Bharatiya Janata Party President Rajnath Singh is in Himachal Pradesh on the third leg of his Bharat Suraksha Yatra. He has covered more then 3,500 kilometres in six states -- Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal.
Singh said party colleagues were stunned when they learnt that BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan had been shot last week. In an exclusive interview with Senior Associate Editor Onkar Singh in Shimla, Rajnath Singh said if the situation demanded the BJP was ready to call off the yatra.
He also denied reports that former BJP president L K Advani had announced a joint yatra without consulting him. "This is not true. How can it be possible that the national president of the party is not consulted before the announcement of the yatra?" he asked.
What was the party's reaction when you learnt that Pramod Mahajan had been shot by his brother?
We were stunned. We could not believe that such a thing happened. He is our general secretary whose tremendous organising capacity is well known. He is imaginative in his approach.
It is our firm belief that he will come out of this crisis and after six to eight months he will be able to devote time for party work as he did before.
Was there any point of time during the Mahajan crisis when you felt the yatra could have been postponed or cancelled?
If the situation warranted we would have considered it. But we had firm belief that God was with him. And that he would be able to pull through.
Why have two yatras at the same time?
We have had multiple yatras before -- four, in fact, at the same time. It is difficult to cover the entire nation in a short span of time. So it was decided to have two yatras to cover as many states as possible.
Were you consulted before the yatras were announced?
I have been hearing such questions and reading baseless reports that I was not consulted. Advaniji has been running the party and he knows that the consent of the president is a must. He spoke to me before announcing the yatras.
What about Atal Bihari Vajpayee? There were reports that he was against such yatras.
Again, this is a baseless story. If he had not given his approval then how come he gave his blessings to me and Advaniji on April 5 and saw us off. He has been speaking to both of us on the phone and asked how the yatra was going on. We keep him informed about all the developments.
Will he travel to Lucknow to receive the yatra on May 6?
I have been travelling and hence I do not know whether he is coming or not. If he is feeling well then he will certainly join the yatra in Lucknow and address a rally.
Former law minister Ram Jethmalani in an interview to a Hindi weekly has blamed former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra for allowing the hijacked IC-814 to take off from Amritsar and fly to Kandahar.
This is not true. It is a false allegation.
Who then took the decision to release terrorists in exchange for the hijacked passengers?
This decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee for Security. It was taken on humanitarian grounds. I am sure any other government would have done the same. It was the Congress party which was in the forefront demanding the release of passengers.
What kind of response have you received from the people during the yatra?
The yatra has been receiving tremendous support from the people of India. The common man is sick of rising prices, growing corruption, lack of jobs and on various other counts. They know that the United Progressive Alliance government led by Dr Manmohan Singh is not capable of delivering and hence they want to get rid of this government.
The BJP has been upset with the government's handling of the Siachen glacier issue during its talks with Pakistan.
For the first time in Indian history an Indian Army chief has given an opinion which is contrary to the government's view. General J J Singh has said that withdrawal from the Siachen glacier is not in the interest of the country.
The Government of India should take all political parties into confidence before arriving at an agreement with Pakistan. The Siachen glacier is the highest battleground in the world and right now Indian forces occupy the position of advantage. The army chief has laid down some other conditions as well. The government should take note of them.
Has your stature risen in the party with this yatra?
I do not make such assessments. We did not embark upon the yatra with this in mind. Whether or not we have succeeded in our mission is for the people to decide.