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"Advaniji’s neither a hardliner nor a softliner. He has no line. And it’s a shock I’m still to recover from"

Tuesday 4 April 2006, by GUPTA*Shekhar

From ideologue to maverick, Uma Bharati has been described differently. The party’s mainstay during the turbulent Ayodhya days, she was shown the door recently. The former MP Chief Minister and one of the most recognised faces in the country discusses her experiences with Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express, on NDTV’s ?Walk the Talk’

? Welcome. It’s taken a long time. We keep planning and hesitating.

It has taken a long time. But this is the right time and the right place here. Because Narmada is a very famous river, it is the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh.

? And it has political importance also.

Yes for Medha and Narendra Modi. Not for the people of Madhya Pradesh. We try to draw power from Narmada, not political power.

? The most interesting thing is the way you dress, your image as a sanyasin, your religious beliefs which I know are strong, that don’t entirely do justice to your personality because your personality is not that of a traditional sadhu, and your beliefs also.

The reason is that for me, being a sanyasin is a very personal matter. I took sanyas with such a firm conviction that this is the only way I want to live because when I decided this, I was a very mature person. It was my second term in the Parliament and I was a 32-yr-old. I took sanyas for myself so it is only for my guru to judge me as a sanyasin. I don’t want other people to judge me as a sanyasin. They should treat me like an ordinary citizen of this country.

? But why sanyas? What is it that you could not have done if you had not taken sanyas?

It’s my personal choice. As you decided you want to get married, so like that I decided to get sanyas. I don’t want anyone to question it.

? No I’m not questioning it. You did not do it particularly because it contributes to your public life?

No it’s other way round. Sometimes there are many handicaps. More chaos because they all come and fall at my feet. And because I’m a sanyasi so you people also get a chance to make fun of me because you think I’ll spend more time in temples rather than doing my files.

? But now we are out of the temple.

No, but you decided this place. I suggested Hoshangabad as it has good ghats. But you decided on the temple.

? Where else can I take a sanyasi if not to a temple? I can’t take a sanyasin to a casino or a bar, that would have become a bigger story. So what other constraints does it put on your public life?

I’ve to give more time to people who want to meet me as I’m a sanyasi. But there are certain advantages also. I’ve got a clarity of thought and a focused mind better than other politicians.

? Sometimes there’s a lot of speculation about who’s touching your feet and who’s not. When you go to Madhya Pradesh Assembly, people count the number of MLAs who touch your feet.

And I feel embarrassed, I tell you. It was so uncomfortable when I went to Assembly last year and the feet touching ceremony started. I’m used to the Parliament, where no member can go to the other member when the Parliament is on. And I thought something would happen. Then I realised that sometimes Assembly is bit different than the Parliament because here the Speaker did not object.

? I’m curious. Look at senior women politicians in the country-you, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati...

Why not Sonia also? You think she is greater than me?

? I’m not saying who’s greater.

Ok, then mention her name also.

? See, there’s a difference.

Tell me the difference.

? All three of you have built up your own politics. Sonia has inherited it.

No, Jayalalithaa did not built up her own politics. She took MGR’s support. Mayawati rose to this position because of Kanshi Ram. I did not have anybody.

? So Sonia also. But the three of you, either in smaller parties or more independent...

I’m not a smaller party.

? Ok. You are the biggest party. Bigger than the BJP.

Give me three years Shekhar. You are talking to a child who’s just two months old. I’ve been thrown out.

? You are not a two-month-old. You know your business. Why this feet-touching sycophancy around these women leaders?

But it is with Atalji also. People come and touch Atal Behari Vajpayee’s feet. You come and see.

? Khair unke to aap bhi chute hai (you also touch his feet).

Hum nahi chute (not me). I never ever touch any politician’s feet. I just do Namaste to them. I’m not a sycophant.

? So why this culture of sycophancy around women leaders?

I don’t think it’s a culture of sycophancy. See, the mindset in this country is such that women - either she is a devi or she is a dasi. Either she is serving the men, or she is a devi. So when a woman becomes powerful, they start treating her like a devi because they cannot take easily to a woman being powerful. See the way I was projected. Why? I’m a very normal human being. I’ve got a better temper than Atalji and Advaniji has.

? Some people will say you have a “smoothly wild temper’’.

I don’t have a wild temper, but I’m a very transparent person. I believe life is very short and many things have to be done in a short span of time so I’m in a hurry. Because of that people perceive it the other way. It’s not only your perception, it is also my misdoing.

