Debating India

ELECTIONS 2004

’The BJP has evolved’

V. Venkatesan

Friday 23 April 2004, by VENKATESAN*V.

Interview with Arun Jaitley.

Union Minister for Law and Commerce Arun Jaitley is considered one of the key strategists of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the others being party president M. Venkaiah Naidu, general secretary Pramod Mahajan and Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sushma Swaraj. The party denied these leaders the opportunity to contest the elections so that they can coordinate the party’s campaign. Jaitley spoke to V. Venkatesan on a number of issues thrown up by the BJP’s campaign so far. Excerpts:

Would you consider this an "issueless" election?

There is one issue that dominates the campaign, and that is that the National Democratic Alliance has become a stable force in Indian politics. The leadership of Vajpayee and the performance of the NDA give an assurance to the people, and the comfort level is very high. Therefore, this is a government that has done well, there is a `feel good’, there is a pro-incumbency... and that they must be voted back. This broadly is the mood of the nation today. The fact that there is an issueless Opposition, which has not been able to nail the government on any point, does not make the election issueless. The comfort level of people with the government is reasonably high.

But the focus of BJP leaders’ campaign speeches seems to be on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin.

No. It is the focus of the reporting. You report only what is chatpata (sensational). The positives rarely get reported. The negative attacks by all parties get reported. That is the trend in India. That does not mean that the speeches do not contain them.

The party’s "Vision Document" contains several photographs of Vajpayee, which shows that your intention is to promote personality cult.

No, this is a conscious decision. This is a publication that we want our sympathisers and supporters to preserve and therefore Atalji’s photographs taken during the last 52 years have been included. It is a photographic journey of the history of the Jan Sangh and the BJP through Atalji. We have a leader who has a large national acceptability and since he is our leader even in this election and for the next tenure as Prime Minister obviously his face will be in the brochure. There is no harm in promoting a leader and telling the country that this is our leader.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had been telling party workers even a few years ago that they should not be apologetic about ideology. But in these elections he is saying that there has been a dilution of ideology.

I don’t think there is a dilution of ideology. The issues of governance have come into the forefront. That is a change that has taken place. The BJP as a party of governance has certainly evolved.

Why is the BJP reluctant to stick to its stand on abrogating Article 370, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir? The "Vision Document", unlike the BJP’s earlier manifestoes, no longer advocates its deletion from the Constitution.

I don’t think there is reluctance. We are a thinking party. The "Vision Document" categorically says that we endorse and recognise that the provisions referring to Jammu and Kashmir in the Constitution are temporary and transient, unlike our opponents who think they are permanent, and yet we feel the immediate challenges are to fight terrorism, to work for the economic development of the Valley and to end discrimination against Jammu and Leh/Ladakh. Today we don’t have the required figures to repeal Article 370. It is not on the NDA agenda and a debate on Article 370 is not an immediate solution to the problem of terrorism.

You won 182 seats in the last elections. How is your party hopeful of crossing the halfway mark?

I think it is immodest to discuss numbers. Let us leave it to May 13. The basis of our optimism is that popular choice is restricted. That is, the NDA under Vajpayee versus we don’t know. There is no alliance, no leader, no common minimum programme, no performance, and no capacity on the other side.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic : V.V. KRISHNAN ; Arun Jaitley.

in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 08, April 10 - 23, 2004.

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