BJP General Secretary Shri Arun Jaitley has won accolades for masterminding the party'sstrategy to win elections in many states, some of which were very challenging and crucial, like Punjab, Gujarat and lately, Karnataka. He has emerged as an ace strategist of the party to weather the storm in adverse situation. The Karnataka victory has given a new turn to the electoral history of the country. It has infused an added enthusiasm, zeal and confidence in the minds of BJP karyakartas to gird up their loins for the next round of elections in the five assembly elections in J&K, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh before the end of the year and then the battle royal for the Lok Sabha in 2009. He will certainly have a crucial role to play in working out the party'selectoral strategy for the coming elections.
Shri Arun Jaitley spoke to Organiser representative Amba Charan Vashishth on the sidelines of the BJP'snational executive meeting on June 2 in Delhi. Excerpts:
First, let us congratulate you on the latest win for BJP in Karnataka where you were the main strategist of the party.
Thank you very much for congratulating me. I think it is my party and its workers who deserve the entire credit. Shri B.S. Yeddyurappa who led the campaign deserves to be congratulated for this performance. The State party deserves to be congratulated for this.
How do you see the result?
I see this result as a landmark for the BJP. It marks our entry into a state south of Vindhyas. At the national level, it is further an expression of no confidence in the Congress rule.
It is perhaps the fourth state in a row after Punjab, Gujarat and Bihar where you were put in charge of the party election campaign and the party won. What is the secret of success?
I have been incharge of several states but I don'tclaim any credit for the success of the party in the elections held in states like Karnataka, Punjab, Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh. The credit goes to the lakhs of workers of the party.
As there are indications of BJP winning a poll in a state, there is a flood of aspirants for party nomination. How do you manage the individual ambitions of so many applicants?
When the possibility and winnability prospects are very high, there are a number of people who want to become candidates. Then it has to be explained to others that the tickets can only be given on the criterion of loyalty and winnability. Most people agree, some don?t.
There can be no uniform election strategy in every state as the political and electoral environment in every state is not the same. How do you plan it?
There is no uniform electoral strategy in each case and each state. I think the first important thing is to study the political environment. We have to study the electoral history of the state. We have then to decide whether there is need to have political alliances in the state or not. It is only after you have decided it that the issues which help us and which hurt the opponents have to be highlighted and then there has to be a concentration on those issues. If personalities are capable of helping the campaign, we project the personalities adequately so that they can pull the campaign.
Could you tell us what was the most challenging situation you had to face in each state and how did you tackle it?
I think there are challenging moments. In Punjab, for example, it was a challenging moment when a religious sect issued an appeal in favour of the Congress. We spoke to the leaders of the sect and explained to them and tried to immune our party from the adverse consequences.
It was a challenging situation in the 2002 elections in Gujarat when the media was very hostile to us. We tried then to communicate directly to the people rather than through the media in view of their attitude in the state.
What is common in working out an electoral strategy in a state?
I think there is no uniform strategy which is required. Election contesting is a political common sense. We?ve to assess the reality of the party and select the best campaign that helps us the most.
Money makes the political and electoral mare go. How far is it correct?
I think the money'srole in elections is on the increase. It'sunfortunate. I believe since traditional forms of campaigning have been prohibited by the Election Commission and various state governments, the role of money has gone up in the elections.
Muscle power is equally in vogue. How do you combat it?
It is not correct that muscle power is equally in vogue at all the places. In some places it has an impact and at other places it is counterproductive.
Model Code of Conduct for political parties comes into force the moment election schedule is announced for a state. It has no legal or constitutional sanction. That is why the tendency towards its violation is on the rise and the show-cause notices sent by EC have little impact as hardly anyone has been punished so far. How do you look at the phenomenon?
I think the Election Commission has been successful in preventing booth capturing through the implementation of Model Code of Conduct. I am one of those who believe that the Model Code of Conduct has a constitutional sanction. It comes within the jurisdiction of Election Commission under Article 354 but I am a little critical of the Election Commission when it comes to restraining conventional and traditional forms of campaign which is a communication of the parties and the candidates with the people.
Can you suggest any electoral reforms to make the elections more free and fair to make it truly representative of the will of the people?
In order to make elections free and fair compared to what they are, I think the traditional form of campaign, such as pamphlets, banners and some hoardings, easy access to public rallies should be allowed. It is also a process through which political leadership can develop and get more acceptability.
What is the lesson you draw from your experience as an election strategist for BJP?
My experience has been that the election contesting is on the basis of political common sense. There are no fixed formulas and one should stick to that.
How far, in your opinion, are the results in Karnataka going to have an impact on the elections to assemblies in four states by the end of the year and then in 2009 Lok Sabha elections?
Karnataka results will have an impact on the elections of state assemblies and the national elections. It places BJP as a frontrunner for these elections. Its impact on the political environment is such that the Congress is losing a series of elections and the BJP and its allies are gaining a large number of them.
Don'tyou think frequent elections are sapping the enthusiasm of the common voter to exercise his right to franchise? What should be done to remedy the situation and inspire greater voting percentage?
I don'tthink the enthusiasm of voters is declining. Elections are a festival of democracy. We?ve seen up to 60 to 70 per cent polling in most states which have gone to polls.
The CEC Shri N. Gopalaswamy will retire in April 2009 and, if the electoral process for the next elections to Lok Sabha is not completed by April 2009, a part of the voting and the final results may be out only after the new CEC is in office. What would be the reaction of your party to that situation?
We have already filed a petition for the removal of one of the members of the Election Commission. The petition is pending with the Chief Election Commissioner. I hope that the constitutional process in this regard will be expedited.
The UPA government is sitting over the hanging of Parliament attack case main convict Mohammad Afzal Guru sentenced to death and whose sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court more than two years back. Does the conduct of UPA government not amount to sitting judgement over the SC verdict?
There is a growing feeling in the country that the execution of Afzal Guru is being deliberately delayed because the Congress wants to use the war against terror by displaying its softness and converting it into a vote bank politics.