She is often accused of not supporting her party’s Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and instead shielding the tainted and rebellious Bellary brothers. Sushma Swaraj of the BJP, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, has finally broken her silence on the issue. She says she had nothing to do with the political elevation of the Bellary brothers. Instead, she says, it was Arun Jaitley, her party colleague and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who was responsible for getting the Bellary brothers ministerial berths in the BJP’s first regime in Karnataka. Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, then BJP president, she says, pushed her to speak to the Reddys to help solve the crisis in 2009, when the Yediyurappa government was threatend by the brothers’ rebellion. It was the collective wisdom of these two leaders, and compulsions best known to them, that led to the Bellary brothers being favoured. Sushma spoke to Prarthna Gahilote on a wide range of issues.
The Karnataka crisis seems to have been sorted out for the moment. But when the BJP raises the corruption issue, many wonder why you haven't taken action against Yediyurappa, who faces corruption allegations
First of all, people don't say he is corrupt. The people of Karnataka have recently voted for him in three seats in the assembly byelections. So people don't see him as corrupt. Which is what party president (Nitin Gadkari) pointed out when he spoke in support of Yediyurappa. The charges haven't been proved.
Wouldn't it have been better if you'd told Yediyurappa to step down till he got a clean chit?
Clean chit from whom? He hasn't been indicted by any single agency. It was our party president's decision to keep Yediyurappa there.
It is said Gadkari supports Yediyurappa, but Sushma Swaraj doesn't support him.
That's not true. Who spoke in support of Yediyurappa at Rashtrapati Bhawan (after governor H.R. Bharadwaj recently recommended the dismissal of his government)? It was me. Who spoke at the prime minister's, after Advaniji, in support of Yediyurappa? It was me.
Photograph by KPN
What about your links with the Reddy brothers of Bellary?
There can't be a bigger lie. Let me tell you the truth. I have no hand in the political making of the Bellary brothers. I had nothing to do in making them ministers or in building up their stature as political leaders. When the Bellary brothers were made ministers, Jaitelyji was the prabhari (in-charge), Yediyurappa was the chief minister, Venkaiahji and Ananth Kumar were there as senior leaders. Whatever discussion happened, happened between these people. I had nothing to do with it. Rather, I was opposed to their appointment as ministers, opposed to three members of a family being made ministers. But they had some political compulsions which made them appoint the brothers.
“My interaction with the Bellary brothers is restricted to one day in a year, when I go for a puja near their town.”
My only sin in all this was that when there was a rebellion in Karnataka in 2009, and we felt the government was on the verge of falling, I was told by then party president Rajnath Singh and Karnataka in-charge, Arun Jaitley, to speak to the Bellary brothers and ensure the government does not fall. So, after being told by Rajnathji and Jaitleyji, I spoke to the brothers. My photograph with them is from that time. It has been printed everywhere and people have been saying I am the protector of the Bellary brothers.
I have nothing to do with them, whether in their business or their political rise. My total interaction with them is limited to one day in the year, when I go to Bellary for the puja of Varnadevi. They belong to Bellary, so they meet me there. For the remaining 364 days, we have no conversation or communication.
In fact, there's a huge campaign of misinformation and disinformation against me. Simply because there is nothing else that they have against me that can stick so stick this charge then. But I am saying it again today that I haven’t even played a zero percent role in the political making of the Bellary brothers. Whatever they got wealth wise was the doing of the Congress. All their mines are in Andhra. Their factories are in Andhra. BJP never had a government in Andhra. In Andhra, the Bellary brothers had a very good relationship with YSR Reddy. They have earned money and they earned that money in a Congress ruled state. For that the Congress needs to turn the eye inward (apney girebaan mein jhaank ke dekhey) that when they talk about their money, the total wealth of the Bellary brothers, their total wealth came from Andhra where there isn’t a BJP government but a Congress government. And all this happened under one of Congress’s extremely favourite Chief Ministers who was there, YSR.
What the Bellary brothers gained politically was because of Yediyurappa and the prabhari (in-charge) at that time, Arun Jaitley. The Bellary brothers got their political benefits because of these people. I haven't contributed a dime's worth in their political growth.
You say it's a campaign against you. Who do you think is behind this?
“Rajnathji and Jaitleyji asked me to speak to the Bellary brothers to save the Karnataka government. So I did.”
For one, the Congress has this Bellary grief--that the BJP first won the municipal committee in Bellary, and then we won the MP seat from there twice. Politically, they lost Bellary. So they have a big hand in spreading this campaign. And there are some others who want to stand against me (mera virodh karna chahtey hain) those people....
