Post-poll, some say the BJP should revert to its agenda and distance itself from the government, others emphasise running the coalition.
Both views are correct. The party has to maintain its identity and cannot be dependent on the government. There are many facilities and allurements in government which are not easy to resist. And power is attractive to those who have no particular fondness for the party. It is necessary to guard against this if the BJP is to maintain its vitality. I do not want the BJP brought to the level of the Congress which, after many years in power, was reduced to getting the intelligence agencies to tell them about their electoral prospects and which candidates to put up. This does not mean that the party and the government should be at loggerheads, but to ensure good governance inputs from the party are essential.
In your tenure, the party hasn't initiated programmes on issues that once motivated the cadre.
All I can say is that with the BJP leading the government, we can't do what we like. Many issues are unacceptable to allies. We haven't been given a mandate to implement our manifesto. Our cadre is not so immature that they will get demoralised if we don't take up, say, the abrogation of Article 370 which needs a two-thirds majority. I have been emphasising that we are committed to our agenda and if you want it implemented give us the numbers. At the same time, I do feel it is necessary that there be closer interaction between party and government. When things go well everything's fine, but when there is a setback the party will say it was not asked.
What went wrong in the elections?
The price rise. Not only was the urban population affected, but the farmer did not a higher crop price—it went to the middlemen. And even in rural India the majority are landless labourers who purchase essentials on a daily basis. The perception is we are responsible and a good salesman should realise that the customer is always right. There was also a lack of party-government coordination.
How will you contend with the erosion of support and factionalism these elections have highlighted?
In Madhya Pradesh, our vote percentage hasn't really gone down; it was a combination of prices and some anti-Centre feelings overshadowing Congress misrule. Unlike in UP and Bihar where the Congress has been wiped out, in MP both parties have always been neck-to-neck. Even this time the vote difference between us is not more than 2 per cent. In Delhi and Rajasthan, I admit, there has been erosion of support which cannot be only due to the price factor. In Rajasthan, a main cause has been the spread of casteism. Because Shekhawat had been in power for eight years and we lacked a second rung of leadership to project, we were unfortunately identified as working only for his caste. The Jats voted against us en bloc in Rajasthan and Delhi. Factionalism too played a role in the drubbing we have received and it was particularly bad in Delhi. We will be taking corrective steps.
I cannot rule it out, but it will be the last resort.
Do you see mid-term polls?
The Congress isn't interested in toppling the government at the moment, and it can fall only if our allies leave. All have said they are with us. We had a very good post-poll meeting where support was reaffirmed. Concern about prices was expressed, and that is not a bad thing.