OPINION

“Coalition dharma means whatever is agreed upon in a common minimum programme should be implemented”

L.K. Advani: ‘Somehow, I have acquired an image’ of a hardliner.

L.K. Advani: ‘Somehow, I have acquired an image’ of a hardliner.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: V. Sudershan

Top BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani answers N. Ram’s questions on the BJP’s electoral prospects; lessons learnt from 2004; coalition governance; Ayodhya; Gujarat 2002; his reputation as a hardliner; the intra-parivar controversy over his Jinnah remarks in Pakistan; the explosive Amarnath Shrine land affair; combating terrorism; and the contemporary meaning of Hindutva. This is the concluding part of an in-depth interview given toThe Hinduat the residence of the Leader of the Opposition in New Delhi on Wednesday. The first part was published on July 11.

Advaniji, you are not known to exaggerate the political prospects of your own party or formation. What is your realistic assessment of the political prospects of the BJP and the NDA at this juncture?

In a country like ours, so large, such a large electorate, so many States to bear in mind, it is never easy, particularly when you don’t know when the elections are going to be held — in November or some time next year? — to be precise or even close to precision insofar as the outcome of an election is concerned. But I’ve seen elections right from ’52 till today, every election I’ve seen. I have never seen so much despair in the people and so much disillusionment in the people with an incumbent government as with the present government.

In fact, people have been asking me, ‘If NDA comes to power tomorrow, we will be inheriting a very difficult situation, in the field of economy as well as in the field of foreign policy and several other fields … the problems of agriculture.’ But as I said to some of my colleagues yesterday: ‘All these have to be tackled. But much more than that, during the six years of NDA rule there was a feeling of buoyancy. The development of the infrastructure; the highways built up; numerous facilities, like the kisan credit card and all that, were given to the farmers. And happily, the growth in the field of IT came at that time. Telephones, which were a real headache for us for decades; I have been in Parliament from 1970 and I know that one of the biggest complaints from the constituency was ‘Telephone mil sakta hai kya, telephone mil sakta hai kya? [can you help us get a telephone?]’ And suddenly these mobile phones and all that came.

Of course it’s technology development but it came at that time. We managed the IT development and the communications in a manner that gave great satisfaction to the people. I wish our plans for the interlinking of rivers also had made some progress. We set up a committee. Now all these things had made the country buoyant, the people buoyant. The feeling was that the country was moving forward. Unfortunately in the last four years, there has been a feeling of despair. So I said to my colleagues that the first task is to be able to do things in the first two years itself which recreate hope — that now things are happening and the country will move forward.

Lessons from 2004?

As the next Prime Minister should the NDA or the BJP-led coalition win the next general election, you surely know that the outcome of the last one was a political upset. Virtually no one I knew — other than Sharad Pawar, who once gave me a fairly accurate prediction — expected that. What is the lesson you have learnt from the last experience, in particular the campaign that highlighted the “India Shining” theme?

[The lesson from] the last experience is: ‘Don’t be overconfident. And do not neglect your own constituency.’ I’m not referring to the individual constituency, I’m talking of the party’s constituency.

It was neglected?

Yes, they did feel neglected. We did not neglect them. And very often that has been a continuing process of education for my own constituency also in these years. But if you have a coalition government, then the limitations imposed by a coalition also should be borne in mind. They should not be disregarded, not only by the party or those who are in power but also by its constituency.

May I tell you this has been a contrast — talking about the nuclear issue. In our case, among the distinctive features that the BJP incorporated in its [2004 election] manifesto, which were not there in the manifesto of any of our allies, one was that the BJP was in favour of making India a nuclear weapons state. Therefore, we would develop a nuclear deterrent of our own. No other alliance partner of ours had this in its manifesto. So when we were preparing our common minimum programme, we discussed with them all these things. And it was only when they accepted it, all of them, including the AIADMK and the Akali Dal and all of them who were with us, that we incorporated it in the common minimum programme, which we described as the National Agenda of Governance.

Our other distinctive features, they would not agree to. We did not press them at all — except subsequently at one stage when they agreed that if a temple can be built at Ayodhya, either by a court verdict or by agreement between the two communities, it should go through. It was much later. But in the National Agenda of Governance, only one point, namely: ‘Yes, we should go in for Pokhran.’ Pokhran was not [specifically] mentioned, but nuclear deterrent. And the credit goes to Vajpayee-ji that on the 19th of March 1998 he was sworn in and within less than two months, on the 11th of May, 1998, we had Pokhran-II.

And in contrast — the Communists have a point, the Left parties when they complain, ‘Was this in the Congress manifesto? Was this in the Common Minimum Programme? It wasn’t there,’ so they have a point …

Nor the ‘strategic alliance.’

