|N. Ram interviews top BJP leader L.K. Advani on the present political crisis, the nuclear deal, election prospects, and other key issues. The one-hour indepth interview was conducted at the residence of the Leader of the Opposition on Wednesday.|
Advaniji, how do you see the present political situation in the country, with the Left withdrawing support and the Samajwadi Party being drafted in to make up the numbers along with smaller players?
It is surprising that this kind of final outcome should have taken so long. In fact, I will recall the first statement in this regard, which made everyone who follows political events feel that this alliance between the Left and the Congress could not continue for long. This was when the Prime Minister told The Telegraph correspondent, and perhaps consciously, that so far as the deal was concerned, the government had decided to finalise it. It was non-negotiable. And so if the Left parties didn’t like it, they were free to do what they wanted. I was told by those related to that interview that he wanted it to be published very prominently.
At least I assumed that this was very calculated and either they had decided, ‘All right, we’ll go to the people on this issue,’ or they had made alternative arrangements to continue in the government. Because 61 members is not a small figure. When you have two major partners in the government taking up positions of this kind, I said, ‘This is the starting point.’ Apart from the discussions held in both Houses of Parliament on this issue several times where it appeared that there was a wide gulf in the thinking. But even then, all the while, the replies given by the Prime Minister were of a nature that made Parliament feel, even we who were opposed to it for different reasons, that they would not agree to what America wanted, and that the assurances given in Parliament would be taken due care of either by America itself or if it did not do it, the deal would not go through in its present form.
I think it was some time in August 2007 that this exchange took place, the Prime Minister’s statement and the reply from the other side, in which Prakash Karat’s statements had been as resolute — I won’t use any other word. And it seemed that it was the end.
Unfortunately since then, the whole thing has been dragging on in a manner as to make even the common man feel that the government is not concerned with anything else. It’s concerned only with this and it is not able to make any progress. This is apart from the other factors, namely prices, the condition of the farmers, the repeated assaults on internal security either by the terrorists or by the naxalites, or even what’s happening around us, which often indicates a failure of foreign policy — numerous failed states around us, the happenings in Nepal …The common man, particularly agonised by prices and his day-to-day life, feels: ‘What kind of government is this, which seems so obsessed with one agreement that nothing else seems to matter with it!’ This is one main reason why the people have been getting more and more disillusioned with the government.
And the aam aadmi, who doesn’t go into the nuances … and for many in the country perhaps this is something esoteric, asks: ‘What is this deal, about which they are quarrelling so much?’ So when it came yesterday, I said: ‘At least, it’ll be a new chapter now.’ That chapter will depend very much on whether they are able to survive the vote of confidence that is going to be taken in Parliament. Today it seems it’s a close contest, at least on the face of it. And particularly if the reports about the Samajwadi Party are correct. Some say it is five, some say it is eight, I don’t know.
Yesterday, immediately after our meeting here, where we gave an official reaction on behalf of the party, I had a lecture. There I said, ‘I welcome it. I demanded it and I’m told they propose to have a special session soon and move a vote of confidence, seeking the approval of the Lok Sabha. Manmohan Singh said on the plane itself: ‘I’ll see to it that all parliamentary norms are observed.’ I said in this situation that’s the parliamentary norm. Because the government had been formed on the basis of the support extended to it by these 61 members of the Left parties, who have withdrawn their support. Whether others’ support will be forthcoming or not is a subsequent matter. It has to be tested on the floor of the House.
Suppose, for instance (as it is said), they propose to convene a special session of the Lok Sabha on the 21st of July. If they win a vote of confidence, the situation continues to be what it is today. Then the option is before them of holding an early general election or holding it in 2009. It’s their choice. But if they lose this confidence vote, I’m sure they will resign. The President will ask them to continue until alternative arrangements can be made, which means until the elections are held and another government comes in.
The situation today is that if the Central government asks the Election Commission to prepare for the Lok Sabha election, the Election Commission, as I can see it, is sure to tell them that by November so many State Assembly elections are due. So the Lok Sabha election can be held along with them. That would be what seems natural. These are the two possibilities, unless the Election Commission wants to advance one or some of those Assembly elections. The States due to go to the polls are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, and Mizoram. It should not be difficult to hold these Assembly elections together and link up the Lok Sabha elections with them.
What improvement can come about at this point of time? It’s the fag end. Everyone — the government as well as the opposition as well as the Communist parties — will all be engaged in preparing for the elections. And a government which has lost a vote of confidence in the House would have no choice for taking any new initiatives. That’s a parliamentary convention.
