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January 21, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Bal Thackeray

'We must look after the Muslims and treat them as part of us'

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Bal Thackeray is angry again. He is angry because the BJP is supporting Suresh Kalmadi in Pune. He sees this as yet another example of political opportunism and improper compromise. In fact, he is ready to field a Sena candidate against Kalmadi and, if the BJP persists in wooing Sharad Pawar and his merry men, he is even prepared to call off the alliance in Maharashtra. Is he serious? Is he serious when he suggests that Ayodhya must be now put behind us and, instead of a Ram mandir on the disputed site, we should have a national monument to Mangal Pandey, the freedom fighter? Excerpts from an interview with Pritish Nandy:

Why have you suddenly changed your stance regarding Ayodhya? I understand you no more want a Ram mandir there. You want a national monument.

It is time we put to rest this whole controversy over Ayodhya. You realise that the Muslim population here is much larger than that of the Muslim nations. It is huge. You cannot wish them all away. Where will they go? Pakistan is not ready to accept them. Other Muslim nations do not want them. In fact, they are not even treated properly there. They are citizens of Hindustan. We must look after them and treat them as part of us, as long as they are loyal to the nation, to the Constitution of Hindustan.

I had this meeting here the other day. Over 300,000 Muslims attended. They came up later and told me that they feel far more secure under the Sena rule than they ever felt under the Congress. We cannot let them down. That is why I am proposing this idea of a national monument in Ayodhya.

What kind of national monument are you suggesting?

Well, I am not suggesting a cancer hospital or a public school or any religious institution.We should have a monument that stands as a symbol of our freedom struggle, that appeals to both Hindus and Muslims alike. I would like a monument to Mangal Pandey, the freedom fighter. He was also from UP and this monument will be a tribute to all those (like him) who died for Hindustan during the freedom struggle.

But Muslims and Hindus must both accept this idea. And the government can give some land nearby to the Hindus to build their temple and to the Muslims to build their masjid. This way, they will both be happy and we can close this chapter. Otherwise, it will go on and on and the courts will never come to any conclusion.

But would you accept a court verdict on Ayodhya?

Of course, we will. But they are taking years to arrive at any verdict. A court verdict would be the best solution but it will take years to happen. Meanwhile, the tensions will continue and people will try to exploit these tensions.

What do you feel about Sonia Gandhi's comments on Ayodhya?That Rajiv would have died but never allowed the masjid to be destroyed? What do you think about her party's apology to the Muslims?

Frankly, I do not understand how the election commissioner can allow her to say such things at election meetings. No one is allowed to raise communal issues. If we say anything on Ayodhya, they immediately haul us up but this lady can say anything she wants! Is Ayodhya not a communal issue? Then why are they scared to haul her up for bringing up such communal issues at election time?

In any case, who believes her? Who believes the Congress? Who was in charge when the masjid was broken? This is all hypocrisy. The Congress is not to be trusted. If they are apologising for Ayodhya, why are they not apologising for Operation Blue Star? For killing over 50,000 Sikhs in the Delhi riots? These are not my figures. They are Mark Tully's. He has written that over 50,000 Sikhs were killed in the riots and everyone knows who led these massacres against that community. The Sikhs know this as well.

But your ally, the BJP trusts Congressmen! They have announced support to Suresh Kalmadi as an Independent candidate from Pune. I am told you have objected to this.

Objected! I have no intention of allowing this to happen. The Pune seat has been allotted to them to field a BJP candidate. If Kalmadi stands as a BJP candidate, I cannot say anything even though I would hate the idea. But if he stands independent, supported by the BJP, the Shiv Sena will certainly put up a candidate against him. We will not accept this kind of compromise in politics.

But the BJP has made many such alliances this time! Sanjay Singh from Amethi, Jayalalitha in Madras, Mamta Banerjee in Calcutta, Mani Shankar Aiyar in Darjeeling, Hegde in Karnataka, Biju Patnaik's son in Orissa, Inder Gujral in Jalandhar. What is so special about Kalmadi?

I do not know about other states. In Maharashtra, I will not allow this. After all, we came to power promising the people that we will stand against people like Sharad Pawar and Suresh Kalmadi, everyone knows, is Pawar's right hand man. Everything he does is at Pawar's bidding. Sometimes they are friends. Sometimes they pose as enemies. It is all part of strategy. Supporting Kalmadi is the same as supporting Pawar. What credibility will we have if we make such political compromises?

If you recall the last days of the Gujral regime, the BJP's best friend was Sharad Pawar. His two key lieutenants went around buying MPs for a BJP- led coalition. It is popular knowledge that Kalmadi is being rewarded for this. What will you do if Pawar joins a BJP-led coalition at the Centre with his band of merry men? Or, incredible as it may sound, joins the BJP itself in the event of a coalition government being formed?

If the BJP befriends Sharad Pawar, we will reconsider our alliance and pull out. I have no doubts about this, Pritish. We have come to power riding a popular wave of anti-Pawar sentiment. There can be no compromise on this. We do not want power or Pawar at any cost. We are a party of principles.

What have you told the BJP about Kalmadi?

I told Pramod Mahajan that he is not acceptable to us. But if the BJP wants to field him, it must be on their party symbol. Otherwise, the Shiv Sena will contest the seat.

Do you think the Congress will improve its position in this election after Sonia Gandhi has come out openly as its leader?

People are not so foolish. They know exactly how much she can be trusted. Apart from the scams, look at the party's track record of reliability.

Remember how Indira Gandhi armed the LTTE, supported them in their war against the Sri Lankan government. After all, they were Tamilians fighting for their own homeland against a repressive regime. But suddenly Rajiv Gandhi came to power and overnight, without any provocation, changed India's stand. So the LTTE found that India had not only backed out of supporting them, despite an existing understanding and agreement, but, what is worse, had decided to send its troops to massacre them in a joint operation with the Sri Lankan government. What business was it of India to intervene in this battle and support a foreign government to kill these people of Indian origin fighting for their rights?

Can you blame the LTTE for reacting to this and sending their assassins to punish Rajiv Gandhi? Every day hundreds of young Tamilian boys were being massacred by the joint command of the Indian and Sri Lankan troops. Did you expect the LTTE leaders to sit back and watch these massacres, doing nothing? So they sent their suicide squad to get him.

But look at this. The Indira Gandhi murder remains unsolved after so many years. The Rajiv Gandhi case remains unsolved. Despite these investigating bodies, the commissions, the courts, the CBI. But when it comes to the Kini case everyone suddenly becomes hyperactive. Was Kini a head of state?

Maybe not. But different investigations always move at different speed. Do you expect it to work against you in this election?

No. We are ready to prove once again that Maharashtra wants the Shiv Sena to stay in power. It is my intention to consolidate this desire.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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