'UP results will decide UPA's stability'
Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and one of the Bharatiya Janata Party's key strategists is getting ready to take on the United Progressive Alliance in the coming Budget session of Parliament.
Jaitley's legal background and his envious reach in New Delhi's media is a potent combination helping his party push its political agenda.
Jaitley spoke exclusively to Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt on the Uttar Pradesh election and the upcoming session of Parliament.
The Budget session is coming soon. How do you see the political situation building up?
Even independent of the Uttar Pradesh election, I think there are several issues.
The Budget session is one where the economic policy gets laid down. The economy is performing badly. The government has run out of ideas on how to expedite the growth process. There is deficiency of investment.
By using monetary policy, they have been able to bring down the rate of inflation, but prices are still rising. Therefore, the economy and price rise are the main issues.
The Congress is trying to tinker with the Election Commission. That is another important issue. Also, there is pressure on Centre-state relations. That will take centre-stage in the coming session.
The issue of corruption will also be revived because of the status of 2G licence cases. There is this controversy over the National Counter Terrorism Centre, which is adversely impacting Centre-state relations.
The elections in the states will also impact the Budget session. The Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa elections are such where local issues play a part and one government is replaced by another on the basis of pro- or anti-incumbency. But the Uttar Pradesh election is a 'make or break' election.
The reason being the Trinmool Congress has an uneasy relationship with the Congress. How long this relationship will last is itself a question mark. The government is finding handling the Trinmool very difficult.
The government is looking for a replacement figure (the Trinamool Congress has 19 Lok Sabha members) and that possible replacement can only come from Uttar Pradesh.
Notwithstanding the denials from the Congress party leaders that they will not have any alliance with anybody, I think, the Congress will be desperate to see that the situation comes where some party in UP could be aligned with them in New Delhi, and be dependent on them in Lucknow.
That situation will depend on the final numbers game that we will know on March 6.
Therefore, the stability of the UPA government will be on test depending on what numbers emerge from UP.
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Image: Arun Jaitley
'President's rule should be avoided'
Do you agree that even though the Congress and BJP are national parties and so-called mainstream parties, it is quite clear that the real fight is between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party?
I don't agree. The principal fight in many constituencies is between the BSP and the BJP. Wait for the results. If the English media has to be believed, then the Congress has to be the number one.
Rather than get into amateurish analysis of what the Congress's results in UP are going to be...I feel the Congress won't be number four, but a distant fourth.
Being a national party, don't you think there should not be any manipulations, manoeuvring or covert attempt to force President's rule in UP if there is a hung assembly?
This is a hypothetical situation. Why should we comment on that?
President's rule is not desirable in UP, right?
These are your words, not mine. It will depend on the numbers. If the government can be formed, President's rule should be avoided.
If the government can't be formed, then the Constitutional mechanism will work. It doesn't depend on desire or opinion, it depends on the numbers.
You had been travelling in UP. How do you the find voters in UP?
My analysis is that UP in 2012 is like Bihar of 2005. That is the alteration of the political agenda. In that alteration of political agenda issues of development, poverty eradication and corruption come to the fore.
These were the issues in Bihar and since then it is known as the Bihar agenda. The SP and BSP believe that development doesn't get you votes, but caste fragmentation does.
Therefore, the alteration of the political agenda has to be done by the BJP and the Congress. We had the historic opportunity. I think the Congress sabotaged that by communalising the election, by bringing in religious reservation.
Obviously, if you bring in religious reservation out of the quota of the backward community, there will be a strong reaction to that. The reaction against that will get expressed in the UP election.
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Image: Voters during the UP election
'You are making all the states powerless'
Your party is opposing the NCTC, but there is an enabling clause in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2008.
You didn't prevent the central government when in 2008, after the Mumbai terror attacks, it brought in major amendments. That is now being used and it is totally legal.
There was no mention of the NCTC in the Act, so we didn't comment. There was no idea that there will be a provision where the intelligence agencies will be entitled to make arrests. Therefore, we could not have anticipated this.
Let us not start swallowing every government argument without applying our mind to it.
Law and order, policing is a state subject. The power of the states cannot be ever diluted. In fact, the Centre should help in capacity building in fighting terrorism.
