The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the All India Congress Committee general secretary Salman Khursheed and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad. Topic for the programme: Would the Maharashtra elections have an impact on the national political scenario?
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Khursheed, would Maharastra Vidhan Sabha elections have an impact on the national scenario?
Salman Khursheed: Yes, the UPA government at the centre has emerged stronger and more stable. Those who wanted a change at the centre, and were trying for it through illegal means, would have to put all their plans in the cold storage now.
Ravi Shankar Prasad : Well, had the Maharashtra results been different, Salmanji would have said that the state results make no difference at the centre. Let me make it clear: we have no plans to dislodge the central government by illegal means, but this alliance has so many contradictions, let us see till when it works. We would continue to do our work as an opposition seriously.
Nagendar Sharma: Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar have held a meeting, who would be the next chief minister of the state?
Salman Khursheed: Both the top leaders have had a good meeting. Now both the Patels – Ahmed Patel from Congress and Praful Patel from the NCP have been given the responsibility to arrive at a conclusion. Respecting the verdict and the feelings of the electorate, in a day - by Monday evening, we should have the final decision about the Chief Minister.
Nagendar Sharma: But last time, since the Congress had more MLAs, therefore NCP conceded that you could have the Chief Minister; why don’t you now follow the same formula?
Salman Khursheed: At the moment we have neither said yes nor no. At the moment talks are on, and the picture would have to be seen in totality. Today you have a Dalit chief minister in that state and we are proud that a Congress ruled state had a Dalit chief minister. Let us wait how the NCP reacts. The final decision would be taken after considering all aspects.
BBC listener: What do both the guests have to say about the people like Arun Gawli and Pappu Yadav being elected? They would now be a part of law making process. What sort of a signal is this for the democracy?
Ravi Shankar Prasad: It is unfortunate for democracy. The political parties would have to think very seriously and with all sincerity about this as certain such elements are ministers today. Salman bhai, myself and both the major national political parties would have to rise above politics and new laws would be required to stop such elements from entering the parliament and state legislatures.
Salman Khursheed: This is an issue to worry about. During the last 10-15 years, we have seen these retrograde changes, and all of us are responsible for this. I agree with Ravi that it is the collective responsibility of all of us now. But what happens is that it gets down to the caste issue finally. No alleged criminal -- or any person under a question mark -- gets elected without the support of their caste or community. If we could put an end to this practice, then perhaps we would be successful to end this menace. I do not think that by acting legally we would be able to prevent anyone from contesting the elections on the premise that they face charges -- it would become an endless battle. By bringing the caste equation problem under check only can we check this.
BBC listener: The Maharashtra assembly elections show that both the Congress and BJP have been relegated to second places in their respective alliances, by NCP and Shiv Sena. Are you both slowly losing out to regional parties?
Nagendar Sharma: It is important, even more so Mr Khursheed, now that your alliance is trying hard to sort out the CM issue.
Salman Khursheed: Well, being behind by a couple of seats nowhere means that the party is losing appeal. We were given more seats to contest in the alliance, but if you look closely at the Congress-NCP alliance, there are two parties who have a similar history, and when they come together, one of them does well in one area and the other partner in different other areas. The important point is that we contested in an alliance and have done well. It is our collective victory, and to read anything more than that into it would be a mere exaggeration. Whatever issues are being talked about Maharashtra, were taken seriously before the elections and would be taken seriously now also by the new government.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Prasad, why did the BJP-Shiv Sena fail to beat the incumbent government? And why was BJP behind Shiv Sena ?
Ravi Shankar Prasad: Let me make one thing clear -- the Congress contested more seats and won less, whereas BJP contested lesser seats than Shiv Sena. What was the role played by NCP leader Sharad Pawar during elections? Entire media has reflected it and I hope Salmanji is aware of that. Now it is up to them to run the government, and, before that, to form it first.
We are saying that the state government of Maharashtra had done nothing notable to have been re-elected again, but we honour the people’s verdict -- in a democracy their decision is final. However, one aspect is gaining strength and this discussion would gather momentum in the coming days and that is: how is performance linked to elections? Do those who work well for the people get their votes in the elections? Does performance of the government really matter? This question is not restricted to Maharastra alone -- this has to be asked in states like UP and Bihar also.
Nagendar Sharma: But, Mr Prasad, why did the people not get attracted to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, which was in opposition and it was your alliance’s job to expose the government...
Ravi Shankar Prasad: We exposed the misdeeds of the government with sincerity. Whether it was roads, electricity, debts of one thousand crore rupees on the state, and so forth. But we now accept the verdict of the people. If you are talking about issues such as Savarkar and Tiranaga (tricolour), then what Mani Shankar Aiyar and the Karnataka government did on these two issues is in front of the nation. But these are national issues, and that is why we did not make them election issues.
BBC listener: But Mr Prasad, Shiv Sena, your partner in Maharastra, does not look effective in the state anymore. What are your future plans for the state?
Ravi Shankar Prasad: The BJP alliance with Shiv Sena is quite old, and our relationship with them dates back to pre 1995 days, and do not forget they were the first to become a part of the NDA. BJP has stable relations with them, we have shared power in the state with them. This time we were hopeful of winning again, but could not. However, both of us would play the role of constructive but aggressive opposition in the state.
Salman Khursheed : What I find odd is that on the one hand BJP says it honours the public verdict, but, on the other, they say it is wrong and the voters’ decision is not linked to performance. They should at least watch the governments both at the centre and in Maharashtra for a year or two and then analyse why the people of the country decided to vote the way they did -- meaning, against them. It is strange they want to attack from the word go, and in Mahrastra the government has not even been formed yet.
