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Jaswant Singh:'I don't see the NDA getting the numbers as of today'

Last updated on: April 20, 2014 12:56 IST

'I don't see the NDA getting the numbers as of today'

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

'When I was denied a BJP ticket I was faced with a dilemma. My sons said the honourable thing for you to do is to meet the cry of the electorate. The cry of the electorate was, "You have to come here because you are the only one that can contain this rot -- of casteism -- in this border area." We are not, and have never been casteist in this area.'

'I think the BJP will be the single largest party. Will it have enough numbers to form a government? I don't see those numbers as of today, and on the basis of the elections that have already taken place.'

Jaswant Singh, external affairs minister and finance minister in the Vajpayee government, who was expelled from the BJP last month, in a freewheeling interview with Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

Seventy-six is perhaps not the age to be expelled from a political party that one co-founded, but for former Union minister Jaswant Singh, it is nothing new.

It seems like just the other day he was expelled by the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2009 for his book on Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah but, as many in his camp would say, that was a different BJP so he could go back to it in 2010.

The BJP that has expelled him now, for his insistence to contest from the Barmer Lok Sabha constituency, is "different." "It is strange that on both occasions my father was expelled by the same party president, Rajnath Singh," says Bhupendra Singh, the veteran's younger son who is leading his election charge in the jumbo-sized constituency that covers eight assembly segments.

On Sunday, April 13, Jaswant Singh went on a road show in Jaisalmer fort, which although lies in the adjoining district, is part of the Barmer Lok Sabha constituency, and the response to it can only described as phenomenal.

It was "unprecedented," say both the father and son, and is reflective of the anger towards the BJP for treating him "shabbily" as well as the love the people hold for the son of the soil who, strangely, has never contested a Lok Sabha election from Barmer in all these years.

Jaswant Singh decided to defy the BJP when it not only denied him a ticket but decided to nominate a fresh-off-the-boat Congress legislator, Colonel Sona Ram (retd), from Barmer, leaving him with no option but to throw his hat into the ring as an Independent. It is all a "money game," says Bhupendra Singh darkly.

In the constituency itself, there is tremendous regard and respect for Jaswant Singh, ranged against who are Sona Ram and the Congress's sitting Member of Parliament, Harish Choudhary.

Soon after Sunday's road show, Jaswant Singh spoke to Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy at the family-owned Rawalkot hotel that is leased to the Taj group.

Please click NEXT to read the interview...


Image: Former Union minister Jaswant Singh arrives at the Taj Gateway Rawalkot Hotel in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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'Every time I wanted to contest from here, I was asked to go elsewhere'

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

The response to your Sunday road show was beyond expectations. What do you think led to it?

I don't know whether road show is an adequate term. It is unprecedented. In my political experience, which goes back a long way back, and I have seen highly emotional elections like 1984, and 1980, I have never seen such an outpouring...

It is an outpouring of emotion, an emotion which is laced with a great deal of anger, and also a great deal of affection and support for me.

Anger at what?

Anger because the people of the constituency, men, women and young people as you saw, are angry that I have been treated most shabbily, and I have been handed down an insulting behaviour. And the interesting part is that this insulting behaviour is felt acutely by the entire political community of Barmer and Jaisalmer.

Which is why it takes shape in the form of so much outpouring of anger, resentment, and picking me up virtually on their shoulders as a token or as a representative of that anger.

Is there a background to why you have been treated so shabbily by your erstwhile party?

I think that is a question that ought to be asked of those that have treated me shabbily.

There are so many theories that are floating around about this. One says you don't get along with Narendra Modi. Another says Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and you don't see eye to eye. One more has it that your wife and the CM share cold vibes... Which of these is true?

No, no. Who says what, please tell me.

At the road show, for instance, there were so many anti-Vasundhara slogans raised. You may deny a rift, but these are pointers, aren't they?

The chief minister of Rajasthan has behaved in a particular manner that generates such comment. She was principally involved and active in denying me my own home constituency.

And then on top of that, first to deny me, and then to bring a turncoat who until the other day was a Congressman who contested against the BJP in the Vidhan Sabha election, lost to the BJP, cursed the BJP as he has been doing for the last 30 years.

Suddenly he is picked up and made the parliamentary candidate without an explanation.

Here is an example, I think, of the electorate revolting against the decisions of political parties. The Congress has continued with its sitting MP, the BJP had the chance, I think they frittered away the chance by choosing a Congressman to contest for the BJP, all in the space of two to three days.

But you have never contested from Barmer before, so why the insistence now?

No. Because every time I wanted to contest (from here), I was told no, you go elsewhere. Bhairon Singhji Shekhawat (the BJP's tallest leader from Rajasthan then) said no no, you go to Jodhpur.

I said but I want to contest from Barmer, but he said no, in Jodhpur we will have to put up a candidate against Ashok Gehlot who is coming as the head of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress committee, a Sonia Gandhi favourite who has got everything in his favour, you have to contest against him.

Jodhpur is Gehlot's hometown, I have a place there, but Barmer is my hometown. So I went there, and the electorate sent me to Delhi.

That Parliament ended, and I said now Bhairon Singhji, now let me go to Barmer, but he said no, you now go to Chittorgarh. Because the Maharana of Mewar, who was earlier in the BJP, suddenly went to the Congress.

I told Bhairon Singhji, I have no enmity with the Maharana, my forefathers actually fought alongside his forefathers, what enmity can I have against him! But the suggestion didn't wash, so my home constituency lost out again.

I remained in Chittorgarh for three terms, then suddenly I was told no you go to Darjeeling. That's the story.

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Image: Jaswant Singh with party workers at the Taj Gateway Rawalkot Hotel in Jaisalmer.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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'Do you see a Narendra Modi wave here?'

