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February 4, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/P V Narasimha Rao

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'Why has the blame been transferred from those who destroyed the structure to those whose responsibility it was to protect it?'

P V Narasimha Rao Former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao is not exactly the happiest man in the world today. Though the Congress flaunts the achievements of his government in its election manifesto, he remains the party's saddest figure.

Isolated. Condemned. Ignored. Fighting a battery of corruption cases all by himself. Dumped by his colleagues. Ignored by the new leaders of the party. Held responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Refused a ticket to contest the forthcoming elections.

All he is now busy with is contemplation. Contemplating what went wrong and why history has been so cruel to him.

In an interview with Pritish Nandy, Rao unburdens himself a little:

Why has the Congress been so unfair to you? Given the fact that much of its election manifesto is based on the achievements of your government?

How can I comment on that? It is for the intelligentsia, for thinking people like you to analyse the facts and come to your own conclusions. I cannot offer any comments on something like this. It will be misunderstood. Particularly in the context of the coming elections. I would rather keep my silence. Otherwise. I will be accused of hurting the party's interests -- which I cannot do, having been in this party for 60 years.

For 60 years, I have never asked for anything but my leaders have given me everything. Today, they refused. What can I do?

But if you keep your silence for too long, history will cease to see you as a victim. It will see you -- as your critics want -- as a villain. As the man responsible for the decline of the Congress. The destruction of the Babri Masjid, for bringing corruption centrestage in Indian politics.

What could I do? Do you expect any prime minister, be he a fool or a wiseman, to ignore the advice of his governors? I received a letter from the governor of Uttar Pradesh -- Satyanarayan Reddy, a man handpicked by V P Singh himself -- telling me that I should not even think of imposing Article 356. That everything was absolutely under control and that he had the assurance of the state government that nothing would ever go wrong. That these assurances were given to the courts as well and there was no need to panic, no need to take any tough action.

Do you expect me to ignore his advice? Do you think it was possible, at such short notice, to intervene in such a manner that the crisis could have been averted? Imagine the consequence if I had stepped in, against the governor's advice, and the situation had gone out of hand! Today you can destroy the biggest structure with just a tiny bit of explosive. If that had happened, would history have forgiven me?

But you are being blamed in any case? Blamed for inaction.

My question is: Why has the blame been transferred from those who destroyed the structure to those whose responsibility it was to protect it? If someone is murdered, won't you blame the murderer for the crime? Or will you blame those who were supposed to protect the victim?

No, Pritish. This is just politics. Not responsible history.

What is responsible history? The fact that you did not stop the BJP in its tracks?

Has anyone ever bothered to find out why a party which won only two seats in Parliament in 1984 improved its position to 84 in 1989 and has, since grown exponentially? Today it is readying to win over 200 seats. How did this happen? What did this party do in the first five years for it to gain so dramatically in its popular support? I would not like to hazard a guess. I leave it to all of you to come to your conclusions as to why we, as a nation, have failed to stop this growth. Think about it and may be you will understand how history moves.

What is your view? How do you explain the rise of the BJP?

On one hand, you have Ram. No one can fight Ram. We can fight the BJP. We can fight, communalism -- but we cannot fight Ram. On the other extreme, you have the culture of the AK-56. Violence versus violence. It is tearing this nation apart. Only the Congress could have provided a way out. As it did for 45 years. But all you thinking people are so busy writing off the Congress, accusing it of so many things, that it is steadily weakening.

Do you think it is possible for anyone in Telengana to win an election without seeking the support of the Naxalites? Every one of the 18 candidates out there goes to the Naxalites first and obtains their blessings before standing for the elections. Look at Bihar. Wherever you look, it is caste politics. More and more caste politics.

We are being torn apart as a nation today because the only party that could have stopped all this, the only party that could have held India together, is gradually losing its grip. It is losing its grip because everyone is too busy criticising it all the time. Believe me, you have no idea what will happen to India if the Congress is destroyed.

How long can you keep bringing on these new casteist parties? A Yadav party today. A Kurmi party tomorrow. A Scheduled Caste party the day after. A party for backwards. A party for every caste that India has. And each one of them will try and rule for a while. The nation will destroy itself this way! The Congress alone could have held the nation together if it was not emasculated.

But why do you allow such parties to come to power with your support and, then, suddenly pull them down for no convincing reason? Is the Congress completely incapable of staying afloat without being in power, without holding office?

I was always against the idea of supporting such parties. In fact it was I who stopped the Congress from joining any such coalition. But the moment I stepped down, others became too ambitious. They were eager to join the coalition.

Let me get this right. In your view, it was a mistake for the Congress to lend support to the United Front government? Even from outside?

By doing this, we have earned a bad name. It is now being said that we dropped the government. We dropped Deve Gowda's government. We dropped Gujral's government.

But you did? Is there any issue about that? Is there any doubt about the fact that the Congress unfairly and without any provocation pulled the plug on them?

These governments fell under the weight of their contradictions. Couldn't they have removed those two ministers after the Jain Commission report came out? What was so difficult about that? They made it a prestige issue. We who were 145 strong were accused of being unfair. Of being too demanding. Whereas, for them, it was a simple thing to do. But they stood on prestige and we got a bad name. Because it was made to appear that we were at fault.

If we had not supported them in the first place, this would never have happened. But the moment I took this stand every Congressman turned against me. They thought I was destroying their chance of being in office. What could I do? They do not realise that if the Congress stood apart for a while and said, we are not going to form the next government, the people would have a called us back.

If you remember, Rajivji did exactly this. He wrote to the President on his own and said, we are aware of the mandate of the people and will not offer to form a government. So please do not call us'. That is the right thing to do. It would have improved our image in the eyes of the people and the Congress would have been called back to power by the people.

Do you feel you made some very serious mistakes in politics? Or do you think you are just a victim of fate and not so fortuitous circumstances?

I am a small man. But when I think of what the famous leaders went through, this is nothing. Mahatma Gandhi was killed for his views. Indira Gandhi was assassinated. So was Rajivji. For no fault of their's. I am only being misjudged. This is nothing much. I now find time to think, write. Contemplate the ways of politics. It offers me insight into history. Into life.

Is your novel ready?

The first volume is. It covers the period up to 1973. The second volume starts with 1974. The Pokhran blast. When so many good things started happening to India -- and then suddenly, the Emergency came! The second volume will end in 1989 because I have no intention of writing about my time. My tenure as prime minister.

Never? You will keep your tenure shrouded in mystery and darkness? How will the charges against you ever be answered? How will you defend yourself against the assault of history and your critics?

At present, I have frankly no intention of going beyond 1989. But who knows? I may write another volume later if my health allows me to.

The Rediff Election Interviews