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September 7, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Bal Thackeray

'How can you assess performance in 13 months?'

Will the Sena-BJP alliance return to power in Maharashtra? Who is its more serious rival, Sonia Gandhi or Sharad Pawar? What are the actual issues before the voters in this election? How does it feel to be disenfranchised in democratic India? Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray faces some tough questions from Pritish Nandy before Bombay goes to vote.

What do you think are the key issues before the electorate?

The issues have been around for over 50 years now. Though the people of India got freedom, they never got a good government. A government that could deliver the goods. That is, in my view, the most crucial issue. The fact that the people of free India did not get a government that could actually give them food, shelter, clothing, jobs. There were promises galore. But no real achievements over these 50 years.

Did your government succeed in giving the people these? Are you happy, are you satisfied with the achievements of the Sena-BJP rule in Maharashtra?

I am often asked this question. How can I say I am satisfied? The moment I say this, all progress will stop, my ministers will promptly go to sleep. I do not want this. Also, happiness and satisfaction are quite different things. I may be happy with our achievements but not yet satisfied.

What are your government's main achievements? What are its failures?

Can you not see them yourself, the achievements? I feel that there is a strange censorship that is being practised by the media. They simply refuse to acknowledge our successes and keep harping on our failures. We have, therefore, brought out this pamphlet for the elections which lists all our achievements, our successes over the past four years. Compare it to the forty years before that and you will see the difference in terms of work, effort, commitment.

I am not interested in my ministers driving around in cars with red lights on the top. I am interested in the work they do. I drive them harder and harder, to achieve more and more. If they fail, I ask them to go.

Where did your ministers fail?

Four years is not such a long period. It was a beginning, you could say. In these four years we did much more than what the Congress did during its 40 years. Their government was only about corruption, corruption and more corruption and yet they have to cheek to abuse us and accuse us of corruption! Give me the evidence and I will hang the people concerned.

But how can you judge us for a four-year tenure, out of which almost two years have gone under the code of conduct! Calculate the number of mid-term elections we have had. Calculate the number of days under the code of conduct and you will know exactly how many days we have worked. The restrictions were so many that we could barely move a muscle and yet we did not do half as badly as the media claims. Our achievements are considerable if you consider the actual number of days we were allowed to work.

What are the national issues that need to be tackled promptly in your view?

Population is the main issue. Population has to be controlled at any cost. Otherwise, you cannot plan for the future properly. Whichever nation in the world has prospered, it has done so because it has been able to handle the size of its population and offer its people certain basic minimum rights and facilities. We cannot because our population continues to grow at a pace that is unmanageable.

The last time we made a serious effort to control population, it backfired!

If you cannot stop population growth, at least stop the huge number of people pouring into India from across our borders. The Bangladeshis. The ISI agents from Pakistan, fomenting mischief and terrorism on our borders. We cannot afford to have this steady flow of people coming in and destabilising India.

What humane steps can the government take to stop this?

Nothing unless you have a strong, one-party government with sensible people at the helm of affairs. This has not been possible for quite a long time. The electoral mandate has been always fractured. So no strong action was possible.

Are you satisfied with the Vajpayee government's performance?

A year is not enough to judge a government. How can you assess performance in 13 months?

But do you think they are on the right track?

If you are talking about Kargil, he is the only prime minister who has taken such firm and bold action. It was very determined of him. I appreciate that.

Barring Kargil, is there any other issue that you see as an achievement?

You have to give a man time, Pritish. I was once sitting beside him at Raj Bhavan and I asked him how things were going. He said: No, Balasaheb, nothing will improve unless we have more mazbooti. Is baar shayad woh mazbooti mil jaayegi unki. Otherwise all these small groups around him will keep harassing the government. They all have their own ideologies and unless the BJP stays strong, you will all these conflicting ideologies making it impossible for him to govern.

Do you think it makes sense for him not to align with so many small parties?

Yes, if there is a reasonable guarantee of getting elected with a strong mandate. Otherwise, there is no choice.

No choice but to form a government with unruly, unprincipled partners? Why not sit in the Opposition? It is better than running a government with the likes of Jayalalitha.

It is a question of numbers. Otherwise, you have a blind man helping a cripple and a cripple helping a blind man. Neither of them gets anywhere this way.

Do you think, if the numbers are not adequate, it makes sense for the BJP to sit it out in the Opposition instead of allying with impossible partners?

Who knew Jayalalitha would behave like this? How can one predict who comes to harass you and who is a genuine friend?

Would you say it makes sense for the BJP to ally with Sharad Pawar if they are short of numbers after this election?

Not with any party. They cannot have Pawar and us in the same government. I will not go along in any formation with Sharad Pawar. He is the same person who toppled the last government. I will never shake hands with such a person but, yes, we will support Vajpayee in every other way. Minus Pawar, we are totally with the Vajpayee government, 101 per cent.

What about the UF lot? The Paswans and Sharad Yadavs? Does it make sense for the BJP to ally with every political reject?

There is no way out unless BJP gets the right numbers.

This means you believe in politics by arithmetic?

I believe in strong, stable governments. If the BJP gets the right numbers it will offer India a stable government. Otherwise, it will have no option but to seek the support of anyone and everyone to come to power.

What size of crowds are your meetings getting outside of Bombay?

Huge. Not only for me but also for Uddhav and Raj. Much, much more than the crowds assembling for Sharad Pawar. We get anything between 25,000 to 50,000 people at every meeting while Pawar gets barely a thousand or so. Our crowds clap, roar, shout slogans. You should see their enthusiasm.

Where do you think the Muslim vote will go this time?

Certainly not to the Samajwadi Party. It will split three ways. The two Congresses will get some of it; we will get some. In fact, a few Muslim groups have openly come on the stage during Uddhav's meetings and pledged their support to us. They know that during our government, there have been no riots, no communal violence. Compare that to the Congress years when there were hundreds of such riots erupting all the time.

I do not want to woo the Muslims. I want to win their hearts over.

Are you sad at being disenfranchised?

I am not sad at all. I laugh at it. It is an absolutely idiotic decision. When I have already taken a decision never to fight an election in my life, what sense does it make to stop me from contesting? As for voting, every crook, every criminal, every terrorist can vote but they don't want me to vote. So be it. I won't.

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