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October 5, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ N D Tiwari

'Sonia will do very well as prime minister'

Four terms as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Four terms as an MP with respected postings at the Centre. After more than half a century in politics,Narain Dutt Tiwari, who hails from a little village in the hills that had no electricity, no roads and no schools, comes across as a lonely, tired human being. Excerpts from a recent interview with Savera R Someshwar.

What is your opinion about coalition governments?

First of all, thank you very much for interviewing me. My hearty greetings and good wishes to everyone who is reading this.

Click for bigger picture of Narain Dutt  Tiwari

Your question is very vital. The matter of the Congress party taking on or leading a coalition government has been mentioned in the Panchmarhi declaration. Wherein it has been made very clear that if the results of any general election shows that no other party has a majority, and the Congress does not have the majority it needs, then it can think of a coalition because of the compulsions of the electoral verdict.

But the Congress is striving very hard to convince the people of India that they should not vote for any such situation in which parties with different ideologies, positions or programmes are forced to enter into a coalition just because there is no majority. So it is vital for the electorate to give a clear verdict. And that clear verdict, under the present conditions, can only be for the Congress because there is no other party in the country that is fighting more than 475 seats. It is only the Congress which can give a genuinely all-India correct representation to the government.

But Sonia Gandhi has been vacillating about coalitions.

I don't think there should be any confusion on that point. She has clearly stated that we would prefer to avoid a coalition. If we are requesting for a majority and a stable government, how can we also simultaneously say that we will have a coalition?

Click for bigger picture of Narain Dutt Tiwari

Only we have indicated that a coalition is a must when, under the circumstances, it becomes inevitable. When there is no other political solution. If there is a hung Parliament, which it should not be. We are therefore saying, please do not give us a hung Parliament. Please do not punish yourself for the future. Because if the electorate gives a hung verdict, then it will punishing itself. Then, again, there will be a possibility of horsetrading and all that.

Mrs Gandhi is taking the correct lead by mentioning that we want a clear verdict from the electorate in favour of the Congress so that we can form a stable government. If we begin talk about coalitions, it would mean we are speaking from a point of view which is not conducive to our political stance.

Why has there been a steady erosion of the Congress mass base in the country?

I do not think so. My information is different. My perception of the situation is different. This time, there is a massive swing in favour of the Congress.

Would you then say the Congress is still a very strong party?

My God! Of course! The Congress is the only viable national party existing in the country. It has an all-India base. The BJP is leaning on 24 parties. It is a 24-headed political combination. How can it be viable? The Congress has also entered into certain alliances with certain parties, but the Congress will be the dominant partner. The overwhelmingly dominant partner.

Do you feel the Congress should have entered into an alliance with Jayalalitha, considering the fact that the party has always held itself against corruption?

Charges only do not count. If Jayalalithaji is with the BJP combination, she is all right. If Sukh Ramji is with the Congress, he is corrupt -- on this issue they did not allow the Parliament to run for 13 days -- but if he with the BJP, it is all right. I feel this sort of political formulation is contradictory as an issue.

If the Congress wins, who is going to be the next prime minister of India?

Of course, Mrs Sonia Gandhi is the leader of the party and she is the natural choice. She has herself announced that the Congress Parliamentary Party will elect the leader. But she is the de facto leader of the Congress and, as a result, our choice for prime minister.

In your opinion, to what extent will her inexperience affect her performance?

Click for bigger picture of Narain Dutt Tiwari

Who has had the experience of running the country as prime minister? Nobody has the experience until and unless they become prime minister. Did Atal Bihariji have any experience as prime minister? Prime ministership is different from other ministerships. As prime minister, you have to do so many things, take so many decisions. So I do not think this argument holds any weight.

What about Dr Manmohan Singh, who has also been projected as prime minister?

First of all, you have to elect the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. As I said, it is Sonia Gandhi who is the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Even though she was not a member of Parliament, she was the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Why was there no effort made to stop Sharad Pawar from leaving the party?

You want me to comment on a situation which has now become stale. This issue has been commented upon long ago. Any Congressman worth the name could not have accepted the formulations he made regarding Mrs Sonia Gandhi. You know, you should not be too ambitious, you'll scuttle the boat. But God bless everybody, that did not happen.

Do you think Sharad Pawar has made a mistake in leaving the party?

Not a mistake, but a blunder.

What do you see his future as?

I do not think I should comment on anybody's political future because every person is the architect of his political future.

But with someone of so many years of political experience, you would have an idea of what it would be.

It is with that experience with which I am speaking. One should not just prophesise about individual parties. With the electoral mind having a shift towards the Congress, I sincerely hope that the Congress will have a majority.

Do you think Mamata Banerjee will rejoin the Congress?

