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'If I have been staying with Baapji for so long, why should I suddenly shift out when he becomes PM?'

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Ranjan Bhattacharya, Prime Minister Vajpayee's son-in-law, in his first media interview.

First of all, can you clarify exactly what you do at Race Course Road? You live there, but do you also work from there?

My answer is that you are sitting in my office, here in Greater Kailash. I have no office in Race Course Road. Yes, I am staying at RCR, but my family has been staying with him for Ė let me see, I was married in 1983 Ė for 15 years. So, if I have been staying with Baapji for so long, why should I suddenly shift out when he becomes PM?

You donít have any say in fixing his appointments?

I do not fix appointments. He has a private secretary who does that for him. And his appointments are fixed out of 7 RCR or South Block. And not out of 3 RCR where I stay. And one more thing. Mr Vajpayee has been PM for a hundred days now. I have been to South Block only once and that was to wish him when he became prime minister. I have been to 7 RCR only about four-five times Ė and that is only a hundred yards away from 3 RCR.

But you donít have to be physically present to fix appointments.

True. But I donít fix any appointments.

The charge is that you also take money to fix appointments.

(Laughs incredulously) Why should anyone take money to fix appointments?

Why not?

The best thing would be for you to see his (Vajpayeeís) list of appointments through the last three months. You will see the kind of people who go to meet him donít need to pay any money. They are mostly bureaucrats and politicians.

What about industrialists?

Iím not aware of any industrialists.

What about the charge that you and Pramod Mahajan made money on the Maruti deal?

Mr Mahajan and I had nothing to do with the Maruti settlement.

And what is your link with N K Singh, the revenue secretary?

I donít know him at all, I must have met him precisely once. He had come to meet the PM and I happened to be there. So we were introduced. Thatís it.

It is said Jayalalitha wanted him transferred out but you stopped the transfer.

This is as untrue as the allegation of taking money.

If there is no truth in any of these allegations, then why are so many rumours doing the rounds?

There is no logic in all this. Allegations are made when someone wants to embarrass someone. The work I do is not even remotely connected to the government. Iím in the hotel business Ė I run a joint venture which develops three-star hotels. My association with Mr Vajpayee doesnít help me in any way in this.

You have no political ambitions of your own?

None at all.

But you did accompany Mr Vajpayee on his campaigns.

I did Ė in the 1996 campaign. And I also accompanied him in the 1998 campaign. But that was because I was asked by a senior functionary from the party that someone from the family should travel with him Ė to arrange his meals etc. Basically, that someone from the family should be there with him. It was a rigorous campaign and it always helps to have someone from the family with you. Thatís all.

Did the party pay for your ticket?

No, the party never paid for my ticket?

If you have no political aspirations then why were you planning to fly off to Madras to placate Jayalalitha.

There is no truth in that report.

Iím told she asked for you personally?

Let me explain this. I have a personal relationship with Ms Jayalalitha. When she came home, my wife and daughter met her. We all sat at the dining table and had a meal together as is normal in most families when someone comes over. And the next time she came to Delhi, I called on her. Courtesy demanded that I call on here.

Apparently, your daughter was the one who really charmed her.

That is something only Jayalalitha can answer. She (Jayalalitha) was very gracious and very charming. The conversation at the dining table was purely informal and she spent lot of time talking to Niharika about animals. She was very charming and friendly.

And three months ago, you didnít go to Hyderabad to talk to Chandrababu Naidu either?

Iíve contradicted that report. I have not been to both these places for my own work, but Iím hesitant to do so now because people like you will see a political motive in this.

What about your five-star lifestyle? And the connection with Hyatt Regency?

Immediately after college I joined the Oberois. I have worked in hotels throughout my life. My present business is also hotel related. In fact, my present venture is in association with Hyatt, which is why I go there to the office on the first floor.

But you do like living it up.

Letís put it this way Ė I donít slum. I have lived like this and it is not that my lifestyle has changed suddenly since Mr Vajpayee became prime minister.

But the RSS lobby looks down upon your lifestyle. Iím told that the day we do a hatchet job on you, L K Advani will be the first to call us up.

I have a lot of respect for Mr Advani. He is a close associate of Mr Vajpayee. There is no merit in this.

How would you rate the performance of this government?

I am no one to rate the performance. My guesses are as good as yours.

Who would you say are your friends?

I assume you mean politicians; someone whom I have known over the years Ė Mr Mahajan is a friend. I have a lot of regard and respect for Mr Jaswant Singh and Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Theyíve been in and out of the house and therefore a relationship has been built.

What about the fact that all your friends and relatives run the PMO?

Shakti Sinha is related through my wife. And he was with Mr Vajpayee when he was leader of the Opposition. But no one said anything then.

Let me ask you one question. I have been married for 15 years. During that time no one raised any questions about my staying with Baapji; about my fixing appointments for him etc. What has changed so much now?

He is prime minister now.

But for me, nothing has changed. I am still his son-in-law, so isnít it natural that I would carry on as before? Why should I shift out because he has become PM Ė our relationship is the same.

Kind courtesy: Sunday magazine

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