CHENNAI: BJP National Women Wing president and Coimbatore South MLA Vanathi Srinivasan in an interview to Shanmugha Sundaram J strongly objected to abuse and trolling of women leaders, irrespective of political parties. Though she downplayed factionalism in the state unit, she expressed displeasure over the recent developments in the BJP state unit.
She pointed out that she has been escalating issues to the appropriate authorities. She cautioned the party’s IT wing not to indulge in demeaning women leaders.
She also charged that the political parties in the state were not condemning terror elements to appease minorities. She also pointed out senior leaders and their contribution to the party should be respected.
It has been close to 2 years since you assumed charge as BJP National Women Wing president. What have you done so far?
• Despite the restrictions due to Covid pandemic, I covered more than 60 per cent of the states in the first year and gave importance to the organisational structure of the wing. Except Lakshadweep and Sikkim, all other state units convened the first meeting. Though initially I had language barriers, I managed to connect with state level functionaries by communicating with them in English. Now, I am learning Hindi.
From October last year, the wing deputed functionaries in assembly elections in five states, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. Nearly 900 cadre worked in elections to reach out to women voters in UP alone. We have constituted Atal Award to honour best performing women representatives in urban local bodies from panchayat councillor to Mayor level. The overall activities of the parties and election works helped to build confidence among the functionaries. We are also connecting to women entrepreneurs. We conducted workshops in all states and helped more than 1.5 lakh women entrepreneurs to enroll in GeM.
The multiple roles of the cadre and leaders helped the wing to emerge as an unavoidable force in the party. Party president JP Nadda and several other senior Ministers acknowledged the contribution of our wing in the elections and how we enhanced the percentage of women voters in favour of the party.
Women leaders, functionaries and cadres are facing problems within and outside the party? What kind of mechanism do you have to redress their issue?
• We have been seeing several issues on a daily basis. Amidst several challenges, women are now coming forward to play an active role in politics. There are issues that potential women leaders are not given ample opportunities to grow. However, the change of party’s bylaw that created 33 per cent representation of women in party structure/candidates list helped us to overcome the issue. This forced the leaders to give space to women. This is a big transformation within, while the 50 per cent reservation in local bodies aiding the women to become an avoidable in political spectrum.
However, they are cornered and critics indulge in character assassination to curtail women leaders. In such cases, the party encourages them to outgrow the fear and face the challenges. In some cases, we handle the issues discreetly to build confidence of the functionaries.
How is the growth of women wing in TN?
• When compared to other states, the women in TN are more politically aware and active. This is because of the state’s unique tradition that gives importance to women and their education. Since the state had many social reformists, it saw many women leaders starting from Ambujammal to former chief minister J Jayalalithaa. Even we have prominent women leaders like Kanimozhi, who play crucial roles in the DMK party.
In our party’s TN unit, we had a woman president, Tamilisai Soundararajan, who is now given a Constitutional position. Now, we have two women MLAs, including myself, in the Assembly. Now, we are working on identifying young and potential women cadre. We are encouraging them to be connected with the public to make them a winnable candidate in the election front.
Recently, the BJP is in the news for wrong reasons. Several senior leaders are unhappy over the Daisy Saran-Suriya Siva issue and the way it was handled? What is your view?
• When Daisy Saran approached me and raised the issue, I immediately took it up with state president K Annamalai. He responded the following day and formed an enquiry panel, resulting in suspension of Suriya Siva.
But, Daisy Saran told reporters that she informed Annamalai 15 days ago?
• I am not aware of the chain of events that happened before the issue was brought to my knowledge. I don’t want to go deep into that and judge what happened earlier and why there was a delay in taking action. She might have approached me since nothing happened after she took the issue to the state leadership. If she was not compromised over the action taken and feels that injustice was committed against her, she can flag the issue before appropriate forum within the party and it will be taken up.
When Suriya Siva was allowed to function as cadre by state leadership, while Gayathri Raguram was expelled from her posting and party membership for six months? Do you feel any impartiality in this issue?
• Annamalai clarified that he would give six months time for Suriya to correct himself. If he did not mend his way, severe action would be taken against him. On Gayathri Raguram, Annamalai said her removal from the party responsibility had nothing to do with the recent developments. It was a decision taken earlier as she has been violating the party line.
What is the reason for BJP TN unit’s volte-face over the bandh call condemning the Coimbatore bomb blast?
• It is a collective decision. After informing the state president, the Coimbatore district unit called for the bandh condemning the bomb blast a day ahead of Deepavali festival. Technically and legally, Annamalai did not call for the bandh. He informed the HC the same, but it was misinterpreted in the media. We have also decided against the bandh following representation from the industries in the district. They felt the situation is returning to normalcy. We respected their views too.
The new breed of BJP leaders overshadow the long time functionaries. The state leader has also hinted that time has come for the replacement of the old guards. It created a disharmony among the party cadre? What is your view?
• Our leader Narendra Modi had clearly mentioned that new entrants and senior leaders should travel together. The incoming of new entrants and the responsibilities given to them should take the senior functionaries to higher responsibilities (postings). If anyone says that senior leaders should step away, it is unacceptable and it’s against the principle of the party.
BJP is isolated on Coimbatore bomb blast issue. It has been branded that the saffron party is trying to politicise the issue for their political gains? Your allies too kept quiet?
• In Tamil Nadu, no political party strongly condemn the Islamic fundamentalists’ activities. They want to appease the minorities here. But, the BJP has suffered a lot. It lost several of its leaders and Hindu ideologues and cadre in the last 15 to 20 years. There is no difference between AIADMK and DMK government. We lost leaders like Vellaiyappan, Arvind Reddy and Auditor Ramesh. These murders took place in the AIADMK regime. So, we are reflecting the ground reality.
Now, the Coimbatore blast incident. Starting from day one, we are saying it was a terror act and it was cleared when the case was handed over to the NIA. There is a serious issue in Coimbatore since it is a sensitive area. The state had failed to monitor activities of the terror elements. So, we are raising the issue.
BJP continues to pin down state over the Coimbatore car blast. Do you say the Centre has no responsibility in keeping a check on terror elements?
• The Centre and state agencies share inputs when comes to such terror elements. But, it’s more of the state’s responsibility to keep a close watch in its jurisdiction. Moreover, the NIA had shared inputs on such elements with the state prior to the blast incident.
Chandrasinh Raulji, who called Bilkis Bano’s rapists as “Brahmins” and “good Sanskari” (Values/ Cultured), was fielded in Gujarat’s Godhra seat in Assembly polls. What kind of message your party is sending across to the nation and the victim)?
• I am not aware what transpired in the state (Gujarat) unit. But, our party never endorsed such statements or his views. Giving a seat to him cannot be equated to endorsing his views. If that is taken into account, many sitting Ministers had made statements against women leaders earlier. It does not mean the respective party validates their statements.
So, are you saying the BJP is like any other political party?
• No. I’m not saying that. Cutting across political parties, women are facing common problems. We, as a society, want to empower women and improve the system. It is a long way to go and we are moving towards the goal. The party cannot be held responsible for a person making comments on personal capacity. Neither it supports.
Before being expelled, Gayathri Raguram overtly charged that the state president’s close associates were operating like “troll army” and she was a victim?
• For this, Annamalai has to answer. When it comes to targeting women leaders on social media, I categorically told the BJP functionaries and IT wing leaders not to indulge in such activities and troll any leaders, irrespective of their parties and political affiliations. We have also taken action against many functionaries for misbehaving and violating the party lines. It has been carried out discreetly.
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