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We Have To Live With The Virus And Find Success In These Times: Poonam Mahajan

Though raised in a political environment, Poonam Mahajan, the humanitarian and animal rights activist, has had to eke out her own space in the world through grit and perseverance and of course, compassion.

Photo Credit : Courtesy: Twitter

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Now every Friday BW Businessworld.in streams Friday’s Live With Raj Nayak, a show in which the host brings you face to face with celebrities and exceptional men and women from different walks of life, who have inspired people around them. Raj Nayak is Founder and Managing Director, House of Cheers.

Read of this episode, which unplugs Poonam Mahajan, president of the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha (National People’s Youth Front, the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party) and a second-time parliamentarian from the Mumbai North-West constituency. Though raised in a political environment, Poonam Mahajan, the humanitarian and animal rights activist, has had to eke out her own space in the world through grit and perseverance and of course, compassion.

Raj Nayak: Today's guest is someone very special. She is a politician. She is the president of the Bhartiya Yuva Morcha and a second-time parliamentarian from the Mumbai North West constituency. 

Poonam Mahajan: Thank you so much, Raj. It's so wonderful to see you. And you're looking bright in your pink T-shirt.

Raj Nayak: To impress you Poonam ? pink, pink.

Poonam Mahajan: Yes. It's all for women. Now the colour pink is not for a particular gender, when you're trying to show gender equality, which we both worked for.

Raj Nayak: Yes, I know. I know. When we were just speaking, you told me about your dogs and I thought, ‘let me start with something that we have so much in common’. So, tell me about your dog. People start with serious stuff. Let's start with something different.

Poonam Mahajan: More relatable, more human. Actually, when I was a kid, I was petrified of dogs, so scared of them. I was always with my childhood friend, Gitanjali. My brother Rahul used to, you know, take these little stray pups and play with them. Then he got one dog at home and it took like a month for me to get used to it. I used to sleep and work on my sofa because I could not understand how to play with the dog and what the dog would do. A lot of us had that kind of fear. But since then, I think I’ve never looked back ? dogs, taking care of cats, or some bird that has fallen down. I've always been an activist, working towards that. And it's been wonderful because they teach you a lot of compassion.

We say human beings, but we have to talk about living beings. I became a vegetarian not because it's a certain religion or caste I have to follow. I want to believe that this is what humanity has to follow. And there are a lot of things which I started believing in, but that one dog, my little stray at home called Sweetie. I really miss her. Now I have two dogs. I get dogs who are unwell. They come and stay with me, get better. Sometimes we lose them. So my house is a small zoo. If a bird has fallen down (we take care of it) and we have a set of friends who work a lot on wildlife and with little dogs. Thankfully, my daughter's also in it. So it's a good family thing we can do.

Raj Nayak: So, your parents also loved dogs when you were young?

Poonam Mahajan: My father was not petrified, but he was not a dog-friendly person. He used to come in, touch the dog and say, ‘Okay, fine’. You know how it is in a household? My grandmother never liked dogs. It was because of my brother and then my mum. When you are younger, you want a dog to play with. But when there is a responsibility of a dog, mommy and daddy have to take care of it. So, my mother was quite compassionate and loving. So, we learned that. 

But in the house, yes, many of us are complete dog lovers and that means any dog. Now with the lockdown, my daughter and I, we go down every evening. This is the time actually when we feed Raja, the three-legged dog. My daughter has all her friends around the building. So she does that and I feel good that I didn't have to teach her. It just comes from within. And that living being we have to work for.

Raj Nayak: What have you named them? You said you have two dogs.

Poonam Mahajan: I have one old man who's 14 years old.

Raj Nayak: Wow. I mean, that’s as old as your son, right?

Poonam Mahajan: My son is 15 years. So, this dog was brought by my husband because I was really down after my father's death. And he knew this would be the cheering up factor in my life. So, he came. His name is Biscuit. He's a Beagle and Biscuit is this, you know, like you have Buddha behind you. That whole calm dog who never barks, really quiet. So, Biscuit has always been quiet. Nice. You know, shhant wala gharme achha sa doggie (quiet, good at home kind of a doggie). But then of course, there are many dogs who came and went. 

Princess is there. She is a black Cocker Spaniel and Princess is two years old. There is a story behind how we got her. So in Bangalore, there was a dog breeder. I was heading the Animal Welfare Board in Maharashtra officially. So there are rules. So, when this man sold dogs, a lot of people bought the male puppies. They didn't want to keep the female puppy. So, Princess was the only one left out and someone told me nobody's taking the dog. So, I just picked her up and got her from Bangalore and brought her to Mumbai. And she is this naughty child we have at home. And she is fun. She is fun.

