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April 20, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Cho Ramaswamy

'The govt has been transparent. But what the Opposition demanded was not transparency but nudity'

Cho Ramaswamy Journalist Cho Ramaswamy has reportedly played a key role in influencing the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham to vote in favour of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government during Saturday's confidence vote in the Lok Sabha.

Though considered a Bharatiya Janata Party sympathiser, Cho has been rather critical of the Vajpayee government for placating All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief J Jayalalitha.

In an interview to Shobha Warrier, he talks about the trust vote, the BJP, the Congress and whether the latter would be able to form the next government. An excerpt:

Did the result of the confidence motion come as a surprise to you?

No, it wasn't a surprise because it was known from the outset that it was going to be a touch-and-go affair. The last-minute change in the Bahujan Samaj Party's stance helped the Congress greatly.

That was the turning point. Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang's vote, which the Speaker had allowed, also tilted the balance. But we cannot forget the fact that the votes -- of S Muthiah, one Communist and Rashtriya Janata Dal member each which had not been cast -- would have been against the government's confidence motion. So it would have been three more.

But on that day, on the floor of the House, the Speaker's incorrect decision had tilted the balance.

Why do you think Speaker Ganti Mohana Chandra Balayogi had allowed the Orissa chief minister to cast his vote?

I think he would have gone by the incorrect advice of the Lok Sabha secretary-general. Enough precedence had been cited by (Union ministers) Ram Jethmalani, (Lal Kishenchand) Advani, (P R) Kumaramangalam and others from the government's side to show that a minister or a chief minister of a state, even if he, at a given point of time was a member of the Lok Sabha, could not be permitted to vote. There are instances where they were not allowed to be present in the House. So, it was an incorrect decision.

Do you call it a victory for Jayalalitha?

In a way, yes. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory. That is, she is going to be in a lot of trouble because hers was the second largest party in the BJP alliance. The BJP depended heavily on her. She could make or mar things for that alliance whereas with the Congress, the Communists and the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav have larger numbers than she has. And there is going to be a larger number of parties and some of them are against her, like the Tamil Maanila Congress.

Suppose she puts forth the demand of the dismissal of the DMK government, even the Communists have to oppose it though the DMK is no longer in the Third Front -- if there is a so-called Third Front. It will be difficult for her to carry the others in the alliance with her. It is going to be quite a problem for her.

What do you think will happen to her political career? Do you think the people of Tamil Nadu will accept her again?

Her decision to help the Communists and the Congress to bring down this government has been taken very badly by the people of Tamil Nadu. That is what I have been able to assess so far. I have been talking to different kinds of people.

The votes she polled last time, quite a chunk of it -- not the major portion of it - were the votes of the middle class, the lower middle class and the upper middle class who wanted to give the BJP a chance at the Centre, and now they feel let down by her.

And her behaviour has been so absurd, so arrogant, so unreasonable that many of the votes she polled last time must have been alienated by now. She may think that, by striking an electoral alliance with the Congress, she may be able to gain a lot of votes because of the fact that two women campaigning from the same platform would move the people emotionally. But many things depend on what kind of alliance the DMK is able to strike.

Another big loser in this bargain is the TMC.

The TMC was born in protest against Jayalalitha and now they have indirectly supported her. What will be their future in Tamil Nadu?

In my opinion, the TMC has become irrelevant because now they have to be with the Congress totally. The party was born in protest against the Congress aligning with Jayalalitha. Now when the Congress is aligning with Jayalalitha, they are prepared to support it. So, the very reason for the birth of the party stands negated. I think they will have to merge with the Congress now.

All along Moopanar had been saying that there was no difference between 1996 and 1999. What must have prompted him to indirectly support the AIADMK?

Sonia Gandhi meeting him after a long time and calling him might have changed his mind. When did she call him? Not till 24 hours before the confidence motion. Maybe just 24 hours before the vote. When (Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Parkash) Chuatala and the DMK aligned themselves with the BJP and the BSP declared that they would abstain, she called him. There was no other way for her to talk to him. That is the kind of respect she is giving him. And he has fallen for that. It was a very bad decision politically. It is not only unethical but also unwise.

Will the TMC survive the crisis?

Cho Ramaswamy

They will say that they voted against the BJP, the communal outfit and not with Jayalalitha. But they will not be able to market that argument. There will be no takers, in my opinion, particularly because the voters of the TMC are from the lower middle class, middle class and upper middle class. They will not take kindly to this. Moopanar has disappointed his voters.

In the political drama that ended now, who do you think was Jayalalitha's advisor? Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy?

I don't think she needs any prodding for this. She is capable of doing all this by herself.

Do you feel the BJP should have been firm from the beginning instead of bending backwards to please her?

Much earlier! First of all they should not have formed an electoral alliance with her. I had advised them against it, they didn't listen. I said, she would be a problem for them. I wrote in Thuglaq, apart from telling them personally. I wrote in Thuglaq that they would not be able to bear this burden. And after the elections when she refused to give her letter of support, they must have at least then said, we don't want you to be in the alliance. But they sent emissaries to please her.

