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The Rediff Interview/SP leader Shahid Siddiqui
'Nuclear deal will affect Muslim votes'
June 30, 2008
Samajwadi Party General Secretary and MP Shahid Siddiqui speaks to Nistula Hebbar on his party's relations with the Congress, the Indo-US nuclear deal and Muslim votes.
There is a new-found growing closeness between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress. How do you see this playing out at national and state levels?
Right at the outset I must say that we never wanted any fight with the Congress. We always knew that our real opponent was the Bahujan Samaj Party. It is the Congress which thought of its comeback in terms of our Muslim votes. In the last Assembly election, they made their strongest possible bid for it by spreading a canard that we were hand-in-glove with the Bharatiya Janata Party, that we were communal. The result was there for all to see.
Their votes, and seats, came down, their organisation is a shambles. Our vote percentage registered an increase. The Congress, too, seems to have realised that in the long run, for them too, the BSP is the real opponent. They seem to have slowly realised that like Lalu Prasad in Bihar, an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh is inevitable. We never withdrew support from the Congress-led government here, the Congress did so in Uttar Pradesh. They have done their best to bring down our government in Uttar Pradesh in the past as well.
Today, we are a part of the United National Progressive Alliance and we cannot have an alliance with the Congress at the national level. At the state level, if it suits us, we may have some adjustments with other secular parties.
Has the Congress approached you for support on the Indo-US nuclear deal?
This is speculation. They have never approached us seriously. There have been some contacts between individuals informally. To my knowledge, they have never met us even to clarify the doubts that we have on the matter. Amar Singh (SP general secretary) said if they come up with some new facts on the 123 Agreement or the Hyde Act, we are ready for a relook at the nuclear deal. But that has not happened. The UPA, in fact, while desiring a discussion with the Left and others, did not even approach us informally. So why all this talk of us supporting them or any parleys of this kind?
M K Pandhe's remarks on SP's Muslim voters has been disowned by the CPI-M. What do you have to say?
Well, he should not have made that remark. The confidence between the SP and the Muslims goes back a long way and it is not based on one issue or event. From the days of the Meerut-Maliana riots and the Babri Masjid demolition to the Gujarat riots, they have been with us and have seen the way the SP has reacted and articulated their concerns. It is, however, a fact that the Muslims who considered the UPA secular are disappointed by its increasingly pro-US and pro-Israel policies. The way the UPA is not raising its voice against Israeli occupation of Palestine and atrocities in Iraq is also being noted.
Some people have said that the consideration of the Muslim view on US is communalisation of foreign policy
A large section of Indian Muslims have voted for this government, considering it secular. And if they feel there is an undue influence of the US and its powerful Jewish lobby on this government and its foreign policy initiatives, why should the community not influence the foreign policy of a government it helped bring to power? Calling it communalisation of foreign policy is undemocratic and Muslims do feel annoyed by this characterisation. Every voting citizen has the right to this influence, it's a part of democracy.
What will be the impact on Muslim voters if the deal goes ahead?
Muslims all over the world, including in India, feel the US foreign policy is anti-Muslim. Look at the atrocities being committed in Iraq and the US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This deal is perceived as more than just nuclear commerce even by the government. It is seen as a strategic alliance with the US and Israel in terms of military ties and even foreign policy outlook. It will make Muslims move away from the UPA and all those who support the deal. While Muslims have been at the forefront of the fight against terror, it does not mean they will approve of the deal. The Muslim vote will be affected by it.
According to the government, the deal is linked to energy security. Won't that argument get support? It is a national concern after all, looking at the way inflation is rising.
The energy security argument is one in which even the government does not fully believe. There are many arguments on both sides of the divide. Also, if the government was so concerned about energy security, it should have moved more aggressively on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the pipeline with Turkmenistan and even with Myanmar. The deal promises nuclear energy, which will form only 6 per cent of our total energy requirements by 2030. We are paying a high price for this 6 per cent energy by offering to cap our nuclear programme and making our foreign policy more congruent with that of the US as the Hyde Act demands. If we do a cost-benefit analysis of the nuclear deal, the ratio is certainly not in favour of the deal.