP. I was proven right after the party came out with the Bill against triple talaq. It was destined to be that I should be in a progressive party like BJP. The BJP’s stand is more pro-Constitution and pro-Koranic than (that of) the Congress party. Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign also attracted me to BJP.
Q: What do you have to say about the Opposition’s ‘Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance)’?
A: I don’t understand where is gathbandhan? They just have one goal ~ that is targeting the towering personality of Narendra Modi. They cannot defeat him electorally, morally. This is why they get together, burying their differences. But that also they cannot do. Congress has been snubbed in Delhi, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Q: All the anti-BJP political parties have started deliberating on ways to stop the NDA-BJP from coming back to power.
A: People across the country want political stability. Markets are buoyant anticipating the BJP victory. People want a ‘sthir sarkar (stable government)’, an honest government that delivers on promises.
Q: There is a prevailing understanding in the BJP that it can win elections without Muslim votes. What do you have to say about this?
A: How can BJP give (election) tickets to Muslims when there are hardly any Muslims in the BJP? Muslims have become vote bank and pawns for so-called secular parties. A Muslim is made to fear the BJP. Tell me a single ticket AAP has given to Muslims in Delhi. Modi has done a lot for women, Muslims and Hindus. Secular parties have thrown the Muslim community to despair and used them as vote bank.
Q: Delhi is now poised for a three-cornered contest between the BJP, AAP and the Congress. How do you see things shaping up in Delhi in the run-up to the voting?
A: I think the BJP is winning all seven seats hands down. There is no competition whatsoever. But this time the Congress is also resurfacing. Let’s see what happens. But our vote share remains committed. People want a tough PM at the end of the day.
Q: Do you think 2019 is going to be a difficult election for the BJP as compared to 2014?
A: People have seen the PM slogging day after day. People have seen direct benefit transfers and how different schemes have been run. People have seen this is the only government that has not been corrupt. There is not a single charge of corruption against any minister of PM Modi. That is saying a lot.