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'The prime minister has proved to be a non-leader'

May 23, 2008 19:56 IST

These days Arun Jaitley, general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is a little anxious and cautiously hopeful. He is his party's strategic planner for the Karnataka assembly polls.

On May 25, when the election results come out he will know if, once again, he has proven lucky for his party or not.

In Karnataka he has cleverly manipulated that the anti-Lingayat votes do not get united in favour of the Congress on the eve of the assembly election by not alienating the Vokkaligas overtly or covertly. He also benefited by default because Mayawati helped cut the anti-Lingayats going en masse to the Congress. In 2003 he was in charge of Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, in 2002 and 2007 he was in charge of Gujarat. The the BJP won all the three elections.

He has been giving strong support to his party unit in these states and also manages the media shrewdly during election time.

Jaitley has a thriving multi-million rupee legal practice in New Delhi but his heart lies in cricket and his brain works round the clock in bombarding the Congress party's ideology, politics and policies. In an interview with Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt, he gives his take on four years of the United Progressive Alliance, the current political issues, and the ferocity with which the leading Opposition party will rake it up in the next general election.

Four years back the country saw one of our most credible economists becoming prime minister. How do you see his rule?

The prime minister must be a leader and the prime minister must be decisive. The prime minister cannot be CEO of a company where the board of directors and shareholders reside somewhere else. The prime minister must be accountable. Unfortunately, in spite of the reputation of his decency, the prime minister has proved to be a non-leader. He has allowed the office of the prime minister to diminish in stature by allowing a decisive say for others in the political establishment, particularly in political decision-making.

If I look at the four years of UPA rule I am nothing but disappointed. It's an opportunity lost. India was emerging as a strong nation… strong in the sense of economy, in terms of sovereignty. We had a strategic position in the region. Look at the entire balance sheet of the UPA. There are many areas of huge disappointments.

Like?

First, as I have already indicated, the office of prime minister is already diminished. It's a government which can't take decisions. It's a government that allows others to bulldoze it. It backtracks on issues. The office of prime minister has primacy in a democracy. The UPA is a government that has taken away the primacy of the prime minister's office. Even in the matter of selection of ministers, he had to take tainted ministers because he had no choice. The prime minister has no control over the ministers belonging to allies. There is no accountability.

Second, although the prime minister is a reputed economist, the management of the economy is inversely proportionate to the stature of the economist heading this government. The growth rates were sustained but it was not sustained because of any policy of the government. Growth rates were sustained in spite of the UPA.

There is not a single economic decision this government has taken to sustain growth rates. The growth process of the economy is not policy-driven but it is substantially entrepreneur-driven. The growth was in the services sector and manufacturing sector; now, you can see the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. There is almost a status quo as far as the agriculture sector is concerned. In services sector the government has no role.

Another inability of the government in managing the economy is regarding control of prices. Today inflation is increasing, cost of food items has shot up. The price of oil is internationally linked but even housing, steel and cement has gone up.

This government is an insensitive government. Last week when inflation figures went up the finance minister said statistically the price rise figures are insignificant. I don't think in this government anyone is having the pain of the aam aadmi. A record number of farmer suicides has taken place. They are unable to sustain the farm sector.

National security is another area of the UPA's failure. Is India more insecure than it was in 2004? The answer unequivocally is yes.

This government has linked the fight against terrorism not to take steps to improve national security, but it uses it conversely for the purpose of vote bank politics. The policy of this government is to indulge in vote bank politics by projecting that you are slow and soft in taking action against terror. They think it will be beneficial, so they withdrew POTA. You have no political courage to give death sentence to people who tried to eliminate the political leadership of India by attacking Parliament. You are not clearing the strong legislation of state governments headed by the BJP because you don't want to empower the state to fight terror. This government has also disappointed in tackling Maoist terror or the violence in the north-east.

The intelligence network in this country is virtually dismantled, it's considerably weakened. The statement of the national security advisor (M K Narayanan) that intelligence agencies are doing nothing is a disappointment. After four years of inaction the prime minister has the audacity to come back and say let's have a federal agency. How will the federal agency help unless you have the proper laws to back up the federal agency? Will the federal agency only investigate crimes under the CrPC? Is the federal agency there to ensure easy bail for the suspects?

Foreign affairs is one more area where the government has failed. India's position which had strategic strength has been diminished. By convincing the world that Pakistan is the state from where terrorism emanates we (the NDA) kept Pakistan on a leash. The prime minister gave a clean chit to Pakistan by saying that Pakistan is a victim of terror. This government has outsourced its foreign policy to the Marxists.

As a result you have turmoil in Nepal. Today there is a Maoist regime that has come up in Nepal. How will it fix India one, will have to see keeping fingers crossed. Bangladesh's illegal migration continues. We are now standing in the midst of several States whose internal turmoil is spilling over to our territory. Be it Nepal, be it Pakistan or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

Another failure of this government must be mentioned. It has tinkered too much with the democratic institutions. The Election Commission is packed by politically aligned people. Governors must be those who will misuse their position in favour of the Congress party. Article 356 of Constitution has been abused in Bihar, Goa and Jharkhand. Even in case of loan waivers for farmers their policy has proved divisive. Every village in India comprises of beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries. Non-beneficiaries are overwhelmingly larger in number.