People within the party?
Party key andar...man nahin maanta ki koi log virodh kartey hongey (I am not ready to believe there must be people within the party who are against me)
So who are these people who are against you?
There are people. There are many people like that. People who are jealous of you. People who can't see you growing.
But you don't think such people are within the BJP?
I don't think someone within the party can stoop to that level or go to that extent. Man nahi maanta ki party ke andar koi aisa karta hoga, koi aisi choti harkat karta hoga. (My heart doesn't believe that someone within the party would do this sort of a petty thing). This is a well-thought-out and deliberate campaign against me. And the Congress has a hand in it; others, too, could have a hand in it.
When you say 'Man nahi manta aisa koi karta hoga', could there be people in the party doing this sort of thing?
That's what I am saying, man nahi manta. Man nahi manta that people within the party would stoop to such levels.
Was it also your opinion to have Yediyurappa continue as CM or just the party president's?
When the party president has taken one line, there is no question of disagreement.
At the personal level did you agree with him on this?
There is nothing like personal level in this. (Personal level ismey kuch hota nahi hai) He went there and saw things and once he has taken a line where does the question of us disagreeing arise? He announced it in Karnataka na.
Let's talk about the government. UPA-2 has just completed two years. It has released its report card and the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi have both said they don't support corruption....
There can be nothing more hilarious than a government with one of its ministers in jail, one of its MPs in jail, an alliance leader's daughter in jail, having the gumption to say it will fight corruption. When all that corruption was taking place, nothing was done. Was there some connivance?
As files after files will be opened and details seen or as A Raja says that everything went up to the PM, like the PAC report says that everything went up to the PMO. I say that connivance is one reason. If not that at least they sat as mute spectator. All of this happened right under your nose ... Even today we see all these things like arrests and all since the Supreme Court is monitoring the CBI. Otherwise if you look at the functioning of the CBI till date, if it was in their hands then they would have ensured that nothing came out. These people are saying that they will fight against corruption and on the other hand they are saying that we shall not apologise for the graft. Prime Minister has the audacity to say that I will not apologise of the graft. This is very highly arrogant statement. As far as corruption goes, this government’s record on corruption is very dismal.
That day also I had tweeted and I said this govt deserves only one remark in the report card and that is Failed. Why did I say so? I identified three issues. One was price rise. The other was corruption and the third was incompetence. Now let me start with corruption only because your question was about corruption.
On price rise, this government’s record is that of betrayal. Because they promised the common man... Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath... this was the slogan on which they went to the polls and the worst sufferer in this is the common man including the common woman. Petrol 63 rupees per litre. Petrol prices have gone up 9 odd-times in their government. And even now they are saying that a rise in LPG price and diesel is on the cards. Vegetables, milk, pulses flour, rice meaning I am talking about staple food... the food of your plate that ahs become beyond your reach. And petrol price hike always has a cascading effect. People might say that what has petrol price hike got to do with the poor because he doesn’t have a motorcar etc but everything is carted and when the price of carting goes up then everything else becomes expensive. So on price rise the UPA II record is that of betrayal. On corruption their record is dismal.
And on incompetence that they have shown, that record is disappointing. For such a long time they, we have been saying in the international platform that we will ask Pakistan for our terrorists. Pakistan has given refuge to so many terrorists and then the first list we submit has blooper after blooper. One in that list is sitting in thane. Another is sitting in Mumbai. Another is sitting in jail. Yet another has also died. And again the height of arrogance is that the home minister says I will not apologise. HM says these are small errors that keep happening.
If you look at it closely, I say that this government is a government of errors (bhool chook ki sarkar ho. Jo bhagwan bharosey chal rahi hai.) That is running on faith. Because errors aren’t forgiven by humans. It is in front of god that one says god please forgive all my sins and errors. Toh yeh bhool chook ki sarkaar hai jo bhagwan bharosey chal rahi hai.
In the past, the party president and you have had some differences....
“The only difference with Nitinji was over the CVC. He overruled me, I accepted. After all the party chief is supreme.”
It happened only once--in the issue over the appointment of P.J. Thomas as CVC. When I said the matter of the PM appointing Thomas despite objections should be ended, there was a background. I had raised that issue. Everything had happened in front of me. At the end, when the PM said he accepts his mistake, I thought the matter should end there. But after that, when the party president overruled me, I said okay. After all, the party president is supreme. There was nothing more. In the background that the issue had happened. I felt that after 60 years a Prime Minister is accepting his mistake. And as long as he was accepting his mistake in a press conference it was different. Then when I stood up in the Parliament and told him that you say here what you said in Jammu and then he said that on the floor of the house and it came into the Lok Sabha records then I took that line. But even after that when the party president said we will not drop it that was okay. That happens a lot of time.
