The ghost of Babri mosque demolition case in 1992 has returned to dominate the political environment of the country again and the main Opposition, BJP, is maintaining a carefully caliberated silence on the likely fallout of the Allahabad High Court`s judgement on the Ramjnamabhumi dispute due on September 24. In an exclusive chat with Zee News Senior Correspondent Ritesh K Srivastava, veteran BJP leader and former UP State Assembly Speaker Kesari Nath Tripathi spoke on a wide range of issues including the Ayodhya dispute, BJP’s Hindutva politics and the ongoing turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir.
Ritesh: As a veteran BJP leader you have witnessed the party’s phenomenal growth during the 90s. How do you visualize the entire Ramjanmabhumi movement?
Kesari Nath: There remains no doubt that BJP rose to the national scene during 90s and the Ram temple movement played a big role in that. We are still firm on our stand on the Ram temple issue. We have not deviated or diluted our demand for a grand Ram temple. As far as BJP`s strategy on the dispute is concerned you will have to talk to the central leadership. I do not know what is the exact stand taken by them. It is for the central unit to take a stand and settle the matter.
Ritesh: The verdict on Ayodhya dispute is due on September 24 and before that, the court has called for an amicable settlement of the issue. Are you optimistic that a solution could be reached by all parties concerned?
Kesari Nath: See, BJP has always taken a stand that if the matter can be settled by mutual talks then it is very good, and if not, then through court`s verdict or by a legislation. So let us wait and see the judgement.
Ritesh: What if a negative verdict comes. Will Hindutva and the Ram temple issue remain BJP’s main poll plank in future?
Kesari Nath: Now this is conjunctional. I do not know what will happen. Let us wait for the judgement first. The judgement has not come yet.
Ritesh: In different words, will a negative verdict once again lead to beginning of the hard Hindutve politics, as soft pedalling has failed to benefit the party as it had expected?
Kesari Nath: See, the people or organisations like the VHP or the RSS, which led this agitation, have made their stand very clear that they will abide by the court`s judgement.
Ritesh: Just before the judgement, the Waqf board has said that they will approach Supreme Court if a negative judgement comes?
Kesari Nath: Naturally, whichever party loses, that party is bound to go to Supreme Court and appeal. But our stand is clear. We will abide by the court`s verdict. We have always maintained that there are only three alternatives to resolve this crisis- settlement by mutual talks, or verdict by the court or through legislation by Parliament.
Ritesh: Don’t you think this issue has widened the rift between BJP and the VHP. Just recently, VHP chief Ashok Singhal said that BJP leadership should “atone for its sin” of dumping the Ram temple project when it was in power in Delhi for six years from 1998 to 2004.
Kesari Nath: No, no there is no rift between BJP and VHP. It is only one way of saying the same thing. I reiterate there is no rift between the two sides.
Ritesh: Lal Krishna Advani was the main force behind the success of Ram temple movement. In his absence, who do you think will carry forward the crusade for Ram temple? With Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti`s exit, the party has also lost some of its prominent mass leaders?
Kesari Nath: Look, Advani ji conducted the Rath Yatra but the entire agitation was initiated by the VHP. We were only supporting VHP and its demand for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. So in the context of Advani ji`s exit from political scene, there will be no leadership crisis in BJP. There are so many leaders. They are all capable. Since BJP is a cadre-based party, there is no leadership crisis as such.
Ritesh: We tried to contact several BJP leaders to know their view point on the Ayodhya dispute. A meeting was recently held at Gadkari’s residence where BJP leaders have been asked to exercise caution till the verdict comes. Why is the party maintaining a stoic silence on the matter or is this a part of its strategy?
Kesari Nath: That is because this is a sensitive issue and linked to public sentiments. So it would be inappropriate to make premature comments on it. So people (BJP leaders) don’t speak on it.
Ritesh: Do you agree that BJP rose to power in the 90s riding on the wave of Hindutva but failed to capitalize on it in the coming elections?
Kesari Nath: BJP never linked the Ram temple issue with power politics. We have always considered it a matter of faith of majority Hindus and their religion.
Ritesh:.....but don’t you think, BJP`s stand on Ram Temple and J&K has further alienated Muslims from the party?
Kesari Nath: There are other factors responsible for the growing disenchantment among Muslims. No one can deny that a systematic influence of ISI has increased in the country in the recent years. There are some political parties, which have been acting as the agent or the mouthpiece of ISI and directly or indirectly helping in the execution of ISI`s nefarious agenda. They may or may not be ISI`s agents, but they are functioning so as they are almost an ISI agent. These parties or political fronts play with the sentiments of Muslims which consequently agitates other issues.
