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Sonia's entry will help Cong, but game's just begun - The Economic Times

Posted By Krishnakant Udavant (kkant@bom2.vsnl.net.in)
January 26, 1998

Title: Sonia's entry will help Cong, but game's just begun
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: January 26, 1998

The following is the text of The Economic Times exclusive
interview with the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Mr Atal
Behari Vajpayee.

Your party has been projecting you as the man that India awaits.
What is that India waits for?

It is just a promo catchline, a way of making a point. The
country is not waiting for any one man or woman. It needs
political stability and good governance, a prolonged spell of
political stability and good governance. It is not a question of
one individual, it concerns an entire government, its programmes
and its attitude. People definitely want change.

The experience of 18 months has jolted them, compelling them to
wonder what is going on in politics. That is why I do not agree
with the view that the coming election too would throw up a hung
Parliament. Mandate will be decisive this time.

But, it has to be a coalition government this time, too?

It is not a question of coalition. One coalition is different
>from the other. Take the case of the UF government. Had the
Congress (I) decided to join it, the nature and character of the
coalition would have been different. In that case, one big party
would have been there in the coalition along with several smaller
outfits. However, this was not to be. It became a coalition of
several small parties, while the big party preferred to stay out.

In our case, it will be a big party, the BJP, which will form the
nucleus of the coalition. It has to be stable. There will, of
course, be small parties as well. But, mind it, we have pre-
electoral understanding with all of them. There is a qualitative
difference between pre-electoral alliance and the one that is
formed after the election. We all will be going to the people
together and will have to explain our stand to them. The stage of
power-sharing will come later. We have dependable allies.

At one point of time, you had advocated switching over to the
presidential system. Do you still subscribe to the view?

I will answer this question after the elections (laughs). It is
not relevant at this point. If the election throws up a stable
government, then I will be proved wrong. People will say why
change the system when it is working well.

However, my argument will be strengthened if we get another hung
House. But we have to keep in mind the fact that changing over to
another system will constitute a change in the basic structure of
the Constitution and cannot be accomplished without the Court's
sanction. Changing the Constitution with a two-third majority
won't be easy.

The BJP has entered into a wide spectrum of alliances. Do you
think this will change the character of your party and make it
more moderate?

Are you suggesting that we are not a moderate party? (laughs).
Look, it has given us an all-India presence. Our presence was
minimal in the South and this was a handicap. Though in the 1977
election we could form a government without much representation
>from the South, we did not consider it to be a healthy
development. That is why we have always tried to expand our
presence in the South.

Our weakness in that area is because of historical reasons. We
began working there quite late. Then, there was polarisation in
states like Tamil Nadu, where the DMK versus AIADMK scenario left
little space for any other political party to grow. Even the
Congress (I) got wiped out and though TMC is there, it is
dependent on the DMK. Despite that, I must tell you that we are
expanding there too. We have one assembly seat from Kanyakumari
and we are poised to win the Coimbatore and a couple of other Lok
Sabha seats this time.

In Kerala, of course, we are up against a major problem. The
polarisation there is so acute that even a swing of just one per
cent votes can make or break govermnents. But, in Karnataka, we
have registered an impressive growth. If we come to power, South
is sure to have a good representation in the government. Our
presence has increased in the North-east as well.

You and your allies, like R K Hegde and the Samata Party, are
having differences over the Ayodhya issue. How do you propose to
reconcile them?

Ayodhya will not come in the way. If we have to form a coalition,
we will have to evolve a programme with the consent of all the

Are you also going to come out with a common minimum programme?

We will have to do that if we fail to get an absolute majority on
our own and have to take others' support.

You seem to be suggesting that if you succeed in getting an
absolute majority on your own, you will not include your allies
in the government...

Look, you will have to make a distinction between our allies.
There is one set of parties with whom we are already sharing
power in different states. For instance, the Shiv Sena, Akali Dal
and Haryana Vikas Party. In addition to these, we have found
some new allies. They are part of a movement that we are leading
and if we have to take their support for forming the government,
we will have to work out a programme. That will not be a
problem. Controversial issues will not come in the way.

Bal Thackeray has suggested the construction of a national
monument at Ayodhya...