Did that hurt you? It all happened in public.
It didn't hurt because this happens a number of times. You are overruled. You have your own opinion and the party is of a different view. You fall in line.
What is your equation with the party president now?
Very good. Very good.
There have been many reports that seem to suggest that Sushma Swaraj does not get along well with the party president and Jaitley.
These are rumours and will remain rumours. As far as Arunji and I are concerned, we are both leaders of oppositions in our respective houses. And when Parliament is in session, we work in tandem. Even Arunji will vouch for this--that in core group meetings, in about 95 to 99 per cent of the cases, he and I have almost the same view. In case there is a difference of opinion, we express it and the party finally decides. That's how you function as a democratic party. As far as Nitinji is concerned, there is no question of having a difference of opinion with him. He is the party president. I am the party’s leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. In all of the parliamentary work both Arunji and I have complete freedom to decide and speak. And Nitinji looks after all the party work, appointments etc. Then we have a core group where everything is discussed. Collective decisions are taken there. I don’t know where these rumours come from that I don’t get along well with Nitin or Arun.
It is said Sushma Swaraj has been sidelined in the party.
Sidelined? I don't understand what being sidelined means. I'll tell you what happens...when the session is on, I am in huge focus. Once the session is over, that focus starts diminishing because we go back to our constituencies. Now again when the session will begin we will become the centre of attraction, the centre o activity then people don’t feel any sidelining. So now that opinion has formed that when the session is on things move round us. Once it is over people start saying that I have been sidelined.
But within the party you haven’t been sidelined?
No. like I said all decisions in the BJP are taken in the core group. So how do I get sidelined?
Are you opposed to Narendra Modi? It has been attributed to you that Narendra Modi is not the only leader in the party.
“Opposed to Modi? I never said that. I greet Modi on his birthday. They also say Nitinji snubbed me. It’s a lie.”
I never said that. When did I say that? And they said I had been snubbed. Till this time, Nitinji had not even spoken to me about it. And all the papers said he snubbed me. Could there be a bigger lie? I didn't say that and even Nitinji told me that Dharmendra Pradhan, who was present for that conference in Bihar, said didi did not say that. I said nothing about Modi.
What is your equation with him?
Very good. The same kind of equation I have with the other CMs. When he does some good work I call him up. I even wish him on his birthday.
Don't reports of infighting within the party question the unity within the BJP?
Infighting is only a media creation. Whenever there is a core group meeting, it is held in a very conducive atmosphere. It is a very cohesive team, I tell you. Everyone shares their opinion in a very conducive atmosphere and collective decisions are taken. I don't know where these reports of infighting come from.
So all this about the infighting in the BJP...
I am telling you these are creations and these are creations of some people. Many people see the BJP as cohesive party that emerges as an alternative. So they turn down and throw allegations of this kind that what will the BJP be an alternative they are stuck in infighting. There is no infighting in the BJP. We are a very cohesive team and we sit together and take decisions. I don’t where this come from. There is no truth in it.
When you talk about corruption and UPA II, you use the word connivance. That’s a really serious charge. Do you think in all these corruption cases the government was in connivance with the culprits?
I am saying, when I use the word connivance I am quoting A Raja. He was the minister and he is saying that he did not do anything on his own. He sent all the files to the Prime Minister. And the prime minister was in the know of things. Now PAC report also says that PMO knew it. The PM does not sign on every paper himself but the PMO knew it. Whatever the PMO does, whether the PM has seen it to not seen it, PM is responsible for it.
For example when the on the CVC issue the Prime Minister said that I accept the mistake, he hadn’t made the papers himself then but he felt directly that the papers that had been prepared and sent to him had an error (which was overlooked ) and therefore he should accept his mistake . When Shastriji put in his papers he wasn’t driving. He was not sitting on the driving seat. So if the PAC has held the PMO responsible why was that done? This is not my charge. Their on minister is saying that I haven’t done any of this on my own. All of this was in the Prime Minister’s knowledge. If it was in the PM’s knowledge and it was happening then what would you call it? You would say two things... either it was a case of turning a blind eye, let what is happening happen or it is in your knowledge that this happening and yet you say, go ahead. These are the only two possibilities. One that let what is happening happen. Why because it is coalition dharma. So either under the coalition dharma you just shut your eyes because you have to perform the coalition dharma, that can be one reason. But the second reason is okay, okay, go ahead. Only one of the two things can happen. But in either case, you are responsible. And in that (aap itney chaudey ho kar kaisey keh rahey hain) case how can you have the gumption to say that we will fight corruption. Arrey everything happened under your government. Everything happened under your nose. People are shocked when they hear such statements (of fighting against corruption). They make fun of you. And just how do they manage to say such things? How do they (such statements) come from the inside (andar sey kaisey nikalti hain yeh baatien)
In either case whether they turned a blind eye to or they let it happen, the government of the day is punishable for what happened?
