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January 31, 1998


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The Rediff Election Interview/K C Pant

'There is no necessary correlation between Sonia's public meetings and votes on polling day'

The list of those disappointed with Congress president Sitaram Kesri and leaving the party continues to grow, and the latest to switch loyalties from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party is Krishna Chandra Pant, only son of Uttar Pradesh titan Gobind Ballabh Pant.

K C Pant Interestingly, Pant is the first high profile Congressman to leave after Sonia Gandhi undertook electioneering on the party's behalf.

"It remains to be seen if Sonia can bring votes for the Congress," says Pant who served as minister in the governments first of Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi for more than 15 years.

Days after he resigned from the Congress, Pant insists that he has not formally joined the BJP yet. "But I have extended my whole-hearted support to the party because my wife is contesting on a BJP ticket," he adds.

Ila Pant joined the BJP in 1991, and is that party's candidate for the Nainital parliamentary constituency.

In an exclusive interview to George Iype, the 63-year-old Pant unwinds on the reasons that made him leave the party that nurtured two generations of his family, and things that exercise him about the state of the polity:

Why did you decide to switch from the Congress to the BJP?

First, I want to make it very clear that I have not yet joined the BJP. I have resigned and disassociated myself from the Congress, and at the same time have decided to extend my support to the BJP.

There are two reasons for my decision -- political and personal.

Politically, I find that the BJP and its allies are in the best position to offer a stable government at this juncture. My political assessment is in the interest of the nation. I feel that issues like economic growth, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, malnutrition etc can be tackled only if there is a stable government at the Centre.

The next 10 years are going to be very vital for the development of India. Where exactly we stand in the world in terms of the social index and economic development even among the developing countries in the 21st century, is the most important issue today. There is an uneven picture of development in the country now. Some areas and people are forging ahead, others are lagging behind. Can we afford this kind of regional imbalance?

It is time we took some hard decisions if we want to keep up the momentum of growth. But where is the political stability in the country to take these crucial decisions? We have found that coalition governments do not last long. I hope the BJP will offer a good administration under a stable political situation.

Are you saying that only the BJP can solve these issues and problems in the next 10 years?

There was a time when the Congress could solve these problems. But I fear that the Congress has lost its grip over these problems. Coalition governments do not survive more than two years in India and this does not allow us to sort out the major problems. Instability has its impact on the bureaucracy and internal investments. I feel in the present circumstances, only the BJP can offer a stable government.

What was your personal reason for leaving the Congress after serving it for 33 years?

My wife Ila is contesting on a BJP ticket, she did not seek a ticket. She has been a member of the BJP since 1991. In fact, after the election was announced Atal Bihari Vajpayee rang her up and offered her the Nainital constituency. Now that she has decided to contest, it is very important for me to support her. But I found that I could not help a BJP candidate while remaining in the Congress party.

I have maintained a certain dignity in public life. So I decided to resign from the Congress to support her in the election.

You mean, domestic harmony has taken precedence over political convictions?

In this case, for the reasons explained above, there is no conflict between the two.

But Ila Pant joined the BJP in 1991. Have you been planning to switch over to the BJP for the past six years?

Not at all, I never indulge in those kinds of things. When I was in the Congress, I was a sincere and committed leader. I never had any ulterior motives.

Who invited you to the BJP, Vajpayee or L K Advani?

None of them. I never approached them. There was no compulison or invitation. My decision to quit the Congress was purely my own. I sat at home, reflected on the political scene in the country and sent my resignation to Sitaram Kesri.

When do you plan to become a full-fledged BJP member?

Not at the moment.

Now that you are supporting the BJP, it automatically means that you support its Hindutva ideology.

So far as ideology is concerned, I would like to personally see that the BJP develops into a centrist party. India should have a political system in which we have two different centrist parties the BJP and the Congress.

And for that, the BJP has to develop in a manner that it has to win over the trust of the minority communities in the country. The party should also identify itself with people all over the country, not just concentrated in some areas. But I think the BJP is moving in that direction, if Vajpayee and Advani's statements are any indication.

In 1991, you were on the verge of leaving the Congress. Didn't the Congress government then offer you the chairmanship of the 10th Finance Commission to pacify you?

Not at all, not at all. I never thought of going out of the Congress in 1991. The then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao offered me chairmanship of the Finance Commission in 1992. I never asked for it. He gave it to me.

But in the last few years, you were disappointed and dissatisfied with the Congress.

Yes. Because I feel the party has lost touch with the issues that concern the poor and common people in the country.

You were a minister in the governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. What are your impressions about them?

I was in the Indira Gandhi government for more than 10 years. With Rajiv, five years. I do not want to compare them. They were two totally different personalities. My age was mid-way between the two. Indira was as much older to me as Rajiv was younger to me. Indira had developed in her a certain coherent political vision because she had been in the thick of politics for a long time. I had very good experiences with her and I worked very closely with her.

