Rediff Logo News Travel Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index

July 9, 1998


E-Mail this story to a friend

The Rediff Interview/Buta Singh

'If the Congress wants to bring down the government, it will take only two days for the coalition to fall'

Ever since All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader J Jayalalitha has been throwing tantrums in Madras, one question has been uppermost in everybody's mind: how long will the Bharatiya Janata Party government last? Almost every week, one sees different peace-makers of the BJP flying down to Madras to negotiate with the AIADMK chief.

Last Saturday, however, there was a different caller at her Poes Garden residence in Madras: former communication minister Buta Singh,who was sacked following Jayalalitha's demand that the prime minister drop all chargesheeted ministers from his Cabinet.

Despite this background, the former minister says in politics, there are no permanent friends and enemies.

Singh, who is a top-ranking member of the newly-formed Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, is hopeful that a Congress-led government can provide an alternative to the BJP coalition. He spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf when he was in Bombay recently. An excerpt:

How long do you give the BJP-led government at the Centre?

If the Congress party wants to bring down the government, I think it will take only two days for the coalition to fall.

What transpired at your recent meeting with Jayalalitha in Madras?

I was in Madras on some personal work. So I went to meet her. There was no political mission as such.

But did you speak to her about withdrawing support to the Vajpayee government?

Yes, I did. But she said she will decide on it at an appropriate time. Besides that, I also explained the rationale behind the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha. I told her that our alliance was a genuinely secular one, which is the need of the hour.

Isn't it strange that you should be meeting Jayalalitha, on whose insistence you were dropped from the Union Cabinet in the first place?

In politics, there are no permanent friends and enemies.

Why didn't you rejoin the Congress after Sonia Gandhi took over the party?

I am an independent today, I continue to be independent and do not depend on any other party. And my respect for Soniaji is eternal, as long as I live. I will continue to hold her in the highest esteem because I have served the Congress for 30 long years. And Soniaji is like my younger sister.

So why don't you think of rejoining the Congress?

No, I will not. Because I had to quit the Congress under very hard circumstances.

But you left because you had a grudge against former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao. So why not rejoin the party now, when he is no more in charge?

I have no grudge against anybody. Fate had decided that I will be an independent, so I will remain one. At present, I can only think of heading a regional party in Rajasthan.

You were a minister in the BJP government for a short period of time. At that time didn't you ever feel that the BJP is a communal party?

No, at that time the need of the country was to form a government. So, I joined the Cabinet. And not the party. I always kept my identity separate.

So what role do you see for yourself in politics?

Politics is not my career. I am more of a social worker than a leader. That is my basic approach. So, my mission does not end whether I am in power or not. It is not even important for me to be a member of Parliament, because my goal is satisfy the needs of the people. The only difference is that when you are in power, you can help people more because you have more resources. Basically, I am Gandhiji's follower and try to do constructive work.

Why did the BJP target you when they have ministers like Sukh Ram as their alliance partner in Himachal Pradesh?

I would not like to be compared to any other politician. Everybody has his own style of functioning and way of working. The case against me in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha payoffs is still pending. So far nothing has been proved. I had no role to play as far as money was concerned. I only mobilised support for my government, nothing more than that. So, I feel, I have done no wrong. I did for Rao what I also did for Vajpayee. In a parliamentary democracy, this is normal practice. We always approach other parties to get their support. In fact, I never asked the BJP for a minister's post. They offered it to me.

Who approached you and asked you to become a minister in the Vajpayee government?

The entire BJP. They approached me and said the country needs me. And they sought my help to form a government. And I did so in the national interest. In return they offered me ministership. I accepted it for the benefit of my constituency and the country.

Do you think it was because you count for only one vote in the Lok Sabha, the BJP leadership targeted you specifically, while others who are in the same boat were spared because they command a bloc of votes?

This is what the people say. But the fact is, I did not have just one vote. I was supported by four other MPs as well.

Which are the parties from whom you mobilised support for the BJP government?

Most of the independent MPs.

Wasn't it unfair on the part of Pramod Mahajan to come to your residence and threaten you for your resignation?

I have brought it to the notice of the prime minister, how his political advisor misbehaved. I expected some kind of response from the PM, but he kept silent. Mahajan's behaviour was not up to the mark. He should have not done what he did. It was very childish on his part. But I hold no grudge against him because you cannot change a man's style.

Will you say that he behaved like a goonda?

No, I won't say that. That's not my language.

So what happened exactly? Did he come to your house and say 'Buta Singh ji ko boliye resign karne, warna ... kind of thing?