The government is responsible.
Should it be punishable also?
That is there. It is responsible and the government is punished by the people for what it does. The government is responsible for the same.
n that case, would you describe the arrest of Kalmadi, A. Raja and Kanimozhi as just hogwash?
It is not hogwash. These arrests are beyond their control. Because now all these things are happening under the monitoring of the Supreme Court. That’s why I said that all this that is happening in terms of arrests is because the Supreme Court is monitoring the CBI. The Supreme Court is telling the CBI that show us the charge sheet. The Supreme Court is monitoring everything. If this wasn’t happening under the monitoring of the Supreme Court you wouldn’t have seen any of these people in the jail. Then it would have been total eyewash. This is only happening because the CBI is now investigating under the monitoring of the Supreme Court and is doing the trial of the case. So this is beyond the control of the government.
Even Karunanidhi said that when he was asked if he will break ties with the congress, he said how do I blame the congress for this, this is what the supreme court is doing under its own monitoring. It’s not happening because the congress is doing it. It is happening because of the supreme court which is beyond their control.
And then at the same time senior ministers of the congress meet Mr. Karunanidhi at his hotel when he comes to Delhi..
Immediate reaction of Karunanidhi is understandable. They lost power on the 13th. A week later on the 20th the daughter was arrested. Now if he immediately announces withdrawal of his ministers or something then it’s like (poonch bachee hai woh bhi nikal jaayegi) whatever little is left that shall also go. If Karunanidhi wasn’t in an alliance today why would have the ministers gone and met him? Why would Chidambaram meet him? Why would anybody else meet him? Why would Sonia Gandhi have Baalu sit next to her? Right now they feel there is a little left so let it be, at least because of that a few of their people are in power. But Karunanidhi is a very calculative man. He will look at things and look at them for a while. It does not mean that the DMK has decided that it will stay with the congress but there is an argument from their side that I can’t blame the congress for Kani’s arrest. The supreme court did that. They’ve lost all the power in Delhi. They have lost al the power in Tamil Nadu. Raja has been arrested. His daughter ahs been arrested. So right now he doesn’t want to let go of the little that he has in hands. Because of that little that he has in his hands few ministers and other people go meet him like this time. So he will take his time. You will have to wait and watch.
What about the Congress?
That’s what I said right in the beginning. The statement about fighting against corruption wasn’t said out of conviction. Of course there is double standard. They have kept the DMK with them and also saying that they will fight corruption. The congress is doing politics of convenience. Sometimes they justify it in the name of coalition dharma. Sometimes they justify it in the name of numbers but you make Baalu sit next to you and you also say that you will fight corruption... that’s what I am saying that no has taken their statement seriously. In fact people have made fun of it.
Let’s talk about Bhatta Parsaul. You’ve seen what happened. What the farmers went through and how the state government handled it. Rahul Gandhi’s statement on the issue made for much news. What do you make of that?
As far as Rahul Gandhi’s statements are concerned, I had made a demand that an NHRC team should be sent to Bhatta Parsaul and that team should look into the entire thing. And that happened. I am happy that the NHRC team went there today. So now the question is not about we said about it or what Raul Gandhi said about it. I feel that the NHRC in itself is a body that has been constituted for human rights it. NHRC will look into what level of atrocities happened there and to what extent human rights were violated. If the NHRC team hadn’t gone there we would have felt that something was missing but today that team has reached there. So let us wait for the report of NHRC.
Whether it was Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Bhatta Parsaul or the demonstrations held by your party, it is being seen an exercise to consolidate the anti-Mayawati constituency, the anti-Mayawati vote, keeping the forthcoming UP elections in mind. Almost like the fight for UP has begun.
