Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has been under fire for the unrest in the Northeast and has been criticised by the Opposition for the handling of internal security in the country.
Patil, who lost the Lok Sabha election from Latur in his home state of Mahrashtra, counters the allegations made against him by detractors.
You lost the Latur Lok Sabha election. How did this happen?
I might have committed some mistakes. So people voted against me.
You were not generally expected to lose.
I have contested 12 elections for the party. I won seven. I lost the last one. I have contested two elections to the assembly and won and one to the municipality, which also I won. I have contested 11 elections from the same constituency. I lost the 11th election. That's all.
But the last turned out to be the most crucial election.
I do not know, crucial or not. But in all the elections they were telling me that I was going to lose. I got elected. This time they told me: "Why are you here? Why do not you go to other places". Then I lost.
And then, you were supposed to become the defence minister and you became the home minister. I think you gave an interview, ahead of your appointment, on the government's defence priorities.
I was in the defence ministry with Indira Gandhi and again later. I have spent two-and-a-half-years in the defence ministry. I have been in the defence standing and consultative committees of Parliament. So people thought I would join the ministry...
But you came to the home ministry. And one by one, things kept going wrong.
(smiles) So tell me, what are the things that went wrong?
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Did the home ministry know, before the Punjab assembly passed a resolution abrogating previous obligations on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal, that it was going to do so?
The intelligence people had information about the resolution. But they did not pass it on to us. Is that the failure of the home minister?
Intelligence agencies also report to you.
So I could take action against those people.
And did you?
I did not.
You must have had reasons for not taking action.
Of course. Punjab is a sensitive state. We must deal with it in a correct manner.
Then came the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which became the nucleus of a movement.
AFSPA is not only in Manipur. It has implications for other states as well. When I went to Manipur and discussed with the people in different groups, excepting one group, all the others said: "Do not withdraw the forces now. If you withdraw the forces now, who will protect us?"
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This is not a decision that has to be taken by the home minister. It is a decision taken by the government as a whole. And when, ultimately, the decision was taken by the Manipur chief minister and his cabinet -- we allowed it, that it would be applicable to the city of Imphal.
People have been writing and saying that Manipur is burning. But is it really burning? Have you analysed the situation in Manipur correctly?
We have not removed the government there. We have not imposed President's Rule. We have not resorted to firing. People have not been arrested in large numbers. Is this a situation that you would say, has not been dealt with correctly?
The last time round, when the state was really burning, the assembly was burnt to ashes, the governor had to be shifted to the Assam Rifles quarters. We did not remove the government or impose President's Rule. We talked to them, dealt with them delicately, in an understanding manner and did produce results.
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I have said all this before. But it did not appear in the media. Can you explain why?
There was also the problem of Arunachal Pradesh. There was a change of government, people went to the governor, he took a decision, claimed he had been under pressure and reversed the decision. Yet, you did not remove the governor.
So whose fault is this? Could any action have been taken against him for this? Because he was going in one month's time, we didn't say anything to him. So is it the fault of the home ministry?
But you were very tough on the Cabinet secretary. He too had only five months to retire but you replaced him. So what prevented you from being as ruthless with the governors.
The Cabinet secretary is another matter. And we were ruthless with some governors.
But not for proven misconduct.
See, the situation in Arunachal and Punjab is different... these are border states.... Who is to blame for this? The home minister?
A lot of fingers are pointing in that direction.
Anybody can point a finger. But I'm asking, whom would you blame for this? And, because we were discreet, you've seen the results.
There has been a smooth election in Arunachal Pradesh, there was no turmoil and people did understand what we were doing. Would you find fault with this also?
To be continued...
Photograph: Sondeep Shankar/Saab Press
Image: Uday Kuckian