Senior political journalist Saba Naqvi has been in the know of Bhartiya Janta Party for over the last two decades as she covered the party’s developments as a beat reporter. She saw the ups and the downs and everything in between in the party from the times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee becoming India’s Prime Minister to PM Narendra Modi swearing-in 2014. In all these years Naqvi forged deep relations with party aides and claims that her Muslim identity was “never an issue in her mind”. She recently came out with her New book ‘Shades of Saffron- From Vajpayee to Modi’ where she reveals how she has seen the ruling party grow and evolve from “the brash new kid on the block” to a “closed party where only two individuals have real power”.

FROM VAJPAYEE TO MODI

Speaking about her process of writing the book and re-visiting history, she told SheThePeople.TV, “I spoke to people who had links to the Modi campaign of 2014 to get fresh perspectives. I also visited the new BJP headquarters for the same.

For the Vajpayee era, I revisited my old stories and did some research to fill the gaps. Both LK Advani’s book, My Country My Life, and Jaswant Singh’s Call to Honour helped fill gaps about events such as the Kargil war and the Pokhran tests.”

Saba Naqvi
Shades Of Saffron, Picture Credit: Westland

Like everything progresses, the party has also re-invented itself many times in the past, BJP started with being the most open party with multiple sources of information, said Naqvi. “It was a very talkative party, the brash new kid on the block. Leaders competed for power. Even Vajpayee had to deal with constant questioning and undermining, which was healthy in a certain way.

Now the BJP is a closed party where only two individuals have real power. The rest have become beneficiaries of power not the yielders of it,” she added on her view of the party’s evolution.

WOMEN IN BJP

What has been one of the major achievements of the party is that it gave many capable women a chance to become powerful cabinet ministers. It has put many women at the forefront whether it is in the External Affairs ministry or the Defence Ministry. Naqvi talked about gender diversity in the party, “There are lots of women in the BJP. Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani, Uma Bharti to name a few. I think it’s wonderful they have appointed a woman, Nirmala Sitharaman, the country’s Defence Minister as it has a symbolic power to that.”

However, she called it out on the fact that the party failed in fulfilling its promise of reservation for women in parliament. “The party has done nothing to address the question of reservation for women in parliament and real decision making is in the hands of men. It’s a moot question to ask again about how much real power these women really yield. Still, politics is a man’s world and I admire all the women who have come up the hard way as they are operating in an eco-system determined by men.”

Naqvi further elaborated on the women ministers of the party and said, “I think that in the space that she has Sushma Swaraj tries to do nice humane things that we should not underestimate. Nirmala inherited a complex ministry with a lot of baggage and she also has to wear the double hat of defending the party on certain occasions.

Smriti Irani was definitely a bad I & B minister for which she was removed. Uma Bharti is a mercurial personality and I’ve written about her in the book. She is rarely in the news for anything extra-ordinary she does as a minister.”

BEING A MUSLIM WOMAN POLITICAL REPORTER

Even if Naqvi dismisses the fact that her Muslim identity hardly ever became a hurdle in her career as a political journalist, she agrees to receive trolling for the same as she covered BJP. “I’m accused of being a Jihadi and the usual rubbish that comes with it on social media,” she said adding, but because I’ve done the work if I walk into the BJP office I am greeted with respect. “For the last few years since I left Outlook in 2015 it’s not been necessary for me to do the daily drill but I do offer opinions in columns and on TV for which I get thousands of abuse almost daily. Some of them are threats and this is the space to reveal that I’ve been physically accosted, roughed up and abused by two men who rapidly fled some years ago.”

“But I am never inclined to make myself the story or the victim as I see that as a form of advanced narcissism. There are thousands of real victims of all sorts of prejudice of gender, caste and community in our country. We are privileged people who have a voice and platforms. Yes, it’s necessary to call out the trolls every now and then when there are death threats for instance but it’s also important to recognize that we are here to cover other people’s stories and not tell our own,” she said.

Her Muslim identity never became an issue of concern for her. It may be in other people’s minds but not in her mind, she says. On having people from minority communities reporting on political issues, Naqvi said, “There are other reporters from minority backgrounds who cover the BJP successfully. Yes, after the Gujarat riots of 2002, my then editor Vinod Mehta did not consider it safe to send me to cover the assembly elections that followed later that year.

“The outstanding feature of the political reporting community in the national capital is the presence of excellent women reporters on all party beats. It’s also true that often they do not rise beyond a point to the top editorial positions and in many cases, media houses pay them less than men.

It’s also true that in some instances when I’m covering hardcore Hindutva mobilisation and find myself among cadres, I mumble my name and sometimes Saba becomes Shobha but 99 per cent of my work is under my own name. And I have excellent relations with several people in the BJP built over years of fair reporting.”

She commends the fact that the beat of political reporting is filled with women but also points out that there is blatant pay disparity and curtailment of growth of women reporters.

“The outstanding feature of the political reporting community in the national capital is the presence of excellent women reporters on all party beats. It’s also true that often they do not rise beyond a point to the top editorial positions and in many cases, media houses pay them less than men. This is a reflection of the patriarchy and gender bias in our society but I would like to see the media owners and managements become aware of this.”

Lastly, talking about reader takeaways from the book, she said, “It is a book that I have written with through primary sources. I tell the story of the BJP as I saw it. I want people to enjoy reading the book that is full of lighter anecdotes. But I also want readers to get some insights on political finance, role of cadre and projection of leaders.”

Shades Of Saffron: From Vajpayee To Modi, by Saba Naqvi, has been published by Westland Publications Private Limited, India. It is priced at Rs. 599, and is available online and in bookstores.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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