No deals here

Published : Aug 01, 2008 00:00 IST

AMAR SINGH WITH Prakash Karat. Despite recent developments and new alliances, the S.P. is keen not to close any channel with the Left.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

AMAR SINGH WITH Prakash Karat. Despite recent developments and new alliances, the S.P. is keen not to close any channel with the Left.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

Interview with Amar Singh, general secretary of the Samajwadi Party.

AMAR SINGH, general secretary of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), is often described in political circles in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as the person who imparted a modern face to his predominantly rural-based party.

Amar Singhs influence over S.P. affairs has been considerable all through the past decade, and many in the party believe that it was he who convinced the supreme leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, that making up with the Congress over the nuclear deal would be a prudent step. In an interview to Frontline, Amar Singh steadfastly refused to take credit for the partys turnaround but maintained that the S.P.s decision had advanced both the national interest and the partys political interests. Excerpts:

The S.P.s political world seems to have turned upside down in less than three weeks. You were running a virulent campaign against the India-United States nuclear deal and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for perpetrating it, but all of a sudden you have become a votary of the deal and a potential saviour of the government. How did this happen?

It is an old adage that there are no permanent enemies in politics. But our change is not to prove that. The facts of the matter are fairly simple. For the past four years, the UPA was not ready to discuss anything with us directly even though we were supporting the government from outside. That was the case with the nuclear deal too. The government had a consultative committee with the Left parties and that committee was discussing the pros and cons of the deal actively.

Comrade Prakash Karat [general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)] and his colleagues in the Left used to brief us from time to time, and our perceptions on the deal were based on that. When the Left fell out with the government, the government showed readiness to talk to us, first through National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and later through Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The queries that we raised were answered satisfactorily by both of them.

Later, we cross-checked with former President Dr. [A.P.J] Abdul Kalam, who is himself a renowned nuclear scientist, and he told us that the deal was in the national interest. This strengthened the rationale to change our stand and support the government.

The Left parties fell out with the government on the issue of the India-specific safeguards agreement text that was being taken to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Left felt that the text should be discussed in the UPA-Left consultative committee, while the government said it was confidential. Did the government, in your discussions with Narayanan and Manmohan Singh, show or tell you something that was not shared with the Left?

I do not think that the government adopted double standards in dealing with the Left and us. They did tell us the gist of the safeguards [agreement] text just as they had told the Left.

We found that convincing, especially in the context of Dr. Kalams assertion that the deal was in the national interest, particularly because of uranium shortage and the relatively longer time required to develop thorium-based reactors. In any case, the IAEA text is now out in the public [domain] and is there for all to see.

The Ministry of External Affairs was compelled to release the text because it was being released, in any case, by the IAEA and many other non-governmental organisations who had gained access to it. As new allies of the UPA, do you not think that the government could have handled this more transparently?

I do not know the reasons why the government adopted such a position. The leaders of the government may have done it in their own wisdom. We are not in a position to comment on the political sagacity or otherwise of the action.

There is a stream of opinion that the S.P. has got closer to the UPA to advance some corporate interests of the party pushed essentially by Amar Singh, that the party has been compelled to make some demands to advance the interests of your friend Anil Ambani.

This is totally baseless. What I have demanded in letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the withdrawal of the export-oriented unit status to private petroleum refineries as well as a ban, at least during the present times of acute shortage, on exports of petroleum products. I have said that a windfall tax of 20 per cent should be levied on these profit-making private sector petroleum companies.

This is a demand that comrade Prakash Karat has also made. The Democratic Party in the U.S., particularly close supporters of presidential candidate Barack Obama, has raised this demand. Why is it that the demand becomes propagation of corporate interests of Anil Ambani when I make it but is treated as advancement of principled politics when others raise it? The other demand that I made was that GSM operators be charged a one-time fee as per market rates for spectrum held by them beyond 6.2 MHz.

This is again a demand shared by other corporate leaders, including Ratan Tata. Whatever I have said, I have said openly. There are no deals within deals here. But only my voice is being misinterpreted. For us, this is part of a principled struggle and we would continue that whatever the role in or equation with the government.

Coming to the proposed trust vote, there are already voices of dissent within the S.P., which question the leaderships decision to support the UPA. There are fears that the party will split, leading to a failure of the UPA-S.P. combination in mustering the required numbers

All this is speculation by the media and other interested parties. It is true that we have expelled two MPs [Members of Parliament] for anti-party activities. They are the ones who are making claims about desertion from the S.P. camp.

In fact, our strength has increased with the addition of the independent member Baleshwar Yadav. Many others, especially from the BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party], are expected to join us.

On the larger political scene, how do you see the new alliance of the Congress and the S.P. developing? Would it be concretised only in Uttar Pradesh or in other States as well?

None of these details has been discussed. What shape political developments would take cannot be predicted. All that I can say is that we will not close our channels with the Left, whatever happens.

During the past four years, when we had major differences with the Congress and the UPA, the Left was supporting the government but it kept open the channels of political communication and action with us. We would like to do the same, though now we are more in agreement with the UPA.

There was a time, not long ago, when you accused the Congress leadership of maligning you personally. Now, you have virtually become a kind of saviour to the government and the Congress. Is there a sense of sweet revenge?

I would not want to get into all these personal issues. The choice before the S.P. was that of choosing between Manmohan Singh, George Bush and Lal Krishna Advani. We think that Bush, who has been portrayed as the commanding symbol of imperialism, is on the way out.

We see that Advani, the symbol of rampant communalism, is gaining ground at the expense of secular forces, with a string of electoral successes. In this situation we think that Advani poses the greater threat. And we are convinced that all secular forces should join hands in fighting the communal threat.

Put succinctly, our position reflects the best convergence of the national interest and political interest. The national interest has been emphasised by none less than Dr. Kalam and I am certain that the political sagacity of our position would be widely accepted in due course.

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