My own feeling all along has been that the nuclear deal is not an issue of the people. After all, the proposal is, ‘We are short of energy sources and nuclear energy will provide us the wherewithal — after 25 years!’ And that too a small percentage of our requirements. It is welcome, whatever it is. But it is not crucial, it is not vital for the people.
We were against it but we reiterate that our opposition to this deal has been different from that of the Communist parties. The Communist parties feel — they may not have spelt it out that way, but I found an article in your newspaper that is quite clear on that — that we are accepting their [the United States’s] supremacy over us by becoming part of their strategic alliance. It’s not merely the 123 agreement by itself. We are opposed to the 123 agreement because it is also preceded by the Hyde Act. We do not agree with the government’s stand that ‘the Hyde Act has nothing to do with us, we are governed only by the 123 agreement.’ Whenever they have made a statement of this kind, it has been immediately rebutted by the American spokesman.
Therefore, our objection has been not to the strategic relationship, which 123 may involve. Our objection has been to the Hyde Act, which imposes a constraint on our strategic options in the nuclear field. Furthermore, I would say, it was during our period, when we were in government — we did not start the nuclear deal, as is often said — but we did start the process of strategic relationship. I for one — it was not my Ministry at all — but I said several times that India and the USA are the two major democracies of the world — one the strongest, the other the largest. It would be in the interest of the world, of these two countries themselves, if there is a relationship beyond merely friendship. If you call it a ‘strategic relationship,’ it is fine. It should be there.
So we are not against any strategic relationship with the USA. In fact, I would feel that the Communist parties, after all that has happened, also should be able to get out of that mindset. After all, during that entire period of the Cold War, we also were never very favourable to the USA. Because at that time, their relationship was entirely with Pakistan. They were hostile to us. In a way, it is America which has made even the Congress government change Pandit Nehru’s approach of utilising nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. That was a consistent policy followed by India not only when it was under the Congress regime of Pandit Nehru but even when it came to Morarji Desai, in whose government we also were there. (Vajpayee was there, I was there.) Before going to the U.N. once, when he was to make a speech about nuclear weapons, he categorically said, ‘India will never go in for nuclear weapons.’ Categorical. He read it out to us deliberately, because he knew ours was the only party in the country which had been advocating that course of action.
So it was America which during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 sent its nuclear fleet here. It was this which prompted Indira Gandhi to go in for Pokhran-I in ’74. She did Pokhran-I in ’74; we completed the process in ’98. In between, efforts were made but somehow they were not completed. Preparations were made but they were not executed. I don’t want to go into all that. Once [former President R.] Venkataraman, in a book release function, publicly complimented Vajyapee-ji for what he had done, saying ‘When I was Defence Minister, this was planned but somehow we could not go forward with it. I compliment you for completing it.’
I am referring to all this because there is that basic difference between what happened in our time [and the rest]. And yet our relations with America — yes, they imposed sanctions on us. I cannot forget that Pokhran-II was criticised not only by the Leftists but even by Dr. Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha. He severely criticised us. ‘Why have you done it?’ There was a very sharp exchange between my colleague K.R. Malkani, Editor of The Organiser, who was a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, and Manmohan Singh. He said he did not buy the argument that the economic sanctions would not hurt India, ‘You do not understand what will happen to the country’s economy by what you have done!’ Malkani said, ‘Nothing will happen. You wait and watch.’ Actually nothing happened. One by one, all those restrictions were lifted. In fact, today some of those restrictions imposed after ’74 may be continuing but not those imposed after ’98.
Basically I feel, for a long time America has been wanting to make every non-nuclear country part of the non-proliferation regime, by having them sign the NPT. Even Pandit Nehru or Morarji Desai, who were not in favour of making India a nuclear weapon state, said: ‘We are not going to sign any Treaty which binds us now.’
Our complaint about this [deal] is that in the name of energy autonomy, you are surrendering our strategic autonomy. This is what we oppose.
I know that. When any country by itself says something, there is no restriction or a change in policy. And secondly, even the argument given now, that in any case there will be economic sanctions, that is always there. But economic sanctions coming, as they came in ’98 or as they came in ’74, were not because we violated any law or violated any agreement or any international commitment. This would be a violation of an international commitment. If we sign this agreement, we accept the Hyde Act. At one stage, therefore, what I had suggested was this — if they discussed it at length with us, we might have suggested it. I said, ‘All right, after all the Hyde Act is a domestic law of America. Let our legal experts consider whether India’s own Atomic Energy Act can be amended in a way as to insulate India from the consequences of the Hyde Act. Let’s examine that.’
