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HVK Archives: "I dream of a strong, prosperous India"

"I dream of a strong, prosperous India" - The Times of India

Kanchan Gupta ()
December 25, 1997

Title: "I dream of a strong, prosperous India"
Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: December 25, 1997

At a political rally addressed by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as the
veteran leader took the mike, somebody from the audience shouted,
"Desh ka pradhan mantri kaisa ho?" and the other responded with
"Atal Bihari jaisa ho!" Mr. Vajpayee, in his inimitable style,
began his speech by saying, "Sawal yeh nahin hai ki pradhan
mantri kaisa ho. Sawal yeh hai ki desh kaisa ho". In an interview
to Kanchan Gupta on the occasion of his 71st birthday, Mr
Vajpayee shares some of his views on his vision of India.

Vajpayee's pride in his Indian heritage is deep, vast and
abiding. If, on the one hand, it causes him deep distress at the
present state of the nation, it also forms the foundation of his
hopes for tomorrow on the other. Indeed, the greater the sorrow
he feels, the more determined he grows to make India rise above
its failures and resume its place at the apex of civilization.
This excerpt, from a poem Of his, offers abundant proof of this.
He exhorts Indians to find within themselves, the daring, courage
and honour that characterised great Indian men of yore. His call
sounds for all those who can willingly make sacrifices without
expecting either fame or any other reward in return ... 'who burn
like a flame in the dark even while others shine in the light of
fame'. His summons are for people 'who have the glorious vision
of the future in their eyes and the speed of storms in-every
step'. He knows that nothing can stop the rising tide of
patriotism and it is with this knowledge that his call rings out:
'Come all who dare'.

Mr Vajpayee, in this era of globalisation, economics is fast
supplanting politics all over the world. You are widely
perceived as India's next Prime Minister. If you were to become
India's next Prime Minister, what would be Swadeshi's influence
on your economic policies? And since a country is largely shaped
by its economic-policies, what should be India's approach?

Let me make it clear that Swadeshi does not mean that India will
become an island by itself or become isolationist. Neither does
it mean that we will not allow the inflow of new ideas and new
technology or, for that matter, foreign investment.

Swadeshi essentially means that people should have the confidence
to build a modern and prosperous India by working hard and making
the maximum use of the resources that are available at the
moment. It means making India a global player. It means
strengthening our indigenous research and development. Swadeshi
ultimately means ensuring a reasonable standard of living for all
citizens.

Those who say that India cannot move forward unless others come
to our aid, are wrong. We have an abundance of natural resources,
trained technical manpower and our achievements in science and
technology are remarkable. Therefore, there is no reason why we
should not have pride in our national capabilities. I would say,
in a nutshell Swadeshi means "India can do it and India will do
it".

Would you reconsider liberalisation?

There can be no going back to a completely state-controlled
economy in which, instead of rewarding private sector for higher
production, limits were imposed through quotas.

Since its inception, right from the days of the Bharatiya Jana
Sangh, my party has all along demanded deregulation of the
economy and cutback in government controls. At a time when every
party was singing paens to the Nehruvian model of command
economy, the Jana Sangh was demanding that the economy be freed
>from the clutches of government control.

eTxpansion of the public sector without developing a professional
managerial class for the public sector enterprises has made many
of them unprofitable and unviable. I believe that we should try
and revive those undertakings that can be turned around. In any
event, I am against substituting the earlier policy of
indiscriminate expansion with indiscriminate closure. In all
this, the workers' interests need to be safeguarded.

There is this view in your party against consumer items,
especially those manufactured by MNCs...

What I and my party are opposed to is allowing the Indian market
to be swamped by products that offer an illusion of prosperity
but in reality meet the demands of a very narrow band of people.
Putting it simply, we are against unlimited consumerism which may
appeal to cosmopolitan, upwardly mobile Indians, but ignores the
needs of 75 per cent of the country's population that lives in
our villages Other countries in South-East Asia that have
prospered, have done so through high rates of saving. We, too,
must strive for higher savings rates.

If you were the Prime Minister, would you recommend a change in
the manner of approval of foreign investments or regulate its
inflow?

I would ensure that every investment offer is decided on merit
and whether it meets our country's needs. I would bear in mind
our national interests.

There is an increasing demand from Indian industry for a level
playing field. Which essentially means a degree of protection for
local industry...