Raj Nayak: They change your life. Don't they?

Poonam Mahajan: They change your life, because it's such unconditional love. Of course, you have your children, but they just come to you for love. And they just give you. I think dogs take a lot of negative energy from you. And when you touch them, you love them. They, I feel, I mean, this is really easy. You will find it. My Biscuit, well, when he came, I was really in depression. After my father, there were so many ups and downs in my life. Day by day, I could see Biscuit, really looking tired. Whenever Biscuit came close to me, he tried to take that pain away from me, and then Biscuit started becoming very slow. So, I don't know how to explain this to you. They're so loyal to you, they want to give you more than, you know, take from you.

Raj Nayak: This is Poonam Mahajan telling you, and this I really believe in. You know a dog can really change your life. So, if you don't have one, go out and adopt one.

Poonam Mahajan: Any animal, I'm telling you. I still remember when we fought for this case, you know, those horse buggies on the Marine Drive all together? Me and my friend Ambika, we got together and we fought this case. We won the case because I could see the apathy towards those horses falling down, dying. So, it’s about living beings and dogs. They're wonderful. I mean, what can I say?

Raj Nayak: It's funny that you said that. Meredith came home because my mother died and I was very close to my mother. Before that we had a dog for about 16 years, who passed away. So, after she died, we said, we'll never get a pet dog at home because emotionally, you know, you feel very bad. It's like a family member going away. Right? And both my daughters kept asking for a dog and my wife used to say, ‘no way, no way’. But when my mother died, they used that as a tool to tell my wife, ‘dad is very depressed. And you know, if you bring a dog he may be happy’. So one evening, when I came home, Meredith was there as a present for me. 

Poonam Mahajan: I saw that on Instagram and I congratulated you. I said, who is this lovely girl in your family? Because I understand that here actually the mother is ready. My children have to push the father, telling him, ‘one more, one more’. Fight going on all the time.

Raj Nayak: Tell me something about your childhood. You've grown up in Mumbai, right? I mean, so tell me about memories you have of your childhood, funny moments you have had in your childhood, something that you still laugh about, you know, and how was it going to school, college? Because you were a daughter of an illustrious politician and he was a Cabinet minister, not once, many times. So, you grew up in that kind of an environment. So, how was it going to college and school? 

Poonam Mahajan: Actually, my father's rise was so fast that we could not cope with it, because he never made us realise that he was rising and maybe he planned his life so properly. His plans were so perfect. It was typical Baba in his Lungi, his favourite white Lungi. Baba coming home and watching Dilip Kumar movies with me, talking, chatting, eating on time. So, we didn't realise growing up that he was growing so much larger than life. I was born in Chembur, Mumbai, and I was born at Joy Hospital. So I was always joyous.

Raj Nayak: Now, that's something we have in common.

Poonam Mahajan: Yes. That's why you're cheerful. And I try my best. Of course, sometimes it gets difficult when you are in a profession where you are trying to please people, but it does work out. So yes, I was born at Joy Hospital in 1989. My parents had come from Marathawada, a small little village, to make their lives in 1975, after my father came out of jail during the Emergency. My brother was just a year old and they shifted to Chembur. So, I am a proper Mumbai girl., I always tease my brother, “ki tu gaonwala hai aur main shehar wali hoon" (you are the village boy and I am the city girl) because I was a proper Chembur chi mulgi (a Chembur girl) you know.

My father was the eldest in the family. So, there was always a lot of people in that two-bedroom and kitchen house. So many people coming in politically and BJP was also growing. The BJP was born in 1980. So, you know, food made for everyone, working for everyone. At that time, we did not hire help … and   my mother used to cook. We used to serve people. My grandmother was there. So, it was open doors, like it is not right now. Families have become smaller since then.

Everything was so vibrant. Maybe childhood is always vibrant when you look back and it was always fun. I had a lot of friends. I went to a Marathi medium school. So, there is also a story behind this. My mother told my father, ‘now we are in Mumbai and there are so many people going to English medium schools’. You know how mothers are, they want their children to do well. ‘And why don't we try to put her in a convent’? My father said, ‘no, chalegahi nahi (won’t do). I'm Pramod Mahajan.I learnt at a small little village and now I can speak at the United Nations. Also, in proper chaste English. My children will also do that’. 

