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February 26, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Keshubhai Patel

'Gandhinagar should be proud Advani chose it as his constituency'

In his mid-seventies, Keshubhai Patel, looks older and walks slowly with a limp. He was thrown out of power in 1996, despite his party holding a two-thirds majority in the state assembly, Patel is taking no chances this time. He and Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Narendra Modi have screened the candidates thoroughly.

The necessary qualifications? Personal loyalty and commitment to the Sangh Parivar.

After meeting the local press at one of the Ahmedabad hotels, Patel granted V Gangadhar an exclusive interview and let him join the campaign covering Kapadvanj, Mehmadabad and Unava villages.

While spitting venom at Shankarsinh Vaghela who split the BJP and formed the Rashtriya Janata Party in 1996, Keshubhai Patel was also furious at the happenings in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP government led by Kalyan Singh was toppled temporarily. Excerpts from the interview:

What will be the impact of the events in UP on Gujarat?

They will create a sympathy wave for us enabling us to win all the 26 Lok Sabha seats from the state. Didn't you see how agitated the people were? The UP events thoroughly exposed the Congress and Governor Romesh Bhandari, a stooge of the Congress party. Kalyan Singh had established a democratic government in the state. Whether a government enjoyed a majority should be proved on the floor of the House and not left to the machinations of a governor with political ambitions.

Let us turn to Gujarat. The BJP was shaken up by the events of 1996 when Vaghela walked out, split the party and formed a government of his own. Have you learnt your lessons from this episode?

Such an event will never happen in Gujarat. We have chosen our candidates with care, those who owe loyalty to the party and with no personal ambition.

Who was behind the process? Was it mainly the work of Narendra Modi?

Look, Modi was out of Gujarat and was in Delhi for nearly two years. What role can he play in the election process of Gujarat? We built the party again. Our opponents are responsible for this canard, creating a rift between different loyal leaders of the BJP.

How do you react to Atal Bihari Vajpayee being made the future prime minister? Your loyalties are with L K Advani and other hardcore Sangh Parivar members.

These interpretations come from the media. Advaniji and Atalji are the same to me. Both are highly respected leaders in the BJP and they have equally important roles to play. Atalji's fast-unto-death on the UP issue was hailed throughout the nation. We in the BJP are lucky that we have two leaders like Atalji and Advaniji.

The Pradesh election committee which selected the Lok Sabha and assembly candidates for this election was packed with leaders who were hardcore Hindutva, Sangh Parivar supporters.

That is the interpretation of the media. Forget about this hardcore and softcore leaders. We are all one and we are going to sweep the poll.

But you cannot deny that Advani totally failed in dealing with the crisis in the BJP in 1996. His approach was so one-sided. But for that Vaghela would not have walked out.

Well, the BJP leadership did not expect such selfish ambition and ruthlessness from one of its senior leaders. A stab in the back were something new to BJP culture. But now we have learnt our lessons.

Advani's poll opponents are harping on the fact that he is an outsider. Will it have any impact?

You just wait and watch. Gandhinagar and Gujarat should be proud that Advani chose it for his constituency. Who is an outsider in the Lok Sabha polls? People who argue thus do so from a narrow, regional outlook.

Members of the strong Patel community in Gujarat are not happy with you because while you were in power, you did not spare them for various economic offences like encroachment on public lands, adulteration in petrol pumps and so on.

So what? A wrongdoer is a wrongdoer. He may be a Patel or a non-Patel, or a Muslim. In the eyes of the law, all are equal. That was how my government operated.

You had alleged Vaghela's involvement in several shady deals. Will there be an inquiry into these when you form the government after the elections.

Certainly. We shall definitely probe the allegations. Do you know the kind of money involved in these deals? Rs 250 billion! We shall do everything possible to identify and punish the culprits.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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