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I only have a widow - India Today

Harinder Baweja (Associate Editor) ()
January 19, 1998

Title: only have a widow
Author: Harinder Baweja (Associate Editor)
Publication: India Today
Date: January 19, 1998

He is 80 years old and he is conscious of that. His hold on tire
party is slipping and he is aware of that. Congress President
Sitaram Kesri is under pressure and it is showing. In an
interview with Associate Editor Harinder Baweja, he was
introspective, forthright and on a short fuse. Excerpts:

Q. Sonia's decision to campaign seems to have affected you the
most.

A. The Congress started getting weaker ever since it delinked
itself from the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia has come as a saviour
and the emotive link is already visible.

Q. But she is the star campaigner and that does have a bearing on
you.

A. Now, at 82, how do you expect me to inspire the youth? At my
age, I am interested in short-term gains, not long-term
strategies. I don't have the advantage of time, in fact, I have
very little time left. One can hope to live till the age of 100,
but let's face it, four to five years is all I have left. I am
interested in strengthening the party and Sonia has come as a ray
of hope.

Q. So, without a member of the dynasty, there is no hope for the
Congress?

A. How can the Congress be dubbed dynastic? Look at the
personalities, their knowledge and their secular credentials.

Q. Sonia is bound to be attacked for being a foreigner.

A. This again is BJP propaganda. What is Advani? He is a
resident of Sindh, not of India. A deserter who left his Hindu
brethren at a time they were being killed.

Q. You seem worried about the BJP. Do you think they have an
edge?

A. The BJP, in fact, is unprincipled-Mumbai industrialists are
coming to them with bags full. What do I have? Mere paas sirf
ek vidhwa hai I only have a widow.

Q. You said after Sonia agreed to campaign that your worries were
over. Were you scared that the Congress was disintegrating?

A. No, my worry was on how to form the next government. That the
next government should be a one-party government. It is clear
that coalitions don't work. Let's be honest-it's true that I
worked very hard but it's also true that the Congress chances
were dropping. That used to make me uneasy.

Q. The Congress was singularly responsible for destabilising the
United Front (UF) Government twice. How can you talk about
stability?

A. That is wrong. The first time I only wanted Deve Gowda
changed. As the Congress president, I put my prestige and ego
aside and even went for a UF Steering Committee meeting, asking
them to consider making Mayawati the Uttar Pradesh chief minister
to keep the communal forces out. But they rejected it
outrightly. That was a slap on my face. After all, I am the
president of the Congress. I am an institution. Deve Gowda kept
saying only God could remove him as the prime minister ...

Q. So you decided to be God?

A. No, I swallowed my anger. Then, I asked him to change Romesh
Bhandari as Uttar Pradesh governor and he said no. On the jam
Commission, we gave Gujral various alternatives, none of which
was acceptable to them. It's they who are to blame, not me.

Q. Even after Sonia's decision to campaign, those who left have
refused to return. Why this resentment against what they call the
"Kesri Congress"?

A. I don't have anything to say about those who have left. Who
is saying this?

Q. Mamata Banerjee and Man! Shankar Aiyar ...

A. (Angry) If you consider them leaders, then forget it. Enough.
Don't insult me with such questions. First, look at the
credibility of those who have left the party ...

Q. These people are making charges ...

A. Talk to me about leaders. Why are you picking on those who
have left? Who are these people making charges and writing about
my dogs and what I eat and wear? The problem with all of you is
that I am rural and you want an intellectual. Your problem is
that I am old ... that I speak broken English.

Q. Why are you not projecting a prime ministerial candidate?

A. We have lots of capable leaders and we are not like the BJP.
Is Vajpayee sure that he is actually the candidate? His own
party leader has called him a mask. As far as I am concerned,
Advani is the RSS' choice for prime ministership. Let them deny
it ...

Q. Are you a contender?

A. If at 82, you want me to be, then I am. My ambition is to see
the party in power once more in my lifetime.

Q. It is increasingly becoming clear that Sonia wants to campaign
alone. Does her entry mean that you will have to close shop?

A. She is the leader. I have been strengthened by her decision to
campaign. I was not running shop anyway. It's not the right word
to use. You are talking to the Congress president.

Q. Will you step down in Sonia's favour?

A. Yes, I can step down this minute. She only has to ask.


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