“We’ve emerged stronger”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have been forced out of office in just 13 days, but the shortest-serving prime minister the country has had left with a flourish, impressing many even in defeat. In an interview with Special Correspondent N.K. Singh a day after he resigned, he explained the reasons behind the BJP’s bold gamble.

Has the early exit of the BJP government demoralised the cadres?

No, it has further steeled there-solve. We knew that the numbers were against us. It came as no surprise, and there is no question of demoralisation.

You once said you wouldn’t form the government unless you had about 220-225 seats. Why did you change your mind?

Some leaders felt we should not form the government. Yet, others felt we should not run away from responsibility.

Everyone knew you did not have the majority. So what exactly were you banking on?

When the president invited me to form the government, the political situation was fluid. The regional parties were keeping their options open. We wanted to make an honest efforts to form the government in the light of the people’s mandate, with the help of regional parties on the basis of a common minimum programme.

Were you surprised by the resolve shown by these parties to oust the BJP?

We never considered the Congress as a possible ally. Therefore their decision to support X or Y was not at all relevant to us. Yes, we didn’t expect forces inimical to each other to come together. But their sole aim was to stop our continuance in office, even at the cost of their avowed principles.

Would you agree that it was a suicidal gamble?

I am sure the prophets of doom will be proved wrong. The BJP has only emerged stronger.

By forming the government without a clear majority, the BJP is said to have exposed its greed for power. There are charges that you tried to entice groups which had already decided to back Deve Gowda.

Murasoli Maran of the DMK, an important leader in the new dispensation, has declared in Parliament that the BJP never indulged in suitcase politics. We were fully justified in Seeking support from various regional parties on the basis on a common minimum programme. In fact, after election, some of them said they did not rule out backing a BJP government.

Your brief stint of 13 days as a prime minister who could not win parliamentary legitimacy has sullied your image.

I don’t believe so.

For the sake of staying in office, you appeared ready to make compromises, like putting contentious issues such as the Ram temple in Ayodhya, abolition of Article 370 in Kashmir and uniform civil code on the backburner.

There is no question of a compromise. The mandate was clearly against the Congress and we were trying to work out an alliance with other parties, despite many of them not sharing our perception on the Ram temple, Article 370 or a uniform civil code.

You have described the United Front as an unprincipled coalition. Yet what similarities are there between the BJP and the Akalis?

The BJP and the Akalis have been allies in the past too. It is quite different from the kind of relationship the Congress has now established with the CPI(M), the DMK-TMC and the TDP. All these parties had promised to the people to put an end to Congress misrule. But now some of them are in office with the backing of that very party.

Your government invited some amount of ridicule at the very outset. Sikander Bakht was sulking because he got a low-profile portfolio like urban development.

I think my government lasted for too brief a period for anyone to pass value judgements on my colleagues.

You knew your government would not survive, yet you went ahead with some major decisions, like reconstitution of the Srikrishna Commission, revalidation of the counter-guarantee given to the Enron power project and so on.

Mine was not a caretaker government. All the same, we did not make any changes in the bureaucratic set-up or take any major policy decision. In spite of our reservations, we went ahead with polls in Jammu & Kashmir, in continuation of the decision taken by the previous government. We took decisions only on issues which could not wait. In the case of Srikrishna Commission, I had expressed my reservation when the Maharashtra Government scrapped it. Had we not revalidated the counter-guarantee given to the Dabhol Power Company, it would have gone for arbitration. I do not understand how my visiting the Golden Temple could be construed as a major policy decision. My declaration that economic reforms would continue was merely a reiteration of our known stand on the issues.

You have always been an advocate of the politics of consensus. What kind of relationship do you visualise with your successor?

The same that a leader of opposition would have with a prime minister in any healthy democracy.

India Today 15 June 1996
India Today 15 June 1996
India Today 15 June 1996

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