I am inclined to agree with them. Indian industry has to be
given time and all help to prepare itself to meet the challenges
of globalisation. Till recently they operated in a largely
protected market. To suddenly push them into competition, that
too with those who are at a more advantageous position,
especially. as far as access to capital is concerned. is unfair.
Yes, I do favour a level playing field. If in the USA they can
have this slogan, "Be American, Buy American", why can't we say,
"Be Indian, Buy Indian'?" Instead of being swamped by foreign
brands, why can't we make Indian brands globally acceptable'?
There is also this thing that economic liberalisation has not
benefited small scale industry and agriculture...

Small scale sector deserves fullprotection and all possible
incentives. As for agriculture, we all know that investment in
this crucial sector has declined, resulting in a slowdown of
agricultural growth despite a good monsoon. I would consider
investment in agriculture one of the top priorities for a
government committed to good governance.

The monster of corruption is threatening our polity. How, in your
view, could we battle this monster?

As I see it, good governance is possible only when a Government
has an ethical base. Tragically, morality and ethics are at a
discount in politics today, not only in India but countries
across the world. Today we find country after country grappling
with the monster of graft; competitive politics is increasingly
relying upon the strength of money, more so with the waning of
ideology. But corruption cannot be just wished away; it needs to
be fought at every level, beginning with the cleansing politics
of the influence of money power. The second requirement is
extensive electoral reforms...

You have often talked about the need for systemic changes, that
we need to have a second look at our Constitution...

After 50 years, yes, the time has come for a second look at our
constitution and to explore the possibility of institutionalising
some systemic changes. Some people have pointed out the merits
of the presidential system. But here, too, the question arises as
to what. sort of a presidential system would suit India.

You know, there is this Supreme Court judgement prohibiting any
change in the basic structure of the constitution. We Have to
bear that in mind. But even within the present structure, certain
changes can be brought about, especially to ensure stability. For
instance, we could consider a five-year mandate for the Lok
Sabha, thus preventing mid-term polls. We could also consider the
German system that doesn't allow a no-confidence motion against
the incumbent Government but only a motion of confidence in an
alternative Government. Whatever it is, but we must look for a
cure to this instability. I would suggest that we appoint a high
level Commission on the Constitution to take a fresh look at it
and recommend systemic changes.

What sort of electoral reforms would you recommend?

Our electoral system is flawed on several counts. For instance,
the first-past-the-post system which India borrowed from Great
Britain does not appear to have served the country well. Perhaps
the time has come for a review of this system and to take a close
look at other systems prevalent elsewhere in the democratic
world.

A fundamental flaw in our system is that often a party's support
base is not reflected in the number of seats it is able to win.
With a huge share of the vote, you could end up with seats much
below the number required to obtain a majority in the House.
Conversely, with a smaller share of the vote, a party could find
itself on the Treasury Benches. A direct fallout of this,
especially in the wake of the collapse of the Congress which has
vacated political space at a rate faster than in which any single
political party can occupy this vacuum, is the current political
instability. So, why don't we have a look at the list system or a
mixed system of representation?

In recent years we have witnessed the emergence of regional
parties and the de cline of national parties like the Congress.
What reasons would you attribute to this... In the wake of
India's independence, there was a tendency to centralise power in
Delhi. Primarily, there Were two reasons for this: Our experience
of partition and the need to consolidate more than 500 states and
the provinces into a Union. Essentially, the idea was to avoid
further fragmentation. There was this additional factor that the
Congress was the dominant party both at the Centre and in the
states. With the national parties fully engrossed by national
problems, region specific problems and aspirations were ignored.
Over-centralisation also resulted in Chief Ministers running to
the Centre for the smallest of clearances and permissions, not to
mention funds. All this resulted in the emergence of regional
parties. So long as these parties have a national outlook, I see
nothing wrong with them.

This brings us to the issue of decentralisation and giving more
powers to the, States...

Yes, there has to be decentralisation of political as well as
economic powers. Decision-making cannot be restricted to the
Centre alone. We have been arguing for greater fiscal autonomy
for the states as well as shifting the balance of resources in
favour of the states. As far as political powers are concerned,
on issues like the appointment of Governors, the consent of the
Chief Minister should be secured. Needless to add, I am totally
against the misuse of article 356 and given a chance, would amend
this Constitutional provision so as to prevent its abuse. The
Sarkaria Commission's recommendations were allowed to gather
dust. Many of those recommendations need to be updated and, more
importantly, implemented.

