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October 21, 1999


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'Pawar would've made a better leader for Congress'

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Shobha Warrier ran into rough weather when she made the mistake of calling up Cho Ramaswamy to confirm her appointment.

"Today? Did I tell you to come today?" went the inimitable political commentator-editor-satirist.

Yes, Shobha was firm, it was today that he asked her to come.

Ramaswamy was firmer. "Not today. What is the hurry?"

The hurry, Shobha told him, was that there was a deadline looming. And she badly needed a post-election analysis from him.

Ramaswamy turned magnanimous: Tomorrow, let it be tomorrow...

"Please confirm the appointment now."

"No, you call me tomorrow. Only then I can dodge you," he laughed loudly.

Luckily for Shobha, (and Ramaswamy was in his office, talking to the staff of Tuglaq, the magazine he edits, when she presented herself the next day. She apologised for interrupting his work, to which came the true-to-character quip:

"Yes, yes, you should feel sorry because you are troubling me."

Thus went the chat, which Shobha swears was interesting, informative and an experience:

Although the Nationalist Democratic Alliance has managed to get more than 300 seats in the 13th Lok Sabha, many political analysts say the government is not stable as it is constituted of several parties. Do you agree?

A coalition has an in-built problem as far as stability is concerned. That has to be conceded. But there are certain features in this set-up which we may give some confidence to Vajpayee about the stability of the government.

The TDP has 29 MPs, I think, and it is the next largest party to the BJP. But the TDP cannot do business with the Congress because of its politics in Andhra Pradesh. Once it joins Congress in an effort, say to topple this government, its political base in Andhra Pradesh will be shattered. It will have to be rebuilt on some other platform. So they will hesitate a thousand times before joining hands with the Congress.

Now, the JD-U. The socialists have a congenital problem. They are splitters. They are destroyers. It has been their history throughout and there are many socialists in the JD-U. It is a party of leaders. Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar -- you name anybody in the JD-U and he is a leader. In their case also, they would find it difficult because their eyes are now set on the Bihar assembly elections. The alliance with the BJP has proved to be very successful in Bihar in the parliamentary elections. Of course, it has benefited the BJP also immensely but it is mutual help. So, the JD-U would not like to sacrifice that now.

And, in Bihar, when the assembly elections come about, naturally there will be a substantial number of seats allocated to the BJP. The BJP's help may be required in the Bihar assembly and the JD-U will have to reciprocate it in Delhi in Parliament. So they may also not rock Vajpayee's boat.

Do you mean, they will not rock Vajpayee's boat till the Bihar assembly election?

No, even after the assembly elections. There is going to be a substantial number of BJP MLAs in the Bihar assembly if they fair well as well as they faired in the parliamentary elections, and the JD-U would require their help and assistance in the assembly. Maybe for survival or maybe for smooth sailing. So, if they want the BJP MLAs to behave in the assembly, then they will have to behave in Parliament as a reciprocal arrangement. Even after the Bihar assembly elections, they may find it difficult to rock Vajpayee's boat.

We have several small parties in the NDA. Do you expect them to pose any threat? Or, will they keep quiet, as they will not be able to do anything drastic alone?

Many of them will have to come together to pose a threat. Not one, not two, not three, not four... even more than that. So, that will be difficult. Apart from all this, the greatest strength of this coalition, in my opinion, is the abysmal showing of the Congress in the elections and the number of seats they have in Parliament. It is only about 112. The Congress would now feel that the electorate has not taken kindly to the toppling exercise, which they indulged in some months back. So they would definitely not be immediately ready to do anything to the government because it is going to be very difficult for them. They will not be in a commanding position in any alternate arrangement too. They are very weak. In fact, their members are almost equal to the other non-BJP parties put together. Their clout in such an arrangement will be minimal. It will only be equal with the others and the Congress is not going to tolerate that. It will be very difficult for the Congress to digest a situation where it will be an equal with somebody else. So the Congress also would hesitate. But if there are problems created on the issue of treatment of minorities, protection given to other religions etc some of the BJP allies may find it difficult to continue with them.

For example?

For example, the DMK. For example, even the Telugu Desam. So, if that front is managed by the BJP, it can survive.

Vajpayee has become stronger after the election. Under his leadership, do you expect the BJP to treat the minorities well?

I do expect them to treat the minorities well. But whenever there is a transgression by any organisation whether it be the VHP, the Bajrang Dal or anybody else -- I don't think any other organisation apart from these two would indulge in that, or even the Shiv Sena -- the government must come down heavily upon them. That will build confidence in these parties. If they do that, it will be pretty smooth sailing.

Another plus factor emerging now is the situation in Pakistan. You have a government there, which is not going to be mature in its approach to its relationship with India. Infiltrators may be encouraged. Eventually, I think, a dangerous triangle may be formed by the Taliban men in Afghanistan, the terrorists being trained in Pakistan and being blessed by the Pakistan military which is now in power.

The third point in the triangle will be Osama Bin Laden and his money. But this triangle will pose a threat not only to India but also to many western countries as well because of the terrorism, which they indulge in, the retributions, which Osama Bin Laden seeks. In that case, one can expect the western countries led by the USA to co-operate with India in containing terrorism here.

In what way do you expect the USA and India to come together to fight terrorism?

Supposing some terrorist escapes, he will be extradited if he has sought asylum in a foreign country. And the United States gather immense intelligence and that will be passed on to India. Even the most modern techniques in tackling terrorism maybe passed on to us. Any information that they receive from their network satellites will be given to us. All these will be immense help to India. The terrorists in western countries will be discouraged totally and they will not be allowed to indulge in propaganda or recruiting men.

What kind of repercussions will we have to face because of the military coup in Pakistan?

Because of the situation in Pakistan, because of the fact that the military will be an adventurist government, there will be problems in Kashmir. There may be problems elsewhere in India also. So the nation will have to stand united.

The advantage the BJP has now is, when the situation in Pakistan is posing a real threat, when all the peaceful settlement of issues are going to be put in cold storage, people will hate those who indulge in petty political bickering. Whether it be a coalition partner of the BJP or the opposition parties, the people are not going to take it lightly. That will make anyone hesitate to topple the government. They know that in this period of uncertainty in our borders, anything done by them to disturb the government may not be looked at kindly by the people.

Do you feel there is a connection between the election of a stable government at the Centre after a long time and the military coup in Pakistan?

I don't think it is connected in anyway with what is happening in India politically but I have noted one thing. Pakistan under Nawaz Sharief stopped some of the infiltrators entering into India and pulled them back. This perhaps might have been the last straw as far as the military there was concerned because they did not like the withdrawal from Kargil though they were forced to not only because of western pressure but also by the heavy damages inflicted by the Indian military. And for getting economic aid, Nawaz Sharief had to please the West and he would have resumed the Lahore process. That also was not taken too kindly by the military.

Everybody accused George Fernandes of talking nonsense when he said that Nawaz Sharief did not know at first that the Kargil intrusion was going to take place and it was known only to the military. Now I think, he is being proved right. That is what I said even then. I said that George in all probability may be right but he should not have said it openly. Those critics of him who said that he was talking nonsense, I think, have been proved wrong.

From then on, the military has been unhappy with Sharief. The Pakistan military is a highly inimical outfit as far India is concerned. Their base, the political platform of the military is beat India. Whether military should have a political platform is altogether a different question. But they have one and it is 'Hate India'. So, with that kind of a rule taking over the reigns in Pakistan, we may have problems.

Cho Ramaswamy continues: 'Hegde wanted Deve Gowda destroyed'

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