So, my entire education was in a Marathi medium school. First, I went to Sion, then we shifted to Worli and I went to Balmandir Vidhya Mandir, of course an illustrious good Marathi school. But I think my English till my eighth standard went, ‘Ram went to Sita, Sita met Gita’. You know, that this is how we learned.

When I look back at my life from those years (I realise) your childhood is when you learn. Your mother tongue is such a source of strength for you. I always tell people when I go abroad for meetings, ‘People don't connect with people with religion or anything. They connect with the Bhasha ? with languages.’ And when you have your mother tongue, whoever you are, you may be a Khan or a Joshi ? but if you speak the same language ? life is absolutely different.

Raj Nayak: That’s a huge advantage in Mumbai. When I speak to friends, I speak to them in Telegu or Kannada. 

Poonam Mahajan: Good. I have to learn that too. I mean, in Mumbai, you have to learn many languages? Gujarati, Telegu, Kannada. Yes, yes. But that's how my childhood was very happy. And my father never made us realise that he was so big. So, we never understood that my father was so important in a political circle, for the country's future, for policymaking, we just grew well. And then I studied a little bit here. 

And I was always a naughty child and wanted to do whatever I wished. My mother always pushed me to do certain things. I'm a trained Bharat Natyam dancer. So, it's been 14 years. I did a 14-year proper course for Bharat Natyam, but never did Arangretam (debut). And this happened with my profession too in many different ways now in politics. 

Of course, once I got set for the race, winning secondaries, so (now I am a) two times MP. But before that, maybe I was (not so focused). You know, right now we understand how teenagers’ mental health is all about ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). But at that age, you don't understand anything.  I did my flying course. My brother was a pilot with Jet Airways. I did my flying course and, in my childhood, I always did whatever I wanted to. Our parents were quite open about it. And it was a good connect. We had a lot of respect for each other ? amazing memories. So many memories. I mean, I still remember in 1984, when BJP really lost all the seats and we had just one or two. From 1980 to 1984, my father was contesting elections and he lost and we were okay about it. But in 1986, my father won the Rajya Sabha seat. That was the first time he entered Parliament. 

I was just six years old and a Marathi medium girl who did not know how to pronounce member of Parliament. I had to distribute pedas (sweet meats). My mother gave me this packet of peda and she said I was to distribute it. We didn't know anything. She said, ‘say member of Parliament’. I said, a member of parliament must be something really important and I was a six-year-old. I mean, my daughter knows much better at seven. And I asked mom, ‘This is a very tough word ? member of Parliament. I can't say it. Could you please help me?’ She said, ‘MP ho gaye’ (he’s become an MP). I said, ‘OK’. But half the aunties who got pedas did not understand what an MP was, but I was so excited. So these are small little things. In 1996, when I was 16, it was the first NDA government. And I just saw my father's swearing in and saw Rashtrapati Bhavan for the first time. So, there are so many memories which are connected.

I still remember in 1986 ? and this I must really tell you ? my father was in the Rajya Sabha. He called all of us to Delhi. So, it was our first trip to Delhi by Rajdhani with my aaji ? my mother. Every one of us, sitting in the Rajdhani coach, we reached there and I saw Rajya Sabha, sitting there. And I was sitting on the wing of the gallery. From the gallery, I was looking at my father. So, I saw the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister then was Rajiv Gandhi. His whole Cabinet sitting and talking about certain things, a   discussion was going on. So, I was looking for my father among those 250 people. This from the top and I couldn’t see. My father realised that my daughter is trying to look out, where my Baba is. So, when the Prime Minister is speaking, suddenly my father gets up from the Opposition benches.

He said, ‘It's wrong. This is not going right.” Something was going on. So then suddenly, maybe the Prime Minister was speaking or someone else was speaking, and he said, ‘Promodji shaant rahiye (be patient). I will reply to you.’ But then I came to know (it was for me). My father just looked at me (as if to say) ‘your father's here’. So, these are the little memories, I just cherish. 

So well, I mean, my mother and father really made me and Rahul believe that whatever we want to do, we can do. And you know, my father always said, ‘mistakes are to be made to make yourself better’. Now I understand that. And it was a wonderful childhood, wonderful childhood.

Raj Nayak: I'm going to hold you there. You’ve told me so many things. You mentioned Rahul, your brother. He’s the elder one, right?

Poonam Mahajan: I do look older, but he is the one who is.

Raj Nayak: So the reason I asked you this is, do you think being a younger sibling impacted your personality in some way, because in every household, the elder sibling has a different personality and the younger sibling gets influenced, right? 

