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|July 8, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Arun Jaitley
In his new avatar as spokesman of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Arun Jaitley, former Union minister for law, justice and company affairs in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, is adept at providing a good defence for both the government and the BJP.
Formerly an additional solicitor general of India and a senior Supreme Court lawyer, Jaitley told Onkar Singh that the Cabinet reshuffle was not a fallout of the BJP's electoral debacle in the recently held assembly elections. Excerpts:
Where was the need to carry out large-scale changes in the government and the BJP?
How the Cabinet is to function and who are the persons to be utilised is the sole prerogative of the prime minister. The prime minister sees the performances of the ministers. He decides who is useful to the party and who is useful in the ministry. He is entitled to the view whether an alternative person would be better than the existing persons. I think Vajpayeeji has done precisely that because the ultimate object is to improve the efficiency of the party and the efficiency of the government.
The other factor that could have been in the mind of the prime minister was to send younger people to the party and activate the party. No doubt the party has been active in the past as well, but it needs to be active aggressively to project the achievements of the government.
But isn't it true that the party has done badly in the recent state assembly elections and hence there was a need to have changes in the government as well as the party?
Electoral defeats do not necessarily have anything to with the personnel in the party. The electoral defeats could be because of several factors. We won Goa on no issue other than the issue of good governance. These are lessons for us also. We lost Uttar Pradesh not because of bad governance, but because the caste factors were against us.
In UP, it was this factor which dominated the assembly elections. In some places we lost because of the anti-incumbency factor. The factors of defeat vary from state to state.
One day before the national executive meeting in Goa, you visited Ahmedabad and the next day Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi offered to resign at the conference. Did you say something to him that made him offer his resignation?
No, his resignation had nothing to do with my visit. My visit was entirely for a different purpose. I am a Member of Parliament from Gujarat. I had to attend a meeting for my MP development fund. It got emphasised out of proportion that I had gone to suggest something to Mr Narendra Modi. Frankly, the mood within the party was also not to expect Mr Modi to resign.
The move to appoint Vinay Katiyar as president of the Uttar Pradesh BJP soon after the party's debacle in the assembly election is being seen as an attempt to implement its 'hidden agenda'. Is that true?
I think it makes good copy, therefore the media is entitled to write about it. His appointment has nothing to do with the hidden agenda. The NDA agenda is our main agenda. This is the agenda that our government is going to follow. Vinay Katiyar is a Member of Parliament from Ayodhya. He is one of our senior-most MPs from the state. He is capable of revitalising the whole party in Uttar Pradesh. His appointment has brought new enthusiasm in the party workers.
In the social composition of a caste-ridden society, he also represents the aspirations of a particular section whose support is very important to us in Uttar Pradesh.
The Government of Tamil Nadu has booked MDMK leader Vaiko under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for his speeches lauding the LTTE. The MDMK is a part of the NDA. What is your stand on this issue?
We have examined what Vaiko has said. We have also examined the explanation that he has issued. He has clarified that he never stood for violence in Tamil Nadu. He says that he made statements with regard to the Tamilians in Sri Lanka. It is only in this context that he has made that statement. His having made a clarificatory statement, we feel that the use of POTA against him may not be warranted.
The Jammu & Kashmir government had booked All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani under POTA, but now it says he has been booked under the Public Safety Act. Comment?
I do not think what you are saying is correct. They had invoked the Public Safety Act against him. It is a preventive detention law. His role under POTA may be under investigation by the police. The havala funds that have been used for funding terrorists may also invoke POTA. In such cases POTA can be invoked against the accused at any stage.
What went wrong with Farooq Abdullah? Why is he so angry with the Vajpayee government?
I am not so sure if he is angry with the NDA or the government. Dr Farooq is very much a part of the NDA. He has already made statements that he continues to be a part of the government. If he feels strongly on some issues he is entitled to his views. We respect his views even when we disagree with them. He has a very emotive style because he feels strongly about issues that he believes in. I would request the media not to confuse his emotions for anger.
But Omar Abdullah, minister of state for external affairs, has categorically said that his father has been used time and again by the Centre, but when it came to making him vice-president of India he was ditched by the people he trusted.
Well, I don't want to react to reactions. I don't share that perception that he has been denied the vice-presidentship. More than that I do not want to react to this question.
The prime minister has promised free and fair elections in J&K. Some political parties in Jammu & Kashmir want governor's rule for free and fair elections. Comment?
Ideally this question should be addressed to the Government of India. On behalf of the party I don't want to add more than what the prime minister has said.
What is your opinion as a legal expert?
Besides being a legal expert, I am also a spokesman for the party. I don't want to add to the present confusion by giving my private legal opinion. Yes, the state unit of the BJP has been demanding that governor's rule should be imposed in the state before holding state assembly elections.
Are you pressing for governor's rule or not?
I have already said that as of today I am not saying anything more than what I have told you already till such time that the party takes a decision on it.
The RSS has asked for trifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. What is the party's view on this demand?
Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani has already responded to it, that is the stand of the BJP and there is nothing more that I have to add to it. [Advani has rejected the demand for trifurcation of the state.] Since a senior party leader and government functionary has already reacted to it, why do you want a retraction every minute on it?
Defence Minister George Fernandes has gone on record that privatisation of the government sector does not mean more jobs. How do you take this statement?
I share the concerns of many that in the initial stages in liberalisation there is jobless growth because a number of establishments are overstaffed. But the same need not be said about privatisation. Privatisation means efficiency, improves performance and even turns around sick units. It saves jobs, which otherwise would have been lost in the state sector.
In the long run improved performance and efficiency leads to job creation. You may lose jobs in individual establishments, but jobs are created elsewhere.
Former communications minister Sukh Ram is an important ally of the NDA. Now that he has been convicted in the telecom scam, there is an attempt in the NDA to wash their hands of him. Why?
It is for the NDA to decide what to do next. All that I would say is that it is a matter of individual culpability. I would not want to hurt or help anyone's legal defence.
The J&K assembly election is scheduled to be held in October. Is there any possibility of a delay?
Well, I am not aware of any such delay. This is a question, which either the Government of Jammu & Kashmir or the Government of India can answer.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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