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January 15, 1998


The Rediff Political Interview/ Mulayam Singh Yadav

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'Zero plus zero adds up to zero. The BJP plus anyone will always be zero'

Union Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav is a front-ranking candidate for the prime minister's job if the United Front returns to power. He has the support of the backwards, the minorities, and (in states like Maharashtra) the dalits as well. Plus there are Congressmen who would rather see him lead the secular front than their own discredited leaders. The Leftists love him as well. But his enemies are formidable. Including the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. After two near misses, will he make it to Race Course Road this time? That question haunted Pritish Nandy as he interviewed Yadav.

From when have you started seeing the Congress as a secular party?

From the very moment we identified the BJP as the enemy of the people. The biggest threat to India comes from a party like the BJP which is communal, unreliable, dangerous not just for the minorities but for all Indians. It has no scruples, no principles, no ideology except to break up India. Its candidate for prime minister -- whatever he may say today -- has always been a rabid communalist with no respect for the sentiments of common people. See his track record. Hear his speeches in Parliament. Read what he has said over the years. You will know why he is so dangerous for India. He pretends to have changed. But nothing ever changes in the BJP. You must remember that.

That still does not answer my question.

Compared to a party like the BJP, everyone else is a secular party. Including the Congress. If we can come to a realistic understanding with the Congress?

What is stopping that?

Nothing. Discussions are on right now.

Have you finalised a seat-sharing strategy with them for Maharashtra? For UP? For the rest of India?

Not as yet but discussions are on. We hope to conclude these discussions within the next few days.

But what about the role of the Congress during the Babri mosque demolitions? Was it any less than that of the BJP?

At election time, we must let bygones be bygones. We must look at the future. If we want to defeat the BJP, we must join hands with all secular parties. Even those who have made mistakes in the past.

Do you think the coming of Sonia Gandhi will make any difference to the Congress?

Even if it adds 2 or 3 per cent upper caste votes to the Congress tally in UP, that would help to defeat the BJP. If you look at the results of the last elections you will see that we, the Samajwadi Party, polled 2 percentage point votes more than the BJP in UP. In Maharashtra, the Congress, the RPI and the Samajwadi party together polled 41 per cent as against 38 per cent by the BJP. It is in the election books. I am not making up these figures.

But the BJP gets away because our secular votes get divided among more than one candidate while their communal vote is always cast for one candidate. That is the only explanation for the BJP increasing its presence in Parliament. But if we can consolidate the secular vote, we will beat them everywhere.

If Sonia Gandhi can galvanise that additional 2 to 3 per cent upper caste votes for the Congress in UP and we can hammer out a proper strategy nationwide, to keep the secular forces together. Then I tell you this: the BJP is in for a big surprise. All this talk of doing better is a joke. They will actually lose many seats. They will do worse than what they did last time.

How many seats do you expect them to win on their own and through their allies?

It is too premature to say. Give it a couple of more weeks and you will get an exact picture.

And how many seats do you expect the Samajwadi Party to win? In UP and in the rest of India?

That, too, is too premature to predict, but I can say this much that the secular front will sweep the poll. We will get an absolute majority.

And, then, you will be back at the starting point, squabbling over who will be the next prime minister?

But that is the exact point with democracy. Why should we worry about that? Let us decide who will be prime minister after the election is over and the results are out.

After two near misses, are you expecting to succeed this time?

We will cross that hurdle when we reach it. Right now we are focusing on winning the election. We are in no desperate hurry to choose a leader.

But will it not help your campaign to have a winning face on your posters?

Our strategy is in place. Our alliances will shortly be in place. Why do we need to choose our leader at this stage?

The Left Front is planning to name Jyoti Basu as the common prime ministerial candidate. Does this have your support?

No. No such decision has been taken by the secular front. We must win the election first. Then we can choose our leader. That would be the right thing to do.

And if the Congress decides to impose its candidate on you?

We will see what their numbers are, what our numbers are. In democracy, only numbers work. And the support of intellectuals, thinkers, media people like you. People like you must step out of the shadows and participate in the political process. Only then will the true mandate of the people emerge. Otherwise, the threat of the BJP will loom large on our horizon forever.

As you must have seen, Doordarshan has now become the biggest ally of the BJP. It is promoting their lies day and night. Non stop. Over 50 per cent of the news is just BJP news. This Prasar Bharati is a national shame. It has been entirely subverted by the BJP.

But that is not quite accurate. Prasar Bharati has put out its case with facts and figures that show that BJP has got no more than a reasonably balanced share of the coverage. In any case, the BJP is making identical charges against Doordarshan. At election time, no one is happy with the media.

They can do whatever they want but the fact remains that Prasar Bharati is in the clutches of the BJP and has been spending all its time and effort promoting Hindutva. This is a shameful thing for a national broadcaster to do and we will teach them better manners when we return to power.

What are you insinuating? That you will reverse its autonomy if you come to power?

What autonomy is this, the national broadcaster campaigning for the BJP! I am amazed that a person like you, Pritishji, who has always stood for an independent point of view, does not condemn Doordarshan for its shameful bias. You are listening to what Prasar Bharati is saying! It was our government who gave them autonomy and now they are campaigning against us and for the BJP. Do you think it is fair? We will have to teach them what autonomy is when we come to power.

Do you expect to come to power? The mood appears to be predominantly pro-BJP at this stage. Certainly in the cities.

It is all cunning disinformation. Media manipulation. The BJP is very good at that. But they made a mistake. They started all this far too early. It will fade out before the election actually takes place. Nothing is permanent in election time and the BJP is in for a big surprise. You, too, will be surprised by the outcome. It will certainly not be such an easy poll and the BJP will do far worse than everyone expects.

Bal Thackeray can shower any abuse on me he wants -- he can call me shaitan, appeaser of the minorities, enemy of Hindutva, maulana -- but we will show him in the election who is the winner. Communalism or secularism. The fundamentalist forces or the secular front.

Which secular front? There are two secular fronts now, one led by Laloo as well!

That is a non-starter. There will eventually be one front against the BJP. Everyone will be a part of it.

But many of your old secular colleagues -- Suresh Kalmadi, Ramakrishna Hegde, Laksmi Parvathi, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, Som Pal -- are closing ranks with them? Won't that dilute the image of the BJP from that of a hardline Hindutva party to a broad front of likeminded groups keen to offer India a stable and new political option?

Not at all. The rule in politics is the same as in mathematics. Zero plus zero adds up to zero. The BJP with anyone will always be zero.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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