Therefore our coalition functioned very well. And today one of the points that we are going to hammer home to the electorate is: ‘You just compare the functioning of these coalitions — one the NDA, the other the UPA — and see the contrast!’

On the backburner?

Now this brings me to the other issues you referred to — the issue of the Ram temple, Article 370, and the Uniform Civil Code. They were kept on the back burner during NDA rule.

I won’t call it the back burner. I don’t call it the back burner. If we were to have a government of our own and we don’t do it, then it’s on the back burner. But when a coalition is formed of several parties who do not agree, then whatever is agreed upon has to be implemented. I remember that this is what I said the first time even to V.P. Singh when he became Prime Minister, with our outside support. I as president of the party wrote him a long letter, in which I said that ‘In my manifesto and your manifesto, the Janata Dal manifesto, there are many common points. I hope — ‘even though I’m supporting you from outside, without my support your government cannot be formed’ — I hope that while carrying out your programmes, you will keep in mind that the issues that are common to both should be implemented, freedom of information, this, that, there were several things. But if there is any issue on which there is a difference of opinion, we would be free to withdraw support. And that’s what happened actually.

Yes. This could be repeated because in the next test, your allies could do quite strongly in some States, you will have formidable allies ...

Therefore, coalition dharma. The first and foremost guideline should be: whatever is agreed upon in the common minimum programme should be done.

Hindutva hardliner?

Now this question you must have been asked in many forms. Mr. Vajpayee, who was once described by Mr. Karunanidhi as ‘the right man in the wrong party,’ was reputed for taking along coalition partners of different ideological hues. You have a reputation for being a hardliner on core Hindutva issues. That’s the perception. Is that a valid differentiation? Why don’t you let us into your innermost thoughts on this question?

Anyone who calls my party a ‘wrong party,’ you cannot expect me to agree with him in his assessment. No one — not Vajpayee-ji — would agree with him. But I can tell you that, in my experience, what surprised me was my experience in Pakistan. Even today people coming from Pakistan to Delhi, meeting everyone, whosoever has invited them, they invariably ask: ‘Can we not meet Advani?’ Anyone who goes to Pakistan will find that the impression about Advani in Pakistan, where this [the perception of him being a hardliner] should have been the maximum, [is quite different]. So it only means that somehow I have acquired an image. So many people have contributed to it, not only adversaries but others also. I don’t mind it that way.

Remarks on Jinnah of August 1947

In fact, this brings me to your celebrated remarks in Pakistan, of which The Hindu did quite a bit of editorial coverage …

Yes, you wrote an editorial. I greatly appreciate all that you wrote that time…

… about your remarks on Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s secular vision of August 1947.

Yes and surprisingly before going to Pakistan, I made a longish speech here — just on this lawn outside, releasing a book on Pakistan — where I quoted exactly what Jinnah had said in his first speech in the Constituent Assembly. Because I had just then come from Kolkata where Swami Ranganadananda had reminded me of that speech. Nothing happened at that time. I was Deputy Prime Minister at that time.

That was misconstrued and even targeted within your camp.

I know that.

How did you respond to that?

I don’t blame them. It was not targeted. It was misunderstood. There was no deliberate criticism of it.

How did you cope with that period? Must have been difficult for you.

I felt… Prannoy Roy interviewed me on NDTV and I told him: ‘I did feel distressed about the reaction in my party but my greater distress was that my party lost an opportunity.’ When in six days whatever I said or did there [in Pakistan] was able to change the totally wrong and negative image that the party had. I wish the party had followed it up, built on that.

Gujarat 2002

What happened in Gujarat in 2002 was a very serious matter. You were in government. At the least it was one of the issues on which people might have judged the BJP adversely in the 14th general election. What is your feeling now about what happened in Gujarat in 2002, this huge loss of life, this genocide?

There was no genocide. Genocide is a word that should not be lightly used. But in India there have been riots and riots — and sometimes riots far worse than those that took place in Gujarat in 2002. In fact, in the capital itself, I have been witness to what was not a riot — because not a single Hindu was killed when 3500 Sikhs were killed, in 1984. It’s sad. It’s tragic. It should not happen. It is to be condemned. So also in Gujarat I condemned it, everyone condemned it. Whether it was Godhra or the post-Godhra riots, all were condemnable. But that doesn’t mean that you blame whosoever is at the helm of affairs for ‘genocide’ and what not. And the only Chief Minister in the country who has distinguished himself by his performance also being pursued in a manner, so viciously, as to have him denied a visa in America, which has never happened before with any Chief Minister of the country! This is not fair. And therefore I did defend Narendra Modi.