What, in your opinion, should be the character of a stable
coalition Government? And, why do you think coalitions have
failed till now?

Let me answer the second question first. As a people we are yet
to learn the art of working together. If individuals in a party
cannot function smoothly, leading to fragmentation of parties,
how can parties come together and function smoothly? In any case,
this 14-party Government was a joke of a coalition. As for the
first question, well, ideally a stable coalition should have a
large party as its nucleus. This has been proved in States where
coalitions have worked, for example, West Bengal.

Let us move towards issues like national security and foreign
policy. You and your party are perceived as hardliners on the
issue of national security...

I believe that the highest importance should be accorded to
national security. India has fought three wars; a huge chunk of
our national territory lies under alien occupation; and, our
territorial integrity continues to be under threat. Our concerns
essentially stem from these realities. There is no doubt that a
developing country cannot afford to divert substantial portion of
its resources to acquiring arms or increasing defence spending.
But neither can we discount the fact that we need to secure our
frontiers in order to maintain our sovereignty and our
territorial integrity. Nor can we turn a blind eye to defence
acquisitions and transfer of military hardware by our immediate
neighbours...

There is something which a lot of people want to know: Would you
go in for the Bomb?

I do believe in a re-evaluation of India's nuclear policy and
exercising the option to conduct nuclear tests in order to keep
up with the latest developments. This does not detract from the
fact that I and my party. are committed to a nuclear arms-free
world. Indeed, India has been in the forefront of the demand for
a time-bound global nuclear disarmament programme. But, on the
other hand, we are opposed to the practice of nuclear apartheid
which appears to be the order of the day. It is in this context
that I and my colleagues pressured the Government to oppose the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the absence of a simultaneous
agreement for a time-bound global elimination of weapons of mass
destruction in their entirety.

I would like to point out that a strong India, a secure India,
does not mean a militarist India. As trustees of our
civilisational traditions, we believe in peace and fraternity
among nations.

You are remembered as the best Foreign Minister India has ever
had. What changes would you bring about in the area of foreign
policy?

There has all along been a broad consensus on foreign policy. We
would maintain continuity with change. We would definitely want
peace in the neighbourhood and friendly relations with our
neighbouring countries. I would ensure that India, because of its
strength and size, gets its rightful place in the comity of
nations.

Mr Vajpayee, the BJP's detractors have often suggested that they
have no problems with you, but with your party which they
describe as a "Hindu fundamentalist party"...

I represent my party and there is no question of liking me and
not my party. That is really not the issue. There is this
motivated campaign to run down the party by describing it as a
"Hindu nationalist party" or Hindu fundamentalist party". I have
no hesitation in reiterating the nationalist credentials of the
Bharatiya Janata Party; indeed, we put the Indian nation and its
interests above everything else. As far as we are concerned,
there can be no compromise on that front.

This, however, does not make us the purveyors of sectarian
interests or, as many of these so-called secularists choose to
describe as a "Hindu fundamentalist party". Those who coin such
meaningless descriptions are ignorant of the fact that as a
people, Hindus cannot be fundamentalists. The Hindu worldview, we
must remember, is inclusivist, as opposed to the exclusivist
worldview of other faiths. And if 50 years after its independence
>from foreign rule, India still remains a secular state, it is
essentially because the majority of the country's population is
Hindu and this nation's culture and traditions are rooted in the
Hindu ethos.

Yet, and this bears reiteration, India was never a theocracy and
shall never be one. I can assert with conviction that India shall
always remain a secular state. Historically, there has never been
any discrimination or favouritism on the basis of religion in
India.

The Ayodhya dispute has become a bone of contention...

The Ayodhya dispute has been there for a long time. It has been
dragged through courts. and is still pending there though decades
have passed. It can be solved either through dialogue or by law.

Recently a suggestion has been made by the holy imam of Kaba. He
has urged Muslims to give up the Ayodhya site if it is
established that a temple existed at the spot. This has opened a
new window of opportunity to solve the problem.

What are your views on secularism as it should be in India?

I believe that we should be promoting social reconciliation
rather than conflict; that we should move towards putting an end
to the politics of competitive communalism rather than succumb to
the temptation of 'vote-bank' politics; that we should break free
>from the politics of casteism, of pitting community against
community which has so asundered India's social fabric.