Do you think the Congress will be able to garner enough support? In the vote of confidence, they got 270, just one vote more than the BJP. Now the Left parties are going to support only from the outside and the Forward Bloc does not want to support them...

The 270, you can take as 273. Out of the 273, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc, the 7 votes, are not going to support a Congress government. That makes it 266. (Former prime minister Inder Kumar) Gujral, (former railway minister Ram Vilas) Paswan, and a couple of others of the Janata Dal will not support the Congress. So, there will be a split in the Janata Dal. If that happens, it makes the number 262. If the AIADMK finds a place in the Cabinet, one does not know what (TMC chief G K) Moopanar will do. But Sonia Gandhi may be sworn in with a couple of ministers. She may take Jayalalitha after the confidence vote, which will leave the TMC high and dry. That could happen.

Apart from this, Mulayam Singh is also not going to be very happy with the Congress coming to power. His problem is, once the Congress is in power and if he is a supporting party or in the government, the Muslim vote which he gets in Uttar Pradesh may go to the Congress. So, that is his fear. He has 20 MPs.

(Rashtriya Janata Dal chief) Laloo Prasad Yadav may perhaps choose to support Sonia Gandhi out of gratitude for saving his government. And Jayalalitha is going to make unreasonable demands again.

After seeing the way Jayalalitha was making the BJP dance to her tunes, Sonia Gandhi was reportedly against any ties with the AIADMK....

Well, in the Bofors case, the court has ordered that (Ottavio) Quattrocchi be brought here. One does not know what it will lead to. Even if it does not lead to anything tangible and substantial, there will be enough damage. She might have thought that it was important that she would avoid the possibility for which she should be in the government. That could be one reason.

Another was, the BJP has started to do certain things which in a way improved the image of the government. Attempts of normalising the relationship with Pakistan, fairly acceptable Budget, etc... So, these were her problems. So, she perhaps thought that if she allowed the government to continue for some more time, the advantage to the Congress may be lost.

Will the people of India understand the ulterior plans of the Congress? The Congress has toppled so many governments in the last few years.

I think the people of India will understand. I think the Congress will become somewhat unpopular because of what they have done. The people in my opinion were not anxious to see the back of this government. And Vajpayee himself has emerged as a man who is considered respectable and a man with lot of good intentions. He was trying to do something in spite of several factors which restrained him. I don't think the Congress will gain politically unless they run a government for some time and become very popular, which is going to be very difficult. For example, the Communists will oppose all the economic policies. They will not allow the Patents Bill to be passed. They will not allow the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill to be passed. So many things are going to happen. And in UP and Bihar, Laloo and Mulayam will go on demanding many impossible things. And, of course, Jayalalitha is there. There are going to be three or four Jayalalithas with them! The BJP had only one, the original.

The BJP got 269 votes in the confidence motion. It seems the Congress does not have the support of that many members. Should the President call a party, which does not have the support of even 269 members?

If the President is going to be very fair and impartial, he cannot ask somebody to form a government now, whether it is Sonia Gandhi or Mulayam or anybody else unless they show him a majority with supporting letters from various party leaders. And in the case of individual MPs, the party should collect supporting letters from them too. Unless the person claiming to form the next ministry produces such supporting letters, he should not allowed to go ahead because earlier that was his demand. Not only that, when the AIADMK gave the letter of support to the President, he told the BJP, 'Even now I am not satisfied. You have the numbers. What about cohesiveness?' It was only then that the AIADMK was asked to join the Cabinet. Now, will he put the same question to the Congress?

Defence Minister George Fernandes has said that even now the BJP and its allies have the majority support and that the President should ask them to form a government again. Can the President do that?

The precedence is there. If the President applies the same rule to the BJP and the Congress, then he cannot ask Sonia to form the government. Because already the Forward Bloc and the RSP have said that they would not support a Congress government. So, they do not have the numbers. The President had talked about cohesiveness with the BJP. Now with the Communists and the others staying out and saying they will offer issue-based support, where is the cohesiveness? If the President invites Sonia under these circumstances, unless some dramatic change takes place in the political alliance, he will be acting unfairly. But he has a right under the Constitution because it is in his discretion.

Some constitutional experts were of the opinion that it was not constitutionally right on the part of the President to ask for a confidence motion when the session was on. What do you say?

One has to go by conventions in these things. It is not written in the Constitution as to how the President should act. So, at times where a wafer-thin majority exists, where the majority is in doubt, the President gets a lot of power. But a President who wants to set up the right precedent would not have done it.

He need not have asked the BJP to get a vote of confidence. The House was in session. There would have been a no-confidence motion. The Congress and Jayalalitha's problem was, if there was a no-confidence motion, several parties would not have supported them. Because then they would be going with Jayalalitha or with the Congress whereas in a confidence motion, they were prepared to vote against it because they were voting against the BJP. A no-confidence motion would be a positive vote with the Congress and Jayalalitha while voting against a confidence motion was a negative vote against the BJP, which they preferred. So, the President's demand that the Vajpayee government should obtain a vote of confidence helped their position....

'The greatest weakness of the BJP govt was that they gave the impression of a group of people not in command'

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