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Exclusive | 'MVA is Strong': Priyanka Chaturvedi Opens Up on Hate, Hindutva, BJP

As speculations on Ajit Pawar pick pace, Maharashtra Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi believes MVA stands strong.

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"I am confident that we will be able to sustain. Yes, there are differences of opinions, but issues like seat-sharing and resource-sharing will be discussed and resolved. But the Vajramuth rally that you saw and the response shows the sentiment of the people of the state," said Maharashtra Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena(UBT) leader Priyanka Chaturvedi in an exclusive conversation with The Quint.

Politics peaked in Maharashtra once again till Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar put speculations of him trying to split the party to rest. Meanwhile, in a spate of six months, the state has seen a spate of hate speeches, Hindutva rallies, and communal violence in Aurangabad on Ram Navami.

The Quint caught up with Chaturvedi to talk about the strength of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the report card of the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the changing social fabric of Mumbai and Maharashtra due to the "hate rallies," as she prefers to call them.
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What explains the impeccable Parliamentarian record that you have? 78% attendance, 243 questions raised which is more than twice the national average, 148 debates. Now considering that you are such an impeccable Parliamentarian from a state that has been politically riled up for the past three years as we see it, how will you rate the Eknath-Shinde-BJP government?

I first want to say that my attendance would have been 99%, but I was suspended from one winter session because of which my track record has come down and I hate that fact because it was not in my control, it was controlled by the powers that be.

As far as Maharashtra's report card is concerned, that you can see every day. The SC has said that this government has turned out to be impotent to be able to control the kind of rallies that are going on - the love-jihad rallies, the anti-Muslim rallies in such a progressive state. You yourself are from Mumbai. We have a sense of pride that we come from a place where women are respected, no questions can be raised on their safety. We set standards for the statistics of youth, the statistics of industrialisation, etc. It is unfortunate that such things are happening in the state. The farmers were protesting over onion prices, major investment businesses are going out of the state. The report card is a failure. This is being said by every Maharashtrian and the Supreme Court said it too.

You spoke about the Hindutva rallies that are taking place. There have been close to 50-60 rallies in the state. When a rally like this takes place in a city like Mumbai, the question that arises - why is there delay in acknowledgement and action by the Mumbai police that is considered one of the best in the country?

Firstly, these are not Hindutva rallies. These are attempts to malign Hindutva. Any religion or religious politics should not create conflict, it will always talk about inclusivity. These are hate rallies. They are inciteful rallies. This has been a patented tool of the BJP that wherever they are weak, they try to promote issues like these. T Raja gives so many hate speeches but no action yet. Today, the Maharashtra police which is lauded in the world is being politically pressurised to not take action.

I want to remind the police that you responsibility lies with the people and not the political parties in power.You saw what happened in Sambhaji Nagar (Aurangabad). In the 2.5 years of our governance, there were no such rallies, no incitement, no appeasement or no divisive politics. This is the difference between their Hindutva and ours.

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Let's talk about the MVA report card. 2024 is a year when there will be Lok Sabha and Assembly elections both. There will be issues between parties over sharing resources and seats. You think the MVA will be able to sustain these issues in the run up to 2024?

I am confident that we will be able to sustain these issues. Yes, there are differences of opinions, like you just talked about the Savarkar issue. The three parties have different views on the matter. When the battle for independence was being fought, Subhash Chandra Bose had a different thought process, so did Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhai Patel. But their motive was the same which was Independence of India. Veer Savarkar was one of them, he was imprisoned for 14 years in very difficult situation. People are not asking what Savarkar or Gandhi did back then. The people of today are asking about facilities, employment, inflation, political corruption with respect to Gautam Adani, etc.

Issues like seat-sharing and resource-sharing, these issues will be discussed and resolved. But the Vajramuth rally that you saw and the response shows the sentiment of the people of the state.

But there are a lot of differences between parties on the ground at the local level. Is that true?

Which parties don't have differences at the local level? If you talk about the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance that was there for years, our volunteers felt that our party was not growing in that alliance. And the BJP is used to strangling whichever party they ally with. It is not a party which takes leaders of other parties onboard. We weere in alliance but they supported so many independent candidates. How do you think our volunteers there felt? There was an overwhelming sentiment that the BJP wanted to destroy the Shiv Sena. There can be differences on the ground, but overall sentiment was that eveybody has to work together.

