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March 6, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/ Murli Deora

'The days of the Shiv Sena, BJP are over. People are tired of all this drama and theatrics'

Murli Deora is back in Parliament. After a hiatus. Riding the crest of an anti-BJP, Shiv Sena wave in Maharashtra and making the tenancy laws of Bombay an important emotional issue. But what he attributes his success most to is Sonia Gandhi and her whirlwind tour of the state. This, he tells Pritish Nandy, was the turning point for the voters who were sick and tired of hearing abusive speeches against the Gandhi family. Excerpts from an interview:

What would you attribute this huge resurgence of the Congress in Maharashtra to?

The all out failure of the Shiv Sena government. Everyone in the state is disillusioned with the Shiv Sena and the BJP. They are angry, resentful, disappointed.

But why? What are the specific reasons?

Whatever they promised, nothing was implemented. Plus, the style of (Bal) Thackeray and what he said on stage. The kind of bad language he used at every opportunity. It was not funny at all. It was disgusting.

The second thing was Sonia Gandhi. It was her massive tour of Maharashtra that changed everything. It created a new mood out here.

But what was so special about Sonia Gandhi's tour of Maharashtra? Why didn't she succeed in creating a similar wave in other states?

I don't know about other states. But never in the history of Bombay, in a hundred years, was there such a meeting as Sonia Gandhi's in Shivaji Park. It was absolutely incredible. In terms of numbers. In terms of impact. It turned the entire tide in our favour.

Even before the meeting, when I took her to Mani Bhavan in South Bombay, there were thousands of people standing on the roads to welcome her. And you can see the result of her visit! We have won three seats in Bombay straight away. The other three we have lost with very small margins. All this was the direct result fo Sonia Gandhi's visit. There is no doubt about that.

No credit to Sharad Pawar and his mobilisation of the so-called secular forces to fight the BJP-Shiv Sena combine?

I think it is Sonia Gandhi who made the entire difference. Others also played a role. But Sonia Gandhi's visit was the turning point.

But the BJP, Shiv Sena meeting in Shivaji Park a few days later was equally large, if not larger. I saw the crowds personally and they certainly seemed bigger than Sonia Gandhi's. Yet they did not yield as many votes. Why? What went wrong in your opinion?

Please believe me, there could have been no meeting that matched Sonia's. You may have been there. You may have seen both. But you must believe me when I say that nothing can match Sonia's meeting. It was spectacular! We actually did a body count.

What do you think will happen now? Do you see the BJP and allies sweeping into power? Or will the Congress try and play spoilsport by tearing up with the United Front now and making a bid to lead the next government at the Centre?

I do not know frankly. It is very difficult to say at this stage who will form the government. But if you ask me, it now looks difficult for both groups to offer a stable government. Any one can checkmate the other.

You have a candidate for the prime minister's job. Manmohan Singh. But does your party have a candidate for the job? Or will we now see the night of the long knives again, in the typical fashion of old style Congress politics?

I don't know, Pritish. I am not the only man in the party. But I have expressed my own view publicly. Now it will have to go before the Congress Parliamentary Party. They will decide in their collective wisdom. As for me, I think Manmohan Singh is our best bet. He will be good for India and because of his clean image, he is acceptable to everyone.

Will the Congress in Maharashtra now try to immediately fulfill Sharad Pawar's threat of destabilising the incumbent Shiv Sena, BJP government or will you give them some more time before you act?

I personally feel that now the days of the Shiv Sena, BJP government are over. All over. People are tired of all this drama and theatrics. They no longer want them. They are sick of all this abusing. This making fun of the Gandhis. When you are in the Opposition, it is okay. But when you are in power, you cannot abuse people from the stage. From Mahatma Gandhi to Kasturba Gandhi to Indira Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi to Vincent George. That's not fair. It spoils and gives us all a bad name.

Don't you think the state government's mishandling of the tenancy issue helped you to stage this comeback?

Yes, I think you are right. They bungled the issue, the tenancy laws. The state government was sleeping. They had a commitment to bring in the new law by the March 31, but they still don't have the first draft ready! It is shocking negligence! No wonder the people of Bombay are tired of them. I don't think in the past three years Manohar Joshi or Balasaheb Thackeray have had the time to even visit Girgaum.

They are talking about the Marathi speaking people, the Marathi manas, but they have all forgotten the common man. The Maharashtrian middle classes who voted them to power. Instead, they are living in super structured, air conditioned bungalows. Completely out of touch with all reality. With imported cars and six sirens chasing them wherever they go. Three in the front, three at the back. They have all become used to luxury, to power. So they have forgotten the poor people of Bombay who were once their solid backbone.

In three years. The chief minister did not have even one day's time to meet those who were tenants and were living in South Bombay. As for the BJP people, they are all hand in glove with the landlords. They do not give a damn for the poor tenants. They persecute them.

Do you think you can now persuade the state government to take action on this front -- to protect the tenancy laws?

We are going to force this government.

And how do you plan to do this?

Wait till next week. We are starting this huge agitation to force them to come out with a new tenancy act. The new rent act. They must pursue this tenant ownership scheme that I have proposed.

Do you see a new power struggle in the offing? In your own party, were there are so many claimants for the top job?

No, I do not think so. There is no power, no struggle…

Why? Don't you see the Congress and the UF jointly bidding for power at the Centre?

I don't know. I don't think so.

Why? You see the BJP sweeping into absolute power?

Well. I would like the Congress to get enough seats to form a government. But that is not happening. We have failed to achieve the right numbers. So now we have to live with the reality of a hung Parliament all over again! Sad, naa?

'Elections are won on hawa, not on the work an MP does'

The Rediff Election Interviews

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