‘Kandahar: Sonia & PM said please do anything, save the passengers’

Interview/ Jaswant Singh

by Bappaditya Paul

jaswnt_singh_2

BJP stalwart and former Union minister, Mr Jaswant Singh’s candidature from Darjeeling seems to have offered a higher profile to the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM). But many wonder why a leader of Mr Singh’s stature risked his political career by coming to the Queen of the Hills.

And given that he, along with Mr LK Advani, is the central figure in the relentless political attack on the BJP’s handling of the Kandahar hijack crisis by the Congress, Mr Singh’s surprise candidature from Bengal ~ where the Left Front is accusing him and his party of trying to “divide West Bengal” ~ has become the talking point.

In an exclusive interview with The Statesman, Mr Singh maintains that Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi had pleaded with the NDA government to ensure IC 814 passengers’ safety and says that the BJP won’t bypass the state government on the Gorkhaland issue.

Excerpts:

Why you chose to fight the Lok Sabha poll from Darjeeling?

~ I didn’t choose. My party said we need to send somebody senior to Darjeeling this time and you have to go. And being a loyal, obedient member of the party, I said fine and that’s why I am here.

One of those convicted for helping the hijacking of the IC 814 from Kathmandu when you were the external affairs minister hails from Kalimpong. Would you term it your destiny that you are now contesting the polls from Darjeeling, of which Kalimpong is a part?

~ Of course it is my destiny.

Was it not a sad day when you had to accompany the terrorists to Kandahar?

~ I didn’t have to go… but I went. Because the choice was between saving 166 lives or otherwise.If the Congress party really wishes to know about Kandahar, they may read the newspapers of those days and (refresh the memory of) their own role in the crisis.

Present-day Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi were present at an all party meeting two days before (the release of the terrorists) and their only requirement from the NDA government was ~ “Please do everything possible to save the passengers.”

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Your candidature from Darjeeling is largely because of the GJMM, which has a one-point agenda: Gorkhaland. What’s your specific stand on the statehood demand?

~ The BJP manifesto is quite specific on this. We are sympathetic to it, that’s why we are considering the demand.

How would you proceed with it?

~ Through consultation, through accord, and through finding a peaceful resolution by which all can conquer.

But the West Bengal government has already closed the door on the demand for a separate stat?

~ If they close the door, we will knock on the door and try and seek reconciliation with everyone.

So what you are saying is that if the NDA comes to power the Centre will go ahead ~ even if it means bypassing the state government ~ on the path to the creation of Gorkhaland, maybe by amending the Constitution?

~ The NDA government has never bypassed any state (in the past). We shall not bypass (even now) certainly, we will take the views of the state government into consideration.

What’s your reply to the Election Commission’s notice over you allegedly distributing money at Barmer?

~ I have given my reply to the CEC and no doubt the EC will take appropriate action.

(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman/India and this piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 19 April 2009)

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‘Sonia’s alien origin still an issue’

Interview ~ Mr PA Sangma / Ex-Lok Sabha speaker and NCP general secretray

by Bappaditya Paul

PA Sangma
Born on 1 September, 1947 at Tura in Meghalaya, Purno Agitok Sangma began his stint as Lok Sabha MP in 1977. In the following years, he took charge of various Union ministries such as Commerce & Industry, Labour, Coal, Information & Broadcasting etc and was also the chief minister of Meghalaya from 1988-90.
In 1996, at the height of his political career, Mr Sangma rose to become the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
Following differences over Sonia Gandhi’s prime ministerial ambitions, notwithstanding her foreign origin, Mr Sangma left the Congress in 1999 and along with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar founded the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), of which he is a general secretary till date.
BAPPADITYA PAUL recently spoke to him on the latest national political scenario and his future plans.

Excerpts:

Currently, you and your two sons are MLAs and your daughter is a Lok Sabha MP. Aren’t you introducing dynasty politics in Meghalaya?

Not at all. It is the people who will judge and decide why my children are into politics.
I have been an MP for 30-years and because of this, all my children had the privilege of very good education, including the scope to study in some of the best universities abroad.
This is against the backdrop of me being a school dropout, who would have missed education had not the charitable Christian Missionaries picked me up after my father’s demise in childhood.
Had not the people elected me MP nine times, would I have been able to give the children the quality education they have had? No, and hence I told my children that they must pay back to the people of Garo Hills, the people of Meghalaya, by joining politics.

