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September 8, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Manohar Joshi

'The only issue political parties must contest on is the economy'

Very few people who come penniless to Bombay can dream of ruling Maharashtra in their lifetime. But former chief minister Manohar Joshi, who left his native Nandvi village in Raigad district, as a young boy, realised just that, in the City of Dreams.

As a young boy he did all kinds of odd jobs, earning about Rs 30 a month. "I used to eat one meal a day and skip the other because I could not afford it," recalls the former CM. "It was only in 1990 I thought we can one day rule Maharashtra."

In his four-year rule, he has seen good times as well as bad. He saw the party triumph in the 1996 Lok Sabha election, and plunge to its nadir when it was routed in 1998. Though Joshi accepted moral responsibility for the electoral debacle, his resignation was not accepted by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who deposed him a few months later.

In an interview with Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Joshi, who is contesting the Lok Sabha election from Mumbai-North Central, discusses his tenure and the party's prospects in the coming election.

This is the third time you are contesting a parliamentary election, how do you feel about it?

I have been in politics for 32 years now. I was a municipal corporator in Bombay, then joined state politics. I served as CM for four years. So, I felt I must enter national politics to get a wider and larger perspective. I hope my experience will be of great help to the people of my constituency in solving their problems.

Do you think the Sena-BJP will gain because of the division in Congress votes?

Of course, we will gain in the election, because there is a clear-cut division of votes of the Congress and the Republican Party. In 1998 they could win only because of their strategic alliance. And moreover, let me tell you, our vote percentage was high compared to them in the 1996 parliamentary election. So, we are definitely going to gain this time.

What are you highlighting in your election propaganda?

Lots of things. It includes the achievements of the BJP-Sena government and the promises which we made in the 1995 election. Nearly 80 per cent of those promises are complete.

But Mr Joshi, a lot of your schemes have failed, be it the Slum Redevelopment Scheme, the Zunkha Bhakar scheme, employment to 27 lakh people or making Maharashtra a tanker-free state. In fact, just six months ago the people of Bhayander had revolted against the state government...

I understand that. But the problems of Bhayander are completely different from those of the rest of Maharashtra. There have been a lot of illegal construction there. Therefore, the government cannot provide water connection to such buildings. There are unauthorised structures coming up almost everyday. So you cannot compare Bhayander to the rural areas in Maharashtra.

As far as the SRD scheme is concerned, there were certain things which were beyond our control. We had formed committees, but there were quarrels among them. But, you can't say it is a failure. It is a good start. As I said, out of 60 schemes just to pick up 3, 4 and criticise the whole thing is not good.

But what about the employment scheme? That too has been a miserable failure, isn't it?

It is wrong to say that. Because, only yesterday it came out in the press that in the Krishna Valley nearly one million jobs were created. So, my government has done something which no other government has done in the last 50 years.

Why didn't all this receive favourable publicity?

Ask this question to those who give negative publicity. One reason could be that people are not ready to accept the change which has taken place. The other reason may be that my publicity department didn't work well (laughs).

Who are you contesting against, the Nationalist Congress Party, or the Congress?

Honestly speaking, it is very difficult to say at this moment. The Congress is divided in every constituency and we will have to study each and every constituency before deciding. If the division is 50-50 in all the seats then we can win almost all the seats. Suppose, the Congress party gets 80 per cent votes and NCP gets 20 pc then the Congress will win. And if the situation is vice-versa we have a better chance.

So, we will gain in all those places where the Congress and the NCP are equally divided. And that is the reason I say that nobody can predict the outcome exactly.

Why is it so?

For the people of Maharashtra, there are two established parties, the Congress and the Sena-BJP. And there is a new party of Sharad Pawar. You never know the people's mind. So, I feel only time will tell.

Don't you think there is no wave in favour of the Sena-BJP as there was in in 1995. In fact, your rally at Chowpatty last month was thinly attended...

It happens sometimes. But that is no criteria for winning elections. Somebody told me only 200 people attended Sharad Pawar's Pimpri meeting. I feel the press must highlight both sides. Anyway, the crowd attending the meetings won't decide who will win. Still, I feel about 50,000 people attended the Chowpatty meeting, and I can tell you that the mood is absolutely in our favour.

Pramod Mahajan didn't criticise Sharad Pawar at the Chowpatty meeting, and there are rumours the BJP may opt for the NCP and dump the Sena...

This is not true because our alliance is a very sincere one. We have been partners for more than a decade. There is a common trait of Hindutva in the alliance. There may be some trivial matters over which we differ. But that does not mean the BJP will like to throw us away or the Sena will part company with the BJP.