Poonam Mahajan: You know, I was always in my own world and on my own. I don't know how that happened because that's how I was. And my brother, an older sibling, didn't put much pressure on me. Of course, we did not get along when we were kids. Now we are perfectly alright.

Raj Nayak: Right? Did you, beat up each other?

Poonam Mahajan: He used to be a little tough with me, but he was quite fine. He used to be this commander and we are the army men. And he used to make me and my cousin get into trouble in such silly ways. It was quite fun. But there is almost a five-and-a-half years gap. So, you know, with that large a gap … he has his own life. Then he flew off to learn flying. I was here. So there is no influence as such, but we try to support each other strongly. And as a younger sibling, you always feel life is easy, but as a younger sibling too I had to take on life very strongly after my father. But it's been wonderful. Even though I am the younger sibling, my brother asks me (for my advice) a lot, ‘what should I do?’ So that means I'm doing quite okay. Quite supportive.

Raj Nayak: He went to become a pilot and you did your pilot’s course. You just revealed that you are a classical Bharat Natyam dancer. But tell me, when you were growing up, was politics ever at the back of your mind or did it just happen by default?

Poonam Mahajan: This is a sad part of a profession, especially the political profession. We do not know how to differentiate between people coming from a family to join politics. And we differentiate between them. See, I understand you have a last name, but it becomes very difficult to reach out to a certain place with a certain ideology. But you know politics at that time was not how youngsters are looking at it right now. It was not like that. First of all, politicians were not very much like they are now. Now the perception is okay. You know, sarcasm was always very much on a high pitch. And that's why thinking of politics as a career was on the back of nobody's mind. But I went out a lot with my father for his rallies.

I have these old photos. My mother was showing them to me where I was the one allowed to sit on the stage with him. I was that tiny little girl, when Ram Yatra happened. I still remember, we went to see Advaniji. And it was this huge, massive rally in 1990. We went in car and we met with an accident. We had to go in another car. I reached. And my father was there. 

See how it comes into you. It can be in a career, but how do you learn from it? So I met my father. My father was worried because we had met with an accident. I was this 10-year- old girl and my father sat with me on that large humongous stage. And we were playing with flowers. He said, ‘what's happening with you? What’s 

Rahul dada doing?’ He asked what I had been doing and we had all that kind of conversation.

And when Advaniji was about to speak in Pune, suddenly from the crowd, people started screaming, ‘Promodji aaphi boliye! (‘Pramodji, you speak’). My father's strength was his oratory ? that all of us knew. My father said, ‘I'm not on the list. I'm sitting with my daughter, I'm handling other things. Please go ahead.’ But there was so much support for him that people wanted him to speak. He suddenly got up. And then for the next 30-40 minutes, the speech he gave was a brilliant, logical speech and there was public support for him. You know, you learn from it somehow, directly or indirectly. You understand the magnality and that hard work behind that person. 

I mean, now people talk about the 1992 Rath Yatra, the concept of BJP. And when we were young, my father made that rath (chariot) out of that Matador. And we used to play on it and have ice cream on it, because the ice-cream shop was right next to that garage. But then you understand how you were part of history, how it was imbibing into you, coming from somewhere. You were actually soaking it in like a sponge. I never thought politics would have been my career because I was such an activist. I got married early. Also had my son when I was 23 or 24. I always thought I could help my father in his constituency with NGOs, again with animals, younger children, because I had a knack for it. But it didn't work out that way and life changed.

Raj Nayak: Yeah. So very sad, the tragic circumstances under which your father passed away. But then, after that, you got into politics. It wasn't easy, was it? Because in the first election you fought, you lost badly. 

Poonam Mahajan: Oh, really badly. It was a disaster.

Raj Nayak: Yeah. And from there you have worked your way upwards to where you are today. The present president of the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha. People like your own father and Shivraj Singh Chauhan have occupied that chair. So when you sit on the same chair today, I'm sure your father must feel very proud of you. So, tell me it's been a struggle, hasn’t it? I think you joined politics in 2006, is that right? Am I right? So, it's taken you 14 years to reach here. 

So, tell us what struggle is? I'm sure viewers would like to know. Being a woman has its glass ceiling in corporate life, no matter what we say, it's there. And I know that because you and I have both been at the forefront of gender equality. So, tell me, how is it to be a woman in politics in the first place and your own journey?