All that is fine, but by nominating your children as party candidates, aren’t you depriving other NCP activists in Meghalaya, who work for the party day and night?

There is a system in the NCP of inviting applications during every election from those aspiring for party nomination. My children never applied for party tickets; rather it was the people who wanted them as their candidates and the party honoured the sentiment.
There are so many politicians who put up their sons, daughters or wives to fight polls but not all could win. So, it is the people who take the ultimate decision and choose who they want as leaders.

During the interview with PA Sangma as his daughter, Union minister Agatha Sangma looks on.

But why did you leave the blooming national political career and return to state politics? Is it because of your differences with Sharad Pawar?

No, that is not the case. You see, I am aging and at the time I decided to return to the state, I was already 60. On several occasions I have said that there must be a time when a politician must retire, they should not stick to power.
Today, people over 80, even 90 and above are still in politics. I do not subscribe to this idea and I have set 70 as my retirement age.
Now, I want to spend the remaining years of my political career in training the upcoming politicians in my state and that’s why I decided to return to Meghalaya.

Are you suggesting that instead of eyeing a second term, Manmohan Singh should retire?

I am not suggesting anything; it is for them to decide. But everywhere in the world you see, people are opting for the young generation, people are opting for young-dynamic leadership.
Times are changing, times are different; there is such a huge generation gap. We are already outdated. How can we stay leaders now? We must give way to the younger generation.

PA Sangma

Give way to Rahul Gandhi may be?

Well, Rahul Gandhi belongs to a political family and he understands political nuances. But there is a difference between politics and administration. Administration is completely a different area and it demands certain amount of experience.
Perhaps, Rahul should go for more experience before taking up the ultimate leadership as his grandmother Indira Gandhi did; before becoming the Prime Minister she was a cabinet minister first and learnt about the administration.
I had an occasion to tell Rajiv Gandhi: “Sir, you should not have become the PM straightway. Instead, you should have first become a minister for two years or so.” I would suggest the same for Rahul.

You split up with the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s leading the party and India. Has there been any change in your stance?

I have never objected to Sonia Gandhi’s leading the Congress, never objected to her becoming the president of the AICC.
But when it came to the question of her becoming the Prime Minister, I objected. Because, I thought, in a country of one billion we are in a position to produce one Prime Minister; we don’t need somebody who is not born in India. I firmly believe it and I stick to it.

So Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin is still an issue?

Principle is principle, it never changes. Yes, it is an issue, if Sonia Gandhi again claims to be the Prime Minister.

Sharad Pawar’s name is making the rounds as the next Prime Minister. What are your views?

Having been in national politics for 30-years, I can certify that Mr Pawar is one of the very few Indian politicians who is development oriented, who knows administration, who understands science and technology. He is the right man to become the Prime Minister; he is cent percent PM material.

What are your predictions for the ensuing general elections?

Very confusing, I should say. But one thing is sure, it will be a hung parliament once again and no party would have a major game to cherish.
Perhaps, regional parties like the AIADMK, the BSP will gain over the Congress and the BJP and it may happen that a non-BJP, non-Congress alliance comes to power.
But even if that happens, I would have my reservations about its sustainability.

Your tenure as Lok Sabha Speaker was utterly uncontroversial. But Somnath Chatterjee was not that lucky and had to break up with the CPI-M while in office. Do you think Mr Chatterjee was right?

Absolutely right, and this will go down in the history of the Indian Parliament that here is a man, who upheld the dignity of the Speaker’s chair. He has proved that the Speaker is above any political affiliation and political party.

PA Sangma
So the CPI-M was wrong in expelling Somnath Chatterjee from the party?

Hundred percent wrong. The CPI-M had no business to ask him to resign or ask him to cast a vote against the ruling coalition. Why should a political party tell the Speaker what he should do?
An MP is elected by the people after being nominated by his/her party, but a Speaker is elected by Parliament. Hence, a Speaker is answerable only to Parliament.

Do you think, Prakash Karat was actually responsible for ousting Mr Chatterjee?

I don’t hold any individual responsible for Somnathda’s ouster from the CPI-M. I know, in the CPI-M it is always the collective decision of the Politburo.

Do you have any plan to return to national politics, even if for a brief period?
No, not at this moment.

(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India / This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 11 April 2009 )