No, he has a right to come to my house, because he was political advisor to the prime minister. I would have welcomed him had I been there at home. Unfortunately, I was in the Supreme Court. So, there was only one of my personal assistants and my daughter at home. But he thought I was at home and was deliberately avoiding him. He should have realised that whenever I am at home there are security people around me. So, he threatened my PA and mentioned certain things which he should have not done.

Was he abusive?

No, he did not abuse. But he used language which does not suit the political advisor of the prime minister of India. He served a notice of 10 minutes for me to resign. How could he expect me to respond in 10 minutes when I was in court? I felt it was childish behaviour on the part of a man holding the post of political advisor to the prime minister of India.

At that time you had said you will file a criminal case against him. Have you?

Yes, I said that I intended to file a case against him. But I thought since the PM holds a high office I backed out.

What was your experience of governance during your brief tenure of 29 days?

I had the maximum experience in handling Cabinet posts compared to anybody else in the BJP government. Even the top man in the country does not have more experience than me. So far I have handled 14 portfolios. However, in this short span of time, I spent seven days in my constituency, it was a good experience. But unfortunately, things did not work out.

There is a feeling that Advani is the actual decision-maker and not Vajpayee. Did you experience any such thing in your short span in the Cabinet?

Advani is a respected national leader. I had no interaction with Advaniji except that he holds a portfolio which I have held for a long time. Unfortunately in our country, the conditions are very bad and it is difficult for any home minister to accept these challenges. And Advaniji always speaks from one angle, which is highly communal. So I think it is very difficult for Advaniji to handle the situation.

But isn't it true that Advani is among those responsible for the violence which erupted in the country after the demolition of Babri masjid?

Advaniji is finding himself in a difficult situation today, because as the home minister he has to work from the other side of the river. He can't afford to follow instructions from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which he would like to do. It can be possible only in a dictatorship. But now he is the home minister of India, which is a parliamentary democracy, he has to listen to others.

There is a general belief that Vajpayee is not very hard-working and dynamic compared to others. Do you agree?

No, no, not at all. Vajpayeeji looks lazy, but he is very alert.

To go back a little, isn't it true that you as home minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet had given permission to perform Shilanyas at the disputed site in Ayodhya?

It was the decision taken by the Cabinet subcommittee headed by P V Narasimha Rao. I was only a member of that group. Further, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had approved of it.

But why did you allow the Shilanyas in the first place?

There was a communal surcharge in the country. There were not sufficient policemen in Ayodhya to tackle the problem. There were millions of people who had gathered there. So we decided that we will not disobey the court orders, and allowed the Shilanyas far away from Babri masjid. In fact, it was conducted in the office of the VHP. Had we not given them permission, the masjid would have been demolished the same day.

But weren't the Babri masjid's locks unlocked during your tenure as home minister?

No, this is not true. The locks were opened much before, even before Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister.

I don't remember the exact dates. Litigation was going on. But definitely the locks were opened before I became home minister, and the case had gone to the high court.

So how did the issue come up?

Because everybody was busy in the UP elections. I think the elections were held on November 22 and the Shilanyas happened on November 9. And though we allowed the Shilanayas at a distance from Babri masjid, the VHP created an atmosphere against the Congress and so we lost the elections. And unfortunately, at the same time, then Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto mentioned that one minar of Babri masjid has been demolished. If you recall, the mosque had no minars. So, the government was the target of malicious publicity, whereas nothing had actually happened in Ayodhya.

Do you think the BJP will construct a temple at the disputed site?

No, they won't, because their own prime minister has made a commitment on the floor of Parliament.

But hadn't he held out a similar assurance, before he became prime minister, on December 6, 1992 as well?

I think the Central government should have acted soon. They should have sent the forces and protected the mosque. I feel Narasimha Rao should have protected the mosque.

Do you feel that you have been ditched by Rao?

To some extent, yes. Like me and my 19 other colleagues who were falsely dragged into the hawala case. It was a complete bogus case. In fact, Kalpnath Rai had mentioned that a counter-case should be framed against the Central Bureau of Investigation. But, I feel a counter-case should be filed against Rao. He should be responsible.

Since you have so much anger against him, why didn't you file a case against him?

No, no, I have nothing against him. I am just expressing an opinion. Personally, I still respect him. He is a learned person and a good parliamentarian. But I think he should have protected the mosque. And should have not come up with this hawala case. I have nothing against him. But, I have a right to say what is right and what is wrong, isn't it?

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview