Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Interview with Meenakshi Lekhi (National Spokesperson-BJP)

Politics is something which forms the crux of our country. Like it or hate it, there is no ignoring it. Over the past few years, since I took up to writing seriously, the urge to write something related to politics has passed my mind on multifarious occasions. I did attempt a few write-ups related to this genre, but they were more of light opinion pieces. To be honest, I wasn’t much into politics in my growing up years and even now it isn’t really one of my favourite subjects. However, there is no denying that as a citizen of the country, it is imperative that I keep a tab on the politics of our country as much as possible. After all, it is us, the people, who make the country, choose the politicians to power and demand better services.

It was somewhere after 2002, that my real interest in politics took birth. When a certain individual called Narendra Modi had earned the ire of the media, it made me curious. I wanted to search for answers and what I learnt over the years, and am still learning, is that he is one of those rare breed of politicians with whom I really have some genuine hope from. However, this post is not about him. Someday, soon enough, I shall be elaborating further on my views on him; when I have deserved the credit for that.

Meenakshi Lekhi
The time I began searching the answers for my questions, I keenly followed television news. The debate shows on these programmes would present spokespersons from different national parties. For some reason, I would feel genuinely irritated by listening to the drawl of many of them; especially the ones from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). I supported the party’s ideology, but seeing some weak party spokesperson carrying on with their indolent discussions made me want to shake them up. The years following those, I used to switch the channels each time I saw a BJP spokesperson speaking on TV; purely to avoid feeling annoyed. It all changed when I came across Meenakshi Lekhi – the current national spokesperson of the BJP.

The 46-year old Supreme Court advocate from Delhi is a firebrand spokesperson and has taken to her job like fish to water. Rarely have I seen someone from the BJP (apart from Narendra Modi) taking on the hounding, biased media cronies word for word. Eloquent, clear in her thoughts, well-versed on the current affairs, and not one to take things lying down, Mrs. Lekhi is everything and more that I had hoped to see in a political personality. It hence comes as no surprise that today, Meenakshi Lekhi is considered one of the most popular BJP leaders only after Narendra Modi.

I thus consider myself privileged enough to have got the chance to interview her. It was the first time that I had interviewed a political figure and surprisingly speaking to her was quite easy and refreshing. Over the course of the interview, Mrs. Lekhi elaborates on the roles of a spokesperson, the biased media debates, her views on the Congress party and of course Narendra Modi. Read on. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Tell me a little bit about your career. How and where did you begin?

Meenakshi Lekhi (ML): I am basically born and bred in Delhi. I did my graduation from Hindu College, Delhi and then went on to study law from the Delhi University. A few years after that, I began practicing law from 1990 onwards from the various courts in the country.

In 1992 I got married to Aman Lekhi (renowned senior advocate). Over a period of time, I began working with him. Gradually, life took its course and now I am the national spokesperson of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and greatly relishing my role.

Q. From law to the spokesperson of a national party? Isn’t that a rather different field to choose?

ML: Yes and no. The Lekhis are always known to be rather argumentative (laughs). Our entire family has very strong opinions on all the issues going around; from mundane to the serious ones. Ever since I got married, my life has been around books, courts, the vision of India and similar things. I haven’t known any other way of living really. So you can imagine I did not really need any training in my professional field. Being a spokesperson I guess, came naturally to me.

Q. So when exactly did you start considering being a spokesperson as a serious career option?

ML: I have been active on the fringes since 1996-97 by being closely associated with various social NGOs and by giving my legal inputs to these. From there I began working for the ‘Swadeshi Jagran Manch’ (an economic wing of the Sangh Parivar). When Nitin Gadkiri became the party president of the BJP a few years back, I was called on to join the party and become the Vice-President of the ‘Mahila Morcha’.
My career profile was such that even while I was into law, I had to address the media on various cases. Hence, they were quite familiar with me. The seniors of the party then gradually felt that I would do well as a spokesperson and hence I was taken up as one this year.

Q. How different is the job of a spokesperson to that of a normal 10-7 one per se?

ML: It is completely different. It is a 24/7 job. Even as I speak to you, there are calls coming in from various media channels to attend their TV shows. A spokesperson doesn’t really have a social life to speak of. There is no time to attend parties, weddings or anniversaries. It has happened on many an occasion where I had a family event planned and had to cancel it because of some urgent press meet I had to attend. You have to be there for your party all the time.

Q. Doesn’t that affect you mentally? How do you motivate yourself?

ML: It does of course. After all I am human and there is a need to have a social life. But then, I motivate myself thinking that I am doing my bit for my country. That in itself is the biggest boost. And then again, if I am not there when needed, my party might get affected. I cannot allow that to happen.

Q. Can you please elaborate as to what does the job of a spokesperson constitute of?

ML: See, firstly, a spokesperson has to be aware of everything happening in the country; political or non-political. The awareness level has to be absolutely profound. Then you are reading about 10-12 newspapers thoroughly; English and Hindi both. You also have to actively keep watch on the social media. But most importantly, you have to keep a sharp eye on where the media is taking the debate to on certain issues. The media, especially the TV media, more often than not, moulds the issues according to their convenience and presents it in a different way to the public. A spokesperson thus has to carefully interpret on what agenda is the media setting. However, the most important thing for a spokesperson I believe is to be instinctive. You should know how to react to many tense and adverse situations on the spot. And for that you cannot be trained. Either you have it or you don’t. 

Q. So if I wish to be a spokesperson today, and have the above mentioned qualities in me, would that be enough?

ML: Those and a few other things as well. To be a good spokesperson, you have to be academically sound as well. You should have a good knowledge of history, politics, geography, art and culture, and economics. You should also keep studying on more subjects as much as possible. Other than that, learning on the job actively should serve you well.

Q. Being a party spokesperson, you attend a lot of TV debate shows. Many of these debate shows, as we all very well know, are quite biased towards a particular party or an agenda. Don’t you feel angry or infuriated while attending such shows?

ML: It’s true that certain debate shows by some media channels are biased and they always try and set their own agenda. However, if they have their agenda, I have my own. If I feel infuriated and refuse to go to these shows, then somebody else will turn up and say certain things that would create a mess for my party. I cannot allow that to happen. My simple thought is that I should present my point of view in such a manner that the audience should be able to gauge as to who is correct and who isn’t. They should be able to connect with me and my party’s views. The audience today is pretty intelligent; they very well know the biasness of these media houses. But like I said, if I connect my views to my audience, my job is done.

Q. Have you ever felt any amount of nervousness while attending any of these TV shows or while addressing the media on any particular issue?

ML: No. Never. One becomes a pro at it pretty soon. Moreover, I am not made like that. I can safely claim that no one from the media can ever say that they have got the better of me on any occasion. And it’s bound to stay like that. (Chuckles)

Q. As a spokesperson, you go to a lot of TV shows. However, how many people watch these shows? There is only a certain percentage in the country who actually watch them. What about the people in the country who do not have access to television sets? Doesn’t your role adhere to them as well?

ML: It most definitely does. See besides attending TV shows, as a spokesperson, I have a lot of other things to do. My job is not just limited to airing my views on television, but to connect to people; wherever they might be. I have to go to a lot of places like Kerala and Chennai, whose language I do not speak. In such places, I speak in English; but my views are aired by the local media in the regional language. Through TV news, newspapers and even radio, my views reach to vast corners of the country. So there is a deep people to people connect. Furthermore, on many occasions, I also have to speak on the stage on varied places; thus the connect with the people comes into effect there. That is my primary job; to put my party’s views in front of the public and make sure I connect with them.

Q. If I were to ask your views on the Congress; not as a BJP spokesperson, but as a normal citizen of the country, what would they be?

ML: As a normal citizen of the country, I feel enraged to what has been going on for the past many years. In fact, it was my apathy towards the Congress’ misgovernance that made me join the BJP. The last nine years (2004-2013) has undoubtedly been pathetic from them, but I am looking much beyond that. They have given us absolutely noting since independence. I don’t want to go into names, but many of these people have completely destroyed our country from the core. You think of people before the independence era like Subash Chandra Bose. If he would have been there with us after independence, do you think our country’s situation would have come to this? Those heroes from the pre-independence era never got to rule the country. And what we have today is downright disgraceful.

Q. On the same vein, what so you feel of Narendra Modi; as a normal citizen of the country and not as a BJP spokesperson? 

ML: As a person having average intelligence and being a rational citizen of the country, I feel that the man has delivered; and delivered big time. I can easily see through the media in cahoots with a certain party trying to malign him desperately. But that is not going to work. People today are clever enough to understand all this. The speeches nowadays are easily available on the internet for people to gauge as to what really is the truth. Moreover, my question is, if not Modi then who? The answer is no one; zilch, nada. Nobody matches up to the delivery, the charisma, the confidence and wherewithal to handle any situation like Modi does. And this is a rational person saying all this.

However, I must also credit the media for making me pro Modi. I am a person with reasonable intelligence and when I saw the media propaganda against him, I could easily make out that he was being unfairly targeted. I did my research and study on the facts and understood that what was being presented by the media is completely opposite to the truth. And hence came in my genuine support for Modi. I am quite certain there are many more like me with the same theory.

Q. You must have met him a few times. What are your views on him as a person?

ML: I have met him a couple of times and whatever little interaction I have had with him has been very good. I find him to be a very pleasant and down to earth person. He is someone who will ask you “Ghar me sab thik hai?” Despite all the name he has made, he is still very warm and grounded.

Q. I read a report in a newspaper that Meenakshi Lekhi is the second most popular BJP personality after Narendra Modi. What do you feel on that?

ML: Oh I feel really embarrassed on hearing this. I really do. However, at the same time I feel honoured and proud too. I feel I must have done something right to get that label.

Q. Lastly, your tiff with Arnab Goswami on a television debate has become quite a hit online. The way you took him on has made many people your fan. Your views.

ML: I think a lot has been made out of it unnecessarily. I had gone there to speak on a certain issue and some things were said which I didn’t like. When you push me to the wall, I will retaliate. That’s it. These are professional hazards and we have to take it with us in our stride. It happens. I am humbled that people appreciate my personality. But let’s not get carried away with it. Whatever happened was in the past and let it be there. 

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