March 16, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Bangaru Laxman 'I have no hand in any defence deal'

Former Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman's home presented a different look altogether. The big table for private secretaries had disappeared along with the table in his personal office. Two private secretaries who landed him in a soup have been told not to report for work.

In an exclusive interview with Special Correspondent Onkar Singh, Laxman admitted he had met Prime Minister Vajpayee before tendering his resignation from his post following the Tehelka exposé.

"I did consult the prime minister about it and then tendered my resignation," he said, denying that he had any foreign account or played any role in the purchase of the Sukhoi aircraft for the Indian Air Force.

Why did you tender your resignation?

I have been accused (of dabbling in defence deals). I have said I am innocent. I want to clear my name first and prove my innocence. I must prove that I am not guilty. I am ready for any kind of inquiry. It is for the government to decide the nature of inquiry it wants to hold. I thought it was morally binding on me -- that as long as I did not clear my name -- it was not proper for me to continue in office.

Some people have said you did not resign on your own accord, but it was at the prime minister's instance.

I do not deny that I did meet the prime minister before announcing my decision to step down from the post of party president. I did have a discussion with him and it was only after that that I formally announced my decision to step down.

You have described the episode as part of a political conspiracy to defame you. Why? Who are those people who want to harm you?

As of today, I will not be able to give you the names of those people who are involved in this conspiracy. I do not have their names. I do not know who they are. But I am certain this is a bigger conspiracy that has been hatched to defame me and the government.

An attempt has been made to fix me in defence deals. When this incident took place, it was my third month as party president. By that time I had not been able to familiarise myself with various things. I am not one of those who frequents the prime minister's office. Even when I was a minister, I had nothing to do with the defence ministry. Nor did I know George Fernandes as defence minister. Neither does he belong to the BJP nor is he a close associate of mine. I have never had anything to do with defence in any manner. Despite all this, why did they single me out for the defence deal?

The conversation in the video centres around defence deals.

They came to me not as journalists but as businessmen who were willing to invest Rs 5,000 crores in India. They named a number of fields like telecommunication, defence, power generation etc. As president of the ruling party, I naturally got interested.

We discussed a number of things, but they selected what they wanted to show as it often happens in preparing a television programme -- where you shoot more but show only the relevant clips to your viewers. Editing and dubbing are part of this process.

They met you twice. How long were these meetings?

The first meeting lasted about half an hour and the second meeting lasted 40 minutes.

One of your private secretaries Satyamurthy said you have five foreign bank accounts and you also had a hand in the Sukhoi deal.

Whatever he said is not true. I have no hand in any defence deal. I have no foreign account. I have only one bank account and that is with the State Bank of India.

I have known Satyamurthy only for three months before I became party president. He became my private secretary. I don't know much about him. He is not a party worker either who has known me for years. He knows nothing about me. They were offering him drinks and he was saying whatever they wanted.

He has not been attending office for the last three days. He telephoned me and told me he is writing a letter to me in which he will explain everything. Once I receive his letter I will make it public. I have also dismissed my other private secretary.

Look at the stupidity of those who made the tapes that they even believed that a private secretary could have an account in London and could open another account if they wanted him to do so in Thailand or Taiwan.

Look at the credibility of the tapes and those behind the tapes, they were willing to accept each and everything as the gospel truth. Look at the selection of the people from who they gathered the information. One R K Jain did not know the difference between Viraat and Vikrant.

Why did you accept the money?

I accepted the money because they gave it to me by saying it was for the party fund. They told me that since I was the new president of the BJP they would like to help the party, and they would also like to have a future association as well. All political parties depend upon public donations.

Normally top leaders give the name of the junior functionary who accepts money on the party's behalf. But you did not do that and instead accepted the money yourself.

If you go through the tapes you would find that I did tell them that the money for the party is accepted by the treasurer. They insisted on giving the money there and then. I had immediately told the party treasurer about the whole thing. We even kept the receipt ready, but they never came back. The money was kept in the suspense account.

They said you wanted them to give the money in dollars and you even phoned them to ask for the money. Is that true?

This is totally false. Why should I ask them to give me money? They told me since they were a foreign-based company it is not easy for them to arrange money in Indian currency and they could give it in dollars.

I was a bit surprised because someone was wanting to give money in dollars. "Dollars" I asked them in amazement. They picked up this and put it there. Those who can cook up tapes, can't they patch up dialogues?

Did you at any point of time feel there was something wrong in the affair?

Frankly speaking, I did not suspect their intentions. The way they presented themselves did not arouse any suspicion. I had even forgotten I had met them till the tapes were shown in public.

In your press statement you said because you were a Dalit a deliberate attempt is being made to malign you. Do you think a leader of your stature should have said that?

I spent 32 years in the BJP before I became president of the party. Since I talked of the minorities, Dalits, Adivasis etc in my opening speech some parties felt that their vote bank was being eroded. The attempt is to finish my political career.

Who is R K Gupta who claimed that you would take Rs 20 lakhs to meet businessmen?

I do not know who he is. Bangaru Laxman is not an unknown person. If someone says something in my name how am I responsible for that?

How much damage has been done to you?

Personally I have been hurt, and hurt badly. But I am an optimist and some day the whole thing will be clear. Dudh ka dudh aur pani ka pani to ek din hona he hai.

Has this conspiracy been hatched by forces outside or within the BJP?

I do not think anyone within the party would stoop so low to hurt me like this. Only outside forces could do this.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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