Curiously, 'secularism', which in the Western context means
separating the church from the state, has been over the years
perverted by the non-BJP parties into electoral politics. Justice
Chenna Reddy, who sat on the bench of the Supreme Court, once
observed that it was the so-called secular parties that had done
the most to promote religious intolerance, religious backwardness
and religious superstition. It would also be appropriate to quote
M.C. Chagla in this context: "Secularism in India is not really
secular. It has the name and the outward appearance, but at heart
it is communal. It is my profound belief' that all governments
that have ruled this country have been communal. Our Constitution
proclaims that we are secular, but our actions prove that we do
not behave in a secular manner at all."

We began with this thing about what should India be like.
Secularism in India should ensure equal space and justice for
everybody. Indian secularism should draw its inspiration from the
concept of Sarva Dharma Samadar equal respect for all religions.
More importantly, the state should not be seen as tilting the
scales in favour of any one religion.

All this is fine, but Muslims continue to have
apprehensionssionate and caring.

There is no basis for these apprehensions. For fifty years the
Muslim community of India has been treated as a mere vote-bank.
Through a sustained campaign of untruths, the BJP's opponents
have made Muslims victims of a fear complex that is not founded
in facts. The time has come for Muslims to break free of this
fear complex and cease to be a vote-bank for those who have used
them all these decades without improving their lot in any manner.
Muslims in India have equal rights as enshrined in the
Constitution. We guarantee to protect the lives, properties and
honour of India's Muslims.

What about the ticklish issue of a Uniform Civil Code?

A Uniform Civil Code has nothing to do with minority or majority
identities. After all, it was incorporated in the Directive
Principles of State Policy as enshrined in the Constitution.
Surely the framers of our Constitution cannot be accused of being
anti-Muslim. The issue of Uniform Civil Code is linked to women's
rights and if we demand a common civil code it is because we are
concerned about these rights. Indeed, it is this commitment to
gender equality that inspires us to campaign for a uniform civil
code equally applicable to all regious groups. The personal laws
as they exist in India today, are in constant conflict with the
very concept of equality among the sexes and form the source of
continuous discrimination against women in all areas of life.
This is not the place to go into specific details, but suffice it
to say that a civil society cannot allow women to be
discriminated against in the name of religious practices. I would
also like to clarify that bringing in a Uniform Civil Code does
not mean imposing the Hindu code on others but evolving a code
based on the best traditions of every community.

This brings us to that other point of friction - casteism and
caste politics.... the upsurge of Dalit sentiments and
resentment.....

We have to understand the cause of this resentment which is being
exploited for political capital by some parties. You know, 50
years after independence, the fruits of freedom are few while the
claimants are many. There has been no effort at an equitable
distribution of these fruits. The bulk of those who have been
denied a share are the Dalits. We have to bake a bigger cake so
that the largest number of people get a share. We need to devise
the right development model for this purpose. But till then,
there is bound to be this resentment among the Dalits and other
vulnerable sections of Indian society. There is also the social
aspect. After all, we have had social discrimination against
them, for example the sin of untouchability.

I recall a Lok Sabha debate on untouchability during which I had
asserted that not only is this practice a sin but also a blot on
our culture. I am not prepared to accept untouchability even if
God tells me to do so, though I know that he won't do that.
Untouchability has nothing to do with dharma, it is a degenerate
perversion. Shudras have been kings in this country.

As for political exploitation of this resentment, well, I can
only hope that the people will soon realise that yeh theek nahin
hain. As Government control and scope for patronage decreases,
casteist politics will lose its appeal. In any case, casteist
politics works only up to a point, not beyond that. Our system of
election has also contributed to this practice. If we had a list
system, it would not have been so pronounced.

Would you suggest that politics of casteism is not here for all
time to come?

Yes. This is a passing phase. A society as large as India needs
time to find an equilibrium and social stability.

How do you think this equilibrium can be expedited?

Through Samajik Samarasata, or social harmony, which is rooted in
the concept of integral humanism.

The very concept of integral humanism rules out contradictions
between society and its various components, as also between
society and the individual. From this stems our commitment to
eradicate social and economic disparities; to the creation of a
socially integrated Bharatiya samaj.
BJTP-BSP alliance was forged
after elections to the State Assembly, in Punjab we contested the
elections along with the, Akali Dal on the strength of the slogan
of "ekta" - unity. There may be issues on which we differ with
the Akali Dal, but on one issue there are no differences: Indian
society cannot be fragmented into exclusive caste, class,
linguistic or regional compartments. This is not to suggest that
these identities need to be obliterated in their entirety, but to
reassert the fact that these identities together coalesce into
the larger Indian identity. Neither is complete without the
other.
Has this approach begun to show results?

