April 03, 2020
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"We'll Last Longer Than The Others"

The importance of being L.K. Advani. That's what the Union home minister has proved is the key after last week's BJP plenary at Gandhinagar. He is no longer the BJP president and has willingly played second fiddle to A.B. Vajpayee in government. But

"We'll Last Longer Than The Others"
Parivartan, a new, changed BJP, has been the thrust ever since you came to power. Does this mean only "converting an Opposition party into a party of governance" or is there a change in programme as well?

People expect a change for the better from this government. Secondly, we have been a party of the Opposition in all our years of existence and there is a need for the average party activist to be conscious that the responsibility on us is different now and, therefore, we should be able to change ourselves, our psyche. As for a fine-tuning in terms of ideology and programme, I can only say that this is not the first time in the history of the Jana Sangh/BJP that we have had to articulate our point of view in a manner which is intelligible and acceptable in a changed situation. This does not mean that the basic commitment of the party has been discarded. Now, of course, there is a major change with the BJP heading the government. But even over the last six years or so, I have read commentators say every two or three months that "Hindutva is now on the backburner, now it is in the forefront". This kind of comment only shows an inability to appreciate that the party is responsive to changing situations. And responsive, honestly, not in an opportunistic way. At the National Council I had said that nationalism is at the core of our ideology and at every stage of our yatra we have been honest to this. We have been honest to democracy, and to samajik samarasta (social harmony). Of the factors responsible for the growth of the party I mentioned the Emergency, Ayodhya...several things, but only Ayodhya was picked up (by the media).

You say your core commitments remain the same. Aren't you doing exactly what you have criticised others of—being ideologically rigid? And isn't the BJP being dogmatic about this "core ideology"?

If it becomes a dogma, then it can obstruct.A good example is Akhand Bharat. In the '60s when Deen Dayal Upadhyay raised the issue of a confederation of India and Pakistan, many were shocked—"arre kya ho gaya hai Deen Dayal ko? He is talking about a confederation. Which means that he is recognising Pakistan." This, when our stand, at least in the early years, used to be that we do not recognise Pakistan because of our commitment to Akhand Bharat. This only shows that he had that capacity to think in terms of breaking away from, rather, of not allowing a commitment to become dogma. Akhand Bharat was a commitment.

Such as Hindutva, the Ram temple?

Yes. All are commitments, not dogma.

At the National Council it was obvious that there was an attempt to get this point across but the cadre seemed to resent it...

(Interrupts) Likely, that is quite likely. Someone said, in a careless manner, "ab mandir ki kya baat hai?"... something of that kind. Naturally, the reaction is strong. This is, of course, a question of ideology. We have been strong critics of communism and the communist parties. Yet, when there was talk of putting up a common Opposition candidate against Giani Zail Singh for president, I agreed to Hiren Mukherjee. For, though I am critical of communism, that did not make me feel that Hiren Mukherjee, a person whom I have known in Parliament and have great respect for, should not be backed for high office because he is a communist. Even vis-a-vis the Emergency, there was a time immediately after when being friendly with a person depended on his attitude during the Emergency. If he was supporting it, we'd not touch him. Lekin ab to Emergency-wale bhi hain hamare saath—Jagmohan is with us and I have great respect for him, even Bansi Lal is there. This only shows the resilience of the party. In fact, this approach makes it possible for us to break away from the straitjacket of dogma.

In the next polls, will you campaign as the party which heads a coalition or will it be on the BJP manifesto?

I will not be able to say anything in precise terms today. A lot depends on how this coalition functions; on how strongly committed our allies are to this coalition. Because there is some variance among them. Some are definitely with us. Others have come along recently, who may want to judge us. So it is too early to say what we will go to the people with. By and large, however, I think the BJP has immense scope for growth; we have not plateaued.

No coalition has lasted a full term. What is the minimum period your coalition will have to last to prevent it from being just another one?

I am optimistic it will last longer than the others. If you compare our coalition with the others, you will find one major difference—that there is no dispute over leadership. Either the collective leadership (BJP) or the individual leadership (Vajpayee). I can't give you a minimum period because the durability is not connected with the fact that the government is a coalition. It is related to the arithmetic of the House.

You still haven't said what you think is the minimum period this government needs to last. Half the term?

Now you are putting words in my mouth.

But won't the BJP suffer if the government does not complete its term?

Shall I be frank? In earlier coalitions when the government fell, the parties which led the coalition suffered. This time, I've a feeling that if the government does not last, the party leading the coalition will not suffer. In fact, it may derive an advantage from it.

The victim rather than the culprit?

Yes. I have told my colleagues that we have got the numbers, as they are, in the Lok Sabha. Now just forget it. Let's concentrate on work. Our parliamentary party has people who can keep track of what is going on.

When you took over, the Home Ministry sent a proposal to revert the Personnel Ministry to it. What is the status of the proposal?

I have left it to the PMO and the Cabinet secretariat.

Can you set a timeframe on the Bofors and HDW probes?

Though these are not directly under me, I keep myself informed of the progress. It is difficult to put a time-frame, but the people shouldn't perceive it as if we are dragging our feet. The legal process is such that difficulties arise, but as far as the government is concerned, these matters will be pursued vigorously.

You've been in power for almost two months. Has it been happy?

Well, it has been satisfactory. The government is doing well. The image has been somewhat affected due to certain statements. But I think in the last eight-ten days, we've been able to do some damage control.

You have been charged under the IPC in connection with the Babri demolition. You set an example by resigning as MP when charged in the hawala case, why this distinction between a "criminal" and "political" case?

There is no moral or ethical dilemma for me. I am clear in my mind on this because I know that the day it happened was one of the saddest of my life. And they are prosecuting me on that! On what basis? Even journalists with me on the stage itself on that day (December 6, 1992) can testify, I have nothing to hide. No dilemma. These are cases which are politically motivated. I saw on television the other day a spokesperson for the Marxists saying that these are serious criminal charges. But he did not have a reply when asked why the same yardstick should not be applied for their leaders involved in trade union activities. How many of them have been chargesheeted? How many have been prosecuted? All these are also criminal charges. How can these be made a basis for denying anyone a membership of Parliament or a ministership?

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