? My perception is hearsay.

Na,na baba. Aap log create kiye ho mujhe aisa (No. It is you who created me). Media and print media. But now when they meet me they say that I’m not what they had read about. I tell them it’s you who wrote it and said it. You only created me.

? I also know you as a very modern person from inside, which is not your public image.

Without modern thinking this country cannot progress. All countries need thinking which is in tune with time. Because right now we are competing with the world. This time the invasion is not on borders, it is in market. It is in terms of dollar and euro. This is the real war.

? You want them all?

I want them all. I want my market, my products to capture world market.

? So your swadeshism doesn’t say people should stop coming to India?

No it’s the other way round. Send our people and our products outside. Look at China, the way they have captured the world market. For me “India Shining” does not mean American or German cars shining on Indian roads. Indian cars should shine on their roads.

? Where did BJP go wrong in “India Shining”?

I think Indian people like politeness. They like humbleness. After October 30, 31, when some people got shot in Ayodhya, for the first time, BJP got a clear majority in UP. After December 6, same people did not vote for the BJP because people did not like the kind of campaigning we had - Jo kaha so kiya, jo kaha hai so karenge (we do what we say). They like humbleness. So whenever you are praising yourself, you have to be polite. I think they found us bit snobbish in the last campaign. Like they said - feel good. Who has to feel good? Venkaiah Naidu or the labour class, the coolie, the rickshawaala? The women, the engineer, the doctor, they have to feel good. You did not take care of the fact whether they were feeling good or not. We have to understand this that our feeling good is not the feel good for the country.

? So who went wrong with that planning and strategy?

I don’t know. I think ’96 was the turning point for the BJP when the BJP formed the government for 13 days. At that time political managers came into being and invaded the party. I don’t think this is wrong. Political managers are important. But political managers and ideological leaders should always consult each other. The leader should take the lead and the manager should advise them and support them. But here it happens the other way round. Political managers took the place of leaders and ultimately became fund-raisers. They attained such a position that they started deciding who will be the leader.

? So tell me about five key political leaders and five key political managers.

I don’t want to discuss this. Because one will go and the other will lay his eggs there.

? Laying eggs at the time of bird flu, you should avoid using.

But most of our leaders are like chicken.

? They like chicken or they are like chicken?

Both. They like to eat chicken and at times they also behave like chicken.

? Tell me one name in BJP who can define a good political leader and one to define a good political manager.

There are leaders who get respect from people, who are firm on their commitment and they get votes because of their firmness. Such a leader in the BJP is Atalji. He has always been moderate on Hinduism.

? And you agree with his moderate thoughts.

On many points. But he could not implement those thoughts when he became the Prime Minister, because of the people who were around in the PMO at that time. Few people who could have helped him did not find place in the PMO. And he was left alone.

? Who all could not make it to the office?

I don’t want to name them. For example, Swadeshi Jagran Manch. Everybody there did not believe in shutting doors. There were a few people who believed in entering the global markets.

? For instance, Gurumurthy.

I’m not talking here about him. Gurumurthy was not on my mind. For example, Ashokji Singhal. Ashokji was treated so badly, I remember. He was under house arrest in Ayodhya. I myself went there and apologised. I was the only minister who went to Ayodhya at that time. Many times I told him to consult Yashwant Sinha on issues of economic policies. When FDI in print came up, I said the same thing.

? Can you name a few more good leaders?

No, I won’t take more names. But Advaniji is another one. I haven’t seen any other leader in this world with such clean and good habits. I often told him that Dada your company is just the opposite of what you are. They do not contribute anything concrete and just keep surrounding him. I told him I did not like that. He used to say that he would introspect on this point.

? Then why did you have so much of tension with him?

The issue they created that I wanted to become the Chief Minister, is not the real issue. I quit that post on my own.

? But you wanted to have a say in the choice of next Chief Minister, which you were not given.

Yes. And why should I not be given a choice? The point of dispute with Advaniji started when Venkaiah was removed and he became the party president. I told him that now I don’t see in the near future we will be able to make the government through NDA. So better you try to reform the party and re-establish the party, because there are certain people who came after ’96 and they have damaged the image of the party. So this time you don’t have general secretaries.

? Now you should have the courage of naming. Where is the problem?

It’s not a question of courage.

? When you are in public life, you should be up-front.

