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The Rediff Interview/Ajit Singh

June 02, 2003

Rashtriya Lok Dal president and former Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh is confident that the Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government in Uttar Pradesh will collapse under its own weight.

On May 30, Singh withdrew support to the Uttar Pradesh government after he was forced to give up the Union agriculture portfolio a day before the May 24 Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In an exclusive interview with Shahid K Abbas, Singh says he is sure that the present bid by opposition parties to unite under one umbrella will upset Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's apple-cart. Excerpts:

You have bid goodbye to the NDA coalition at the Centre and have also met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. What is all this exercise about? And what has been the outcome?

The outcome of the exercise is that the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Lok Dal and [Rashtriya] Kranti Party now feel that they all should come together on a single platform. Since they all feel that there is such a need, then obviously the talks and deliberations have been only in this context and backdrop.

How much time will you take now to consolidate this new alignment of opposition forces against the BSP-BJP government in Uttar Pradesh?

The government in the state is very shrewd. They [Mayawati and her followers] are all busy threatening our people [MLAs] and are doing everything in their power to split the opposition parties and poach on legislators from the rival camps.

We all know what sort of a government is there [in UP], what sort of reign of terror is there. The majority that she has mopped up is there as long as there is no alternative. MLAs are not willingly with her. The chief minister's behaviour and treatment of her own ministers and MLAs is known to all of us. Who would like to be humiliated or insulted? The manner in which people were served with threatening ultimatums -- either you join us [Mayawati's government] or be prepared to face the consequences -- for refusing to support her government.

So they are all there under duress, under some or the other compulsion. The moment an alternative emerges, this problem will be solved.

Jagdambika Pal has taken over as the new Congress president in Uttar Pradesh. What role do you think he could play in mopping up the magic numbers?

There is no role for any individual to play in this. I would again tell you that the opposition is getting united and the numbers [with Mayawati] are merely contrived numbers. Somebody is there under some sort of threat, somebody else is under duress and someone is forced to remain there.

You will also be targeting some people in the ruling front? Where else will the numbers come from?

We do not need to target anyone. All we need to do is to be united and serve an alternative and that will be fulfilled as soon as we gather on a single platform. This government will collapse under its own weight. We will not have to target individuals or MLAs or ministers.

You have met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. What political significance does this assume?

It has enormous political significance. The political significance is as to what the opposition is doing. There have been talks with Soniaji, Mulayam Singhji and Kalyan Singhji. The emphasis is to bring the entire opposition on a single platform at the earliest.

What is the aim?

The aim is to bring relief to the people of Uttar Pradesh. To get them their freedom from this government. The political alignments that will shape up will have an impact not only in UP, but also in every part of the country.

What were the compulsions that led to your parting company with the National Democratic Alliance?

It was the continuous confrontation on issues concerning the poor and the farmers. The lack of support mainly from the finance minister to provide any help to the poor and downtrodden, suffering from drought -- the worst drought of the century. The lack of support to the farmers who were suffering due to the lack of payment of sugarcane prices. All these issues finally snowballed into a confrontation and I decided enough was enough.

There are reports that you had a tiff with the finance minister.

It is nothing to do with Mr Jaswant Singh personally. It is against his policies, his orientations.

Immediately after parting company with the NDA, you have started mobilising the opposition in Uttar Pradesh. Should we attribute your sudden interest in the state to your differences with the NDA?

You see, my differences with the NDA are a larger issue while UP is a separate matter. In a democracy, it is the duty of the government to utilise its resources in the interest and towards the benefit of the poor, downtrodden, the unorganised sector, farmers, peasantry and the labour class.

I have all along been stressing that the government was only helping the efficient and the rich, whether that was in context of the relief for drought victims or on the question of the interest that farmers were to pay against their loans or the issue of increasing the price of wheat and grains or the question of fertilizer price.

On each and every step there were differences and disagreements in the government. Then the situation reached such a point that I had to quit the NDA.

My question was, are your resignation from the NDA and your interest in mobilising the opposition against the BSP-BJP coalition in Uttar Pradesh linked?

See, the opposition was not united in UP. Now with my stepping in, a process has started. Therefore, once the opposition gets united, the government in UP has to go.

What are your future plans? What can we expect from you in the days to come?

Our strategy, plain and simple, is to unite the opposition on a single platform. Once that is achieved, we will decide on the next plan of action.

You quit the NDA due to your differences. But you are now trying to align with Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both of you have been rivals and your differences are well known. Do you think this alliance will last long?

In politics nobody is a permanent friend or enemy. Today the situation in UP is such that all opposition parties will have to come together. I am happy that by my leaving the government that situation has been brought about.

Should we say that you have now patched up with Mulayam Singh?

There were differences not only between me and Mulayam Singh, but between the Congress and Mulayam Singh, between Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh. Today there is a bigger question, that the public in Uttar Pradesh expects us to come together and oust this government.

There is a perception that since you are unhappy with the NDA at the Centre, you want to demonstrate your clout in Uttar Pradesh.

In UP, whether it's the government servant or farmers, or businessmen, everybody is sick and tired because of [the government's] dictatorial ways, vindictiveness, and total lack of concern about people's problems. Whether dalits or farmers, the government is absolutely unconcerned.

Given the fact that all earlier attempts by opposition groups in Uttar Pradesh have turned out to be fiascos, particularly because of Mayawati's iron hand, how are you going to achieve any success in your mission this time?

Iron hand of terror! It is not of personality or policies or strength of the political party as such. Once there is a credible alternative, this government will collapse on its own.

Mulayam Singh's last attempt to topple this government failed because he could not convince the governor that he had the support of other groups. Besides, it is not mandatory upon the government to convene the House unless the gap exceeds six months from the time the last session was adjourned. As far as my knowledge goes, the last session was held in early March and by that standard Mayawati still has about three months. Can you explain how you will tackle all these hurdles?

Firstly, when this government was formed the governor specifically stated that he needed my letter before Mayawati could be invited to form the government. So now I am withdrawing my support. So that fact is there. Second thing is that we have the numbers.

Has the Congress agreed to give written support this time?

I think so.

But even the prime minister is on record having said on the day of the last swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan that your exit would make no difference in Uttar Pradesh.

You think any party leader or prime minister would admit that there is trouble brewing?

The Rediff Interviews

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