That is not true. Because this is not limited to Bhatta Parsaul. When agitations happened in Singur and Nandigram even then we had gone there. At that time there was no election there. When the same thing happened in Tappal in UP, elections were no where close, we went there too. Rajnathji had gone there even then. To say that these demonstration s were done keeping the UP polls in mind is trivialising the issue. For many years now we have been saying that there should be a policy made for land acquisition. And if cultivable land is taken away completely it affects food security. If cultivable land is taken away food production goes down affecting food security. It takes a lot of money to make a land cultivable. And this is land that reaps three times a year so it should not be taken. Secondly, you take their livelihood if you take away the entire land because these people don’t know any other jobs except farming. So we have been saying that a Land acquisition act come and a land acquisition policy be put in place. Per say as an issue we have been raising the matter. In terms of framers we raised it in Tappal in UP also, we raised it in Singur and Nandigram as well. To say that we are doing it because of the UP polls is not right.
But it’s being seen as the BJP losing out on an opportunity despite having a kisaan neta like Rajnath Singh while Rahul Gandhi managed to score over you by managing to reach the aggrieved framers in Bhatta Parsaul.
Look that was clearly a hand in glove thing like Rajnathji said. If Rajnathji goes or Sharad Yadav goes and then they impose section 144 there and don’t let them enter. And when Rahul Gandhi goes you let him go in on a motorcycle and while he is there you lift section 144 and impose it only when he leaves the villages. In this Rajnathji is not the accused. It is a case of being hand in glove. There was a tacit understanding between the Congress and the BSP... it was a moorakushti [mock wrestling]. How did they let Rahul Gandhi go in? Why didn’t they arrest him under section 144 when he went? Ajit Singhji wasn’t allowed in, Sharad Yadav who went after that wasn’t allowed in. Rajnathji who went there wasn’t allowed in. How was Rahul Gandhi allowed in? Through the day when he sat there the government lifted section 144. When he left the villages section 144 was imposed again. So the Congress was hand in glove with the BSP (milibhagat hai) Before that the BSP had voted with the Congress in the PAC.
You speak about trivialising the issue. In that sense have Rahul Gandhi’s statements trivialised the issue and taken away the attention from the core issue?
Yes. Yes. But how far the statements are true or false, for that we will wait for the NHRC report first because all sorts of things are being said now. Some people are saying that what he said did not happen in the villages. He says that he only said what the villagers told him. So therefore instead of saying what happened there and to what extent myself, I said that an NHRC team be sent there and they tell us what happened there. Because anyone else who says anything about it is countered by others with the issue is being politicised. Mayawati govt gives out a statement that none of this happened. Another one says that no things happened but not too the extent as being projected. So let an impartial body which has been constituted for such stuff probe and tell us. So we will wait for the report of the NHRC.
Since we are talking about UP how do you see your party taking forward the battle in UP?
Our party is working very hard there. And we are working on two levels. One at the level of the organisation and another at the level of mobilising the masses. So strengthening our cadre and mobilising the masses are the two things that we are doing. Because to win an election you need two things... if the junta is with you and the cadre take the junta to the booth then it works. In the two if any one thing is missing, if your structure of the organisation is weak then you can’t turn the mood (hawa) into the vote. And if the mood is not in your favour then the organisation can do nothing. So both the things are important and we have started working on strengthening our cadre, talking about booth level management and secondly mobilisation of the masses. Like we have done six rallies in UP recently. Gadkariji also went. That was about mobilisation of the masses. So we have adopted a two pronged strategy.
You think this will make a difference in UP for you?
Will you also project a Chief Ministerial candidate for UP? Recent elections have shown that it works to an advantage to have a face, whether CM candidate or leader in states. Will you do that in UP?
Nothing has been decided on that so far. Such decisions are taken by our parliamentary board. If we should or should not project a face, if we should then who should that be has not been decided. As far these five states that went to polls are concerned, in four states we did not have pockets of influence. There was just one place, Assam where we were in contention and even if we had come to power there it would have been in coalition. And in that coalition we would have been the junior partner. So even there a face did not matter. So those five states are different. In UP whether we will do that or not has not yet been discussed.
Will Rajnath Singh be your CM candidate?
It would amount to hijacking the parliamentary board if I comment on that. It is the prerogative of the Parliamentary Board to decide if there should be a face and who should that be.
Would Varun Gandhi be given enough responsibility in Uttar Pradesh?
It is for the party president to decide.
When you talk about leadership, in 2009 BJP fought the election with L K Advani as your Prime Ministerial candidate. Will 2014 see a repeat of that?
Look the parliamentary board takes a decision on this. And when the parliamentary board will decide on it is also a decision that the Parliamentary board takes. Whether a decision for 2014 has to be taken, when it has to be taken, now or in 2013, or if the decision not to project anyone is also to be taken, that the parliamentary board will take.