The Kashmir issue is an entirely different thing. The way in which the Central government has handled the crisis in Kashmir has further complicated things and alienated Muslims residing in J&K. In my opinion, the central government is out and out responsible for the present cycle of violence in J&K. The Congress-led UPA government has never paid heed to the demands of people in J&K. The central government has not looked into the Kashmir crisis from a national perspective.
Ritesh: In a bid to resolve Kashmir crisis, the Centre is now talking about granting autonomy and repealing AFSPA in J&K. However, your party is strongly opposing the move. What is your take on it?
Kesari Nath: Curtailing AFSPA will certainly bring down the morale of the armed forces and it would gradually allow Pakistan to gain more control of the region. The political leadership of the UPA is playing a vote bank politics on the matter and overlooking the national interest, which is a dangerous trend for the country.
Ritesh: How do you feel about the party’s future political prospect when you compare it with what it was during 1990 to 2004 and after BJP`s debacle in two successive General Elections since 2004?
Kesari Nath: You see, the party is going to be revived, there is no doubt about it. I agree that we lost elections but many other factors contributed to BJP`s debacle. Our equation with SP also did not work that time.
Ritesh: So you admit the party committed some mistakes and is now facing the consequences of its action?
Kesari Nath: No, no. No question of BJP committing errors as it was a circumstantial result. It happened because of the circumstances existing at that time.
Ritesh: Don’t you agree that BJP has been through a difficult phase in all these years. The party suffered from inner-party bickering and several camps of dissenters also cropped up. Virtually an RSS man - Gadkari was made the party president and an overhaul began. Meanwhile, the RSS intervention also increased?
Kesari Nath: There are no power centres in our party. We collectively try to sort out if there arises any issue between the party members. The matter is also discussed at various party fora. Every body in the party is free to express his or her opinion and desires. So there is no such thing as “power centres” in BJP.
Ritesh: Don’t you think the party has lost a good visionary leader with Advani ji`s exit. There are no leaders of mass appeal in the party at present. Do you think the present crop of his successors is capable of carrying forward his legacy?
Kesari Nath: This is a natural process. This happens in all parties. The older generation paves way for the young ones. Leadership keeps changing with time. Old birds go and new ones come. No one is immortal, so every leader will have to go at some point of time. However, the situation is still different in the BJP. Advani ji is still available as the guide and philosopher of the party. Whenever any issue comes, we still look at him for his valuable advises. A lot of people contemplate that Advani ji`s absence has created a vacuum but there is no such vacuum.
Ritesh: Kalyan Singh once played a vital role in strengthening the party during 90s and his leadership saw some 60 BJP MPs from UP entering the Parliament. This number has come down gradually. Do you think Kalyan’s exit was a big loss for the party?
Kesari Nath: Kalyan Singh cannot take the credit for the party`s success during 90s alone. He did play a role but the circumstances which existed at that time also played a major role in party`s success.
Ritesh: Do you agree that Kalyan Singh, Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon formed a triumvirate during 90s, but a clash of ego among them led to party’s debacle in successive elections and slowly eroded BJP`s support base in UP?
Kesari Nath: What happens whenever a leader indulges in caste politics and ditches the party after some time, it certainly affects the party to some extent. Kalyan Singh was more into caste politics, but in the broader interest of the society he left that. However, with his rise he also became a bit egoist and it became nearly impossible to satisfy that ego. He wanted to dominate each and everyone which is not possible in a party like BJP.
Ritesh: Is there any chance of Kalyan Singh returning to the party-fold in future?
Kesari Nath: I don’t think so.
Ritesh: And what about Uma Bharti?
Kesari Nath: This issue has surfaced many times before the central leadership. People keep talking on this matter. You see, whenever any leader joins a party, it certainly gives some strength to the party even if it is .oo1%. Uma Bharti is a leader and has made a name for herself. But a decision on her return can be taken by the central leadership alone. But at the moment she is herself refusing to join the party again. So how can you force anyone?
Ritesh: One last question. After playing long innings as a politician and as a lawyer how do you spend your leisure time?
Kesari Nath: I am still active and apart from other things I devote my time to writing poetry which is more on the behavioural aspect of life. This is a spontaneous process and comes to me naturally. Several volumes of my poetry have been published and one is in press.