Why have you begun your yatra from Ernakulam?
There is nothing particular about the choice of place except that I wanted to cover as much area as possible. I am going to touch 16 states, including all the four states in the South.
But you have left out the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir. Is it because they do not contribute many seats to Parliament?
It is a question of logistics. I have been to Jammu and Kashmir several times before. In the east, I am going to West Bengal and Orissa. But taking the 35-day period of my yatra into consideration, it is not possible to cover the entire country.
What issues will you highlight?
Cultural nationalism, national security, probity in public life, social harmony and self-reliance.
What about corruption?
Yes, probity in public life largely covers it.
Where does hawala figure? Or will you wait for the court's ruling?
As far as the case in which I am an accused is concerned, it is the job of the lawyers. Having resigned from the Lok Sabha with a pledge not to contest until absolved, all I long for is a speedy trial.
Does it mean you won't talk about the scam during the yatra?
Why not? After all, the Congress knew and was convinced that the BJP was its main challenger. That is why the Government decided to prosecute the BJP chief, hoping it would deprive the party of an electoral plank. My party has been crusading against corruption. We believe Rao's is the most corrupt of all past governments. We are not going to give it up just because the Congress wanted it this way. On the part of the Government, the decision to prosecute the head of the BJP was a carefully thought out plan to blunt the edge of the BJP's attack. And also to give an impression that the Congress' adversaries are no less corrupt.
Will anything positive come out of the hawala trial?
Yes, certainly. Thanks to the Government's move and the motive, corruption has become a principal issue in this poll. We are for a speedy trial and with the Supreme Court taking a keen interest, we expect the whole truth to come out in the open.
Is the judiciary overdoing its activism?
Without going into the debate, the executive's unaccountable, unresponsive and obtuse attitude has been largely responsible.
What about the larger questions of electoral funding, statutory provision of the Lokayukta and an independent prosecution machinery?
We are absolutely in favour of instituting the Lokayukta with the Prime Minister and his office within its purview and of government funding of elections. The Janata Party had introduced a bill to this effect, but it could not be legislated as the government did not last for long then. As far as the question of autonomy to the CBI is concerned, there are no two opinions about it.
Your party wants an independent probe by the CBI into the hawala scam. So why not a law guaranteeing an independent prosecuting agency?
It is only in France that the prosecuting machinery is independent of the executive, just like the judiciary is free of the executive. In India, the executive is supposed to be responsible to Parliament. But the executive has become increasingly unresponsive towards Parliament. It is because of the Government and its leaders' attitude over the years that institutions, including the CBI, have been degraded. So we have to see how it can be checked. The question of autonomy is definitely a matter under consideration.
Should the Government provide all assistance to poll candidates?
Political parties should be given election grants partly on the basis of their performance in the previous election and partly on the basis of the number of candidates they have fielded. And, unlike in Germany, where both public and private funding are permitted, the BJP feels private funding should be stopped so that the nexus between big money and the politician is snapped.
What could be the burden on the state exchequer if that happens?
S.L. Shakdher worked out the financial implication in the '70s. It was about Rs 100 crore then. I have no present estimate.
What about aid for Independents?
Parties which are recognised will be beneficiaries. Our objective should be to contain multiplicity of political parties and non-serious contestants. Today in the UK, there is perhaps not a single independent member in the House of Commons.
Is there no legal ban on an Independent seeking election to the House of Commons?
No. Even here, only candidates of political parties are supplied with electoral rolls, not Independents. Some of them went to court, but lost. The law distinguishes between recognised political parties and Independents. The Dinesh Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms, of which I was a member, had sought the opinion of the Law Ministry on whether such a distinction was possible to contain non-serious contestants. The legal fraternity favoured this. We made such a recommendation. So the implementation of the Goswami committee report could be a starting point.