Would you be ready for a position like that?
In the BJP individual readiness does not decide anything. I have never asked for anything. Nor have I desired anything. My party has given me a lot. And all the positions till date have been given to me without asking. So now to start asking for things or thinking about things in the future is not my style. What the party decided, the party decides.
If the party entrusts you with that, then?
Why should I say that? Why should I indulge in if and but for tomorrow? Today the position I am on has been given to me by the party without asking. I never made myself a claimant. I never even aspired for anything. Leave alone desiring anything. Whatever the party decides in the future, I will not even think about it. There is no question of readiness. When the party supports you, you do it.
There is a section that believes that what we see now is a new Sushma Swaraj. A Sushma Swaraj who is more of a Leader of Opposition and therefore less aggressive, less of a fire brand BJP leader…
If you have heard my last two speeches then mellow is not the word you will use for me. The speeches where I directly attacked the PM. Everyone said that it is very easy to say such things in a public meeting because a person is not sitting in front of you but to say things about a person looking him in the eye when he is sitting in front of you is a very brave act. I even told the secretary general to move saying that the PM could not see me. I wanted to say it almost as a challenge to the PM. I don’t think after that anyone can allege that I have mellowed down. The question is that with age you mature and with the post that you occupy you have to show dignity. If you call that dignity and maturity as mellowing down then nothing could be more wrong. The kind of aggression that is expected of a leader of opposition, I have maintained that. But I say that aggression and calm are not principally opposed. You can be very aggressive without losing dignity. You can be decent while still being aggressive. It’s not necessary that the words you choose are such that show expression. So while remaining dignified my aggression has only increased. And the biggest example of that is the last speech that I made in the Parliament.
How do you describe your relationship with the Prime Minister and Ms Sonia Gandhi?
Civil. As far Sonia Gandhi is concerned, I don’t speak to her separately. If I meet her in the Central Hall during the session then I greet her, say namashkar. If she is sitting in the front in the session then I greet with a namashkar. Beyond this, I don’t meet her or speak to her on the phone. My total interaction with her is during the session.
My relationship with the PM is all official. I never have any unofficial conversation with him either on the phone or otherwise. When we meet on official functions and meetings, what could be a better example of my aggression than the fact that in the CVC meeting when there were only the three of us present, the PM, HM and I, not only did I put forth my opinion strongly but even clearly told him that I will give a dissent and I did. He also said give one. My colleagues appreciated that I did even when I was alone in the meeting. I don’t understand that despite my behaviour in a private meeting like the CVC one and my speech in parliament how can someone say that I have mellowed down. I could have mellowed down in private but even there I fought the PM and the HM. But I didn’t. To say that I have mellowed down is a negative campaign against me that has been started on purpose.
When you slam the Prime Minister for supporting corruption, when you speak about corruption, I need to ask you: the BJP has been running a campaign against corruption for the last one year. Yet when an Anna Hazare sits on a dharna against corruption or Baba Ramdev is preparing to sit on dharna, people support them. The same kind of support doesn’t come from the public for you. Is there disenchantment for your party? Has the BJP lost credibility with people?
No that is not true. There is cynicism as such for the political class. In such cynical times when a non-political person from the civil society stands up with this kind of an issue, people support him. Because who is at the receiving end, the political class. So in such a situation instead of supporting one political party or the other people start supporting these kinds of people. So it’s not like that support hasn’t come to the BJP. This kind of satyagrah when non-political class does is accepted.
But this is your constituency. The people that we see in Anna’s dharna or those supporting Baba Ramdev is your middle class constituency.
But they still vote for us during the elections.
Does that translate into votes?
Yes it does.
Corruption is still an issue that will translate into votes.
Yes it is an issue. It is one of the major issues.
And will it give you electoral dividends?
I don’t speak in terms of dividends. That‘s the language of business, not political language. We would rather that corruption goes away from the country than exist for us to get a dividend from that. Our aim is not that corruption stays. Our aim is to remove corruption completely. We had said bhaiy, bhook aur brashtachaar ki samaapti. We had said we want to finish fear, hunger and corruption.
The recent elections have shown that regional parties have played a big role in states. The footprint of national parties has shrunk and that of the regional parties grown. In the next election when you go to UP would there be some thinking on striking a pre-poll alliance there?
You said two things. One, regional parties. For a long time now regional parties have been very strong and played an important role. In regional parties the polity has got polarised. In Tamil Nadu it has been divided between DMK and AIADMK. Polity is already polarised. Same thing is there in Pondicherry.