One of my biggest complaints about this government, and Dr. Manmohan Singh personally, has been that if they were really so serious about it that they have brought their own government to the brink on this basis, what was the difficulty in accepting our suggestion that ‘this matter has been discussed thrice in Parliament after you signed that joint statement with President Bush; and numerous misgivings, numerous questions have been raised. You have answered many of them very categorically: “If this does not happen, then the deal will not take place.”
Let a parliamentary committee examine all that and then make the suggestion to you. If they had done that, we would have made this suggestion there. We would have offered other suggestions also. Instead of that, first they said that no committee could be formed in respect of a proposed international agreement. And then they formed a committee with the Left. A UPA-Left committee was formed, which again and again … even today Prakash Karat was quoting that: ‘This is what they have said, this is what they have said.’ It’s a very curious way of running the government and a very curious way of implementing something you think is very important.
If it is not practicable, if America says, ‘No, we are not going to renegotiate,’ we will naturally deal with the situation as it is there. But the objective is there. Sometimes people say, ‘You do not agree with this agreement. So will you rescind it, scrap it?’ I would like to tell them that if the major objection to this is that it brings us into a strategic relationship with America, that’s not our objection. A strategic relationship with America, as I have said, was first talked about when we were there. The objection is particularly to the Hyde Act. So our objective of renegotiation would be: Is it feasible to reword this agreement or to do something? The option of having our own domestic law, which insulates us from the consequences of the Hyde Act, is always open. This is what we would examine.
(Part II of the interview will follow.)
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Also read the Second Part of his Interview
“Coalition dharma means whatever is agreed upon in a common minimum programme should be implemented”
|Top BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani answers N. Ram’s questions on the BJP’s electoral prospects; lessons learnt from 2004; coalition governance; Ayodhya; Gujarat 2002; his reputation as a hardliner; the intra-parivar controversy over his Jinnah remarks in Pakistan; the explosive Amarnath Shrine land affair; combating terrorism; and the contemporary meaning of Hindutva. This is the concluding part of an in-depth interview given toThe Hinduat the residence of the Leader of the Opposition in New Delhi on Wednesday. The first part was published on July 11.|
— Photo: V. Sudershan
L.K. Advani: ‘Somehow, I have acquired an image’ of a hardliner
In a country like ours, so large, such a large electorate, so many States to bear in mind, it is never easy, particularly when you don’t know when the elections are going to be held — in November or some time next year? — to be precise or even close to precision insofar as the outcome of an election is concerned. But I’ve seen elections right from ’52 till today, every election I’ve seen. I have never seen so much despair in the people and so much disillusionment in the people with an incumbent government as with the present government.
In fact, people have been asking me, ‘If NDA comes to power tomorrow, we will be inheriting a very difficult situation, in the field of economy as well as in the field of foreign policy and several other fields … the problems of agriculture.’ But as I said to some of my colleagues yesterday: ‘All these have to be tackled. But much more than that, during the six years of NDA rule there was a feeling of buoyancy. The development of the infrastructure; the highways built up; numerous facilities, like the kisan credit card and all that, were given to the farmers. And happily, the growth in the field of IT came at that time. Telephones, which were a real headache for us for decades; I have been in Parliament from 1970 and I know that one of the biggest complaints from the constituency was ‘Telephone mil sakta hai kya, telephone mil sakta hai kya? [can you help us get a telephone?]’ And suddenly these mobile phones and all that came.
Of course it’s technology development but it came at that time. We managed the IT development and the communications in a manner that gave great satisfaction to the people. I wish our plans for the interlinking of rivers also had made some progress. We set up a committee. Now all these things had made the country buoyant, the people buoyant. The feeling was that the country was moving forward. Unfortunately in the last four years, there has been a feeling of despair. So I said to my colleagues that the first task is to be able to do things in the first two years itself which recreate hope — that now things are happening and the country will move forward.
[The lesson from] the last experience is: ‘Don’t be overconfident. And do not neglect your own constituency.’ I’m not referring to the individual constituency, I’m talking of the party’s constituency.
Yes, they did feel neglected. We did not neglect them. And very often that has been a continuing process of education for my own constituency also in these years. But if you have a coalition government, then the limitations imposed by a coalition also should be borne in mind. They should not be disregarded, not only by the party or those who are in power but also by its constituency.