Don’t challenge my courage. The reason is that they are such a non-issue. Advaniji’s mind is the issue. You have to understand my mind also. The issue is why Atalji and Advaniji did not have the courage to re-establish the party at that time. And thereby the point of dispute. Because of that reason Advaniji threw me out. Then I was brought back. But when I was brought back, I had three conditions - that there should be a mix of vichar dhara, aachran and padhyati in the party, Off-record briefing be stopped. This second rung leadership in BJP is conspiring more than contributing to the party through off-record briefing. The third point was that to form a core committee for running the Madhya Pradesh government on its agenda. I did not say anything for myself. So you must have seen that Advaniji never contradicted my points.

? So what went wrong in his mind?

When I was brought back for one year, there was a tussle on these points - that you have brought me back but you are not listening to my points. So I felt suffocated. But then the issue of Bihar came up. Arun had to manage BJP in Bihar. But he was unwell. So instead of changing the person in-charge, he sent me to handle the affairs in Bihar. So I think the idea of removing me was in his mind. But they wanted to win in Bihar so they waited.

? But why should Mr Advani dislike you so much after having liked you so much for so long?

That one year of differences...

? And you are also not so diplomatic as we’ve understood you.

But Atalji is a great person. He does not mind having differences with me. He does not mind me arguing with him.

? Have you had quarrels with him?

Lots. And once I really insulted him. I argued with him for the IRA Bill. I said not to allow private sectors in insurance. I asked to allow first the Indian private sectors to enter the insurance sector. Atalji said you are the minister why are you talking in the Parliamentary party. I asked him to remove me from the minister’s post. I challenged him there and I walked out. And he did not mind. Shakti Sinha was his PS then. He told me to go and apologise. I went with him. I said Baapji I’m so sorry. You know what he said? Hum to bhool gaye ki aapko daata nahi ja sakta. Humko yaad nahi raha, I’m so sorry. And within a week’s time, I was promoted and I got independent charge and half of the HRD charge was given to me.

? And Advaniji?

Even Advaniji... With Advaniji it was an ideological fight.

? What is this ideological fight because people consider Advaniji as a hardliner as compared to Atalji?

What I’ve realised is he’s neither a hardliner nor a softliner. He has no line. And it is a shock and I’m still to recover from that shock. And you have to remember this that after ’96 Atalji did not try to interfere in the organisational matters at all. Actually from ’96 till today it is Advaniji who kind of took care of the organisational matters. So the kind of people or the kind of people who should not be in the prominent place - all the decisions were taken by Advaniji. He took wrong decisions.

? Tell me some wrong decisions.

Jana Krishnamurthy shouldn’t have been removed. It was a wrong decision. What difference did it make? I believed that Venkaiah Naidu should not have been removed.

? Should not have been removed or should not have been made?

Should not have been made in the beginning. You treated party presidents like-Jana Krishnamurthy was there for six months, Venkaiah Naidu for six months. You are making fun of the post of the party president. Why you removed Jana Krishnamurthy? Once you have made Venkaiah Naidu, you make a team and tell him to listen to that team. Definitely Venkaiah Naidu was not taken seriously. I believe if you have a party president, make a core group and that group should advise the party president and that core group should be totally ideologically committed. But unfortunately those who could have been a core group were all removed. Sunder Singh Bhandari, Krishnalal Sharma, Kailashpati Mishra, Govindacharya.

? And when they went away they were not replaced by ideological people.

Yeah. Ideological leaders, political managers and fund raisers should have been combined together by Advaniji. But Advaniji took the whole operation so unmindfully that ideological leaders were totally sidelined, they went into darkness, disappeared.

? And you think Atalji was in agreement with this?

I don’t know whether Advaniji consulted those things with Atalji or not. Because I found always that Atalji was above these things. Sometimes it was a disadvantage, sometimes it was bad. He never showed interest in organisational matters. That’s why I don’t mention any other name. These two people are responsible for the rise of the party and the fall of the party.

? But is their responsibility for the fall a sin of commission or a mission?

Their choices were wrong. What were the compulsions I don’t know. I think the fund raisers and political managers became friends with the family members of both these leaders. After 2000, 2001, they started becoming very important for both. So the route of the fund raisers and political managers became through the family. And both leaders have to explain the compulsion.

? So fund raisers and political managers, manipulators got hold of these two leaders’ family members and through that they controlled these two leaders.

Yes, I agree with you. And I felt very sorry for this.

(To be concluded)

See online : The Indian Express

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