In Kerala, the polity is polarised between UDF and LDF. In Bengal there has been a new thing because of Mamata that she finished the Left
As far as pre-poll alliance is concerned, it depends on the availability of alliance partners. Like in Assam, AGP was available but they did not do a pre-poll alliance. Even today I maintain that if the AGP and the BJP fought the elections together than the result of Assam would have been lot different. I agree with you and say that the credibility of a pre-poll alliance is different. And today the voter doesn’t want to waste his vote. If he feels that this alliance can win then whoever he wants to defeat, he votes against those people in big numbers. If AGP-BJP had gone together, then the voters wanted to get rid of the Congress, they would have thought AGP-BJP alliance would win and would have voted for us. But AGP didn’t do an alliance and both the parties had to pay for it.
So wherever there is an alliance possibility it depends on who is available for an alliance. What NDA had started begins with the story that first the NDA got 180 and then we thought we must take it up to 272, others felt that this was the single largest party and we should all get together. At that time no one felt that we are communal— and one after the other they kept coming. So to get one big chunk first at one’s own level, so then an alliance is possible. The same thing happened with the Congress. Congress got a chunk at its own level, so then others also came and few others gave outside support. If you get a big number on your own then you also get post-poll alliance.
Will there be an attempt to tie up with Mayawati in UP?
Will you contest the elections in UP alone then?
Yes we will go alone in UP.
Would it be helpful in context of UP to bring back old BJP members like Uma Bharti as has also been said by your party president many times? Jaswant Singh was brought back similarly.
There has no discussion on this so far. Such decisions aren’t applicable to everyone. It differs from person to person. There has been no discussion on this at all.
Is there a possibility of Uma Bharti coming back?
I don’t know. When there will be a discussion we’ll see what everyone has to say. And then it depends on who has to say what and what view is formed.
In these recent elections, you constantly said that the BJP will open an account in the Southern states. That did not happen. Even in Assam where you thought you would do well, that did not happen. What is the reason for that?
It happened for the same reason that the election got polarised to the extent that in Kerala there was no space for a third place. In TN, AIADMK swept. So if the polity gets totally polarised then there is no space for a third party. The three seats that we were talking about in all those three seats we have got 43,000 votes each. Under regular circumstances that should be enough to win. But the vote got polarised on the other side as well.
Is this polarisation worrying?
It’s not worrying but it is a lesson for us. Even in Kerala we saw that we have few leaders who will in the constituency and nurse the constituency. In this election that became evident. That we need to, now on itself, begin afresh and tell constituency leaders that they should nurse their constituency for full five years so that we can break this polarisation. We need to break it after all. We can’t sit back and say, "Oh this happened". We can’t say it is fait accompli. Have to find out a way and find our own space in the same thing.
What is the road ahead for the BJP with Hindu terror charges on the RSS, corruption charges on your party members, falling footprints...
As far Hindu terror is concerned, nothing could be a bigger lie. Simply because the RSS does not believe in violence. So no one will believe this charge that RSS gives birth to terrorists. Despite any confession from anyone no one will believe that the RSS supports violence and terrorism. So those who say that also get a befitting reply.
As for as the road ahead is concerned, in 2014 BJP must emerge as an alternative because if people get tired of the Congress then they would also want to know who is in place of them, and in that who will be NDA. And NDA has to be BJP-led. So in the road ahead, we talk of both the things: one, who could be our alliance partners and look for them and, secondly, at our own level, how do we reach the 200 mark is also something that we will work on. If we don’t reach 200 on our own, it doesn’t matter how many alliance partners we have they will not come with us.
So who will be the Prime Ministerial face of 2014? Could you have an NDA candidate as a Prime Ministerial face in 2014?
See, if it's 200 seats for us then why will we give the Prime Ministerial berth to someone else?
What about the forthcoming session of the Parliament. What will the BJP’s plan of action be?
We do a meeting before the session and identify what should be the issues that we need to raise in the current session. But this parliament session price rise would be a huge issue. Specially if the price of diesel and LPG go up by then. Petrol has already gone up. A bigger issue than that would be incompetence. Specially on account of making us a laughing stock in the international arena. Government has been embarrassed. More than that, the country has been embarrassed through such actions. That in itself would be a very big issue. And that would include not only the CBI-list but even the expired warrant that the CBI went with for Kim Davy. It means one after the other what has been happening, the way they are working would be a big issue in itself. Land Acquisition Bill should be brought and passed in this session of the Parliament will also be a big issue.
