Dattopant Thengadi, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh stalwart, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has created a controversy by his reported comments against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's handling of economic issues. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav discussed the issue with Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay.
Dattopant Thengadi reportedly disparaged Prime Minister Vajpayee's handling of World Trade Organisation issues.
There was nothing objectionable which Thengadiji said at the meeting...
It was on the occasion of the launch of the Swadeshi Yatra covering many states in the country to educate the people about the dangers of a liberalised economy including issues pertaining to the WTO. He referred to the prime minister's earlier statement where Vajpayeeji had said nobody in the country could sell it to some foreigner. It was in a particular context. Thengadiji referred to the PM's statement and made a general comment that India in its history had witnessed persons like Jaichand and Mir Jafar. Thengadiji merely said the danger of people acting contrary to the interests of the nation would always be there and one should always keep it in mind.
This is being interpreted variously. It can be taken as a comment on a section of the bureaucracy. We are convinced that a section of the bureaucracy believes we should follow the Western model of economic development including the dictates of the WTO.
Is it just a section of the bureaucracy or also a section of the political leadership?
Not necessarily. If (the ruling) politicians were of the same view, they would not have opposed the Kelkar Committee report. The Kelkar Committee report was commissioned by the government but the opposition to it was from the Bharatiya Janata Party itself. The BJP constituted a committee under Rajnath Singh which said that the Kelkar Committee recommendations were not in favour of so many sections of our country and the government should not implement the report. The government subsequently dropped it.
Therefore, I don't construe Thengadiji's comment as being against any particular minister or the prime minister. It was a general comment on those who believe our country should emulate the Western model of economic development. There was no direct reference to the prime minister at all. If there was any criticism, it was against the Congress government which initially signed the WTO agreement. We were very critical of that decision.
The BJP leadership appears to have taken grave exception to Mr Thengadi's remarks.
I have already clarified the position.
One senior BJP leader contended that the Swadeshi Jagran Manch's understanding of WTO issues was more in depth than his party's study. Does it imply that the BJP is on weak ground?
No, no, the BJP member you are referring to did not say that. What he said was the SJM's study was an indepth study while that of the BJP, whose main activity is political, was not so detailed. He said only people in the government, who had access to all the information, can understand those things and discuss with the SJM people. He said the BJP people are basically political activists who cannot be expected to have knowledge of all those intricacies whereas many in the SJM are specialists.
So, there is no heartburn in the BJP after Mr Thengadi's observations?
As far as the BJP's taking grave exception to the incident is concerned, we have checked up. They took grave exception to media reports.
So there is no difference of opinion between the RSS and the BJP?
It will always be there. See, difference of opinion are there on limited issues and policies. We insist that each (Sangh) Parivar organisation has the freedom to differ from the policies of the government and should have the right to express
their opinion publicly. If BJP members have the right to oppose the Kelkar Committee report, how can we deny this right to other constituents of the Sangh Parivar?
Have some RSS leaders expressed disenchantment with government policies?
No, we never comment on the functioning of the government, we express our reservations on certain issues. We don't give commentary on the government. Sometimes, we reflect the views of the people like divestment on which we have expressed our reservations. There we raised certain questions for the government's consideration; they are suggestions.
Could you comment on Mr K N Govindacharya's -- who has been a dedicated RSS pracharak as well as BJP general secretary -- decision to leave active politics?
Only today I saw a news report emanating from Jabalpur that Govindacharya would not enter active politics any more. We have no formal information about that. If Govindacharyaji decides not to be in active politics, his contribution in other areas will always be welcome.
So his contribution will be acknowledged in the Sangh Parivar?
It will definitely be acknowledged. He is free to decide which area he will function in.
Could you spell out the RSS position on divestment?
We are not against divestment per se, we are not against it in principle. All that we are saying is there are four or five issues which need to be taken care of before implementing the policy of divestment. For example, labour must be protected and a fundamental issue which the government must keep in mind while divesting its stake in a company. There are things like retrenchment. Then there are profit-making public sector enterprises which are being divested.
The whole purpose of divestment is to demonopolise. We wonder whether while divesting, are we creating private monopolies? That will be detrimental to the national economy. Another issue is the fixation of price of a major PSU (public sector unit). There have been allegations of undervaluing like the Centaur Hotel. Also, the government has declared three strategic sectors where there will be no divestment -- nuclear energy, railways and defence. We wanted the oil sector to be included. We feel the government had broadly taken cognisance on the four issues I mentioned. They have taken enough precautions.
Has the RSS made any attempt to balance the pro-liberal economy section in the bureaucracy with its counterpart which thinks the swadeshi context in the national interest is more important?
It is not our job. When I mentioned the pro-liberal economy section of the bureaucracy there is also the other section which gives more weightage to national interests. This conflict is on in India where we have the Kelkar Committee report on one side and the S P Gupta Committee report on the other. Both have been commissioned by the government and run contrary to each other's interests.
Has the government been alive to this aspect?
Yes. If you see the performance of our ministers at WTO conferences during the last two or three years, it has been fantastic. They tried to protect the interests of not only India but the entire Third World. They did a wonderful job.
What do you say to the impression that if the BJP does not listen to the RSS, your cadres will not actively work for the BJP during the elections?
Nobody should listen to anybody. But everybody should hear everybody. There is a difference between listening and hearing.
That's a clever quote.
(Laughs) What I mean is, nobody should listen to somebody else. But everybody should hear everybody else because hearing is, I should understand your views and you should understand my views. Listening is I will take your word and do what is expected by you of me. We don't want that. As far as our cadres working for others is concerned, they don't take instructions from any of these organisations because they are not involved in day-to-day electoral politics. Our cadres are wise enough to understand which party is performing satisfactorily and to our liking. So the question of what you have insinuated does not arise.
What does the RSS think about Prime Minister Vajpayee's contention that his government is contemplating legislation to facilitate the construction of a temple in Ayodhya?
One golden opportunity was lost by the Supreme Court's recent judgment. We have studied the judgment and are thoroughly disappointed by it. It negates the 1994 judgment because it was supposed to be an interpretation of that judgment. We feel this judgment should be recalled through the appropriate legal procedure. We will ask our (Sangh Parivar) organisations to go back to the court to request recalling the whole judgment. Basically, everybody wants the Ram temple to be constructed there. So we thought the legal option will allow the problem to ease to some extent by allowing some construction in the undisputed area in Ayodhya. But the Supreme Court decided otherwise. So now there is one option left to the government -- to enact legislation.
There is the other option of dialogue but in the present situation it is unlikely to yield any favourable alternative. So, for the time being, dialogue is ruled out. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is trying to collect signatures of MPs for enactment of legislation.
What is the RSS stand on the war in Iraq?
Our view has come as a surprise to many people. We are totally opposed to it because the US cannot just go and unilaterally attack Iraq just because it is America's perceived enemy. This concept cannot be supported in a civilised society. What is more important is America has failed to convince the world that there existed a case for it to do what it did in Iraq. There was no economic terrorism or WMD as the Americans were clamouring. Even its friends in the West like France and Germany gave contrary views. Americans themselves protested against the war in Iraq. Everybody knows that even if there was the remote possibility of Iraq acquiring WMD and chemical weapons, it would be thanks to American help because the Americans helped Baghdad acquire them during its war with Iran.