It is one of the several suggestion. We will discuss it with all.
But I believe that the Ayodhya can be resolved through

There seem to be differences within the Sangh Parivar over the
Ayodhya matter. While the BJP denies that Kashi and Mathura are
on its agenda, other units of the Sangh like the VHP want to
launch an Ayodhya-like movement in these places...

Kashi and Mathura are not on the BJP's agenda and we will stick
to it.

So you agree with the Places of Worship Act which rules out
alteration in the status of any place of worship?

The Act does not cover Ayodhya. I do not think that the Act was
needed. Why were these issues allowed to be raked up? Just for
the purpose of prevention.

What do you want to prevent'? What specific measures you propose
to take for sorting out the Ayodhya issue?

We will talk to all.

But, that was what Mr P V Narasimha Rao was also trying to do!

No, he wasn sincere. Had he been sincere, he would have told
the Court through the government's counsel that the Centre was
not opposed to allow the construction of the temple at the
shilanyas site. That would have diverted the attention of the
crowd. After all, we did not lay the foundation stone. N D Tiwari
got it done during the Rajiv regime. The mob went out of control.
There was no planning involved. I know it for sure.

That is why I feel that religious controversies should not be
allowed to linger on indefinitely. They should be sorted out
immediately, even if it calls for some compromise. It is very
difficult to cheek religious passion once they have erupted.
Look, how the Uttar Pradesh government has sorted out the Shia-
Sunni conflict in Lucknow. It is a big achievement. The problem
was festering for the last 21 years.

The Ayodhya issue too could have been sorted out the same way,
had it been tackled at the local level, instead of being brought
to the Centre.

Who was responsible for the unlocking of the temple?

You go through the proceedings of the Court which passed the
order. It asked the district magistrate whether there is any
order for keeping the place under lock and whether he apprehended
breach of peace or communal tension if the locks were to be
removed. The official replied in the negative for both the
queries. It was only then that he ordered the removal of locks.
The matter should not have been brought to the Centre. Then,
Rajiv Gandhi realised that he ought to do something at Ayodhya to
counter the perception that he had succumbed to the pressure in
the Shah Bano case.

There is a popular perception that you and Advani do not think
alike over several matters. You have a soft tone on several
issues, whereas Advani speaks about them stridently and with
clarity. Is it correct to say that you represent the moderate
line as opposed to Advani's hardline?

(Laughs). You know me and you know Advaniji.

Has the moderate line been prompted by your search of power.?

It is not a search for power. It is a search for wider support. A
cadrebased party is becoming a cadre-based mass party. Mass
politics has its compulsions. It has certain requirements too.
It is quite natural. Earlier, we were known as Hindiwalas, a
party of the North. But, when we went to Kerala for our annual
session when Deendayal Upadhyaya was still alive and tried to
evolve a language policy, we acknowledged for the first time that
English has to have a place in it. When we were there, we
realized that there was no way out.

Even for spreading our ideology and philosophy, we could not have
depended on Hindi.

Such are the compulsions and there is nothing negative about it.
If a party responds to issues like this, it should be welcomed.
It should not be said that it was doing all these for the sake of
power. This represents natural growth of a party and it should be
welcomed in the interest of the nation. When it is said that all
this is being done for electoral gains, we have a, section within
us which immediately starts smelling a rat.

You are accused of being opportunistic?

The point is that we were in the opposition all these years and
we played that role in a satisfactory manner. But today, people
do not vote for you to merely occupy the opposition space. They
ask whether you are going to form the government or not? They
are not ready to waste their votes. I have been in the opposition
for the last 40 years, but the voters want us to play a different
role now. They realise that we can do something for them only if
we are in power. This is the factor that has goaded us to search
for wider support and take a fresh look at factors like caste,
community and regions. This has brought about a change.

We are growing. All this symbolises our growth. Related to this
is a larger question of governance.

The last few years have seen the emergence of strong regional
parties. How does the BJP, which has always been a votary of a
strong Centre, propose to cope with such federalist issues?

We support decentralisation of power, right from the Centre to
the panchayat level. Till recently, there was a single-party
rule and concentration of all the powers at the Centre.

