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The Rediff Interview/Former President K R Narayanan

March 07, 2005

Former President K R Narayanan's term in office is often considered one of the most controversial tenures served by any President. While he was President, Narayanan had attacked political parties, especially the then ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, criticising it of using religion for political purposes, thereby degenerating political values in the country.

Narayanan's tug-of-war with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government sealed his chance to get a second term as President during the 2002 presidential election.

Rarely has the former President talked openly about his tenure. However, recently Narayanan gave a freewheeling interview to Congress legislator from Kerala [Images] P T Thomas where he strongly criticised the former Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

In the interview that appeared in the Malayalam monthly Manava Samskriti, and reproduced here with its kind permission, Narayanan talks about his tussle with the Vajpayee government and how badly the BJP wanted to get rid of him as President. An interview translated from the Malayalam by Deputy Managing Editor George Iype.

During the 50th anniversary of the Indian Parliament, you made a very pertinent speech. Your speech then questioned whether the functioning of the Parliament was indeed helping social change in the country. What prompted you to come out with such a critical speech then?

I do not exactly remember the circumstances under which I made the speech then. But I tell you one thing. Indifference in parliamentary functioning is something that always made me sad. When I was President, I saw with sadness how parliamentary functioning had degenerated to the nadir. The debates and discussions in Parliament that go against political values, opportunistic tendencies and the undemocratic hue and cry in Parliament are all things that made me question the functioning of Parliament.

The Indian Constitution provides for social justice and equality for all. How much money spent for these causes from the public exchequer has helped the country and people, according to you?

The Constitutional provisions guarantee the equal distribution of wealth, but the plans and programmes enacted by the Parliament for these have failed. The main reason for this is corruption in bureaucracy. Those bureaucrats who are supposed to distribute money through various programmes to the people are eating bulk of the money themselves.

Another reason for this failure is the indifference of the people to corruption. People do not see corruption as a sin. People see politicians as corrupt and those speaking lies. And since they cannot get their things done through honest politicians, people are ready to accept corrupt politicians.

The fact is that honest politicians in India do not get the kind of good recognition that corrupt politicians are receiving. It is because of this mentality of the people towards these politicians that corruption is kept under the lid. Only sensational corruption cases come out into the open in the country.

I would say that people are to a large extent supporting the corrupt practices of many politicians. It is the links between corrupt bureaucrats and politicians that has led to the failure of the equal distribution of wealth in the country.

Do not think that I am accusing the people for being responsible for creating these sets of politicians and bureaucrats. The sad thing is that their leaders are teaching them corrupt ways and means. In the past, politicians were good teachers. They taught good lessons to the people and they led exemplary lives. People lived by the values spread by the politicians. But there are no values in politics today. Sinners have seized the places of saints in politics. This is not just in politics. The virus of social evils and corruption has even spread through religion.

India has been following the parliamentary form of government all these years. Do you think the presidential form of government would have been better for India?

The presidential form of government can never be suitable for a country like India. I would say the presidential form would lead the country to a dictatorship. It could be the dictatorship of a person or of the army. It is not possible for a vast country like India to be governed by a President.

The parliamentary system has a mechanism for peaceful expression of people's resentments or criticism through the Opposition. It is parliamentary intervention that gives the country its stability. However, timely interventions and debates in Parliament should not be allowed to lead to explosive situations.

Criticism and disagreement are well accepted in the parliamentary rule. It is because of this noble mechanism that parliamentary democracy is thriving in India. The very basis of the stability of India is parliamentary democracy.

It is said that you were very sad and disturbed on the last days of your term as President. Did the communal riots in Gujarat upset you?

There was governmental and administrative support for the communal riots in Gujarat. I gave several letters to Prime Minister Vajpayee in this regard on this issue. I met him personally and talked to him directly. But Vajapyee did not do anything effective.

I requested him to send the army to Gujarat and suppress the riots. The Centre had the Constitutional responsibility and powers to send the military if the state governments asked. The military was sent, but they were not given powers to shoot. If the military was given powers to shoot at the perpetrators of violence, recurrence of tragedies in Gujarat could have been avoided.

However, both the state and central government did not do so. Had the military been given powers to shoot, the carnage in Gujarat could have been avoided to a great extent. I feel there was a conspiracy involving the state and central governments behind the Gujarat riots.

Part II: 'BJP wanted to get rid of me'

Did Godhra save Pakistan?

The Gujarat Riots

Photograph: Paresh Gandhi | Design: Uday Kuckian

The Rediff Interviews

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