In the budget session of Parliament the UPA is likely to face a more determined and strident opposition. Price rise, divisive politics, corruption and wavering stand on Pakistan have taken away the sheen of UPA II, giving the impression of a government in perpetual retreat. “We will gharao the government both inside the house and on the street and make it accountable for the public misery,” says a combative Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj who is all charged up to redeem the BJP’s easy going, moderate, stick-to-rule opposition tag and reclaim its lost sobriquet as the party on a roll. The interview with Sushma Swaraj by Organiser editor R Balashankar. Read on.
Outside the government you have the most powerful job in the country. How do you like it? Is it cool, boring or demanding?
It is challenging. I have always liked the parliamentary role. When I was deputy leader that time also I was discharging my responsibilities diligently. And now in this post there are some added responsibilities. I will see to it that with bravery, courage and caution I discharge this responsibility also.
The common talk one hears on the street is that the BJP has taken up the job of keeping this inept government in power for any number of terms. How has this impression gained?
This is not true. Especially after the new regime assumed office, two parliamentary sessions we have seen. And the publicity we got in the press is tremendously good. Because the people and journalists themselves say that you always get the government on the mat. You kept them in the dock. You put them into difficulty. There were occasions when the government had to withdraw its proposals. Government had to roll back its decisions. And only six months have passed. We have shown that we are a very very serious opposition. On this issue of price rise, outside the parliament also, we have taken up many programmes.
You will see it in the budget session how we will gherao the government on this issue. Whether it was the last session or the last to last session we have shown that not only are we a serious opposition but we are a very formidable opposition also. So that impression which was there earlier has gone absolutely and totally.
BJP has become very moderate. You are more concerned with rules, regulations and doing everything like old, Congress Gokhaleits. The party has in the process missed the cutting edge. This was not the BJP we knew. Not in a position to take a clear stand on issues and articulate its positions. Be it small states, you are confused, or on Shiv Sena, MNS, caste politics etc?
I am sorry, if you have this feeling. Of course it is far from reality. And I must tell you, these two examples you have given are not the apt examples. Because ours is the only party which has articulated the stand on smaller states. On Telangana, Congress is speaking in two voices, TDP is speaking in two voices. Even on the floor of parliament Congress MPs belonging to coastal Andhra are speaking for united AP and MPs from Telangana are for separate Telangana.
Similar is the stand of the TDP. We are the only party which has said formally that we are for Telengana state. Outside the parliament and inside the parliament. In parliament I raised the issue and Advaniji spoke very forcefully. Outside the parliament also, I went to Hyderabad and addressed (a meeting) at the Osmania University I also addressed the meeting of the Joint Action Committee and I can say without any ambiguity, in unequivocal terms that we are for Telangana.
Similarly this MNS-Shiv Sena thing. Ours was the first response especially the response of our party president who hails from Maharashtra, who said we are one people one nation, there are regional aspirations but there is no conflict in the two. And RSS Sarsanghachalak also spoke and said, I would ask our swayamsevaks for the suraksha of the north Indians. So these two examples you gave …
Your response came two years late
No, I am telling you today that we started this in 2001, when Rajnath Singhji went to Hyderabad and said that we are for Telangana. But now, when it is a burning issue, ours is the clearest stand. And MNS-Shiv Sena thing, our stand is the most clear. How is this feeling gaining ground, that our stands are not clear? In this UPA II regime, on each and every issue our articulation is unequivocal, strong and emphatic.
It is given that the Congress cannot be replaced by offering a Congress B-team to the voter. What attracted the voter to the BJP was its uniqueness, the brand equity and the label of the party with a difference? Where has the party lost that USP?
We have not lost the USP. The dynastic policy is the USP of the Congress and our USP is that ours is a party of togetherness of collective thinking and we take collective decisions. And as regards the party president, our presidents do not come from an identified family. But even a person who has started his political career from the mandal level can aspire to become the national president. And we have not done it once or twice but repeatedly. Rather all the times. Because even Atalji did not inherit politics from his father or grandfather. From Atalji to Nitin Gadkari there is a great line of presidents who have come from humble families and from the dedicated cadre.
Politics is about creating stakes in the voter to stand by you and ensure that he has a vested interest in keeping you in power. Congress is systematically creating that space. They are creating that kind of constituencies where they vote only for the Congress and nobody else. NREGA and kisan yojana, special schemes for minorities are vote politics. The BJP’s mistake is that it is perhaps losing its stakeholders without managing to reach out to new ones?
No, it is there. (Our stakeholders) See we consider the entire nation as our constituency. But the middle class always looks up to the BJP.
Earlier people thought we were a party of the North. After Karnataka victory, that myth has gone. Earlier people thought that we were an urban party. Now, after Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh victory that myth is gone because we are very very deeply rooted in rural areas of these states.
Earlier people thought we do electoral politics only on emotional issues. After the third successive victory in Gujarat that myth has gone. Because development was the only plank on which we won Gujarat. So don’t say that we don’t have stakeholders or people don’t look up to us.
We do not do Congress brand of politics, that politics is only of sloganeering, that is a politics of appeasement. For us, Rashtra hi Sarvopari. And all our state governments wherever we are ruling are very committed to fulfilling this task.
What is your response to the government’s proposal to start talks with Pakistan?
We never had double stand on talks with Pakistan. We are very firm that unless and until something solid and concrete is done by Pakistan regarding 26/11 incidents no dialogue should be resumed with Pakistan. We have said it publicly, we have told the Prime Minister privately. There is no ambiguity in BJP over this issue.
You are perhaps the only politician who repeatedly put your political career at stake to prevent a person of foreign origin from coming to the top of Indian politics? How do you evaluate your experience and how as Leader of Opposition that equation is developing today?
I still stand by that commitment of mine. But I only say that that was my patriotic duty and I am very happy that I discharged that duty with full conviction. Now I am the Leader of Opposition and Sonia Gandhiji is the Chairperson of the ruling alliance. That decision of mine did not come in the way at all.
I went to call on Smt Sonia Gandhi after I assumed this office. Because if that was my patriotic duty this was my democratic duty. My duty towards nation provoked me to do that in 2004 and my duty to democracy inspired me to do this in 2009. We had a very good meeting, in courteous and cordial atmosphere. So that decision of mine has not even an iota of shadow on our relations today.
The stand that you had taken in 2004 that if a foreigner becomes the prime minister you will leave politics and lead an ascetic life, was criticized in certain circles…
I got immense public support. Because every country has certain sensitivities. I was only responding to those sensitivities. And the people understood it in the very right spirit.
Undoubtedly you are one of the most popular BJP politicians in the second line. How do you plan to prepare the party for the next electoral battle, say in the next four years?
I am, not the only one, but we are all together preparing to project BJP as the only alternative to Congress, but a better alternative. And I do not know if the time is four years or two years because this is not a majority government. Anything can happen in between. So right from the word go, means after the National Council session (of BJP), we will start our work. All our leaders will tour the country with this message that the BJP is the only alternative. And a better alternative. And we will take up the issues related to the people. And in that we will get the support of the countrymen.
Will you try to expand the NDA and get more allies?
This is a continuous process. This process never ends. For example in Jharkhand we did not know that we will form the government with the JMM and AJSU. But now we have formed the government. May be these two parties also will one day join the NDA. It is a dynamic process, in which we may lose some, gain some.
In Parliament, issue based coordination is there even with parties outside the NDA.