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January 24, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Churchill Alemao

'The BJP is not untouchable'

Despite the negative image of him painted by his numerous critics, Churchill Alemao seems to be quite popular among top leaders of various parties, whether it be Deve Gowda or Ram Vilas Paswan of the Janata Dal, Indrajit Gupta of the CPI or even L K Advani of the BJP.

Despite being elected for the first time to the Lok Sabha in 1996, he managed to mobilise a group of 11 MPs, who represent small regional parties like his own United Goans Democratic Party but are Independents in Parliament.

When the Congress withdrew support to the I K Gujral government, Alemao's aides claimed that he had almost decided to align with the BJP-led front if it came to power, as leader of the 11 independents.

After defeating five-time MP and former Union minister Eduardo Faleiro in the last election, he now faces another former Congress minister, Francisco Sardinha in South Goa.

Sandesh Prabhudesai spoke to him at length about his political strategy, to form a coalition government, no matter whether it is a BJP-led or a Congress-United Front alliance.

Have you been in touch with all those "Independent" MPs you led in Delhi? What are their chances of winning?

Of course, I am in touch with them. The last time we were only 11 MPs, mostly from the North-Eastern states and one from Haryana. But now we will definitely be a group of minimum 20 members, representing various regional parties in Parliament.

It is predicted that any front, whether a BJP-led one or a combination of the Congress and the United Front, would need at least 25 to 30 more MPs to form the government. What would be your strategy in such a situation?

We will remain together as a rock.

To bargain for ministerial berths?

Of course to bargain, but not for the ministry. We primarily bargain for state-level developmental works. Ministry will come automatically. There won't be any demand as such.

Will you try for a Cabinet berth, which you missed last time because of Union Law Minister Ramakant Khalap?

I will not try for it. But if the Almighty God gives it to me, then why should I reject the offer?

What if Khalap is made the minister, denying you the opportunity once again?

Who am I to say no to him, if he is offered a berth by the rulers? But I tell you, he is totally unfit to become a minister.

Will you demand to keep him out of the Cabinet?

Why should I demand it? People are going to keep him out of Parliament this time. Just wait for the results.

Will your group be open for talks with any party to support their government?

The question is hypothetical. But I personally feel that we should remain with those whom the people have given a clear mandate as a majority party.

Does that include the BJP also?

Why not, if they have the mandate? They are not untouchables. In any case, they won't be in a position to form the full-fledged BJP government. It will be a coalition government. But ultimately, my voters would decide whether we should support the BJP-led coalition government or not. I personally feel they would not come to power.

Aren't you part of the United Front today?

No. The UF is not a political party. It is a front of around 14 different parties. But I believe the UF will come to power once again.

Whom do you prefer between the BJP, the UF and the Congress?

I prefer regional parties rather than any national party.

And what if the Congress-led coalition comes to power? What is your opinion about the Congress?

I want the Congress to be finished from this country. I am confident that they won't come to power this time. I know your next question, what if they come to power, right ? We would not hold talks with them.

Whom would you prefer among the UF leaders to be the next prime minister, Deve Gowda, I K Gujral or Jyoti Basu?

Deve Gowda is a respected leader, because he is leader of the poor people. I don't mind if Gujral or Basu is made the PM. But my first and best choice would be Comrade Indrajit Gupta as the prime minister.

What is your stand on criminals getting into politics? Because many parties still want some more changes than simply debarring convicts from entering the fray.

That is not fair. If you are convicted, you should definitely not be allowed to contest. But otherwise, anybody can be called a criminal by filing false cases against them. Wasn't I detained under COFEPOSA, with them calling me a smuggler? Even my brother was killed by a customs officer. But they could not prove anything. It was a clear-cut political conspiracy.

But with such an approach, criminals will have a free access to enter Parliament?

Who are you to decide who is a criminal ? Let the court decide about it. Once he is convicted, however, he should be disqualified as the MP or the MLA. Not before that. It will lead to more number of political conspiracies.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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