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|April 10, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Shambhu Srivastava
After stirring a hornet's nest by demanding the removal of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Samata Party general secretary and spokesman Shambhu Srivastava bowed to political expedience and resigned from both posts.
His party distanced itself from his remarks and Srivastava says he was unable to continue in the posts with "any sense of dignity".
In an interview to Tara Shankar Sahay before his resignation, Srivastava clarified that he had never demanded Modi's removal, only "suggested" it. If the violence in Gujarat did not abate, it was time for the Bharatiya Janata Party to contemplate instilling confidence among the people of the state, but ultimately the final decision rests with the party [BJP]. Excerpts:
During your discussion on a television channel, you demanded that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi should go. It was reported as such without any ambiguity. Why did you do so?
I never used the word resignation or ouster anywhere. There is no question of our using those words. There is no National Democratic Alliance government in Gujarat. In fact, the NDA does not even exist in the state, it is only there at the Centre. All that I said was perhaps the time has come when they [the BJP] should review the BJP state government's capability and, if necessary, elect a new leader.
But you knew that your party is an NDA ally and the Modi government is that of the BJP. So why did you bother to make the suggestion at all?
NDA allies, by the very nature of their association with the BJP, can make such requests and what I said accorded to this concept.
But the BJP government in Gujarat is not duty-bound to listen, however friendly the advice an NDA ally might tender.
Of course, they are not duty-bound, but we are also free to air our grievances. Ordinarily, we don't interfere in the internal affairs of any other party. It is their prerogative whom they keep as chief minister. But since the BJP is a major partner in the NDA, we get credit for their success. But we are bound to be discredited by their failures also. If the violence continues even after the visit of the prime minister, it impinges not only on the image of the BJP but also of the NDA allies. And, in any case, sometimes occasions arise when you have to give open expression to you feelings.
Some NDA allies have talked about discussing the Gujarat issue in the ruling alliance's coordination committee. Does your party also demand it?
So far we have not demanded it.
During the recent crisis pertaining to Ayodhya, the Samata Party too clamoured that it be discussed in the NDA coordination committee, isn't it?
There was no pressure, the prime minister himself convened the NDA coordination committee meeting. The point is that during that time President's rule existed [in Uttar Pradesh], which means the rule of the Centre -- which means the rule of the NDA. It still exists.
But in Gujarat, it is a BJP government. So there are two different situations. I don't see any need or possibility of an NDA meeting on this issue.
How is it that soon after your comments on the Gujarat government, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee followed suit? Was it pre-arranged?
Not all all! There is no need for any consultation. There is no need for any collective meeting or any collective pressure.
Defence Minister George Fernandes belongs to your party. Do your assertions about the BJP mean that Fernandes endorsed your stand?
You see, George Fernandes is part of this party. And I am the spokesperson. So there is no question of non-endorsement. Now the point is, we are not making any demand. We tried our best to help Narendra Modi. Fernandes flew to Gujarat on Day 1, he was there for five days, he visited the police control room which was not his job -- just to help the situation. He personally supervised the deployment of the army, he faced mobs and his car was stoned. All this was because he wanted to help the state government.
We discharged our responsibility as an ally, but when we feel that a situation has come when an open expression about the situation needs to be given, we have done it.
Do you feel that the situation has slipped out of control?
I won't say that. We are getting a feeling that Narendra Modi either lacks administrative will or administrative competence. In both situations, he doesn't appear in good light.
Would your party re-appeal to the prime minister for restoration of sanity in Gujarat?
There is no need to re-appeal. They know our feelings. We have left it to the BJP.
BJP leader [and former Delhi chief minister] Sahib Singh Verma raised a question about your locus standi following your assertions on Gujarat.
I don't want to get into this kind of terminology, I may also ask who is Sahib Singh Verma. He has resigned even as vice-president of the BJP.
Does your suggestion to the BJP entail a time-frame?
Not at all! We have made ourselves clear and we expect the BJP leadership to take cognizance of our views. But we would not jump the gun.
There is a growing feeling that the NDA allies, including your party and the Telugu Desam Party, criticise the BJP merely to keep their minority constituency intact, because each time after every perceived crisis Prime Minister Vajpayee emerges unscathed.
You are free to make your conclusions.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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