Poonam Mahajan: So, I'll tell you quickly first about how I feel in politics as a woman. I feel nothing. I just feel I'm a person who is in this political circle and political party where I have, and I've been blessed to work on policies with the greatest leader in this world, under his leadership as our Prime Minister. And I'm an MP at a time when everyone is looking at India. They're looking (at us) through the Prime Minister. They're looking at us. I have an opportunity. 

I do feel that if there is a man sitting next to me or woman, both are my competition. So once someone asked me in some programme, ‘How do you feel as a woman in politics and the glass ceiling?’ I said, ‘Look, my upbringing was so equal. I always say, my brother makes better tea than I do. He can be better at kitchen planning than I am and that does not mean that he can't plan it and I can’t plan it. This was our upbringing’. 

So, when my brother was becoming a pilot, he said, ‘Poonam, why don't you try it?’ That was my father's line. So, when growing up, I never felt that I'm having any issues with being a woman. But yes, there is a lot of competition for women, in the sense that you're in this open world. I never say it's a man's world. I just say, it's a world where I'm just in this competition to fight and win and go forward and learn from it. I feel good now. I'm in the right time in politics as a woman politician.

In Germany, I see the chancellor's there for, I think four terms? When you see New Zealand's Prime Minister, when you look at so many other countries, it makes me realise that empathy, sincerity and loyalty are not at all a weakness of a leader. Now it's become a strength of a woman to become a leader. Now they want a leader to have compassion, sincerity, loyalty. I think women have that inbuilt. So, as I always said, at some time there won't be any women or men leaders. There will only be leaders in the world. And I would like to show it to everyone. My daughter and mother gifted me this on my phone on Women's Day, which says, ‘the future is female’.

Raj Nayak: In fact, my daughters and my wife ? all of them have necklaces that say, ‘Feminist'

Poonam Mahajan: And I think you should be wearing it more than a woman has to wear it. We need to fight for each other. And while I talk about gender equality and also as a woman, women’s empowerment can only be achievable when there is gender equality in our society. Only when women’s empowerment can be enriched, can we come together. I don’t think there's a man and I’m a woman and I'm in this competition. I have to work hard. I have to be very clear with myself, loyal to my work, to my constituency, the people who believe in me and I just move on. I'm very hopeful about life. Maybe that really helps me, but I was not like that before.

In 2006, when I joined politics, I really had no idea why and what I was doing, because I thought it will be just like any other profession, which will be, you know, how corporate ladders are. But of course, I know that even in the corporate world, politics is very well known. So I always tell my few corporate friends that please don't blame us. You guys do more politics. So, the word is always stuck to us, but it's not like that. It's about human behaviour and what your responsibilities are. 

So in 2006, when I joined politics, I believed, ‘Oh God, I'm so amazing. I'm so great. I'll get everything.’ That was the arrogance or belief of a 26-year-old girl. But I did not understand that emotion as arrogance. I felt I knew everything. Because of it, the first few years of my political career went really up and down, which is very natural. But one thing I always believe, accept your mistakes, learn from them.

And when you're a clean person from inside, you just have to portray it properly, which we all have to learn in life. So, 2009, of course, was a drastic, disastrous, defeat in the election. And then I started working. I worked in Maharashtra as a youth wing general secretary. Then I became national vice president for the youth wing. Then slowly, slowly, I became BJP national secretary. My father was also national secretary. I then became the youth wing president. But that took time and a lot of hard work, many mistakes, many mistakes.

I had to learn how to speak, how to sit, how to talk, what to say and what not to say, which I'm still learning. That's why I don't go on TV much, because I'm still into that ‘what not to say’ learning process. That maturity is very much required, but I'm grateful for my defeat, my mistakes, which now got me here. I’ll be making more and more mistakes, but they'll be more controlled mistakes. Maybe I can actually try to control it and do better from it. 

And 2014 was an interesting year because I asked for a ticket for another constituency. I could not get it. So Mumbai North Central was the only vacant constituency for BJP, which is a Congress stronghold and once they won twice from there. But they had also given up the seat and it was a given. So, 2014 was   really a turning point. And when I asked for the ticket, there were so many people who are in BJP, my leadership, who’ve seen me growing up and they said, ‘beta kyu kar rahi ho?’ (child, why are you doing it?) I said, ‘Sir, mei jeetungi, mujhpe vishwas rakho’ (sir, I will win, believe in me). 

I know somewhere, I've believed in life. Whenever you go down and you turn that into positivity, things turn out good. So whenever I, with my defeat or mistakes, when I was negative, things were getting worse for me. Then I started turning, churning and thinking, I'm a good person. Where am I going? And started thinking positively. And I'm telling you this 2014 ticket, I can write a big book on it, on how I got my ticket, how suddenly I got into it.

