March 15, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ Former Samata president Jaya Jaitly

'I will not allow dubious blackmailers to destroy the future of this country'

After the Tehelka tapes damned Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, she disappeared. The media searched for her desperately. Suddenly, in full media glare, she turned up and surprised them with the announcement of her resignation as party chief.

Soon after she stepped down, she spoke to Roving Editor Ramesh Menon.

Just a day ago, you said you had no intention of resigning. Why this sudden change?

I was not guilty and there was no need to resign. But now I am doing it as otherwise it will help the Opposition to continue their attacks on me and my party. I do not want these attacks to ultimately help in destabilise the government. I am not resigning on ethical grounds. I have done it only to protect my party from attacks as the Opposition is blocking the truth in Parliament. There was no pressure on me to quit. I have done it on my own.

Has former defence minister George Fernandes had to pay a price because of you?

Resignations, posts and positions are not important. We are in politics to serve a commitment and that never ends. To serve one's country with honour is not to look for the price.

Was Mr Fernandes surprised that army officers were ready to accept paltry sums to exchange information and act as conduits?

To prevent corruption in his ministry, George had taken steps like placing boxes outside his office where anyone could place legitimate and substantiative complaints about corruption. More importantly, he had ordered that all substantial and important deals would be vetted in detail by the CAG and the CVC.

Was he shocked with what has happened?

Whenever he had evidence of wrongdoing he took corrective action.

Was it not amazing that the whole system was so porous and it was so easy to meet these army officers and offer them money?

His predecessors should be answerable for that.

How are they involved?

The system was not created in a day. Relationships and friendships were built over a long time. Everybody knows that no supplier would have access to the defence minister and even the people who turned up in my presence had to use subterfuge and with all courtesy which they obviously did not deserve. I did nothing but fob them off.

What actually happened?

I never give appointments to people I do not know. They came in uninvited with a person who was a textile manufacturer in Kanpur whom I knew. So I met them. He brought in two people and introduced only one to me saying that he is now going to diversify into electronics. So I responded with small talk on electronics.

Then what happened?

He expressed a wish to donate to the party. My response was since a senior party person was organising the national council, they could send him the money. I did not take the money at all. There was no question of doing anything in return.

But you had said if there was anything wrong...

I said if there was anything wrong being done, I would see that justice was there and that there would be no compromise.

Who else was around?

My room is always full of people. It is like a railway station. I want it that way so that nothing wrong can ever happen in the office. It was all so open and harmless. People were around. If there was anything to hide, I would not have been talking like this in full public view. It is diabolical that this has been twisted to serve another purpose.

There has been shock among people seeing the tapes.

It is a cut and paste job. At one point I am laughing when there is no need to laugh. And towards the end, someone is saying two lakh, two lakh just as if to establish that two lakh were being given.

How much was given?

Nothing was ever given. If they had gone to Srinivas Prasad, our Samata minister, and given the money, they would have got a receipt. But they did not go to him. I never talked to them about money.

Your former treasurer was singing about his exploits on the tape. Did you force him to resign?

No. He resigned on his own. I only asked him to clarify his position. He said he did not say thing in that manner and it had all been a cut and paste job.

He has made serious charges.

He was never authorised or given a sanction to involve himself in such matters and I did not know what he was saying to whom.

As your party treasurer, he was powerful.

We are not a party going around collecting funds for which we need a powerful treasurer. It is a simple matter of being a signatory if a cheque from the party has to go out and to look after a transparent method of fund collection in which everything is accounted for and receipts issued.

He said you asked him not to go to Moscow in connection with an arms deal as he would be noticed and identified and it would not be good for the party.

He has been saying many things. It is completely untrue. I never told him not to go to Moscow. And what he did he did not tell me. I also do not know if it is his voice.

You said it was a conspiracy?

The sequence of events and manner in which the Opposition is behaving would indicate that.

Who do you think is behind it?

Obviously people with a lot of money. Nothing like this can be done without a lot of money. For seven months these people are working with all kinds of equipment where they got it from no one knows. It is the real arms dealers who must be helping them.

The Opposition has blocked Parliament. We want it to be debated. They just do not want to hear it. The Opposition has displayed a lack of faith in the institution of Parliament by demanding action based on unverified material by a dotcom company. They owe it to the nation to allow the government to make a statement and tell the nation the truth.

You also said that the corrupt had got together to lay such a trap.

Obviously. If an independent journalist was doing his job where meticulous crosschecking and verification which is the essential requirement before presenting news is done, then they would not have produced this kind of material.

There may be a debate on ethics, but the tapes have made people sit up and realise the extent of corruption and how easy it is to pay.

Everyone knows that corruption exists. Manipulating people's perception maybe the job of the political class but journalists must present verified truth. Anyone reading the transcript of my segment will clearly see that I have said only what a honest and transparent person would. What is all this but defamation and blackmail?

What about the money that BJP president Bangaru Laxman accepted?

I do not want to comment on what someone else did.

Do you think you will ever recover from this scandal?

Once the truth is told, then everybody who is clean will come out of it and those who have done wrong will pay the necessary penalty.

There is so much suspicion around today.

Anyone reading the transcript without bias will be convinced that I was never part of this and I have only said what any respectable and honourable public person would say to a known person or a complete stranger.

Will this scandal now take the sting out of your party's campaign to fight corruption in Bihar?

Those who are corrupt in Bihar must be party in the manipulation of people who are preventing Parliament from functioning and ensuring that slander prevails.

As a party we have constantly been reminding ourselves of the need to fight corruption. We have spearheaded the movement against corruption in Bihar. The corrupt do not like to hear this. In my transcript, I am clearly saying that there should be no wrongdoing or unfair practice.

The public feels that any ministry can be influenced.

The Samata Party has never interfered in the working of any ministry apart from not having anything to do with the defence ministry. We have only said that if there is any wrongdoing, we will bring it to the ministries notice.

As soon as you heard of the tapes making the rounds, what was your reaction?

I was horrified that some kind of manipulative manoeuvre was being selectively projected to tell the world that India's ruling establishment was corrupt and compromising the nation's security. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I was also deeply dismayed that modern age journalism had sunk to such depths that unverified statements of people were projected as facts. Their job is not to splash statements made by people without verification. They have tried to link such a statement to the segment on me to prove that I supposedly take bribes for defence deals.

What is your future course of action going to be?

I will work for the party. I will fight corruption and I am considering filing a defamation suit against the dotcom company.

Will you now get back to the activism that you were involved in many years ago with artisans for example?

There is never a moment that any of us have given up our activism. Just the other day all of us which includes George Fernandes, myself and other Samata MPs sat in a silent candlelight protest not only against the destruction of Buddha statues in Afghanistan but highlighted the oppression of women in Afghanistan.

Do you today regret being in politics?

It is all the more necessary to be in politics to fight the forces who are constantly making efforts to harm the very fabric of our country.

Any last words?

I will not allow dubious blackmailers to destroy the future of this country.

Jaya Jaitly will appear on the rediff chat, March 16, 2001, 1200. Be there!

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