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January 29, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/H D Deve Gowda

'Remember, if the Congress comes to power, the story behind Rajiv Gandhi's death will never come into the open, not in a 100 years'

Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda is not an easy man to talk to. He dismisses probing questions with an arrogant wave of the hand and a disgusted curl of the lip. What makes matters even more tough is the fact that, at present, he hates the media. Both electronic and print. He accuses them of ignoring him completely.

But, in the midst of a hectic campaign in Kanakpura, where his son H D Kumaraswamy is the Janata Dal candidate, he allowed Savera R Someshwar to accompany him in his car and quiz him:

Will the Janata Dal government in Karnataka collapse? The BJP, through Venkaiah Naidu, has said the government will not last beyond Monday.

Which Monday? How many Mondays does he want to count? Let him count.

The Congress, the BJP and the Lok Shakti all say that J H Patel's government will feel compelled to resign after the election.

About two weeks ago, the vote of confidence had taken place, 135 members have voted. What more evidence do you want? In two weeks, eight people have deserted and joined the Vedike and have still remained in the Janata Dal -- that is an immoral act. These people say the Janata Dal government will be thrown out; nobody can throw it out, we will take care of it. Our people are bold, our legislators are bold and nobody can shake the government. You can rest assured about that.

Is anything being done to stem the rot in the party?

You must ask the chief minister and the state president that question.

The legislators who have declared their allegiance to Ramakrishna Hegde's Rashtriya Navanirmana Vedike are blaming you for their decision. Why?

You should ask them. You must ask those people who are stabbing J H Patel in the back. They are leaving at a time when the election is going on. Those people who have left the party want to blame me. For what, I don't know. I am not a contender. I don't involve myself in state politics -- I am only doing my work at the national level. This is an evil design on the party at the time of the election.

Both the Congress and the BJP have accused you of ushering in a region of terror in Hassan and Kanakapura.

Go and see the constituencies. Attend the local public meetings of the Janata Dal. You will not find any resentment in anybody. This kind of propaganda is being done by those people who do not have mass support. This is their main escape.

Is it true that you have reached an understanding with the Congress and the BJP, which is why they have not put up strong candidates against you?

Go to Hassan. You will see how vigorously they are fighting against me, what kind of propaganda they have unleashed against me. If you go through the newspapers of the last 15 to 20 days, you'll be able to know. What kind of gossip they are spreading against me. If they are going to be defeated, they are doing all this to excuse their defeat.

The Congress candidate has been a minister for 10 years, he has been in politics since 25 years. They also won the assembly constituency that I vacated when I became a member of the Rajya Sabha. Why do they have to indulge in all this loose talk?

How many seats will the Janata Dal win?

I am not going to make a tall claim. The Janata Dal may get more than what it won in 1996.

How will Sonia Gandhi affect this election?

If the Congress is going to be benefited by Sonia Gandhi, let them benefit. Why should I complain? It is for the people to decide, ultimately. How many times has the BJP projected Vajpayee as the prime minister? For the nth time, they have projected him as the leader.

is this election being fought on emotional issues?

Those days have gone. The media is trying to resurrect those parties which will help 'A' party or 'B' party. The media, today, is also campaigning for various parties.

You seem to be very angry at the media. Why?

It is being controlled by some vested interests.

Shall I quote instances? Don't ask, I don't want to say...It is there for everyone to see. Barring 2-3 fair-minded people, everyone is the same. In Delhi, if you go there, what kind of news are you going to get? Delhi is the power-centre which is going to be destroyed by the media which is owned by big industrial houses. What can a regional paper do? Delhi is the place where all these things are generated.

What do you have to say about your prime ministership?

The performance of my government in 10 and a half months will tell you what we achieved. If you are prepared to compare it to the 10 and a half month rule of any other government, under any prime minister during any regime, you will be able to know what the achievements of the UF government under my leadership were. It was a question of performing the duty which was cast on me.

Sham Lal, the former editor of The Times of India, said two years ago that Vajpayee would not make a good PM because he cannot work long hours. How did you cope with the 16 or 17 hours that a prime minister is expected to put in?

I used to always work long hours even before, and I do not want to make a comment on any individual. My style of functioning is like that because I have no other habit -- I don't have any other extracurricular activity. I am only concerned with my work and my people and what they need. I only want to confine myself to serving my people by using all the resources that are available at my disposal.

That is why I was able to solve even difficult problems with mutual consultations with other colleagues and the bureaucracy. I was able to resolve the Ganga water sharing problem that we had with Bangladesh, the hydel power project that was pending between India and Nepal for the last so many years, the internal problems in this country. There is no special knowledge that is required to be PM -- I did not know about all these things -- there is only a certain amount of earnest effort involved.

How did you feel when your friends turned against you to retain power?

It was a conspiracy hatched between the Congress and some of our leaders. I was not prepared to meddle with some of the inquiries that were being done by the CBI and other agencies. Some people tried to put pressure on me to scuttle these enquiries. I did not want to do so. I told them there was no question of any interference and they could do what they wanted. This is an open secret.