I knew people wanted change. People knew what was happening in this constituency, in the country and   how they were looking up to the Prime Minister. So, I knew the calculation was also right and I saw my father doing it always. And nobody believed that I'd win. But I had full faith and in 2014 I won and luckily in 2016, Anurag Thakur, who was my president, gave me the youth wing’s presidentship, which is why I believe, the BJP is equal with women in the youth wing also.

In BJP, we have two wings, the women's wing and the youth wing and a few more wings. Usually the youth wing presidentship goes to a man, but of course, a woman can lead it. But this time, I'm a woman holding the youth wing’s presidentship. So, that's how my journey has been till now in the year 2020.

Raj Nayak: And still learning …

Poonam Mahajan: I think we learn till we die. We learn so much, so much. I look at my son's books. My seven-year-old daughter was talking about some artists, whose works I’ve never seen. I'm an inquisitive person. I love to learn …

Raj Nayak: How much time do you get to spend with them?

Poonam Mahajan: I think in these sad, pandemic times, I have the maximum time with my son and daughter. My son is 15- and- a- half, almost 16 and my daughter's seven, two totally different people. My son is a teenager. So, a teenage boy is quite a big challenge for a mother to handle.

Raj Nayak: I believe he composes and sings as well, right?

Poonam Mahajan: Yes. Yes. He writes beautiful lyrics. This is completely different in our family. Then I realised that my father and mother had met at a play they were performing, where my father was enacting the role of her brother. So, they were also stage artistes in college, my father and my mother, So, my son writes, he started writing poems when he was eight or nine years old. He started writing about growing up and walking in shoes and then suddenly, he's writing about heartbreaks, how difficult it is to cope with life and the people around you, how they judge you. So, he writes beautifully, composes music with his friends. My daughter is a little bit of an artist, loves to paint, loves to do all of the things, excited young girls do. So it's like, I see my childhood, in her. Well, it's wonderful.

Raj Nayak: But do you, as a family sit down and discuss politics or have an interface with them about it? 

Poonam Mahajan: Actually yes. Now it's completely different from before. So, my son, when he was discussing his topics with me, said, ‘Mom, what kind of subject should I take?’ So, there was one subject called Global Citizenship, which I requested him ? and pushed ? him to take. And he's saying, ‘I don't want to get into politics. I said, ‘it's not about politics. It's about your being, about what kind of policies (we need) and what is happening around the world. So, you call me a politician, you call me a policymaker. How a public representative works for the people and how all the other institutions are working’. So, I've put him in that, thankfully he understands. 

And now we have social media, so they know everything. And sometimes they ask really, really uncomfortable questions, which I don't know how to answer, because they have a mind of their own. But, there's no political discussion on a dinner table at the time. Even my father, when I was younger, didn’t (encourage) because at the time you don't understand what you're talking about. So, there is a little strict rule I have kept. You can't say ‘ye aise hai, woh waise hai’ (he’s like this and she’s like that). It's not acceptable till the time you understand it.

Raj Nayak: You mentioned Global Citizen. And I remember, when we met during the Global Citizen, and you were at the forefront of it and totally involved. And I still have a selfie of us taken at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. I don't know whether you remember that.

Poonam Mahajan: I remember that.

Raj Nayak: But then quickly, where did you get that whole talent, because you are like an event manager. You are doing things, pushing things. Where did you get this come from? 

Poonam Mahajan: Oh, multitasking. My mother-in-law wants me to do everything at one time. And I have a knack for giving people work. So, it's not only I who has to run everything I know, which is a good talent. Global Citizen happened so beautifully and we met actually on that day.

Raj Nayak: Yes. The event. 

Poonam Mahajan: Yeah. We had to take time with the Prime Minister because he supported the Global Citizen’s date and they wanted to come, but there was a story behind that. So, they wanted to do this show in Delhi and they wanted to talk about how we can get together with the United Nations and raise a lot of funds, which we did, you know. I knew it was good fun and it was for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal, but they wanted you to do it in Delhi. So I fought, fought, fought, like a Truman biker. Do I love my city? Delhi’s my work city, but still as a biker, I fought and I got them back in Mumbai. I said, anything can happen. It has to be Mumbai. Then we all got together. I mean, so many of us got together.

Raj Nayak: It was about 7000 people

Poonam Mahajan: Oh my God. It was a huge, huge thing. The Prime Minister spoke. I still remember there was a hitch. Someone was performing and the Prime Minister's time was over. And to have to say that you are out of time already. Things happened. I still remember what we did. It was not just an event. It was what we showed to the world ? that even India can do something like that.

