During the Budget discussion, when you and other senior BJP leaders did not get to speak in Parliament, everyone wondered why your party was missing in the crucial debate. After you were asked to speak on the
Indo-Pak joint statement, things seem to be looking up for you in the party.
Though it is for the party to select speakers to voice its point of view in Parliament, we have been in the government for six years and our expertise, individual and collective, is defined by the responsibilities we had held then. Therefore, as I was the finance minister twice and had presented five Budgets, I can speak well on economic issues. Besides me, Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie were often asked to speak on economic issues. Similarly, as Jaswant Singh and I have been external affairs ministers and Arun Shourie has a natural aptitude for foreign policy issues, we three often spoke on foreign policy issues.
So, when the new government presented its first Budget and I did not lead the party's response in the Lok Sabha, it, as you also said, surprised many. It would have caused further surprise if Jaswant Singh or I had not been asked to speak on the Indo-Pak joint statement. Though I was disappointed at not being allowed to speak on the Budget, I am happy that I spoke on the Indo-Pak issue.
So, your letter (to BJP President Rajnath Singh) is finally making an impact.
I had raised a different set of issues in my letter. But I feel we three were natural choices for the party to speak on foreign policy and economic issues. I would not say that the party should ask me to speak on issues related to HRD (human resource development) or health, even though as a finance minister, one gets a hang of all ministries.
Do you feel something is changing in BJP, at least for you?
I think there is a growing demand within the party that some issues that we had raised (in the aftermath of the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls) should be examined. I am happy that the party is making arrangements for this.
You and many other BJP leaders have been saying openly that the mantle of leadership should be passed to younger leaders. Who are you referring to, the second-rung BJP leaders in their sixties?
I would not like to take names. But every party has a different system of projecting and boosting younger leaders. I believe that a very large number of young people believes in what BJP stands for. Some of them are in the party, while others will be glad to be in the party. We should promote them. I am not saying that a person in his 30s should lead the
party today, but surely such people should be groomed to lead the party in the next ten years. I would say we should do better cadre management. But BJP does not face an immediate leadership crisis and nobody should be imposed on it since leaders have to evolve naturally.
In your opinion, what led to BJP's defeat in the elections? You may be in a better position to analyse it since you had worked hard to make it to the Lok Sabha
The exact cause would need a comprehensive study, both at national and regional levels. However, I feel that this election did not have a single overriding national issue before the electorate, which led to diverse results. Our party needs to analyse as to what factors worked in our favour in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and not in Delhi. Our mid-term strategy for the next five years should be to focus on regaining our support in states where we have lost. However, BJP's electoral absence (except in Karnataka) from the southern peninsula and eastern states like Orissa and West Bengal needs to be addressed in the long term. Lack of grasp on these states will continue to impact electoral results. I am glad all these issues will be discussed in the chintan baithak.
You had severely criticised the Sharm Al-Sheikh declaration, but Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has appreciated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's bold vision on Indo-Pak relations.
If you have allowed him to walk away with the cake, he has to express his gratitude. Let's face it, Indo-Pak relations are not as simple as they are made out to be. These are the most complex bilateral relations in the world. Pakistan was born out of negation of the idea of India and things have not changed even 60 years later. Look at Parvez Musharraf's book. it is full of hatred for India. How can a former head of a country write such things? So, we must keep this reality in mind and never lower our guard while dealing with Pakistan. We must not follow the policy of peace with Pakistan at any cost. It will destroy India.
What could be the implications of this statement?
Going back to recent history, the Simla agreement nearly ratified the conversion of the line of control into international border. But Zulfikar Ali Bhutto pleaded with Indira Gandhi that this part of the agreement should remain a verbal commitment till he can mobilise public opinion at home. India trusted him and as soon as Bhutto reached Lahore, he
repudiated. Again, the Lahore bus ride by Atal Bihari Vajpayee resulted in Kargil. Pakistan, during Gen Zia-ul-Haq's time, made terrorism a state policy and used it to keep attacking India. Recently, 26/11 was an open attack by Pakistani agencies on India. So, learning from history, the prime minister should realise that he would be committing a grave mistake in believing that history began with him. I am worried that Pakistan will quote the joint statement ad nauseam in all bilateral and international forums. Having been through it several times, I know what a diminishing experience it is to face Pakistanis on such an occasion. They start and end with attacking India, while we have to keep fighting back all the time.
Also, we have to learn to fight our own battle against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and not bank on or trust the Americans. The Americans are openly saying that while Pakistani terrorist groups need to be kept away from Afghanistan, it's fine for them to launch one or two attacks in India. This attitude was so visible during Secretary Hillary Clinton's visit as she kept pleading Pakistan's cause while in New Delhi.