May I tell you this has been a contrast — talking about the nuclear issue. In our case, among the distinctive features that the BJP incorporated in its [2004 election] manifesto, which were not there in the manifesto of any of our allies, one was that the BJP was in favour of making India a nuclear weapons state. Therefore, we would develop a nuclear deterrent of our own. No other alliance partner of ours had this in its manifesto. So when we were preparing our common minimum programme, we discussed with them all these things. And it was only when they accepted it, all of them, including the AIADMK and the Akali Dal and all of them who were with us, that we incorporated it in the common minimum programme, which we described as the National Agenda of Governance.
Our other distinctive features, they would not agree to. We did not press them at all — except subsequently at one stage when they agreed that if a temple can be built at Ayodhya, either by a court verdict or by agreement between the two communities, it should go through. It was much later. But in the National Agenda of Governance, only one point, namely: ‘Yes, we should go in for Pokhran.’ Pokhran was not [specifically] mentioned, but nuclear deterrent. And the credit goes to Vajpayee-ji that on the 19th of March 1998 he was sworn in and within less than two months, on the 11th of May, 1998, we had Pokhran-II.
And in contrast — the Communists have a point, the Left parties when they complain, ‘Was this in the Congress manifesto? Was this in the Common Minimum Programme? It wasn’t there,’ so they have a point …
Therefore our coalition functioned very well. And today one of the points that we are going to hammer home to the electorate is: ‘You just compare the functioning of these coalitions — one the NDA, the other the UPA — and see the contrast!’
I won’t call it the back burner. I don’t call it the back burner. If we were to have a government of our own and we don’t do it, then it’s on the back burner. But when a coalition is formed of several parties who do not agree, then whatever is agreed upon has to be implemented. I remember that this is what I said the first time even to V.P. Singh when he became Prime Minister, with our outside support. I as president of the party wrote him a long letter, in which I said that ‘In my manifesto and your manifesto, the Janata Dal manifesto, there are many common points. I hope — ‘even though I’m supporting you from outside, without my support your government cannot be formed’ — I hope that while carrying out your programmes, you will keep in mind that the issues that are common to both should be implemented, freedom of information, this, that, there were several things. But if there is any issue on which there is a difference of opinion, we would be free to withdraw support. And that’s what happened actually.
Therefore, coalition dharma. The first and foremost guideline should be: whatever is agreed upon in the common minimum programme should be done.
Anyone who calls my party a ‘wrong party,’ you cannot expect me to agree with him in his assessment. No one — not Vajpayee-ji — would agree with him. But I can tell you that, in my experience, what surprised me was my experience in Pakistan. Even today people coming from Pakistan to Delhi, meeting everyone, whosoever has invited them, they invariably ask: ‘Can we not meet Advani?’ Anyone who goes to Pakistan will find that the impression about Advani in Pakistan, where this [the perception of him being a hardliner] should have been the maximum, [is quite different]. So it only means that somehow I have acquired an image. So many people have contributed to it, not only adversaries but others also. I don’t mind it that way.
Yes, you wrote an editorial. I greatly appreciate all that you wrote that time…
Yes and surprisingly before going to Pakistan, I made a longish speech here — just on this lawn outside, releasing a book on Pakistan — where I quoted exactly what Jinnah had said in his first speech in the Constituent Assembly. Because I had just then come from Kolkata where Swami Ranganadananda had reminded me of that speech. Nothing happened at that time. I was Deputy Prime Minister at that time.
I know that.
I don’t blame them. It was not targeted. It was misunderstood. There was no deliberate criticism of it.
I felt… Prannoy Roy interviewed me on NDTV and I told him: ‘I did feel distressed about the reaction in my party but my greater distress was that my party lost an opportunity.’ When in six days whatever I said or did there [in Pakistan] was able to change the totally wrong and negative image that the party had. I wish the party had followed it up, built on that.
There was no genocide. Genocide is a word that should not be lightly used. But in India there have been riots and riots — and sometimes riots far worse than those that took place in Gujarat in 2002. In fact, in the capital itself, I have been witness to what was not a riot — because not a single Hindu was killed when 3500 Sikhs were killed, in 1984. It’s sad. It’s tragic. It should not happen. It is to be condemned. So also in Gujarat I condemned it, everyone condemned it. Whether it was Godhra or the post-Godhra riots, all were condemnable. But that doesn’t mean that you blame whosoever is at the helm of affairs for ‘genocide’ and what not. And the only Chief Minister in the country who has distinguished himself by his performance also being pursued in a manner, so viciously, as to have him denied a visa in America, which has never happened before with any Chief Minister of the country! This is not fair. And therefore I did defend Narendra Modi.