You have given a long, long list of the UPA's failures. Ashis Nandy has told rediff.com that this government has disappointed him but nevertheless this government, he finds, is humane. Under the UPA there was no bloodshed or Gujarat kind of riots.

There are some people who are obsessed with Gujarat, I don't want to join issues with them. I only hope that people who made these comments have some tears to shed for the innocent people who are killed by Maoists and terrorists. Their mindspace is occupied by the non-issue rather than issues that are of direct concern for the people of India. Issues like terrorism and insecurity are important, also.

Nobody can deny that in the last four years the Kashmir valley is quiet. Dr Singh had the political courage to start the first ever bus service in last 60 years to Muzaffarabad from Srinagar. Don't you give credit to the PM for the softening of our borders?

I think you are overstating the position. How has Kashmir been settled? Is Pakistan accepting the government's position? This government had two ill-conceived round table conferences over Kashmir. The PM appointed two groups and one of the groups was to renegotiate and restate the relation of India and Kashmir that gave birth to arguments like autonomy, self-rule and pre-1953 status for Kashmir. If today infiltration is checked it is because of the border fencing and our security forces, and not because of any political initiative taken by this government.

You are in the Rajya Sabha, so you are well aware how many good laws have been passed by this government. Rediff.com has listed the ten good acts passed by the UPA starting from national employment guarantee bill to education and tribal bill to domestic violence bill. Now, they have put up the women's reservation bill, too, in the Rajya Sabha.

Let me now give you my take. It took them four years to even introduce the women's reservation bill when the life of this Parliament is about to end. They slept for four years and it only shows that this government was not serious about the issue. As far as NREGS is concerned I don't think the reports that have been coming in initially are complimentary about the working of the scheme. There is a lot of pilferage and non-implementation in certain districts. This scheme has to be audited on the basis of assets creation. The asset creation is not particularly flattering.

I am sure you are not against the scheme.

I am not against the scheme. I am against the manner in which this government is implementing it. What started with fanfare is not giving any dividends at grassroots' level either to the country or to the Congress party.

You are mentioning domestic violence bill. All of us are in favour of putting an end to domestic violence. The perpetrators of crime must be prosecuted and women should be compensated. But, I think the manner in which the bill was introduced and some of the components of the bill are irrational. Particularly, the provision that says that post-divorce if you are living in your matrimonial home with your new wife and new family, the act says the ex-wife also has right to stay in your house.

I don't think such illogical provisions are conducive to Indian society.

Hope you will not be political and instead appreciate the RTI Act. The UPA should be thanked for it.

RTI is a good act. That's why we supported it in Parliament. The proposal of the act was going on for the last 10 years. It's a good step for Indian governance.

Dr Singh has said the Opposition parties should not politicise issues like terrorism and price rise. Why does the BJP not understand the ethos behind his request?

The PM and Congress party have said that price rise and mismanagement of economy should not be politicised, they have also said that the issue of terrorism and mismanagement of national security should not be politicised. Is the PM intending to contest the next election on the issue of Indian Premier League? On whether we should back Mumbai Indians or Kolkata Knight Riders? Obviously, the next election will be fought on the issue of mismanagement of economy and national security, and not on any extraneous issue.

The BJP had a robust movement to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya. But, when your government came and the media asked you about the temple BJP leaders said the NDA is a coalition. You said coalition governments have inherent limitations. But you are not giving the same discount to the UPA. Is it fair politics?

According to me coalition is the art of consensus building but it cannot sacrifice decision-making. We had difficulty in NDA in taking some decisions but Prime Minister Vajpayee's stature was such that he could take a decision and implement it by persuading our colleagues. The UPA is using the pretext of absence of consensus to abandon decision-making.

Do you think in the last four years the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin has been legitimised. Now, don't you think she is an insider?

I think the issue of person of foreign origin becoming prime minister is a serious political issue.

Even now?

It's a national issue. Because she is not a candidate of prime ministership and she withdrew, therefore the issue has been diluted. If a person or any person of foreign origin again tries to become prime minister of India it will always be an issue of national pride. Let her try and see how the experiment works.

Critics think the Left parties have played a better opposition than the BJP.

Left parties are indulging in the exercise of political dialectics. They are too clever by half. They think they can occupy the government space by influencing policy and also occupy the opposition space from outside.

But they have done it.

Effectively, they stand exposed. They oppose the government in front of TV cameras by giving sound bytes, and support the government on the floor of the House in all decisions. They are too willing to proclaim but always unwilling to strike.

As a result of being too clever by half they will fall between two stools.

Being right-wing, is your party's stand on the Indo-US nuclear deal wise enough?

Indo-US relations should not be judged by the yardstick of the nuclear deal alone. The nuclear deal has to be judged by the yardstick of India's security. We think that in view of strategic and delicate location of India in the midst of its neighbours the nuclear deal is not conducive to India's security concerns.

If the Left party withdraws support to the government the country should be ready for elections. The BJP will oppose the government and will stand by its stand on the nuclear deal.