Moreover, Pawar joining hands with the BJP will be known only after the elections. It is incorrect to even assume such things at this juncture. You see, the poll analyses have also predicted that the BJP will come to power on its own. So, why would the BJP need Pawar's support?

Why do you think Mahajan didn't criticise Pawar?

You know, sometimes a speaker on the dais misses some subject. In one of my meetings, I did not mention Mr Thackeray at all. And the press wrote that Joshi did not take Bal Thackeray's name in the meeting. Probably, the intention was to drive a wedge between me and Balasaheb. Mature politicians must understand that certain sections of the press will try to create a divide between the two alliance partners.

Don't you think Chief Minister Narayan Rane lacks your charisma, which is one reason the Sena may face a setback in the assembly polls?

One cannot have the same kind of qualities as another. If I have some good points then Rane has some other good points. If I have some bad points then Rane has some other. So, you can never have the same qualities as another.

Don't you think voters in your constituency will personally vent their anger over your sacking by not voting for the Sena?

No, not at all. The Sena's voters are happy that I have not created any problem even when I was asked to quit. People feel I have been noble by resigning immediately and leaving my bungalow. I did that because I felt there must be some decency in politics.

When you reach a higher post you must also be ready to give it up when asked to. When a party gives you the opportunity to do something, you too have some duty towards it. My party gave me everything and at one point the party felt I must give up my post. So, I did it.

Didn't you feel hurt at that time?

(Thinks awhile) At this point of moment, I don't feel any such thing. But again, my inner voice told me if you want discipline in the party you must discipline yourself first.

But didn't you ask Thackeray what your fault was?

No, not at all. I didn't ask him why when he appointed me chief minister either. So, why should I ask him for reasons when he asked me to quit? Again, he told me to contest the Lok Sabha election, and here I am.

One of your decisions which was widely criticised was the scrapping of the Srikrishna Commission report.

The decision was not my own, but taken by the cabinet. I was acting on behalf of the cabinet and the state government. All the commission report suggested was in the interest of the minorities. And we didn't want those wounds which had healed to re-emerge. I was initially not in favour of continuing with the commission.

The people had forgotten, the riots had happened in 1992 and my government came to power in 1995 and the report came out in 1996-97. So, why reopen wounds? That is why I didn't want it. When I went through the report, my government felt it was one-sided. One community would have been satisfied by it, not the other. So, we thought it fit not to accept the report.

What are the issues you are personally contesting on?

If you ask me, I think the only issue political parties must contest on is the economy. You just go outside Dadar station. People there are sleeping on footpaths and unfortunately, it does not worry any politician.

Is the Sena drifting away from Hindutva?

If you want to know about Hindutva you can read Justice Verma's judgment in my case. Hindutva is not meant for any community. Hindutva, he said, is a way of life. It is not a religion. (Laughs heartily) But how many times do I have to talk on this subject!

But the Sena has given up on hardcore Hindutva, is it not? And the BJP no longer behaves like a right-wing party it once was. It has allies from various parties now. So, where does the Sena see itself in this alliance?

If you view Hindutva properly then you can adjust anywhere in the alliance. There is no difficulty. You see, when I was chief minister, I said there cannot be majority or minority communities in our state. I said in the assembly that in my state every citizen is in a majority.

I scrapped the Minorities Commission, since I felt justice should be to the minority as well as the majority communities. These things take time. And you must change by conviction.

You have been in the Sena for a long time. Why do you think the Sena has not grown at the national level?

(Laughs) I think it is only because of our laziness. People from other states did call. But, we somehow didn't focus and didn't go to them.

You have come a long way in politics -- from being a corporator, to MLA, then CM, and now aspiring MP. How do you feel about it?

I always think God helps those who help themselves. I always worked hard. Also, I think destiny was there for me. It all happened because of hard work. And, as I said, because of destiny. It is very satisfactory and I am very happy in life.

A man needs publicity, family life and position. I had all these things and I am happy about it.

The Sena was based initially on Marathi Asmita, and it was meant for Maharashtrians. Do you think it has now reached its peak and is on the downslide?

The Sena has already changed its stance. I don't think it has reached its peak. It has to go beyond. Marathi Asmita has to be looked into and every state government has to look after the interests of local people. But at the same time, it has to look at the national interest as well. And that is why we say, Jai Hind and Jai Maharashtra.

Did you ever believe the Sena would one day rule Maharashtra?

I started thinking seriously about it only in 1990 because before that we used to win only two seats in the assembly. But in 1990, when we won more than 50 seats, we thought we could win the election. We applied our mind and had a good strategy in place to win the election.

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