I have not done any harm to the nation. I have not brought down the image of the nation. Industrial production increased during my government. There was record-breaking agricultural production. In 1994-95, it was 181 million tonnes and the next year it was 198 tonnes. There was a 5.6 per cent growth rate according to the RBI figures. There was nothing wrong with me or the UF government.

The only thing was, I was not prepared to oblige certain persons by diluting the investigation. It was an evil design and conspiracy hatched by some of those 'friends'. I had taken some hard decisions that some people may not have liked. When I was PM, there was no problem.

The only problem was Laloo Prasad Yadav. But he was unable to do anything till the other people co-operated with him. The Congress joined hands with him and pulled my government down. But I do not want to go into those details now that the election is on. I do not want to throw mud against anyone. I would like to fight these evil forces. That is why I am going around the country, even though there is no co-operation in the media.

The media, even the electronic media, has blocked coverage of my public meetings. I've been watching -- in the last seven months, I have visited nearly all the states in North India, Bihar, UP, Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra. But what to do? A former prime minister, visiting various states trying to approach the rural masses and holding public meetings does not find a place in the print media on the electronic media. Some people are responsible for this evil design, but I do not want to name them and I do not want to discuss this. Let us first complete the election process and then I will take the next step.

How are you combating Hedge's Lok Shakti?

The proper answer will be given by the people. Why should I bother about him? But I would like to make one thing clear. Hegde used to preach value-based politics. Yet he asked his close followers to remain in the JD, formed the Rashtriya Navanirman Vedike outside and is contesting the election as Lok Shakti. This is the kind of value-based politics that Hegde has been preaching in this country. And the media has projected him as a great, value -based politician!

His followers who have left the JD have made accusations against me. Why should they remain in the JD? If they are fed-up with the JD, they should resign. And why this drama of forming the Vedike? For what purpose and contesting on Lok Shakti tickets, with the support of the BJP?

What kind of moral values are these? And the media has projected him as one of the greatest leaders. Now let the media understand the evil designs of that man. Wait for another two weeks, the 16th and the 22nd are not so far off. I don't want to answer any more questions about him.

Does India now have to prepare itself for a future of coalition politics?

This is a blunder committed by almost all political parties and self-seekers in politics. The people are disgusted with this type of politics, and I am not going to blame the people. It is the political parties and leaders who are at fault.

A party like the BJP which has said it will revive value-based politics have stooped to the lowest possible level in Lucknow. Taking 69 people from other political parties and making them ministers. Taking people who have serious criminal changes, including murder, such people are taken into the party. When Gujral resigned, they gave an open call for our people to desert, did everything possible to encourage defection.

Today, the political parties are only interested in grabbing power by any means. Otherwise, why would the Congress make a bid for power after pulling down the Gujral government? Today, the issue of the Jain Commission report does not even figure in their political campaign. Remember this, if the Congress comes to power, the story behind Rajiv Gandhi's death will never come into the open, not in a hundred years. The people today have lost faith in political leaders. I am saying this with much pain and agony.

How is the UF coalition different from a Congress-led coalition or a BJP-led coalition?

We have already declared our common minimum programme and joint declaration before the people. We have put forth what we think are the burning problems, we have put fourth the issues to which we are committed. All these things, we have already shown in our CMP. In addition to that, we have also shown how this 13-party coalition has tried to come up to the expectations of the people. All these things are there on the table for the people's judgement. I don't want to say anything beyond that.

The people have seen the Congress for 40-odd years. They have seen how the BJP have functioned in several states -- in Gujarat, they got more than two-thirds majority, the party split and they lost the government. They always say they are a cohesive party. What happened in Gujarat, then? The people are watching all these things.

Do you think the people are disappointed in you?

The people are disappointed that one of the best governments in the last four decades -- a government which gave no scope for corruption and functioned without bringing down the image of the country, without neglecting any region, without neglecting any section of the society -- survived only for 10 months.

Our administration, the Budget we have given in 1997 is a clear indication that this government, formed by the coalition of 13 parties, is a responsible one. By destabilising this government, they gave the biggest blow to the nation -- these fellows, these power-hungry politicians. That is why the people have been disillusioned, that's all. There is no scope whatsoever for disillusionment by my actions or the actions of my government.

Are you happy with the crowd turnout at your meetings?

Yes. I am not a new face like Sonia Gandhi. People here know me since the last 40 years.

What is wrong with Indian politics today?

Politics is a paying profession. When you contest an election you get so much of black money. Then, once you are elected, there is so much of money available to politicians. Even politicians who wants to remain honest find it very difficult; there are few people out there who can resist this kind of temptation.

Do you think we should go far a dictatorship then?

No. No. No. No. whatever its defects, this is one of the best systems. Ultimately, people will eliminate all these opportunistic politicians. Once India has 100 per cent education, the people cannot be fooled. I think we will have 100 per cent education in 10 years. I don't take a pessimistic view of things. India lives in its villages, where even the handpumps that are given to the farmers are of substandard quality. But all this will improve gradually. It will take some time.

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