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

But now, your decision to contest from Barmer come what may, could impact your son (and state BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly), Manvendra Singh's political career as well.

It is a painful thought. But Manvendra is an adult and he has his own fate, political and otherwise.

My decision to contest from Barmer was not taken by myself. I consulted my wife, and I consulted both my sons. And both of them said you have to contest from Barmer.

When I was denied a BJP ticket I was faced with a dilemma. And my sons still said the honourable thing for you to do is to meet the cry of the electorate.

The cry of the electorate was, you have to come here because you are the only one that can contain this rot -- of casteism -- in this border area. We are not, and have never been casteist in this area.

What I wanted to know was, how is Manvendra taking his own shabby treatment by the BJP now?

It is a very shabby treatment.

But how is he handling it?

He is handling it with equanimity.

How would you describe your relationship with the current BJP leadership -- Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, etc?

No, I won't, because I have stopped thinking about it.

How difficult is to stage an election campaign without the backing of a political party like you had all along?

No, you saw the road show, I don't think I have the capacity to even describe the enthusiasm. I feel it, I actually sense it in my bones. Of this lot that treated me in this fashion and I, we are of this very land.

My mother was from a village about 45 km from here, I grew up as a child in this village and my paternal village.

It is sad that increasingly, this homogeneous society, including every section of the Hindu community is now being sectionalised. Which is not a good thing for a border district. It is not the best thing to do.

Actually my question was, how difficult is to manage an election campaign as an Independent, without a party behind you?

I don't have to manage it. The citizens are managing it. My younger son (Bhupendra Singh), in consultation with a few others, is doing it.

And just two days ago, he said they are all clamouring for a road show. I asked, who is clamouring? He said the citizens.

There is a mistaken impression, and I say this not for effect, political parties think they are managing events, but events manage political parties.

Do you see a Modi wave in the country?

Do you see a Narendra Modi wave here?

I don't know if it's a wave, but I think there's definitely a strong sentiment in his favour.

I don't see the sentiment in his favour here.

I was not asking about here, but overall. You don't see one?

I haven't been anywhere overall, because I wanted to honour the local sentiment. Normally I don't stay anywhere during the duration of an election campaign, but here is a very strange combination of exuberance, love, anger, revenge, everything.

It is a very unusual experience for a politician to go through.

Do you see the BJP/NDA coming to power in this election?

Why do you ask me this question?

This is a question one would ask any politician. Especially you, a founding member of the BJP.

I think the BJP will be the single largest party.

Will it have enough numbers to form a government? I don't see those numbers as of today, and on the basis of the elections that have already taken place.

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Image: Jaswant Singh with former Union minister Yogendra Makwana.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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'The BJP's inner core of thinking has perhaps shifted to Nagpur'

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

You and then US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott were the ones who breathed life into India-US relations and made it robust and spirited, especially after the doldrums they were in post Pokhran II. Today, when you see the sad state of ties between the two democracies, where do you think we went wrong?

I think both the countries are to blame. Atalji (former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee) used a phrase, he said 'natural allies'. I continue to think that we are natural allies.

The United States goes through periodic drifts in its foreign policy. India's managers of foreign policy have to demonstrate an understanding and a depth of concerns that will enable them to alter those situations.

I think the present United Progressive Alliance, two particularly, lost interest in foreign policy. Plus I think (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh wanted to manage his own foreign policy which prime ministers often wish to do.

But then he had an early, rather laidback, minister for external affairs, dear S M Krishna, who was of endearing forgetfulness. I think that sums it up.

Do you think India-US ties can go back to being normal, especially given the recent convulsions?

They are normal, but they are adrift. I think there can be course correction, nothing is so irretrievably wrong with them, but you do need an understanding and thinking and effort.

Your present travails, are they part of the BJP's generational shift that one often talks about? Is that what's left veteran leaders like you, Mr Advani, Dr Joshi etc adrift?

I am not adrift.

Sure, you've chosen your own destiny, but is all this part of the BJP's generational shift pangs?

I really don't know. Because I am not in the BJP's inner core of thinking, which perhaps has shifted to Nagpur (headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's ideological font). And I don't much aspire now to inhabit those regions.

Assuming that the NDA were to fall just short of the numbers required to form a government and every extra vote becomes crucial, will you be open to supporting them? Yes, this is a very hypothetical question, I know.

No, it is more than hypothetical. It assumes that the newly structured NDA will have a reasonable logic and implementable policies.

I am not reassured on that score.

Besides, having done what I have already done, D E F, that is, defence, external affairs and finance, Planning Commission, I don't really aspire to continue to do the same under mediocre leadership.

Are you ruling out a rapprochement ever between your former political party and you?

No, I have done that exercise once. I don't see myself repeating such an exercise now.

In his election speech in Barmer constituency on Saturday Modi omitted all reference to you. Can one read between the lines from this silence and conclude the last word is yet to be said?

Are you a reader of spy fiction? There is a very interesting Agatha Christie incident, of the dog that did not bark.

So I don't know, I don't know. Do I care, really? I don't wish to speculate this or that way. Perhaps he had other priorities on his mind. He certainly seems to have.

Am I talking to a potential, possible, future prime minister?

There are too many adverbs and adjectives in your question. But this often gets voiced, yes.

It was voiced tremendously at your Jaisalmer road show, that if the Third Front were to come to power you are the likely consensus candidate for PM.

No, no, it is a very heady wine, I don't let it infect me. I tell the audience, which I didn't do so today, it really was a fretful feeling in itself.

The two letters, PM, need to be reversed, I must first become an MP, that's the only thing.

Leaves the door open, doesn't it?

I am sitting in an open verandah (smiles).


Image: The BJP office in Barmer.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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