You said BJP is not a single-leader party. You think that is the crisis the BJP is facing now? In A B Vajpayee’s time, there was a single leader. Now there isn’t a single central leadership.
That’s just a perception. Even when Vajpayeeji was there, the buck never stopped at him. Even then there was a collective leadership. So many times it happened that if Vajpayeeji put forth an opinion, the party overruled it. Generally he would say that for party work go to Advani, ask him. That time was called the Atal-Advani era. But even in the Atal-Advani era, things just didn’t stop at them, the party took collective decisions. Even small workers were heard.
Is having a core group better than single central leadership?
It is because it is more democratic. One person can’t be an expert on all matters. Collective decisions are far more accurate than one person taking a decision based on his whims or fancies. Or one person takes all decisions based on his or her likes and dislikes. Because when there is a single-leader party, either that person's likes and dislikes work or his whims and fancies. When you decide in a core group even when you take a hard decision, there are other 11 standing behind you. Together they also share the blame.
PAC has also indicted the PMO and said it is responsible for what happened in the 2G scam. The report has now been rejected. After the kind of politics that happened over the PAC report what do you think should happen in the next session of Parliament?
Now we are waiting for the comments of the speaker on the report. But otherwise, the Congress is known for breaking institutions. And this is also one such incident where they have demonstrated their same approach towards parliamentary institutions. Any institution or thing, as long as it is convenient, it remains an institution. The minute that institution starts becoming a bit of an inconvenience then they break that.
In this entire PAC, till the 15th., everything was running fine. With the same members the issue of 2G was identified. When Jaswantji was PAC chairman it was decided that 2G spectrum would be probed. The issue was taken further with the same members again. With the same members when Dr Joshi was taking the case further, then Pranab Mukherjee on the floor of the house said the PAC has such a knowledgeable chairman like Dr Joshi and now we should also give the investigative agencies to the PAC and they should probe everything. It was the same PAC to which the PM gave in writing that he was ready to appear in front of them. But that same PAC when it only wants to call the principal secretary to the PM or the AG, then everything changes. And then in a very organised manner, ministers sit downstairs and guide and send in chits. What had never happened in a committee before that— people stood up and started shouting —that happened. Everything changed.
This is such an undemocratic act that a committee that had been working on unanimity and is supposed to work on unanimity... the biggest thing is that there is a method of adopting reports in the PAC which is properly written in the rules. That the report will be circulated. It will be read para by para and will be approved with or without amendment. There Dr Joshi kept saying over and over that you start reading the report para by para give the amendment that you want to give, give an argument for the portions that you want deleted and if its is accepted then it would be deleted. Then they do nothing. You are not ready to read it para by para, not ready to give amendments. You just write a letter, nine of you and you just throw the letter and say that we reject the entire report. There is no rule of rejecting the report.
The rule is that you can approve the report with or without amendment. You give the amendments and say that in this para we have this amendment in another para we have another. That process you don’t adopt at all. Nine of you just write a letter and then (thailon se nikal nikla key), out of the bags, you also get two others from the SP and the BSP to write and then you start talking about 10 and 11 numbers. So by completely twisting and breaking the procedure in an undemocratic manner, snubbing institutions in this manner... this is not good fro democracy.
So what is the BJP's stand on the report now?
Our party has clearly said that the report is in the public domain so even if anyone accepts it or not, even if the Congress accepts or not, the public has accepted it. And it’s not like no one knows about the report. The report is in the public domain. It’s on the internet. So the party says that whatever is written in that report is the truth and people are accepting that as the truth. So we don’t have to pursue the report anymore. But what we had been saying is also there in the report and it has come out in the public domain.
What do you make of the JPC that is going on now?
Our people are there. As the JPC progresses on its work it will move forward.
Is there a sense of worry that the JPC would probe from 1998?
That is there in the terms of reference that it shall probe from 1998. There is no worry. Not at all. Nothing wrong happened in our time, why should we be worried? Today it has come out in the papers, in the ET [the Economic Times] that CBI has given a clean chit to Arun Shourie. When they talk about our time, it was about Arun Shourie’s time that Kapil Sibal was constantly talking about, but today Arun Shourie has got a clean chit. If we were worried why would we have agreed to investigations from 1998? When meetings were going on about the JPC, Pranab Mukherjee called for a meeting and Baalu said that we are willing if you agree to take the probe back to 1998. I had already said that we had no problem. I told Pranab da that we have no problem, you go ahead. So we have accepted the JPC from 1998 because we don’t have a worry. Why should we worry?
A shorter, edited version of this interview appeared in print