Again, I would say I would not launch myself into a prophesying situation for which there are portents now. But there are also practical difficulties. Therefore, I would not like to hazard any firm opinion as of now.

What practical difficulties?

The Trinamul Congress is a separate party. And our Congress is fighting the election on its own. One can say this should not have been an issue, but it has happened. Once it has happened, you have to stand for the Congress party.

Do you see her joining the Congress after the election? Or do you see an electoral alliance with her?

I do not want to launch into a statement which does not have current validity. I do not know what will happen after the election. I have no idea of how the election results will be.

Certain Congressmen feel she will return.

Any unification of the Congress forces at the regional level or state level on a valid basis, on a workable basis, is welcome. This is what I am saying is without prejudice towards the existing situation in West Bengal. I think we should stand by our party workers.

You feel that if you make any statement now, it might demoralise your workers?

I do not stand for any moralising or demoralising. What I am stating is a practical assessment of the situation.

How do you visualise the future of the Congress?

I think the Congress will emerge as the strongest political force, with a strong majority, at the beginning of the 21st century and continue to lead the country ahead. It will maintain the democratic, secular fabric of the country and enhance the overall development of the country.

Where do you see India going in the 21st century?

The future of the country depends on the strengthening of the parliamentary democratic system and having stability, peace and progress and amity through the parliamentary democratic system. I am confident that, ultimately, there will be stability in the country for peace, freedom, progress and all round development.

How would you rate Mrs Sonia Gandhi as a leader?

She has performed outstandingly as an leader and maintained the democratic traditions within the party. She goes along with the consensus within the party, does not force her opinions and that is what a democratic leader must do. I hope she will prove a very good leader in administration also because she always relies on consensus. This is her forte within the party and outside as well.

I think she is a very democratic leader. She tries to understand every point of view. That is the importance of her democratic attitude. She will do very well as prime minister.

Is she easily accessible?

She is. But security considerations, which have to be there, cannot be avoided. They are a must. We cannot allow the security to be relaxed. But, despite this overwhelming situation, I think she is very accessible. She meets people from all walks of life at her residence.

How is her grasp on various national issues?

Her grasp on national issues reflects the consensus within the party and reflects the broad forum of views in the national spectrum. She consults academicians, experts and all those who count; she tries to get the advice of whosoever people are relevant to the situation.

You have worked with both Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. How would you compare the two leaders?

I've had the benefit of working under the feet of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi, of course. There is the same basic strand of leadership -- awareness of objectives and response to the needs of the country and national-international situation at any given point of time, according to an established pattern in the national and international interest and keeping an eye on what is happening on the poverty and inflation fronts.

This basic strand of combining everything into one whole, this attribute of leadership has been present in all -- in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in Shrimati Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi despite the fact that he was suddenly pitchforked into the top leadership. I think everybody was amazed to see how he responded to the given situation after his mother's demise.

I've seen Sonia Gandhi silently observing everything during Indiraji's and Rajiv Gandhi's lifetime. She was a very intent listener and part of a milieu where everything is discussed at the dinner table. Even if you are a silent, non-intervening listener, you learn the basic feel of how one should behave in the situation where you have to handle leadership questions.

The situation was different in 1950. Then the situation was different in different decades. You have to apply your political objectives and ideology to the given situation. Now the whole world is globalising and you have a global pattern of economic development, so you also have to respond to that. You cannot be isolated. I find that all these things are reflected in her leadership.

A constant charge against the Congress party has been that of dynasty politics. Now it seems that both Rahul and Priyanka will be introduced into the political arena.

No, it is not at all because of the dynastic factor. It is because you have to have a certain centre point of leadership wherein the mass of people, and not just the workers of the party, unite. You need a leader who is acceptable to all the individuals in the party.

You know, there are dynastic trends everywhere. In what country don't you find such a combination? You have the Kennedy factor in United States politics.

Ultimately, everything has to be done by the people and the workers. If the workers find a uniting point in the Nehru tradition, I do not think we should worry.

Where is your second line of leadership going to come from?

It is there. We have a large number of leaders of the first rank, of the second rank, of all ranks. The Congress is a treasure house of leadership at all levels.

We visted your village, Padampuri…

Did you cross the river? You went to the temple? You see, I was arrested in 1942 from the same house. It was constructed by my late father. He was also arrested. I have been a humble freedom fighter along with my father. We both were handcuffed together and taken to Bowali -- my father on one hand and me on another.

We wanted to see where you lived.

I don't have any flats or any farms. My late wife was a doctor, MBBS, in Lucknow. She retired at the rank of additional director. With whatever money she could put in, which I supplemented a little, we built a house in Lucknow. It is now with my brother and his family. So I am alone.

Where do you stay?

Delhi. Delhi is the centre.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

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