For a viable alternative

Print edition : April 24, 1999

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Sharad Pawar, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, was thought to be not very enthusiastic about unseating the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government at this juncture. However, when the BJP and its allies won over the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Indian National Lok Dal and created the impression that the initiatives of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha would fail, it was Pawar who came up with the proposal to try and change the position of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In fact, Pawar made the first move by talking to BSP leader Mayawati, which paved the way for a meeting between Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati and the consequent decision of the BSP to vote against the Government. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Pawar for an interview even as he was busy with efforts to form an alternative government. Excerpts:

There is a view that the unity shown by the parties concerned in the vote of confidence was based on a negative agenda of unseating the BJP-led Government and that this cannot be converted into a positive understanding for the formation of an alternative government...

This view is undoubtedly being spread by the apologists of the BJP. Right from the inception of this Lok Sabha, the BJP has been saying that other parties will not be able to unite against it owing to their political differences. The events leading to the Vajpayee Ministry's defeat in the vote of confidence has shown that parties can unite for the good of the country. In fact, they behaved very responsibly. The BJP was given a fair chance to rule the country. But in one year, the Ministry made a mess of every aspect of governance, including such crucial areas as the economy and defence. That is when various parties united to remove it from office.

Still, all parties, including the Congress(I), have agreed to pass the Union Budget presented by the BJP. How do you justify that?

Here again, we are acting in the national interest. The uncertainty created by the collapse of the Government is affecting the country. The share market is on a downswing. Many industries that had planned their future course of action on the basis of the Budget proposals are floundering. All this had to be set right. That is why, despite our differences, we are passing the BJP's Budget. In any case, if we want to make amends, the new Government can do that.

Many leaders had said that a new government would be formed within 24 hours of the fall of the Government. But differences persist among parties.

Vajpayee took 15 days to form a government. Give us some time and the differences would be resolved to form a viable alternative.


Don't you think that the Congress(I) has compromised on principles by announcing its readiness to form a coalition government? Is it not against the Pachmarhi proposals?

Rules are made for the good of the country. The Pachmarhi proposals are right in their place. Those proposals took into account a long-term situation. At present, however, it was more important to oust the BJP Government. But the country cannot be pushed into frequent elections. Hence, our readiness to form a coalition government.

Leaders like L.K. Advani have said that the Congress(I) is just trying to set up a government that would help it oversee a mid-term poll...

What the leaders of the BJP should understand is that the Congress(I) forming a government is not like the BJP forming a government. Even when we formed a minority government in 1991, it proved stable for five years. You will see a similar phenomenon again.

There is a view that the alternative government may fail to muster the support of 272 MPs for a majority. Leaders like George Fernandes have already called for the reinstatement of the Vajpayee Government.

I can only term this as the joke of the millennium. The alternative government will have sufficient support, much more than what the BJP Government had.

Which means that the Congress(I) is back at its old game of engineering defections?

Why should you come to such a conclusion? Leaders like Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi have already stated that they would not oppose the government just for the sake of opposing it. With such well-meaning people around, why should we worry?

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