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February 12, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Ramakrishna Hegde

'To implement anything, the BJP needs a two-thirds majority in both Houses, and I don't see them getting that for a long time'

Ramakrishna Hegde, the Lok Shakti leader, they say is media-savvy. He knows how to handle the media, is well prepared with his replies and often does not even reveal what's on his mind. This time round, since the questions packed a lot of personal beliefs, as opposed to party strategy, he was more forthcoming.

The man who everyone talked of becoming the future prime minister, today washes his hands of the post. "I would have liked it 10 years ago, not anmore," he told Madhuri V Krishnan.

Why do people still come to listen to you? What is it that you say that they get charmed about? After all every party leader says the same thing.

Elections and campaigning are like getting an education. By visiting these villages in the most rural and remote areas of India and speaking to them clearly and objectively of the political situation and why we are where we are, is creating an awareness in their minds.

The common man does not know what happens inside Parliament or a Cabinet meeting, which minister behaves outrageously, which policies are good for the nation and the chicanery that goes on. Electioneering for me is educating the masses on these subjects so that they are better aware tomorrow to take the right decision.

Even Jawaharhal Nehru believed in the same transparency and all his speeches were geared to create awareness, objectivity and throw light on issues.

Why is this election said to be a watershed in our political history beside the fact it is held in our golden jubilee year?

For three reasons. One for the common man to know what has happened in the past, to probably gauge if the government he chose has fulfilled promises made to him and if not, it gives him an opportunity to think again, reassess and find another leader or party.

Secondly, this is probably the first time in the history of India that alliances and groupings have come together before the election. They have come together with their ideologies and policies which they will face before the people and ask for a mandate. This is an advanced form of electing a govenment and though all parties are not doing this, it is still a beginning.

And thirdly, it's a chance to have an open government. You always get a government that people demand and desire and slowly it will be the people who will mobilise a more transparent, accountable and sincere government.

Who will be asked to form the government in March in your opinion?

The BJP with its allies will have a comfortable majority. It will still be a coalition government and the era of single party governments are over and I predict these coalition governments will remain with us for another 10 or 15 years. Till the churning is complete, we will continue to have a regional party or multi-party system.

If Charan Singh had not ruined the Janata Party, today we would have had a bi-polar government, the Janata and the Congress. This system would have worked extremely well for a democracy like ours where each would balance the other.

If the BJP is invited to form a government at the Centre and you are offered a ministry, will you accept?

It is a hypothetical question because they have to receive the requisite mandate first. Besides, I will decide when we are faced with that eventuality. Anyway, I'm not particularly excited about whatever comes my way either. The enthusiasm and the fire to be at the helm was there when I just entered politics more than three decades ago, it's not there today.

If you are offered the prime ministership of India, would you accept?

No, I will not accept the prime ministership of India, this is an idle question actually.

If I was offered the post 10 years ago, I would have loved to take it up, not today.

Are you a superstitious person, as you stop even at temples besides your scheduled stops to offer prayers.

People desire it of me, they expect that I offer my prayers at the temple altar. While they get involved in the rituals, I just have to do a namaste and they are happy.

Is politics pleasing people like offering prayers in a temple or do you believe in what you offer and intend to fulfil your promises?

Politics with people is a delicate balancing act. Yes, there are many cases where we do or say things that people want to hear but at the end of the day, there are definite issues, basic issues which this government under the leadership of the Congress and the UF haven't been able to give direction to. That's why we need to give the BJP a chance this time and make a difference.

Why did you join hands with the BJP? Their manifesto clearly reveals they are returning to the Hindutva vein of thought of building the Ram Mandir, scrapping Article 370 and enacting a Uniform Civil Code.

I joined them because they were extremely clear about their agenda, their policies and even their prime ministerial candidate. They have made their alliances before the poll and not waited to see how they fare and then seek a mandate.

About the manifesto and the issue of building a temple, it's not so easy. To implement anything, they have to have a two-thirds majority in both Houses, the LS and RS and I don't see them getting that for a long time. They have just put down their ideology, their concept of governance in the next 10 years or so, they know where they are heading. That is why I have joined hands with them.

There are reports that some of the alliances that BJP has struck with may not stick after the election results.

Yes, George Fernandes of the Samata Party in Bihar is already threatening to quit if the three basic issues are not dealt with differently. The issues of common civil code, Article 370 and building the temple at Ayodhya. About these issues, he has said, "hum unka saat nahin denge."

Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is also unpredictable as she is known to be terribly temperamental. When I spoke to her recently she told me how Sonia called her to Delhi and asked not leave the party, she even went to Delhi, met Sonia and told her, for courtesy's sake, she says, that she will not leave but returned and promptly left and aligned with the BJP. I have personally never met her but I have heard she can be quite cussed.

But I don't think the BJP will misbehave after the election. They are not born yesterday who are hungry for power and once they get it they will do anything. They have their own history, they are very clear about what they want and how they will go about getting it and I believe they will make doubly sure that none of the alliances ever breaks, it will only mean they get weaker if they do.

And Lok Shakti has no problems with them, we hope the alliance will last a long time.

The Rediff Election Interviews