I think it was a $6.2 billion commitment. We got it for 15 years. I mean, Raj, this was unbelievable. We could not do it again. But these companies who committed for a Sustainable Development Goal for 15 years, education, gender equality ? they're helping us. I'm in that. I don't know how it comes in me. My father used to do all the events. So, maybe I've seen it. I'm a taskmaster.

Raj Nayak: Wait, what's the leadership style? That's one thing I've spoken about to a lot of colleagues of yours and they just adore you. They love you. So, tell me, what's your leadership style? How do you inspire people? How do you inspire your colleagues?

Poonam Mahajan: So, interestingly, when I became youth wing precedent, I wanted to make my team and it's a huge team, national team, state team, all these teams, but the national team comes under us. When the national team was in the making, I asked my (the BJP) president Amit Shah, ‘What should I do?’ He said, ‘follow your heart, take the right people in your team and work towards it’. So, there was no intervention from any leadership to decide what Poonam should be doing. 

So, I got that free hand. And for the first time I got someone from the Kashmir Valley, I went there for the first time. A youth programme happened in Kerala, Assam, Nagaland. We got the entire country together in my national team. And you know, 50 per cent of my national team has no political background. So, we do summer internships. I mean, I created something new because now the millennials also, and especially from the 2014 election, youngsters started believing that politicians make policies and those policies affect our lives. So, we have to be part of that policymaking. 

So, I got so many amazing, talented young women and men in youth wings. So we do our political programming. I do logical work, everything. What we have to do, we do properly. We go beyond the periphery of a political leader, political ideologue, beyond that, to whoever wants to believe in us and connect with us. I don't know if my team adores me, but I believe that you need to have loyalty towards your work. And in my team, I give work to everyone. I choose those who can actually hold that kind of work. So maybe, they perform well. And if someone performs, I openly thank them. 

I believe leaders have to create leaders around them. How do you become someone better? Because I don't believe I know everything. So I need people to tell me what I should do. And only a team effort works. My father always said so, and this is what the ideology of the BJP is. Nobody's bigger than the organisation. And the organisation has your strength. You can become a president now or a nobody, but that organisation, which has been created, that has to be your strength. So I don't believe I'm here forever. So it's better. I create something more positive and then move forward.

Raj Nayak: Okay. So, let's do a little bit of fun stuff. Were you closer to your mother or your father?

Poonam Mahajan: Actually, mostly mum, father never had time, but we were very open with my father. Oh, we used to be scared of him because he was a proper, regimental person, like an army general. He was proper, but we could say anything to him. But we used to think before we said anything to him. It was not as though we could talk to him on the spur of the moment. But I was closer to my mom. My mom is the calming effect in our family. There is chemistry in your relationship with your mom.

Oh, someone told me that after a certain time, when you become a mother, you don't get along with your mother. And when you try it, you become your mother. So someone asked me that. I said, I cannot become my mother. My mother is the most calming person in the family, who prays, who is always positive. She never just picks the negative. If I tell her, ‘mom I've put on weight’, she’d say, ‘Char din exercise karo, sab thik ho gayega (do some exercise for a few days, you’ll be alright). She wants to look after you. You know, I'm regimental with my children. This is not right. My mother will not say this is wrong. She tries to say, we can correct it. So I just couldn't take that from her. That is becoming difficult, but she's the calming spiritual strength for us.

Raj Nayak: What are the three ways in which you annoy your mother?

Poonam Mahajan: I think I annoy her with my temper because bahar bahot patience rakhna padta hai, ghar aake sab kuch phoot jata hain (because it is necessary to have a lot of patience beyond the home, so when I get home, everything explodes). I complain about my children to my mother. So that must be hundred per cent annoying. I don't have to ask her, but I think she really adores me. 

Raj Nayak: Oh, a very cute picture on Instagram posted with your mom and your daughter.

Poonam Mahajan: Yes, but my mother looked so cute. That was a first Zoom call.

There is this organisation, which my father built to make politicians, public leaders, what they should do. It is called Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini. That was his dream and it's come true. So, she's on that board and on the first day of the organisation, the way she was talking to everyone, it was sweet.

Raj Nayak: Who are the three women who have inspired you? 