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Why are the BMC elections so delayed?

It is a matter of concern for every single Mumbaikar and that is the responsibility of the government of today. A Budget was passed by the BMC by the municipal commissioner. No elected representative to put their point across, no elected representative to tell you where these funds should be allocated and how they should be allocated.

That is a matter of concern that you are willing to let go a democratic process, an accountability process, a transparency process, because the surveys are overwhelmingly showing that the Shinde-BJP group are going to face defeat.

Do you think there is an attempt to change the social fabric of Maharashtra, especially Mumbai?

Absolutely! I remember growing up in a city, and I hope that this spirit continues, which is a great equalizer. Which home you come from, it doesn't matter - we go to the same schools, we wear the same uniforms, we say the same prayers, we get the same amount of opportunities. What is scary for me is today the kind of poison that we are seeing.

Our issues are very different. Our issues are water supply, water taxes, education, opportunities. That's one fabric I wouldn't want to see destroyed and I will continue to speak up for it because this is not how we have grown up in the city and I think that my children also get to grow up ina city which does not look at people's surnames to decide whether we want to be friends or we want to stay away or feel that they will convert us or they will not.

We had Muslim friends, Muslim colleagues, students that we studied with - never thought of checking their surname. You are creating that atmosphere.

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Do you think it's become very subconscious to take a note of the surname now?

It has become. It has become so obvious. I was very shocked one day when my daughter who was at that time in grade 4, and that time she came to me and said, actually not sure grade 4 or grade 5, but she came to me and she said, "You know Mumma, there's a new girl who's come from Pakistan to study." I was like very interesting, who's come from Pakistan? She said "her surname is Khan." And I said - did she tell you she is from Pakistan? She said, "everyone who's a khan is from Pakistan." And then I reprimanded her, and she said all my friends said she is from Pakistan. I sat down with her, and I told her that this is not how it works and probably she should also explain to her friends in school. But if it has seeped in the way it has, it is very unfortunate.

What is the last Bollywood film you watched?

I watched Pathaan! I don't go to the theatre anymore, but for Pathaan I made that exception because I am an SRK fan, I am a Deepika Padukone fan.

What was that one film that you remember, a Bollywood movie, which made you feel "iske piche hona chahiye that Boycott Bollywood." It was so bad!

It could only be because of the content bad. It might have been so terrible and so mind-numblingly dumb. But there should not be economic boycott.

The reason why I have asked this because you recently in the Parliament raised this issue while you were congratulating RRR and you also specifically mentioned Deepika Padukone which took me back to 2018-19 when she was being threatened for a film that she did. Do you think that if that trend would have been stopped or boycotted by those in power at that point, we would not have reached this Boycott Bollywood stage today?

You know, I don't think that was one trigger. There are many such triggers that keep happening across the country. But this momentum that you see across board, that is fearful. When you see a Deepika Padukone heads to JNU, there is an immediate narrative against her movie to boycott it. An Aamir Khan movie, a SRK movie they want to boycott it. So, I think this entire ecosystem that is created.

Right now you see a momentum build up across cities, across states, and through social media platforms. Little do they understand that the movie is not just made by that actor or actress or whoever you dislike. There is an entire ecosystem who is creating that movie. They could perhaps be BJP voters, they could perhaps be voting for Mr Modi, you are making them jobless by making a movie flop and lose money. You are taking away opportunities from those who are voting for you.

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Where do you see Maharashtra heading from here?

I think Maharashtra always sets its narrative right. This environment which is being created right now is by an unconstitutional government. It hasn't been able to go back to the people and seek votes. If you are choosing to leave a party... Let's see what happened in MP when Mr Scindia chose to pull down his government because he was not getting his Rajya Sabha seat or whatever... he pulled down his govt, but they all went back to elections and won their seats. If you think that what you have done is spectacularly good, if you think that it is the right thing to do, then face the public. Go back to the people and ask for votes. What stopped you?

What factors do you think bind the MVA together?

I think this belief of what Maharashtra stands for. Maharashtra stands for the culture which Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj stood for - that we need a progressive state, a state which focuses on its people, not on their identities, and ensures that we create an environment which is of harmony and togetherness.

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