But now, the era of one party domination is over and regional
parties have come to stay. They represent regional aspirations,
requirements and they are also developing a national outlook.
They have a role.

There should be more decentralisation. Our chief ministers are
one with others in demanding more power for the states. We needed
a strong Centre earlier because of the requirement of keeping the
country together. But the situation has changed. States need to
be given more powers and a greater say in decision-making. The
Constitution does not propose us to be a unionist state, but a
Union of States.

What kind of powers do you propose to give to the states?

Financial powers. They should have a greater say in development.
What is the need for all decisions to be taken by the bureaucrats
here? Clearance for power projects get delayed because a file
gets stuck somewhere in Delhi. There is no contradiction between
a strong Centre and stronger states. They can co-exist.

The state govermnents should have enough powers, while the Centre
can have control over defence, communications and external

Do you support testing of nuclear weapons?

We are going to say something significant on this in our

Do you agree that we should declare ourselves to be a nuclear
weapon state?

This is one of the proposals before us. But, we have to work for
the improvement and refinement of our nuclear weapons. Even the
US continues to test the N-weapons in laboratories, The ideal
course for us would be to work for nuclear disarmament without
compromising on nuclear preparedness. Everyone agrees that we
should keep N-option open for having a deterrent.

There is one view that we do not need to keep any deterrent...

My experience during the 13 days in government as well as the
opinion of the our scientists do not support this.

Coming back to the political issues, you have been high on the
rhetoric against corruption. And now you are accommodating people
like P K Thungon of the Housing seam fame? Isn it hypocrisy?

Nothing has been proved against Thungon. The cases against them
are still pending in the Court. We shall wait for their outcome.

We still recall your statements against Narasimha Rao and others.

Arre bhai, we issued so many statements, but nothing happened.
Thungon is significant addition to us in the Northeast.

So you can admit even Sukhram?

No, we do not need him.

Don you feel that your new entrants can damage the image of the

Do you know that for all the criticism of our handling of the
Uttar Pradesh situation, people in that state compliment us for
giving them a stable government. I am not happy with what
happened there. But, this is what politics has come to be and we
are forced to do it.

What happens to the distinctiveness of the BJP?

Instead of benefiting us in any way, it had become a hurdle. We
remained distinct for 40 years. Everyone used to praise us for
that. But, when it came to supporting us during the vote on the
confidence motion, no one came forward.

We are very good, but we will not be allowed to acquire power.
What does this mean?

And then, there was a conspiracy to keep us out of power and that
forced us to do many things. We have demolished the
fortification that was being erected around us.

BJP was initially regarded to be the front-runner in this
election. Do you think that the entry of Sonia Gandhi has
changed the scenario and calls for reappraisal of numbers?

Her entry has certainly helped the Congress (I). But, the game
has just begun, and I am confident that the BJP, along with its
allies, will get a comfortable majority.

You are determined to enact a Uniform Civil Code. If you are
elected, what do you propose to do?

Unfortunately, this has not been presented properly. It is there
in the Directive Principles. There is no question of imposing
Hindu laws over other communities. There will be a new code,
based on gender equality and comprising the best elements in all
the personal laws. But, Muslim community is not ripe for such a
reform. No work has been done and there has been only negative
propaganda. They are told that their religion is going to
attacked. We are considering the suggestion that the Law
Commission should be asked to prepare a Code taking best elements
>from all personal laws and its acceptance should be voluntary. We
will see how this works in the interim period. But, there is a
need for a national debate because those who believe in the
politics of vote bank have portrayed this as anti-Muslim.

People say that they are ready to die. If that is the case, then
no one will kill you. You are free to remain the way you are.

Certain Hindu laws also need to be amended. The HUF has become a
tax dodge instrument...

Yes, some laws relating to inheritance and adoption need to be
amended. Daughters are not getting their share. Many wrong things
are being perpetuated in the name of tradition. The avoidance of
tax because of the HUF is there, but it has been exaggerated.

The HUF serves the useful purpose of preserving the joint family.
Joint family is a good system that ensures social stability. Who
is going to take care of old parents? The country does not have
many old age homes.

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