As India gets ready for another ‘verdict’ this May 16, the debate continues on the issues that were in focus during the Lok Sabha poll campaign and the likely outcome of the ‘massive exercise’. In the midst of all this, Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi caught up with senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley on ‘Kahiye Janab’.
Lawyer-cum-politician Jaitley is one of the chief spokespersons and election campaign in-charge of the BJP. He has played a significant role in the BJP’s hi-tech poll campaign, which is being witnessed for the first time in Indian politics and promises to change the political landscape altogether.
Swati: You are the election campaign in-charge for the BJP. It seems that for the first time, there are no issues, no agendas (in the polls) and even leaders seem to be just criticising each other. Going by the poll campaign, it appears that neither the country nor its people are facing any problems.
Jaitley: I think the people have exaggerated the use of abusive language in these elections. In my view, this has been one of the most ‘civilised polls’ in this country. You can look at the way polls take place in other countries. What happened in the United States? In the UK, Gordon Brown was recently called a “one-eyed Scottish idiot”. In India, however, all this is not allowed. Here, we do not criticise personalities or characters (of fellow politicians), but the way they carry out their politics. But, if you censor this also, then it will become one of the most boring elections.
The security situation in the country is deteriorating, financial health is not good, and the leadership is weak. We have raised these issues. But the Congress, in its reply, has not raised the issue of either the Indo-US nuclear deal or any developmental programme. They first, in their answer, said that they are not weak. Secondly, they blamed (LK) Advaniji. Thirdly, the discussions in their camp are largely focussing on the members of one family. This is nothing but trivialisation of the election. Despite the opposition raising the issue of governance, the government seems disinterested.
Swati: Why did you try to sideline your party’s declared prime ministerial candidate (LK Advani) by backing Arun Shourie’s statement on Narendra Modi about him having the potential to be PM?
Jaitley: I think the media, especially the electronic media, decides the headlines first and then creates the issue. Arun Shourie was asked to comment in a press conference in Gujarat about his views on Modi going on to become the PM some day. Similarly, I was asked to comment on the same and I replied that it is good if party leaders are praising their colleagues. I will always be happy if people praise Modi.
Swati: Why is the BJP, and in fact the NDA as a whole, afraid of Modi?
Jaitley: Look, no body is afraid (of Modi becoming the prime minister). The 2009 elections are underway and we will decide on the leadership issue (for future elections) later.
Swati: If Modi, as you said, becomes the PM in 2014, will the BJP sideline Advaniji then?
Jaitley: We haven’t said any such thing. What we are saying is that Advaniji is our leader in the current Lok Sabha polls. We do not want to discuss who will be our leader later.
Swati: It is strange that there is no issue, no ideology and political leaders here are on a shopping spree for partners.
Jaitley: As I said earlier, there are issues concerning economy, security and leadership. These three are the predominant issues which will decide the outcome of this election. It is true that there are smaller parties. They have shown some flexibility. Now both the Congress and its UPA allies are in a difficult situation. Leaving the two Left ruled states in West Bengal and Kerala, Congress is in power in only a few states.
In most other states, there is either a non-Congress or an anti-Congress government. Thus, these non-Congress and anti-Congress parties are doing better as compared to the UPA. The next government at the Centre will be anti-Congress and non-Congress in nature. The Left will have a very limited role to play. Thus, the possibility of a Congress-led government coming to power is nearly zero and there is ample scope to discuss other possibilities. I think the NDA will emerge as a front runner in this election.
Swati: Why didn’t you contest elections this time despite the fact that, as Sushma Swaraj said earlier on this show, Advaniji had asked you, her and Venkaiah Naidu in particular to fight Lok Sabha polls?
Jaitley: I don’t discuss party’s internal matters in public. Well, at this point of time, I can only say that I am not only overseeing election matters of a few states as one of the chief official bearers, I have to keep a tab on lot many other things too.
Swati: What is the reason behind the rift between Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh?
Jaitley: It was not a personal fight. We discuss various issues at party meetings. Moreover, as I just said, I don’t discuss party’s internal matters in media. And I would not like to comment on this issue too.
Swati: Varun Gandhi is your (party’s) candidate. The BJP has tried to play the issue (of hate speeches made by him) both ways. What do you have to say on this?
Jaitley: Let me clarify that in these elections, the issues that concern people are of bread and butter, economy, job losses and leadership. Now, in such a marathon campaign, such small deviations happen. Also, Varun has clarified that he had not used any such words (as was shown in the video of his alleged inflammatory speeches). Further, even if he had said such things we completely disapprove and dissociate ourselves from it. Moreover, we (like others) have not exploited it as a political issue. In fact, Advaniji, after that incident, had instructed party leaders to abide by the model code of conduct and not use such language.
(UP Chief Minister) Mayawati had first slapped the attempt to murder charges (against Varun) and then filed a case under the National Security Act (NSA). A case which could have been solved with the help of a simple forensic test of the CD in question was turned into a national crisis. Will you blame us for that? Further, the Election Commission could have issued strictures or could have simply disagreed, but instead it suggested us not to let him contest the election. I think the Election Commission has in the process entered a ‘no entry zone’.
Swati: Yes, I agree that the Election Commission has no right to issue such an advisory to a political party but shouldn’t you, as the chief Opposition party, have followed principles (and dropped Varun as a candidate)?
Jaitley: We disapproved and disagreed with the comments (allegedly made by Varun). Can I ask why the Uttar Pradesh government has so far not sent the CDs for forensic tests?
Swati: That is because Varun Gandhi has so far not agreed to provide a sample of his voice.
Jaitley: Well, that was not a difficult task. Varun Gandhi has been making speeches in various public rallies after that incident also. The government, if it wishes to, can easily collect the sample. Further, we maintain that the law should take its own course.
Swati: Why has the BJP failed to acknowledge its role in the 1999 Kandahar hijack issue?
Jaitley: I have two things to say on this. First, the Congress has no answers for what it has done in the last five years. That’s why they keep going back to the nine-year-old case. This is something like raising the issue of Emergency now. It is easy for them to term the Kandahar episode as shameful. We had two options then: either to free the three terrorists or risk the lives of the passengers. It was a very difficult situation for us. And we went ahead with what we thought would be the lesser-evil-out-of-the-two.
Swati: Tell us what would be the final numbers on May 16?
Jaitley: When the election process began there was hype that the Congress is the front runner in these polls. Today, Congress is the underdog and NDA is fast emerging as the front-runner.
Swati: (smiling) Umeed pe duniya kayam hai…
Adapted by: Anil Satapathy