It is essentially because of our commitment to Samajik Samarasata
- which, incidentally negates this oft-quoted description of the
BJP as a Brahminical party with an upper-caste agenda - that we
have received tremendous electoral support in areas that are
predominantly inhabited by tribals and members of the Scheduled
Castes. We have a high success rate in constituencies which are
reserved for Scheduled Castes while in the tribal belt of Bihar,
the BJP has been sweeping nearly all the assembly and
parliamentary seats.

You have just mentioned your concern for women's rights and
emancipation. What are the key areas of concern?

To begin with, we must instil a sense of confidence among women.
Then comes education. Our national literacy rate for women is
abysmal. Simultaneously, we need to fight against social evils
and make women conscious of their rights which are no less than
those of men. We need to ensure women have property rights equal
to those of men. We also need to make them co-sharers in the
dispensation of power and in the decision-making process.

Are you in favour of reservations for women?

The whole idea of positive discrimination is to provide a sense
of equality in an unequal situation. Yes, I favour reservations
for women both in services and in legislatures, including
Parliament. The women's quota Bill giving them 33 per cent seats
in legislatures should have been passed by the 11th Lok Sabha. If
I get a chance, I will make it one of the top items on my agenda
list.

There was a time when India was described as a population bomb
ticking away. The bomb has already exploded and we are heading
towards the billion-person mark. What are your views on this
issue?

India's population explosion is no doubt a major problem that
needs to tackled on a war-footing. What we need is a multi-
dimensional approach. At one level, we have to concentrate on
mass awareness campaigns and education. Kerala is an example of
how results can be achieved by these twin means. At another
level, we have to introduce both incentives as well as
disincentives. Till now Governments have avoided disincentives on
the specious plea that it would hurt the religious sentiments of
some groups. This is ridiculous. In ancient times, a bride would
be blessed with the wish that may she be the mother of eight sons
(ashta-putravati bhava). This was seen to be in accordance with
dharma. But in the present times, if we start fulfilling such a
wish, imagine what would happen to the country in a few years!

Do you feel that those who hold public office have a
responsibility, too?

Yes, of course. If we are recommending the two-child norm to our
people, then we who hold public office should also follow the
norm and set an example. I am quite game about the idea of
debarring those who have more than two children from holding
public office.

Mr Vajpayee, what is your vision of a modern India?

An India that preserves all that is good about the past and is
yet forward-looking. A society which is conscious of its rights
but vigilant about performing its duties. A society which is
prosperous but, at the same time, one in which person's worth is
not judged by his wealth alone. An India free of social conflict,
an India free from the curse of illiteracy and malnutrition. An
India at peace with itself and confident of its place in the
world. A technologically strong India that can harness science
for the welfare of all Indians. We can create such an India by
giving top priority to maintaining law and order, preserving life
and honour, ensuring basic amenities and providing a corruption-
free administration. All that India needs is a strong Government,
a transparent Government which is dynamic Government which is
compassionate and caring.

Mr Vajpayee, large section of India's youth feels cynical about
politics and politicians. The fervour of the early years of
Independence is missing from today's young generation. What is
your message to the country's youth?

The youth, especially those who belong to the under-privileged
sections of society, have every reason to feel angry and
disillusioned. The misgovernance of the past five decades and
corruption at high places have contributed in a large measure to
this sense of disillusionment.

But merely feeling angry or disillusioned is of no use, nothing
is going to change unless you play an active role in bringing
about that change. All those who are 19 years or more have the
right to vote. They can exercise this right to elect those who
inspire confidence.

Democracy is like a delicate plant. It needs to be nourished. If
the youth, who are India's future, refuse to nourish this plant
just because some politicians are corrupt, then they will be
harming the cause of democracy. Politicians also have a
responsibility. We must end this crisis of leadership which the
nation faces today. We have to learn to inspire our future
generations, to instil a sense of pride in them.

One way of doing this is to honour our young achievers, be they
scientists, doctors, educationists or soldiers. India has carved
out a place for itself in the computer software industry. The
credit for this goes to-our young computer professionals.

I think if India has an inspiring leader at the helm of affairs,
this cynicism and sense of disappointment can be removed. My
message to India's youth is that they should rise above caste,
community and regional identities and become participants in the
making of a modern, forward-looking India.


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