Nagendar Sharma: Salmanji, what does the Congress central leadership think led to party-led alliance’s victory in Maharashtra?
Salman Khursheed: We are clear on one thing, that when a particular party is in power, it s bound to be attacked by the opposition. At times, the opposition campaign clicks and at times, as has happened now, the people, the society of Maharastra, reject the opposition campaign and claims. Now the BJP saying that the government had not worked well during the past five years is an insult to the people of the state. In Maharashtra, there is a traditional Congress vote, which in the past was split between NCP and Congress -- however, this time we were together and this helped the alliance.
BBC listener: Mr Prasad, you have pointed out that the Maharashtra government did not work well during the past five years, but has been returned to power, so is it a vote against casteist and divisive forces?
Ravi Shankar Prasad: To say that the voters of Maharashtra have voted against a particular caste and in favour of another is not fair. The electorate of that state has been deciding above all these small issues, and in lines with caste combinations that is a part of all elections. I feel that with the Congress led UPA government now at the centre, their campaign that development of the state would be faster with the same combination at the state could have been a factor. The Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar gave a Rs 500 crore package to the state as a sop as well. These things have an impact.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Khursheed, did the central government have an impact on the state elections?
Salman Khursheed: There are many reasons for an election victory and many for a defeat -- it could be one of them. If BJP today says that this was the reason, then I can counter by saying that merely a year back, the BJP won in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, simply because it had the central government. It is not as simple as that; there are many factors. The people of Maharashtra had seen that during the past five years, the BJP-led NDA government had not provided proper support to Maharasthra, and the difference was visible when UPA came to power.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Prasad, the Congress-NCP alleged during the campaign that NDA had discriminated against the state on political considerations.
Ravi Shankar Prasad: Atal Bihari Vajpayee government did not leave any stone unturned in helping any state government. I say this categorically because I was myself a minister in that government. Vajpayeeji had himself visited Maharashtra many times -- whether it was the problem of sugarcane growers, or any other problem. All states were treated equally -- there was a single case of Ajit Jogi, who came and court arrested in Delhi, but that was totally political.
Nagendar Sharma: I feel that BJP-Shiv Sena lost as they had no issue. On the other hand, Cong-NCP also were issueless, but they were a shade better as they looked after the poor and downtrodden. The BJP has forgotten Ram temple as well as common man’s issues and is confused at the moment.
Ravi Shankar Prasad: I think this is totally your personal opinion. To say that we ignored poor people during our regime is completely unfair. Our democracy is maturing at the moment and we honour whatever role has been given to us by the people of the country. Whatever shortcomings are there, would be removed.
Salman Khursheed: But some issues might have been there. They went into general elections with ‘India Shining’ and we went into elections asking about the plight of the common man. Now had this not been directly linked with the public, we would not have been elected. The BJP was lost so much in economic liberalisation and globalisation, that they forgot the common man was left out of all this, and that is precisely why we have been given the position by the common man to think about them once again. They tried to go to the common man in the Maharasthra assembly elections, look at their joint manifesto -- but we were successful as we were telling the people that it is our plank already. The Constitution gives five years time to a government and we would do our best to work for the common man.
Ravi Shankar Prasad: But the way the government is functioning, and giving us issues everyday, we would be happy to keep raising them. So far as Salmanji has mentioned liberalisation and globalisation, everyone is seeing the way the government and the Left are in a continuous struggle. We promise to continue speaking about the common man with all vigour.
BBC listener: Salmanji, you might have won Maharashtra, but in the byelections in Uttar Pradesh, your party failed to even open the account. Do you think that the statements of Rahul Gandhi in the recent past are damaging your party in the biggest state of the country, and you want to rule by resorting to terror and threats?
Salman Khursheed: Well, the people of the country know who rules by such tactics. It is before the world to see what happened in Gujarat, and what the people saw there, not only the minority but the majority community was also not left untouched there. To expose all this is our duty and we would continue doing so.
Now coming to your question about UP, the caste combinations in the state today are such that the traditional vote of the Congress is being divided. Coming to the recent byelections, we have performed well but could not win. I have no hesitation in saying that we need a long term plan for UP, then would we be able to bring about a change in that state. So far as the statements of Rahul Gandhi are concerned, it is his right to speak as a member of the parliament for the people whom he represents.
Ravi Shankar Prasad: I say that is incorrect to say the BJP rules by terror tactics. What happened in Gujarat was totally wrong. But Congressmen conveniently forget that during Congress governments in Gujarat at least 48 riots have taken place, therefore just to blame others is not right. During Vajpayeeji’s tenure we worked for the country and above politics -- people of Pakistan have also seen that. Now we have to look after people’s interests by being a watchful opposition, and we shall do that.
Nagendar Sharma: But UP is a big headache for both national parties, Congress and the BJP now -- both of you are reduced to almost non-players in the fight between Samajwadi Party and the BSP. What are your plans?
Salman Khursheed: After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the allegation that Congress faced was that we did not do what was required to stop this act. This allegation, which was untrue, has led to certain people drifting away from us, people were misled by this campaign against us. On this, the BJP also closes its eyes when Congress is attacked. If they think what is happening in UP today is not right, then they should understand that they helped the movements and allegations to weaken the Congress in UP, and should at least take corrective measures now. This has been the main reason for the rise of casteist forces in that state.
Ravi Shankar Prasad: I have no hesitation in accepting that our performance in UP has been disappointing. It is a weakness, and the national parties need to rethink about this crucial state. If we do not go to the past, it is better, otherwise Salmanbhai would do well to remember who ordered the opening of locks of the mandir shrine
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