We know well that terrorism has a cross-border angle and intra-state issues. It has the angle of intelligence gathering too.
But the Centre must not see this as an opportunity to destroy the Centre-state balance and the federal structure of India.
The battle against terrorism and federalism can co-exist and must co-exist.
In the notification for the NCTC, it is mentioned that a single point agency will be created. That means you are making all the states powerless.
Then you are saying the intelligence agency will be entitled to arrest. I doubt if that is proper in any transparent democracy.
The Union home secretary says they will make arrests only after consulting the states. Countering terrorism is the responsibility of both, the states and the Centre. There are different dimensions in their responsibilities.
The government is doing the opposite of what they did in the case of the Maoists. Then, the government said it is the state subject and we will give you only police support.
It is believed the BJP is not allowing the government to take a very strident stand only because the BJP feels the home minister is progressing in cases of Hindu terrorism.
That must be the complex of the home ministry. We have no such ideas. We judge each issue on its own merits.
On the issue of tackling the Maoists, we supported the home minister. When CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) jawans were killed in Chhattisgarh, we supported him till he diluted his position on the Maoists.
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Image: A BJP rally
'Narendra Modi is extremely popular'
Your party's current problem is that it doesn't have one single leader.
Because we don't have one single family which owns the party. Therefore if you have a cross-section of talent in the party, you can select one at the time of the election. That's what happens in democracies. It is a good thing.
Unfortunately, this question is put to us, repeatedly, by the Indian media which has been adversely impacted by the feudal mindset that the party must be owned by a family.
Since you have the next generation of the family, they are and must be accepted as natural leaders. This kind of norm has been accepted by a large section of the Indian media.
I think we must change our attitude. We must have a party which has a galaxy of leaders. The best amongst them will be presented as the leader at the time of the election. That's the way the parties in democracies all over the world function.
But there is pressures and pushes within the party, amongst the leaders. Also, one sees the overwhelming effect of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He is the most popular amongst your cadre. Is...
(Look)...Narendra Modi is extremely popular among the cadre. And Modi will always make news as far as the media is concerned. But the decision of the leadership will be decided by the party at the appropriate time.
Does the coming together of Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and other non-Congress and non-BJP chief ministers worry you?
Tomorrow, you may have a non-Congress chief minister in UP who takes a stand against the NCTC. I look at it as an issue-based event.
Do you see any possibility of a Third Front kind of experiment?
The idea of a Third Front has been repeatedly rejected. It has significantly failed. I am not willing to take it seriously.
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Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
'There should be a Right to Food to save people from starvation'
Do you think the BJP has taken a centrist position on Hindutva now? Do you find this fundamental change permanent?
I am sure when you talk of Hindutva, it's not about religiosity. When we take a strong nationalistic position on any national issues it is referred to as Hindutva.
My stand on Kahsmir, my stand on illegal immigration makes this impression. The only other (Hindutva) issue is the Ayodhya issue, which is at present in court.
I think our position on Hindutva is the same. The kind of issues (related to Hindutva) that may come up will be a little different.
How do you see the broader economic slowdown?
We need to generate economic activity. India urgently needs a domestic environment to attract international investment. We need a quicker decision-making mechanism.
We need to be very concerned about excessive expenditure within the structure of governance.
These are the issues the government should have considered, but unfortunately this government is paralysed. The solitary decision this government wanted to take on issue of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in retail trading became highly controversial and is not acceptable to anybody.
Will you support the Food Security Bill, the next big decision likely to come from the government?
We will have to see the final text of it. I am in support of the idea of food security. The best food security programme is on in Chhattisgarh, which needs to be replicated all over the country.
There should be a Right to Food to save people from starvation.
Do you think the UPA government will last its course?
It depends on the numbers from UP. If the government is not able to get a new ally in Uttar Pradesh to make up for the likely loss of numbers in New Delhi, then its stability will be affected.
Will you cooperate with the government in the coming Budget session?
(Thinks for a moment and then smiles) We will judge the government each day!
Image: 'The best food security programme is on in Chhattisgarh, which needs to be replicated all over the country,' says Arun Jaitley