March 22, 2001


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'The arithmetic is with Atalji. He will complete his term'
'The arithmetic is with Atalji. He will complete his term'

In the mid eighties, Narendra Modi was an unknown RSS worker in Ahmedabad. He worked quietly and kept a low profile. Suddenly, he became a national figure after his strategy of sending L K Advani on a Rath Yatra paid dividends. The BJP had overnight become a force to reckon with.

Today, as general secretary of the BJP, Modi is seen as a master strategist who knows the way out of every crisis. He spoke to Roving Editor Ramesh Menon on a host of issues plaguing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure. And whether it is the beginning of the end for the NDA government.

First things first, will the government last?

Of course. Certainly.

What makes you so confident?

Under the leadership of Atalji, the country has experienced development and stability. Even outside India, he has been seen as an international leader. India cannot afford to lose him at this juncture.

The arithmetic is with Atalji. The government will complete its term.

But now various politicians are getting together, talking of options.

You may have seen that when old people go for a wedding, they dress up a bit too much. It gives them tremendous mental satisfaction. Rejected, retired and non-acceptable people are getting together as you can see. In the current atmosphere, they are searching for a tailor to get new clothes made hoping for a swearing in ceremony. (laughs)

There is talk of the Third Front emerging.

Because of some political development, the only positive sign is that we have two distinct camps: the Congress and the BJP. The polarisation is so sharp now that the third front has only a place in the media and not on the political ground.

Sonia Gandhi has said that the Congress will now take on the government.

It is indeed unfortunate for India that in a 115-year old party, its leader who is also the Opposition leader, insults the political culture like this. Out of a billion Indians, no one has called Vajpayeeji a traitor. But someone who came to India only because of her marriage has today blamed the son of the soil as a traitor. It is such an irony.

I do not suspect her love for India. But why cannot she prove her loyalty to India by getting her friend, Quattrocchi, to India for trial.

What if she cobbles up enough support?

No one has forgotten the day she claimed she had 270 MPs behind her. Her dreams are a far cry.

The Opposition is baying for the government's blood.

As far as morality is concerned, all our opponents have been involved in scams. The Congress had its Defence Minister V P Singh making allegations of corruption. But still, there was no inquiry. But now gossip and loose talk in front of the camera is being taken so seriously by them.

Before the BJP came into power, leaders like you always spoke of how your party is different, how clean it is and how committed it is. What ever happened?

We are and will be a party with a difference.

No one can deny that there are shortcomings in public or individual life. After independence, a moral leadership was needed. But it was not there. All this has come with the result of what has happened in the last 50 years. It all did not happen overnight. But the question is, how do we respond now. Did Narasimha Rao resign over the urea scam? Did Rajiv Gandhi resign following the Bofors scam? In the JMM case, Rao was convicted but here he is sitting next to Sonia on the dais at a Congress meeting.

Earlier, as the Opposition, we stalled Parliament demanding a debate on various issues. The party in power did not want a debate. Now, we want a debate. The Opposition does not want it. See the difference.

Indira Gandhi imposed an Emergency to escape the Allahabad high court judgment. Look at how they respond. And we had L K Advani resigning from Parliament saying that he would not contest till he was cleared of the Hawala charges. George Fernandes has resigned. Bangaru Laxman has resigned. This is how we respond. We are a party with a difference.

Many of your ministers are from RSS backgrounds. But the RSS training, commitment and discipline obviously evaporated with the spoils of power.

The world knows that absolute power leads to absolute corruption. But we do not have a single incident where a minister has acted against values.

What about Bangaru Laxman?

Bangaru Laxman is not a minister.

But he was a minister before he was made BJP president.

Various organisations -- social, educational, cultural and political -- function out of donations. The BJP also runs on donations. If someone gives a gift to the party president and he accepts it, he has not done anything wrong.

You honestly think he took money for the party?

Honestly. Honestly. Honestly. And it is because I know what happened.

What happened?

Bangaru Laxman gave it to the party on the same day.

Same day? And what about the receipt?

All the details will be available with the BJP treasurer.

Is this an afterthought after the scandal?

All these allegations are imaginary. The important thing is that we want an inquiry.

Then why did the BJP force him to resign?

It was his decision to resign. No one forced him.

Bangaru Laxman joined a shaka in Hyderabad at the tender age of 12. But even after so many years in the RSS, he is today seen as a prime example of what could go wrong.

It is for the RSS to answer this question.

Just for a lakh of rupees, all the RSS training went for a toss?

I answered this question before.

The party was supposed to be clean and transparent. No one on the street thinks so anymore.

The Indian populace has faith in the BJP and Vajpayeeji. It is true that there is a fog around now. So there are confused signals. But when things get clearer one by one, it will disappear. In this agni pareeksha (trial by fire), the BJP will come out in shining colours.

The party's image has been damaged as never before. What do you plan to do? After all, you are seen as a strategist.

The more we go the people, the more we will be able to convince them about the truth. This is the first time that the ruling party is ready for a debate and the Opposition is running away. We want an inquiry. During the Kargil war, they wanted a debate and we said let us not demoralise our forces when they are fighting a war. This is dirty politics and not a question of public probity or values.

Will there be a purging process in the party? Will the bad elements be identified and removed?

It is a very loaded question. If I say yes, it means that bad elements are there. If I say no, you will say that the BJP does not care or bother. We do not have any bad elements to deal with.

You recently asked Tarun Tejpal ten questions. Why don't you ask questions to the BJP. Is there any introspection?

I actually asked questions to Arjun Singh. But why is Tarun answering the questions? It only strengthens my credibility. But my questions about Manoj Prabhakar's links and how he was ultimately found guilty have no real answer.

What about introspection within the party? Is the party looking at itself now?

Introspection is a continuing process in any living organisation.

You will soon be travelling to campaign for state elections. What are you going to tell voters now? There has to be a new line, a new slogan.

The plank will be local issues. We were clean and we are clean. Scamsters can get together but they cannot blot us.

You recently said that the BJP will be the vehicle for the new century in India. Sounds hollow now?

In our Chennai declaration, we said that the 21st century will be the century of India. And what did the Congress say? The Congress said that the 21st century would be the century of the Congress in India. That is the difference between the BJP and the Congress.

Bangaru Laxman has all along been saying that he was trapped as he was a Dalit and it was not acceptable to a lot of people within the party.

He has never said that he was not acceptable within the party. He has only complained of the BJP's opponents.

There has been a personality clash going on between Vajpayee and Advani and there are two camps working. Is that another reason why the party strength has been eroded?

I love this question very much.


Because since many years, the Opposition has used this theory. Let us look at history. Let us look at instances of any two top leaders who have worked together in India. Gokhale and Ranade. Ranade and Tilak. Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Indira and Morarji. Morarji and Charan Singh. The only exception of two leaders working together and that too since 1950 is of Atalji and Advaniji.

RSS chief Sudershan voiced the concern of the RSS when he said that there were incompetent people in the PMO and clean officials were needed there. What does this mean?

He has given a statement saying he never said that.

What happens to reforms now as the swadeshi group which is basically the RSS does not want it in the way it is being done?

There is no clash between the swadeshi camp and the NDA on the Budget or reforms. Increase of import duty in agriculture is a glaring example of the NDA's commitment to the farmers.

What action do you plan to take against Bangaru Laxman?

This question comes as a surprise. What wrong has he done? He has himself asked for an inquiry. Why should I give a judgement? The inquiry will do that.

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