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"Muslims are victims of vote bank politics" (Interview with Lal Krishna Advani)

"Muslims are victims of vote bank politics" (Interview with Lal Krishna Advani)

Publication: The Hindu
Date: April 9, 2009
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2009/04/09/stories/2009040956041200.htm

We held the price line for six years and our contribution to building infrastructure cannot be ignored

Lal Krishna Advani is the star campaigner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the man who would be the Prime Minister should the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) come to power at the Centre. He is busy criss-crossing the country, having covered 45 Parliamentary constituencies since the first week of February. He spoke to VINAY KUMAR during his election campaign in Karnataka, on the way to filing his nomination in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on a wide range of issues from the 2004 'India Shining' campaign to the BJP shedding its image of being a party of 'North India.'

Q.: In 2004, your slogan was 'India Shining.' Is there one in 2009? And, how would you assess the performance of the UPA government over the past five years?
A.: There were two main reasons for the setback we suffered in 2004 - the first was our overconfidence that we are going to win and the second, which was more widespread, was the failure of our support base to understand the compulsions of coalition politics. The common plank with our allies was the nuclear deterrent and they could not agree to our promises of construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya, Uniform Civil Code and abolition of Article 370. Our support base, which identifies with our party ideology, saw resentment seeping in. But this time round, we are not overconfident and my interactions with a large section of people show that NDA will be able to put up a good show.

As far as the UPA government's performance is concerned, it is very disappointing to say the least. If the Congress went to the polls last year, when the Left parties had withdrawn their support, I think it would have been better placed and politically it would have made much more sense.

Q.: Did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stake too much on Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement?
A.: The nuclear deal has failed to become an issue in these elections; nobody is talking about it in the campaign. If the Congress was so keen on it, politically it made a blunder in not going to polls at that time on this issue and withdrawal of support by the Left. For us, the strategic independence of India is important.

Q.: In the recent past, political life has seen much rancour, with accusations and charges being hurled at one another by political leaders. Would you say politics is touching a new low?
A.: I have been in public life since 1952. It was not so during the times of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and I would say even Rajiv Gandhi, [who] observed niceties and pleasantries and displayed utmost dignity. I feel hurt to hear and see all these accusations. I would not like to comment on it but will say that prominent political personalities only belittle themselves by indulging in all this.

Q.: How would you compare the performance of the NDA and the UPA?
A.: Besides Pokhran-II, the biggest achievement of the NDA government which concern the common man and middle classes was holding the price line; the government ensured all through six years the price stability of food items and commodities of everyday use. Then, our contribution to building infrastructure - the golden quadrilateral linking North to South and East to West cannot be ignored. The NDA government also handled the economic situation well in the face of sanctions that came after Pokhran-II, as well as cyclones and quakes that affected the country. We also launched the Kisan Credit Card, pursued a policy of technological advancement and took Information Technology ahead. As against all this, the UPA talks about only NREGA scheme but it failed miserably in preventing suicides of debt-ridden farmers in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh. There have not been any incidents of farmers' being driven to suicide in NDA and BJP-ruled States.

Q.: The BJP is criticised for returning to the Ram Temple issue when elections are round the corner.
A.: The issue of the Ram Temple has always been there, it touches the faith of millions in our land. Our commitment remains to construct a temple at the birthplace of Ram in Ayodhya. It finds prominent mention in our manifesto and we are not apologetic about it. We have said in the past also that the Ram Temple can be constructed either through a court order or by discussions and agreement between Hindus and Muslim community. And I am hopeful that the temple will be constructed with the cooperation and agreement of the two communities. The sad part is that Muslims have been victims of vote bank politics and that is the main reason behind their social, economic and educational backwardness. The Sachar Committee pointed it out after six decades of Independence. Politicians deliberately kept alive symbols of separation from the time of creation of Pakistan. Gross mishandling of Muslim community prevented it from readily assimilating into the national mainstream. I would say that we have slightly modified our slogan to "Justice for all, discrimination towards none" instead of "appeasement of none."

Q.: After initial hiccups, the BJP is now backing Varun Gandhi after his alleged speech at Pilibhit.
A.: For the first time in 60 years, the Election Commission gave advice to a political party [BJP] not to give a ticket to Varun Gandhi. Secondly, a draconian law like the National Security Act was slapped on him. Whatever has been attributed to Varun Gandhi was denied by him and he said the CD was doctored. The BJP disassociated itself from his alleged comments, but invoking the NSA was a thoughtless action. It is not that candidates have not won in the past because draconian laws were invoked against them and they were under detention. Two examples are George Fernandes and Nanaji Deshmukh.

Q.: Which States will provide you with a rich harvest of Lok Sabha seats?
A.: I will say that the 2009 elections are mainly a contest between the BJP and the Congress. And it is also for the first time that we are at a disadvantage in not having Vajpayeeji campaigning for us. Also, the advantage is that for the first time the BJP is not being seen as a party of 'North India.' We have our own government in Karnataka for the past 10 months and it is a major difference. I believe we will do well in Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. In U.P. and Orissa also our position is not bad despite Kalyan Singh leaving us and Naveen Patnaik's BJD snapping ties with us. On the whole, the prospects of the NDA are bright, I am sure people of India will give us the mandate once again.

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