May 30, 2020
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A Couple Of Problems

Sushma's husband vents his ire on the PMO; seeking rehabilitation, she's trying to manage it

A Couple Of Problems
A specialist and a negotiator working in the northeast for the past two decades puts in his papers in disgust, and India's crucial talks with Naga rebels is put in jeopardy. Not the kind of development that would normally attract attention in Delhi, but when the person happens to be Swaraj Kaushal, former Mizoram governor, husband of bjp star Sushma Swaraj and a socialist to boot, the ante is upped considerably.

After the bjp was routed in the November '98 assembly elections, the axe fell on Sushma. Now, it seems, the husband too is being put on the firing line.

Invited by the government last April to negotiate with Naga rebels given his background with the Mizoram accord, Kaushal says he got earnestly involved in the peace process: during his July-August peace talks, the ceasefire was extended for a year whereas all previous extensions never exceeded three months. 'We had a number of rounds in Bangkok, Zurich and Paris. We met twice in Amsterdam. I arranged the nscn leaders' meeting with the PM in Paris on September 30, '98. Then I told the nscn leaders that I will discuss only substantive issues because that alone will lead to an early solution to the Nagaland problem,' Kaushal says.

Now, all of a sudden, he's been replaced by former home secretary K. Padmanabaiah, who after years of retirement has secured a cosy sinecure: officer on special duty in the Cabinet Secretariat (in charge of Nagaland). His brief: largely unknown and undefined.

In a three-page article entitled 'The Work of a Lifetime Disgraced', Kaushal says he changed the mode of negotiations. 'The traditional school of thought is to wear out the underground leadership by dividing their ranks. My view is that instead of weakening, you should strengthen the underground leadership. It is only a strong underground leadership that can sell an accord to its cadres. If you weaken the leadership and divide its ranks, you can never make an accord successful because one the groups will reject it and go underground.' He cites the Punjab accord in the first category and the Mizoram accord in the latter, where all rebels were brought overground by Laldenga, whose second-in-command is now the CM and his army chief the home minister.

As opposed to this, Kaushal says, is the pmo's dirty politics. 'Since October '98, it had started a sinister campaign against me and my family. They used to plant stories denigrating us. Every single story was traced back to the PM's house. Such things never remain a secret,' Kaushal writes.

Swaraj Kaushal says this prime minister and his pmo have no idea of the northeast and the problems they are dealing with. Such was the vilification campaign against him, he says, that even after he resigned, 'inspired' media reports suggested he had been sacked or removed. The government refused to deny this until he wrote his essay in a national newspaper. On the very next day (July 26) came the official government clarification that Kaushal had indeed sent in his resignation on his own accord.

Under the circumstances, how does a bjp wife and socialist husband co-exist? 'Politically, we disagree,' says Kaushal, amid reports that the bjp-led government has been unkind to them. 'Politically, our alliance is broken, but the family alliance is intact,' jokes Sushma who, after keeping a low profile for months, made an appearance last week at the daily media briefing at the Delhi party head office.

Sushma's record during her brief tenure as chief minister was impressive. That she could not roll back the Opposition's 'onion assault' during the November assembly elections was no fault of hers'she got literally no time to move things the bjp way. Husband Swaraj, on the other hand, says politically he has nothing to do with the bjp and he had never sought their help for anything. Not even his assignment which was allegedly sabotaged by senior members of his wife's party.

In the days to come, say party leaders, Sushma's participation in the coming electoral process would be significant. 'Her oratory has raised some hackles inside the party'apparently, some people do not like it. Now at least it should be put to good use in the forthcoming elections,' says an office bearer of the Delhi bjp. In the weeks to come, the results of such speculation could well be known.

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