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September 11, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ K Natwar Singh

'There are political compulsions, but we would like to go at it alone'

Natwar Singh With only one day to go before the polls, the atmosphere is hotting up in the Kunwar Natwar Singh household at eight o'clock in the morning. Natwar Singh himself is not in Bharatpur, but was expected to arrive by nine. When he did, he brought with him order to the chaotic Govind Nivas, where he and his son, Jagat Singh, are stationed for the duration of the campaign. Between fine-tuning his son's campaign on the last day of electioneering in Bharatpur, Natwar Singh took time off to give Savera R Someshwar a quick interview.

What is your opinion about coalition governments?

We have said in the Pachmari Declaration that we don't rule them out. We'd like to avoid them and whenever it is necessary, we'll make adjustments. Sonia Gandhi herself has said it depends on the political developments.

What happens then to your manifesto that debunks coalitions?

No, we would not like to have a coalition. But if for political reasons it is necessary -- we have got that arrangement in Tamil Nadu, we have got an arrangement in Bihar -- so at the national level also we will...we are going into coalition. But it will all depend on the political situation.

Doesn't that go against your manifesto?

No, no, it...

It is a distinct shift from what you have said in your manifesto...

No, no, it is not a change. There are political compulsions, all within the party. But as far as possible we would like to go at it alone.

Why is the Congress losing its popular base all over the country?

I think that over a period of years, a situation developed in the Hindi heartland where our traditional voters distanced themselves from the party. But they are coming back. The peak was reached during the demolition of the Babri Masjid when the minorities left us in large numbers.

Take Rajasthan, for example. From what I understand, you will not be able to reach the figure of 18 MPs that you had last time. Why do you think there is this trend?

No, I don't accept this assessment. You see, the Jat Mahasabha has not made any serious impact. They don't have a candidate, they don't have an office, they don't have a programme, they don't have a manifesto, they don't have an organisation. And some of us raised the reservation issue much before the Jat Mahasabha did. And though Gyan Prakash Pilania says they should vote for the BJP, no Jat is going to listen to him. Traditionally, a Jat has voted for the Congress in western Rajasthan.

The other thing is, for the next four-and-a-half years, there is going to be a Congress government in Jaipur. So any voter who goes to put his vote is not going to waste it. The BJP cannot take over -- they've got only 33 MLAs. And this is the strongest point.

We have 154 MLAs and the government is going to be a Congress government for four-and-a-half years. If the voters want to throw their votes into a well, they are welcome to. But I don't think they will. They also know the MLAs get the work done and the MPs get the work done. So I don't feel that the idea that the BJP is making any inroads is credible.

There seems to be a lot of disenchantment with the Congress government in the state, especially with the water issue, the electricity issue.

Yes, but they have been sorted out. The chief minister has made a number of statements. I am looking at the situation in Rajasthan realistically. We are going to do extremely well.

But the chief minister does not seem to be a charismatic leader. I was watching him campaign yesterday and he is not able to hold the attention of the crowd. How...

When he was Pradesh Congress Committee president, we got 20 MPs out of 25. When he was PCC president, we got 154 MLAs out of 200. And this was nine months ago. The BJP was absolutely routed. Particularly in Bharatpur, the BJP candidate lost the assembly election.

How do you rate the Congress's chances in Bharatpur?

I think, extremely good. The Gujjars are voting for us, the Sainis are voting for us, the Meos are voting for us, the Jats are voting for us. I don't know where the BJP voter is.

Are they voting for your son or are they voting for you?

They are voting for the Congress.

You have always been more interested in international politics...

No, when I was MP for five years, between 1984-89, we did development work worth Rs 2,000 million. The biggest is the oil depot worth Rs 500 million, where every farmer benefits one rupee on the diesel, and you get pure oil and then it gives an income of one hundred thousand rupees a day to the municipality. So all the development has been done through this.

I got a steel yard, the Mewad Vikas Board, railways, schools, colleges, jobs. So I have done a lot of development work. Anyway in these 13 months, I've distributed Rs 40 million from the MP's quota. I've got seven tahsils of the Bharatpur district included in the developmental work of the region. And we are going to sanction Rs 1,170 million for a water scheme from the Chambal for this area. All done in the last 13 months.

Why are you not contesting this election?

Because I had a by-pass operation in November and the doctors told me it is too early to undergo heavy stress. So, for medical reasons, I informed the Congress president that I will not stand. So we had to find a replacement. We had a meeting of all the leaders of the Bharatpur region including the District Congress Committee president, minister Taiyeb Hussain, the chief minister, the concerned MLAs...and they unanimously recommended my son's name.

I hadn't given his name, I had given other names. I think newer faces should come. He's been working with me for 10 years. He is the general secretary of the All India Youth Congress. So he has a good equation with the youth, more than anybody else. He does not have some of the defects I have. My relationship with the workers, my approach is bureaucratic, his is not.

Why did you not recommend your son's name for this seat? Was it because...

No, because I thought there were other people, there were ministers who should be asked -- Taiyeb Hussain, Hari Sharma, R P Sharma. They all refused.

If the Congress wins a majority, you will be asked to take up external affairs...


At the national level.

But I am not even a member of Parliament.

Will a seat be vacated for you then?

No, it depends. No, I will not stand for elections. No way. No.

If the Congress wins a majority....

Not if, it will.

Continued: 'This chap was writing poems. Why doesn't he write some now on the Kargil martyrs?'

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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