I wish the Chief Minister’s advice had been respected. I went to Amarnath on the 20th of June, just two days after the yatra started. I spoke to the shrine executives who told me all that had been going on. And I spoke to many of the pilgrims. There were thousands there, at the shrine itself and all along the way. Spoke to many. Almost everyone was telling me that ‘Whatever assistance we have got, help we have got, we have got it from the Army, not from the State officers.’
Because the PDP’s attitude was hostile. They were critical even of the Chief Minister at that time. The Chief Minister also was unhappy about it. I have been several times to Vaishnavodevi [in Jammu] where a similar shrine has been created. And there similar facilities and land allotment have also been made to enable the pilgrims to feel happy. Today those who are used to going on pilgrimages often come back from Vaishnavodevi with a comment: ‘Why cannot all the places in the country which are places of pilgrimage be run in the same manner as Vaishnavodevi is being run?’
The shrine in Amarnath is also, like the Vaishanavodevi Shrine, created by a resolution of the Assembly. Here that shrine is created and then when the government thinks of giving all the facilities — temporary facilities, toilets, this, that, resting places, lighting, etc. — there is such an uproar!
Instead of correcting it and telling the PDP that ‘You are wrong,’ the authorities succumbed and succumbed in a manner as to lose even the stewardship of the government, lose the government. What kind of attitude is this? There is no reason, no justification, no explanation — except that it is a very glaring example of what I have always described as pseudo-secularism. ‘That may be a Hindu shrine, all right, do with it what you want. But this is in a Muslim locality, where the bulk of the people are Muslims. Therefore you cannot have land here.’ Because — of course, those are the extremists and fundamentalists — who said: ‘There is a demographic design, to change the population.’ So absurd.
I wish the Government of India had realised that the consequences of this can be very serious, if you condone it.
My handling was not confined to merely following up an event. After an incident occurs, investigate, apprehend the culprits, punish them. It was a continuing process. During NDA regime, the terrorist threat was very serious and therefore the IB agencies and the other agencies dealing with terrorists were told to carry out continuing and vigorous search for the ISI modules, wherever they are. And apprehend them, destroy them. That process went on continuously. Nearly every year, a large number of modules were destroyed. That process stopped. And even when events occur, the investigations have been of such a nature that till today so many incidents have occurred which I can list out and there has not been a single case in which people have been charge-sheeted, what to say of punished.
Majoritarianism is a word coined: it can be applied to America, it can be applied to every democracy. But the fact is that in India political parties, after Partition, came to the conclusion that even though India has been divided on the basis of Hindu and Muslim, we would like it to be a successful democracy. So let us run the government, run the country through this process of elections and vote.
In the process, however, some people discovered that Hindus are not a homogeneous community: they are divided into castes, they are divided into languages, and their identity is more related to that caste or language than to the fact that they are Hindus. In the case of Muslims, it’s different. In that case, it is the religious identity which is predominant. Therefore, if you want to get votes, you try to mobilise vote banks — casteist, linguistic vote banks in the case of the Hindus, religious vote banks in the case of the Muslims or the Christians. That is the reason why all this came in.
So far as we are concerned, we have held that … it was my first party general secretary, Deendayal Upadhyaya [1916-1968], who taught us that in India, Hinduism is not the name of a religion. It’s more of a national connotation. I was just reading an old book by that famous historian of philosophy, Will Durant. It was banned by the Britishers. Because it was Will Durant’s The Case for India [Simon and Schuster, New York, 1930], an excellent book about how the Britishers tortured India, what they did here. But in that he again and again uses the word ‘Hindu.’ ‘I have not consulted any Hindu while writing this,’ meaning I have not consulted any Indian. For him, Hindu and Indian are totally synonymous.
I was telling you about Deendayal Upadhyaya, who has been the greatest influence on me, in terms of conduct as well as in terms of my thinking. He said: ‘In independent India, we want India to be a secular country in which all citizens are equal. Hindutva should be equated to Bharatiyata. Bharatiyat is a Hindu. Indianness and Hindutva are synonymous. Don’t make a distinction between the two. It should mean nationalism essentially.’ Therefore it is that I grew up with cultural nationalism.
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