Amarnath land controversy

Now on the Amarnath shrine land issue, the issue of the GO which perhaps was misconstrued. But the campaign on both sides raised communal tensions. Had you been in the central government, how would you have handled this in the first instance? A sensitive issue was clearly mishandled when we don’t need more trouble in Jammu & Kashmir.

I wish the Chief Minister’s advice had been respected. I went to Amarnath on the 20th of June, just two days after the yatra started. I spoke to the shrine executives who told me all that had been going on. And I spoke to many of the pilgrims. There were thousands there, at the shrine itself and all along the way. Spoke to many. Almost everyone was telling me that ‘Whatever assistance we have got, help we have got, we have got it from the Army, not from the State officers.’

Because the PDP’s attitude was hostile. They were critical even of the Chief Minister at that time. The Chief Minister also was unhappy about it. I have been several times to Vaishnavodevi [in Jammu] where a similar shrine has been created. And there similar facilities and land allotment have also been made to enable the pilgrims to feel happy. Today those who are used to going on pilgrimages often come back from Vaishnavodevi with a comment: ‘Why cannot all the places in the country which are places of pilgrimage be run in the same manner as Vaishnavodevi is being run?’

The shrine in Amarnath is also, like the Vaishanavodevi Shrine, created by a resolution of the Assembly. Here that shrine is created and then when the government thinks of giving all the facilities — temporary facilities, toilets, this, that, resting places, lighting, etc. — there is such an uproar!

Instead of correcting it and telling the PDP that ‘You are wrong,’ the authorities succumbed and succumbed in a manner as to lose even the stewardship of the government, lose the government. What kind of attitude is this? There is no reason, no justification, no explanation — except that it is a very glaring example of what I have always described as pseudo-secularism. ‘That may be a Hindu shrine, all right, do with it what you want. But this is in a Muslim locality, where the bulk of the people are Muslims. Therefore you cannot have land here.’ Because — of course, those are the extremists and fundamentalists — who said: ‘There is a demographic design, to change the population.’ So absurd.

I wish the Government of India had realised that the consequences of this can be very serious, if you condone it.

Combating terrorism

On the issue of terrorism, what’s the difference between your handling of it and the present government’s?

My handling was not confined to merely following up an event. After an incident occurs, investigate, apprehend the culprits, punish them. It was a continuing process. During NDA regime, the terrorist threat was very serious and therefore the IB agencies and the other agencies dealing with terrorists were told to carry out continuing and vigorous search for the ISI modules, wherever they are. And apprehend them, destroy them. That process went on continuously. Nearly every year, a large number of modules were destroyed. That process stopped. And even when events occur, the investigations have been of such a nature that till today so many incidents have occurred which I can list out and there has not been a single case in which people have been charge-sheeted, what to say of punished.

Hindutva as cultural nationalism

The last question: on Hindutva. You have written a great deal on it in terms of ‘cultural nationalism.’ You have been charged with majoritarianism and worse. In response to the contemporary situation, what is your summation of Hindutva?

Majoritarianism is a word coined: it can be applied to America, it can be applied to every democracy. But the fact is that in India political parties, after Partition, came to the conclusion that even though India has been divided on the basis of Hindu and Muslim, we would like it to be a successful democracy. So let us run the government, run the country through this process of elections and vote.

In the process, however, some people discovered that Hindus are not a homogeneous community: they are divided into castes, they are divided into languages, and their identity is more related to that caste or language than to the fact that they are Hindus. In the case of Muslims, it’s different. In that case, it is the religious identity which is predominant. Therefore, if you want to get votes, you try to mobilise vote banks — casteist, linguistic vote banks in the case of the Hindus, religious vote banks in the case of the Muslims or the Christians. That is the reason why all this came in.

So far as we are concerned, we have held that … it was my first party general secretary, Deendayal Upadhyaya [1916-1968], who taught us that in India, Hinduism is not the name of a religion. It’s more of a national connotation. I was just reading an old book by that famous historian of philosophy, Will Durant. It was banned by the Britishers. Because it was Will Durant’s The Case for India [Simon and Schuster, New York, 1930], an excellent book about how the Britishers tortured India, what they did here. But in that he again and again uses the word ‘Hindu.’ ‘I have not consulted any Hindu while writing this,’ meaning I have not consulted any Indian. For him, Hindu and Indian are totally synonymous.

I was telling you about Deendayal Upadhyaya, who has been the greatest influence on me, in terms of conduct as well as in terms of my thinking. He said: ‘In independent India, we want India to be a secular country in which all citizens are equal. Hindutva should be equated to Bharatiyata. Bharatiyat is a Hindu. Indianness and Hindutva are synonymous. Don’t make a distinction between the two. It should mean nationalism essentially.’ Therefore it is that I grew up with cultural nationalism.

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