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The Election Interview/Vishwanath Pratap Singh

Sheela Bhatt

Friday 25 July 2003, by BHATT*Sheela

Every now and then former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh has to visit Delhi’s Apollo Hospital for a blood transfusion. But that has not deterred him from travelling extensively through Uttar Pradesh to raise awareness of the citizens’ right to information. Right now, however, what’s more important to Singh is to dissuade other political parties from aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party after the election results are announced. He tells Sheela Bhatt why he is doing so from his hospital bed.

What will be the outcome of the UP election?

The Samajwadi Party will be the largest [party]. Mulayam Singh Yadav is very focused and is working hard. Rajnath Singh has taken away a few Thakur votes from his (Mulayam’s) party. But it will be a game of numbers. There will be bargaining. Rajnath Singh says: "Whether people come to my meetings or not, I know how to form the government." He is a master at such tactics.

Mayawati has certainly given self-respect to the dalits. For thousands of years the dalits were neglected. Now they feel someone of their own can command [strength] in the state. Her vote bank is still intact. Her problem is that she is not clear about her party’s relation with the BJP. If she overcomes that she will become a very big force.

When she became chief minister last time, she came to me for my blessings. I told her, "I’ll bless you, but not your government." She asked why. I said, "You took the BJP’s help. You made them the chowkidars [guardians] of your interest. But the protector of your roof will eat away your roots! In the long run you should choose between your government and your political base."

I further advised her that you may form a government, run it for a few months and on the minority issue just resign! Use this government as a green manure and your next crop will be a bumper crop with the support of minority and dalits. Somehow my advice didn’t click. She is still not clear about her relation with the BJP.

What are the new issues this time?

No political party in Uttar Pradesh is offering anything new. Our platform, the Kisan Manch, has taken up the issue of accountability and transparency. We are asking for the right to information. We are asking sitting MLAs to furnish [accounts of] their spending of public money to the people. Who were the beneficiaries and who were the agents? I have approached all political parties and got a positive response.

Left party MLAs have already disclosed their spending. [MLAs get Rs 50 lakh and MPs Rs 1 crore annually for their constituencies.] Mulayam Singh has also agreed. Sonia Gandhi responded well. I met Atalji and he agreed. BJP’s chief Krishnaji [Jana Krishnamurthy] has said they can take up the matter only in March because of the constitutional provisions of his party.

The right to information will empower the people of UP to pressurise the government on development. Amar Singh [general secretary of the Samajwadi Party] said we could collect expenditure details from the district magistrates. When I called up a district magistrate, he said, "We give a copy to the MLA and MP, but we have no right to make it public."

We will fight now, so that all DMs can make public the spending of the MLAs of their area.

Another issue is corruption in defence [deals]. It should be considered anti-national. Terrorism is a threat. Gandhiji was killed by [Nathuram] Godse, though the BJP never mentions it when they talk of terrorism. Then Indiraji and Rajiv were killed by terrorists. Terrorists can kill people, but they can’t destroy a country. But corruption in defence [deals] can.

The third issue we want to launch is the issue of unfulfilled promises by political parties. We are planning a mass movement on these issues.

You are still being blamed for the mess in Uttar Pradesh — for bringing casteism into electoral politics by introducing the politics of Mandal.

That is just not true. Before Mandal, during the Indira Gandhi era, caste politics was always present in UP. I was the Congress chief minister of UP. Our first consideration for giving tickets was caste! Regular surveys of the mood of the caste compositions were done by the party as well as the intelligence. Because party surveys used to be biased, the intelligence agency also did the survey. The Pradesh Congress Committee chief and CM got a first-hand account from them.

The only difference was that there was hegemony of the upper class at that time. It was as much casteist, as much oppressive, as it is today. The upper caste used the stick of casteism against the lower caste. Now the deprived class has taken those sticks away and reversed the order. And you cry — it’s all casteism in UP. So long as the upper caste was casteist nobody called it so.

But your politics accentuated it.

What I had proposed was not caste politics. I wanted social justice cutting across caste lines. Not only for dalits, but also for the poor sections of the upper castes.

But Mandal didn’t project these views.

As far as Mandal is concerned, it was approved by the Supreme Court. And all the parties have accepted it. The BJP was totally opposed to it, but today Rajnath is carrying my flag, the Mandal flag! Atalji is also chanting the mantra of Mandal. There cannot be a greater vindication when your enemy, after 12 years, proposes your theory.

The concept of social justice has degenerated. In the last decade, all parties practised electoral politics based on religion and caste. But the next decade — because of our economic conditions — will be of politics based on hunger.

I am asking people to vote on the basis of jamaat (community). Only then can their problems be solved.

I am vindicated on both issues — Mandir and Mandal. The BJP should apologise to me for adopting my line on the Mandir issue and should apologise to the relatives of the people who died in the riots during the Ayodhya agitation. I lost my government because I said the Mandir issue would be decided by the court or by a mutual settlement. Now Atalji is saying the same thing.

In UP or in India, everybody is busy making governments. Nobody cares for democracy. There are no rules for the game. Only in this country, in the name of security, the prime minister can say don’t talk about the CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General] report! How can you not talk about it? It’s a constitutional body.

At the fag end of my life, I want to spread this message. Though I don’t have a party, don’t have power and don’t have much time.

How do you explain the presence of criminals in the election in UP?

Earlier any leader would avoid an association with criminals for fearing of losing votes. Today he doesn’t lose votes. This is because we don’t have any accountability or transparency. Power — you will get it anyway. There were some Robin Hood-type of caste leaders. They protected their community and challenged authority. They had mass base, so politicians indirectly contacted them behind the curtain.

But when politicians saw they did not risk losing votes, they [the criminals] came out in the open. When I fought the Allahabad election, criminals were released and were seen sitting with Congress CM Veer Bahadur Singh. They were found useful in booth-capturing. So they started getting respectability. Now they walk into a minister’s home.

Caste protected them, all the time. These so-called criminals are in direct touch with the people. On behalf of the poor, they go to the collector’s office and can shout at him. And things are done! So they acquire a base in the caste. Every country has gone through such a phase. In England, constituencies were auctioned.

I feel the middle class should join the public platform by such raising issues. Only the middle class can set the standard.

It’s ironical that you now meet Sonia Gandhi, against whose husband you ran the Bofors campaign.

How can you omit a leader of the opposition when you are seeking national consensus? Bofors was one thing; it’s now in the hands of the court, not in ours. At that time, we just said that there was a transaction of illegal money and a cover-up by the PM and the CBI. Beyond that I didn’t make any allegations. Bofors has reached its logical conclusion.

Do you think anyone cares to listen to you now?

It never mattered to me. I stand here, because I can’t stand elsewhere.

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