I was defence minister and minister for education and steel and mines in the Rajiv Cabinet. He was an enthusiastic and hard-working prime minister. And he tried to do a lot for the country.

So who spoiled Rajiv?

I think he was maturing and growing well as a politician. He was not afraid to take decisions. He always wanted to tackle the problems facing the country. But to some extent a group of persons developed around him, a coterie gave him advice that he should not have listened to. But that happens in politics, and I fear Rajiv was not careful about that.

But all that is now a closed chapter for me. History will now assess Rajiv's total work. But Rajiv had always been very courteous to me.

You were also very closely associated with Narasimha Rao.

Yes, I was in the same Cabinet as Narasimha Rao. But I was not very closely associated with him when he was prime minister. I was not a member of Parliament during his tenure. But Rao appointed me chairman of the 10th Finance Commission.

Do you think the Congress has declined after it moved away from the Nehru-Gandhi family?

Certainly, and sadly, it has declined. That is acknowledged by everybody including Congress leaders.

But who is to be blamed for the Congress's decline?

Not a single person. And there are no simple answers to this question too. There are many factors.

What is important is that the Congress should now try to regain its credibility. There is no credibility left in the party.

Scandals after scandals have spoiled its image. The Congress should now address the whole set of questions of the country's economic, social and political systems.

Isn't there a leadership crisis in the Congress? There is no charismatic leader left in the party.

Political parties cannot manufacture charismatic leaders. Charisma comes from being able to take action which is meaningful to the people and at the same time convince them. Kamaraj never spoke like a charismatic leader, but he had charisma. Now there are no people's leaders left in the Congress.

What about Sonia Gandhi?

Sonia has just come in and addressed some meetings across the country. You cannot now say she is a charismatic leader. Let us wait and see. Her entry might have certainly energised Congress workers. But there is no necessary correlation between Sonia's public meetings and votes on polling day.

How do you rate Narasimha Rao, the prime minister, as against Rao, the Congress president?

I certainly respect him because he was a good prime minister. But as Congress president Rao fared very badly.

How do you assess Sitaram Kesri?

In the beginning, he tried to rescue the Congress from corruption charges. He was trying to regain the energy the party wanted very dearly. But he failed miserably because he decided to bring down two governments headed by Deve Gowda and I K Gujral in one year. There has been no strong case for elections at this juncture. Elections have been forced upon the people by the Congress.

You come from an illustrious family. Why did you not exploit the fact that you are the only son of Gobind Ballabh Pant?

I am very happy with what I have been all these years. I have spent a very busy and productive life. I entered Parliament at the age of 30 and was in it for 26 years. I was in the government for more than 15 years.

Apart from that, I was chairman of the Energy Commission and the 10th Finance Commission. For me, all these matter much.

You did not harbour any political ambition beyond that...

I was brought up in a different tradition, in which politics was in a way, an instrument of service. My father always taught me that I should never join politics to devour something from the system, but to contribute to the nation. My father did that, and I too am doing that. I have tried to live up to the tradition set by my father. I do not measure my success by seeing whether I made it big or small in politics. That is immaterial to me.

Don't you think your father, if he was alive today, would have been hurt by your decision to leave the Congress and join the BJP?

I did not join politics when my father was alive. In fact, a couple of months after his death, the Congress fielded me in a bye-election. I did not want to contest, but finally gave in to the demands of the party my father lived for. Joining the Congress then was my personal and political decision. Leaving it now is not an easy decision, but for reasons I have already discussed, I consider it the need of the hour...

What is your stand on the Ayodhya issue?

When I was in Rajiv's government we tried our best to find a solution to prevent the problem from becoming a point of friction between the two communities. We were always discussing plans and action plans to find a way out. But whatever has happened after that is very tragic in the history of the country. Now we should solve the problem without a trace of bitterness between the communities.

Take the question of the Muslims. It is very important that they should have a sense of security in the country.

But do you think a BJP government will be able to instill security and confidence among Muslims in India?

I hope a BJP government will do precisely that. And that is what I have been hearing from both Vajpayeeji and Advaniji. The BJP's litmus test is to convince the Muslims and other minorities that the party cares for them.

What do you think about Vajpayee as a future prime minister?

I have known Vajpayee for many years. He, Indrajit Gupta and I have been in politics and Parliament for many years now. Leave politics aside, we all are very good friends. In the country, there are few to equal Vajpayee as a parliamentarian. I had the pleasure of being in the committee which selected him the best parliamentarian for the G B Pant Award.

He will be an excellent and able prime minister. His two speeches in Parliament as PM during the 13 days in 1996 were outstanding. They presented a point of view which was very widely accepted across the country.

The Rediff Election Interview