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|August 7, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Sushil Kumar Shinde
It is a refreshing change to meet a politician with a good sense of humour, a genuine smile.
Senior Congress politician and the opposition's vice-presidential candidate Sushil Kumar Shinde, as one discovered, is as polite as most have always know him to be.
Twice elected Member of Parliament from Solapur in Maharashtra, Shinde was elected to the Maharashtra assembly five times before he moved to central politics.
In a conversation with Tara Shankar Sahay, the former Congress Working Committee member from Maharashtra spoke about his candidature. Excerpts:
What are your chances of winning the vice-presidential poll since your lone National Democratic Alliance rival already has the numbers loaded in his favour?
This election is not dependent on numbers loaded in favour of any candidate. It is dependent on political philosophy. The question is whether you vote for fundamentalism or secularism. I am optimistic that a majority of our parliamentarians are secularists rather than fundamentalists. So the numbers game could be overshadowed by conscience. I don't see that it will have any value on the counting of votes.
Secularism will triumph over fundamentalism because each Member of Parliament represents approximately 13 to 20 lakh people. The Rajya Sabha is the representative of the states. Our Constitution is based on our democratic principles and our brotherhood without considerations of caste and creed.
The basic assumption is secularism. Our Constitution has directed us to walk on a particular path and avoid treading on fundamentalist ground. What has happened in the country during the last six months [the violence in Gujarat] has shaken the confidence of our people. This country cannot go with the aspirations of one particular caste or creed. Therefore, this election will indicate where we are headed.
Your party chief Sonia Gandhi, while referring to the vice-presidential poll, said it was not going to be a cakewalk for the NDA. What does that mean?
That means that after a long interval, the opposition parties are united now. And since the opposition is united, every vote is calculated with the opposition. Besides, there are many in the NDA fold, who are supporting the government from outside, but are secular-minded. They will have to think now. It was okay with the election of the President. The Congress fully supported the candidature of the NDA's A P J Abdul Kalam. But in this election, the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the NDA's vice-presidential candidate belong to a particular line of thinking and strive to dominate without considering other religions.
In this context, what is going to be the role of the parliamentary SC/ST forum, of which you have been a prominent member?
I have been a prominent member of the forum and I would like to point out that some time back, during the last session of Parliament, 126 MPs adopted a resolution that in either the presidential or the vice-presidential election, one of our kind must be there. Thereafter, about 60 MPs led an all-party SC [scheduled caste] delegation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Bharatiya Janata Party's Sanghapriya Gautam was the chairman. We requested the prime minister to give one seat out of these two.
What was the prime minister's response?
At that time he said that the elections were far away. He just listened to us. After that nothing happened.
Your party supported Abdul Kalam when he was the NDA's presidential candidate. So why did it decide to contest the vice-presidential poll?
If the NDA had a secular candidate, I think my party and the opposition would not have contested. Their candidate [BJP politician Bhairon Singh Shekhawat] is a very staunch member of the fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which advocated in the past the sati system (immolation of widows) and child marriage.
Because of the past history of the NDA's vice-presidential candidate when he was the Rajasthan chief minister, people don't forget such things. These factors made the opposition announce my candidature for the vice-president's post.
Initially, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was hesitant in extending support to you.
The fact is that all opposition entities realised that all secular forces must come together. There was a fight between our party and Sharad Pawar's Congress, but he came forward to sign my nomination papers. The opposition has realised that it has to put up a united battle to these forces of fundamentalism.
How does you party evaluate this government's role in Jammu & Kashmir?
I don't know why this government is talking -- on and off in the past fortnight -- with leaders of the international community like US Secretary of State Colin Powell. America is raking up J&K as an international issue and we are coming into their clutches. We have to be very careful at the international level on this issue. We have to tackle it internally. J&K is an integral part of India. This has been our position right from the outset.
One has to go according to the Simla Agreement on this issue. I think this government has not expressed its views on J&K categorically, which is why the opposition parties made a furore in Parliament.
How does your party rebut the NDA charge that the Congress does not want an election in Gujarat because it is afraid of defeat?
We are not opposing elections in Gujarat. The only thing is we are against a particular chief minister [Narendra Modi] conducting the polls under his administration. We want governor's rule there so that the polls are transparently free and fair. The chief minister has clearly spoken against the minorities with many of them either seeking shelter outside Gujarat or living in refugee camps following the communal riots. So how will the minorities vote?
What do you think of media reports that the BJP is opposing the installation of [Tamil dalit leader E V S Ramaswamy Naicker] Periyar's statue in Lucknow?
The BJP will oppose because it does not want the downtrodden to come up. And that it why we are fighting the vice-presidential election. We are not opposing the case of Veer Savarkar (revered by the RSS). Savarkar had done a great job for the downtrodden. Even in those days, he had temples constructed and puja performed by scheduled castes, particularly scavengers. But the RSS people have forgotten this part. They are only highlighting those deeds of Savarkar, which suit them politically. They don't highlight the fact that Savarkar fought for social revolution.
How do you assess Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee's political moves during the last four weeks?
I will not speak on this issue because I am the vice-presidential candidate and need everybody's support. It is better that I keep quiet.
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