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March 17, 1998

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The Rediff Interview/Romesh Bhandari

'Tell me, what have I done for Mulayam Singh Yadav that they keep accusing me like this?'

Romesh Bhandari's 70th birthday will coincide with Atal Bihari Vajpayee's vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on March 29. But the former's fate was determined 13 days before that, on March 16 itself, when his resignation from the office of Uttar Pradesh governor was accepted by the President, ironically at the same lightning speed with which Bhandari had installed Jagdambika Pal as UP chief minister after summarily dismissing the Kalyan Singh-led BJP government in February.

While Bhandari was still awaiting the arrival of Madhya Pradesh Governor Mohammad Shafi Qureishi -- who will hold dual charge till a fresh appointment is made -- he is all set to say goodbye to UP, a state which has left not very fond memories with him.

Yet, Bhandari is clearly a man without any regrets -- neither for his past actions nor for the extreme step he has taken, in an obvious bid to save himself the embarrassment of being sacked.

"I am a happy man," he told Sharat Pradhan in an exclusive interview, and asked, "Do I look like someone who might have stepped down from the office of governor?"

Barely ten days back you had asked 'Why must I resign, what sin have I committed?' And here you are today, all set to pack your bags. What prompted you to change your mind?

It's as simple as that. Now you are going to have a government at the Centre which has neither faith nor confidence in me, so what is the point in my trying to stick along? Yes, I would advocate a fixed tenure of five years for governors, but still, when you find you do not enjoy the confidence of the government at the Centre, you ought to step down.

But the BJP has been demanding your resignation for quite some time. Why have you obliged it now and not before?

Well, the difference lies in the fact that so far it was a state government or the party's national leaders who were demanding my ouster, on the same lines as M Chenna Reddy's resignation was being sought by Jayalalitha while she headed the Tamil Nadu government. But Chenna Reddy never stepped down. In fact, had it not been for UP's peculiar circumstances, I would not have resigned either.

What is so peculiar about the circumstances here?

You see, the BJP here was an aggrieved party, which thought I was against it -- which actually I was not. And now the country's prime ministership is to be held by a BJP leader, who had gone to the extent of sitting on a fast unto death to press for my ouster. Therefore, it was my moral and ethical duty to step down. In any case, the central government must have full confidence in governors.

You mean to say you were actually scared of being sacked?

I don't mean that. I submitted my resignation out of my own conscience.

Why is it that relations between you and the BJP have been sour right from day one?

That's incorrect. Our relations have not been sour from day one. All was fine until the assembly election results came out. They got strained only after I refused to swear in a BJP government simply because they could not muster up a majority support in the UP assembly. In fact they failed to come up with concrete evidence that they had the support of more than 174 in the 425-member UP House. Thereafter, I became their target for no rhyme or reason.

So you claim not to have had any prejudices against the BJP?

Certainly not. Rather, they have all the prejudices against me. Now tell me, how was I in the wrong by not swearing in Kalyan Singh without majority support, when the President of India too had now refused to invite Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government until he provided sufficient evidence to prove his majority support?

Perhaps it is your close and special friendship with the BJP's arch foe, Mulayam Singh Yadav, that led them to hold such prejudices against you.

Tell me, what have I done for Mulayam Singh Yadav that they keep accusing me like this? As far as I am concerned, I have friends everywhere. In the Congress, Janata Dal, Bharatiya Kisan Kamgar Party, Left Front, Bahujan Samaj Party as well as the BJP. Let me tell you, there are very many senior BJP leaders with whom I have the best of relations, including Atalji. In fact, Atalji was my foreign minister when I was a secretary in the external affairs ministry.

Who do you blame for all the flak you have drawn during your tenure as UP governor?

That's what I will spell out in elaborate terms in my book, The Murkier Side of UP.

And what, if I may ask, is the murkier side of UP?

That is exactly what goes on behind the holier than thou fašade of many politicians here, I will expose the double standards of such politicians. My book will be a reference for constitutional experts because I will explain the rationale behind my actions that were labelled as controversial. And it will thus, also speak at length about why UP is in such a pathetic state today.

EARLIER INTERVIEW/REPORTS:
Bhandari quits
The Rediff Interview/Romesh Bhandari
Bhandari may step down at 'appropriate time'

The Rediff Interviews

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