'Mandate for a stable government'

Published : Mar 04, 2000 00:00 IST

Om Prakash Chautala, the re-elected Chief Minister of Haryana, is now a changed man, aver some of his close supporters. The change referred to, probably, is a certain kind of political maturity, for in political astuteness few in the field can mat ch him. Apparently to please his rural constituency, he announced his intention to take the oath as Chief Minister somewhere in the heartland of the State, instead of Chandigarh.

Chautala became Chief Minister for the fourth time in July 1999 in a situation in which his predecessor and Haryana Vikas Party (HVP) leader Bansi Lal was left in the cold, first by the BJP, its electoral ally, and later by the Congress(I). Chautala grab bed the opportunity with the support of a number of HVP legislators, who defected to his side, and the BJP. His Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the BJP forged a new alliance under the banner of the NDA to fight the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. The duo wo n all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the State; it is an accepted fact that the BJP could not have won even a single seat without INLD support. Keen to consolidate his gains, Chautala sought elections to the Assembly a year and a half ahead of schedule.

Although the February 22 polls have given a clear mandate to Chautala, he has expressed some misgivings, especially about the BJP, whose poor performance has left no one in doubt about its status in the State. As for the BJP joining the Ministry, there h as been no positive response from the BJP to Chautala's overtures. Excerpts from an interview the Chief Minister gave T.K. Rajalakshmi in Chandigarh:

In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the INLD-BJP combine won more votes than its nearest rival in 85 of the 90 Assembly segments of the 10 parliamentary constituencies. How is it that the same kind of performance was not possible this time, especially wh en you maintain that no anti-incumbency factor worked against you?

The Lok Sabha elections were fought on national issues. The Assembly elections were more about regional issues. In the municipal and panchayat elections, which are due, the issues will be different.

Why did the electorate not vote in a similar manner in the case of the BJP? After all, you two (the INLD and the BJP) contested the elections under the same NDA banner. Did the BJP make unrealistic demands for seats?

The number of seats we have won is much lower than what we expected. We expected a two-thirds majority, but because of wrong selection of candidates we could not reach that number. Even some good candidates we fielded were defeated. There was also rebell ion in the BJP. More importantly, they (the BJP) did not have good candidates. Elections are not always fought over policies. We could have given them (the BJP) more seats if they had good candidates. We told the BJP not to think of the number of seats a llotted to them but concentrate on the seats that could be won. In the process, some of our winning chances also got ruined as we spent too much time on deciding how many seats should each one of us get. We could have begun campaigning much earlier.

In the Lok Sabha elections, you promised free power and water but in these elections you removed the "free" part of the promise. The first thing you announced after the results were declared was that flood control would be a priority item. How do you propose to implement most of your populist measures, such as old-age pension, wedding gifts and abolition of octroi, especially in the context of the State's depleting revenues?

I never promised free power and water. I would first like to generate power. Our people demand not free power but power at a lower price. Flood control is a serious problem and it will be one of our top priorities. As for water, yes, our water table is g oing down. We would like the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal issue resolved soon but the matter is before the Supreme Court. As for funds, there is no shortage. The previous governments had imposed many unnecessary taxes and I simplified matters by doing away w ith some of them. The business class has paid up their other taxes and I foresee no shortage in the State's revenues.

Do you hope to run a stable government or will the situation change in the next six months with a new political formation taking shape?

People have given us the mandate for the very purpose of forming a decisive and stable government. They have compared us with the previous governments and reposed confidence in us. They did not forgive those who were with Bansi Lal (read the BJP).

What kind of a future do you see for coalition politics, now that you have secured a clear majority? Your party does not have any ideological understanding with the BJP? Besides, that party has done badly in the Assembly elections. Do you still need t he BJP's support, and if so will the BJP be part of your government?

It is true that we fought elections in alliance with the BJP. Although my party has a clear majority on its own, it does not mean that we can do without our ally. I have appealed to them to join the government, but even if they choose to give us support from outside we will continue to remain allies. Six (seats held by the BJP) is not an insignificant number, and having a majority is not everything. If Bansi Lal gives up his destructive path, even he is welcome to join us. Anyone who supports us for the benefit of Haryana is welcome. As for the ideological difference with the BJP, the party does not have a hidden agenda any more, and it has also given up the Mandir issue and the demand for the abrogation of Article 370. In a democratic setup, one has t o take everyone along.

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