Poonam Mahajan: My mother, for sure. I can say Indira Gandhi, the first ever woman prime minister of this country. And Sushma Swaraj, if I have to choose three. You know, every night before sleeping, I have watched Sushmaji's speeches. She knew Kannada, she knew Sanskrit. I saw her once ? beautiful. And I'll send it to you, a beautiful interview on Pak TV, when she was there in Pakistan in 2002. I used to see her speaking. You know, women leaders in any party, look up to very few women leaders within the party. We as a younger lot, we’ve always looked up to Sushmaji. She was a great loss for this country. I always saw the class, the panache (she had). That woman was so proper. So, my mother, Indira Gandhi and Sushmaji.

Raj Nayak: So what are the three things that make you happy?

Poonam Mahajan: What is your definition of happiness ? a state of the mind? I've just realised that we are sitting at home for the past 50 days. And so, when my son says, ‘Oh, Mom, I'm tired and I'm unhappy sitting at one place’, I know what a teenager (is going through). It makes me happy to believe that happiness is a state of mind. And wherever I am, I try to deal with the situation and find happiness through it. That's point number one. 

My children make me really, really happy. They do annoy me, but they make me really, really happy. My children, including my dogs. So, there are four kids I have at home. Two humans. And two dogs. And what makes me happy when I'm working? See, for a political life, when you're working so much for people and people give you appreciation. At first, I thought it's a thankless job. But now people also understand that a politician also puts in some kind of effort and they are really doing something as a public representative. 

And I'm happy whenever I am in my constituency. If I complain, they really thank me or they appreciate me. So, I'm thankful to those people. That makes me happy. And there's a lot of appreciation right now. As I told you, I mean, interviewing a politician is always a questionable thing. But, you know, the appreciation makes me really happy. OK, Kishore Kumar songs make me happy. 

Raj Nayak: How do Sundays or a holiday look to you. What are your Sundays like? Would you go out with friends, laze around at home, watch movies? What would be your typical Sunday be like?

Poonam Mahajan: So there is no Sunday as such. Kuch bhi chutti mil jaye (any holiday that we get) that's perfect for us. But I wake up on time. I can’t wake up late. So, my mind starts working from 5:00 ? 6:00 a.m. I can laze around. I'm not a very outgoing person, so it's not like I want to go out because I'm always surrounded by people. So, for me, I just need to keep myself calm. Have a chit-chat with the family a little bit, and just be myself. I'm a little bit of a loner. And I love to binge and watch a lot of serials. The only time I get to do that is on flights, which are shut right now. When the kids are busy or late at night, I binge. I watch a lot of serials and loads of different documentaries.

Raj Nayak: My last question is not a question. This is for you, an opportunity to address all your fans and the viewers watching this show. Any message you want to give them in this day and age? Politicians always have the last word.

Poonam Mahajan: No, no, nothing like that. I always say that we have a very strange relationship with the mike. The mike gets out there. You don't leave it and you always want to say something, and express yourself. 

What we have to do is to look at this whole situation in the world. This virus has become a great equaliser for all of us. I mean, it has just crossed barriers of a stronger country to a weaker country (pervading) caste, creed, languages, anything. This has really been an equaliser. And it has equalised us as human beings. I think this is a great learning time.

After World War One and World War Two, this is the third war which we've seen, where we as human beings can actually build a more positive future for our coming generations. What has happened? Why has it happened? We have to study it and we have to find those mistakes. We work on and you don't correct these mistakes. I can look at my country ? even humanity. But my country is facing such a difficult time. But we all have come together. We all have supported each other. There's no politics in between about who's helping more or who is helping less We just want to do more. 

Not only a politician, anybody, any Indian, who can contribute, has contributed. This is what I'm seeing. That virus was a great equaliser. And I want to request all of you to keep that positivity. We have to live with the virus. We have to move beyond that. We have to make ourselves peaceful. We have to find success in these times. You know, so many countries fell in the First World War, Second World War and so many new countries came up and stood up again. 

And I think this is India's time. Yes, we are seeing a lot of stress. We are seeing people on the road, we are seeing a lot of sadness. But that is teaching us as human beings and as a nation, how to behave. How do we create ourselves? And how do we rise again? And maybe this is the time for India.

Raj Nayak: I feel that India can come together and make its mark in the world. I think this is a great equaliser, a great learning experience for us. I hope we as human beings learn from this and become even better human beings going forward. And Thank you Poonam for coming here

Poonam Mahajan: I'm so grateful to you for giving me this platform. I'm very happy that we could chat. It's been a long time and we could actually speak. You actually took the real Poonam out of me. It takes a lot for a person who's gone through so much in life to open up. But I think with you it was quite easy. And I'm thankful to you.



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