BJP president L.K. Advani is on the defensive with regard to the size and composition of Kalyan Singh's Ministry but blames Governor Romesh Bhandari for it. Excerpts from an interview with V. Venkatesan:Was it a pyrrhic victory for the BJP in U.P.?
I don't think it is a pyrrhic victory. Our adversaries - I include not merely the political parties opposed to us but also Governor Romesh Bhandari - were determined to remove the Kalyan Singh Government and impose President's rule. The BJP foiled this conspiracy. The Governor's decision to give only 36 hours to Kalyan Singh to prove his majority was a very clever device. This is principally responsible for the size and composition of the new Council of Ministers. If, as has been laid down by all the authorities concerned, including the Sarkaria Commission, a reasonable time, say a week or 10 days, had been given to Kalyan Singh, the arrangement that we entered into with the splinter groups of the Congress, the BSP and the Janata Dal who decided to support our Government, would not have been so untidy and clumsy.
It is because of this victory in U.P. that there is consternation and panic in the Congress in New Delhi. No, we have done nothing in New Delhi as yet, except to say that if the Congress were to split in Delhi, and if a section of Congress MPs decide to support a BJP government, we would consider - which was not our stand earlier.Have you got any feelers from the Congress?
So many feelers. But I do not know really what strength they have. Because if it is to be a splinter, it should have one-third of the party's strength in the Lok Sabha. Whether they will be able to muster that one-third or not, I do not know.
How was the Governor responsible for the Ministry's size?
The Governor knew that if he were to recommend the dismissal of the Government before Kalyan Singh could seek a vote of confidence, the President would not agree. He was confident that Kalyan Singh would not be able to prove his majority in 36 hours. And then there would be ample scope either for the imposition of President's rule or even for an alternative government. But we foiled his design. However, there was no one leader representing the Congress, Janata Dal and BSP breakaway groups, speaking on behalf of all of them; every MLA was separate. Had we had the time, the breakaway parties could have been regrouped into viable groups. Then it would have been different.
How do you compare the 1995 situation in U.P. when Mayawati pulled out of the Mulayam Singh Yadav Ministry with the present one? Mulayam Singh was denied an opportunity to prove his majority on the floor of the House.
Mulayam Singh was removed in 1995 because he refused to abide by the Governor's request that the session be convened within a reasonable time - eight or ten days. Mulayam Singh, however, said that he had already announced a session which was one month ahead. He refused to seek a vote of confidence within the time suggested by the Governor.
Has not Kalyan Singh's jumbo Ministry eroded the BJP's image and credibility?
At a certain level, yes. In U.P. there is no reaction. Considering the size of the Assembly, if you were to compare this Ministry with Ministries in other States, it would not be deemed to be oversized. I am not justifying it; I am not rationalising it. I have myself expressed my unhappiness. Vajpayee also did so; Kalyan Singh himself is not happy. The former Chief Minister of Sikkim, Nar Bahadur Bhandari, has issued a statement saying why are the United Front people shouting about the U.P. Government. He said that the Sikkim Assembly has 32 members, whereas the present ruling party there, which is a constituent of the U.F., has 16 Ministers - 50 per cent of the strength of the Assembly; Kalyan Singh's Ministry constitutes just 22 per cent of the Assembly's strength. Every district wants a Minister. There are 85 districts; and there are several districts that have no Minister. I do not know how we can reduce the present strength of the Ministry. But we have it in mind and we will see how it can be dealt with on the appropriate occasion.
What in your view should be the ideal strength of the Ministry? Will you support a constitutional amendment limiting the size of Ministries?
Yes. The original proposal (as recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission) is all right: 10 per cent of the strength of the Legislative Assembly of the State and 11 per cent if a State has a bicameral legislature.
What is the BJP's stand on the demand for an amendment to the Anti-Defection Act?
We have been asking for it. We regard it significant and a revealing fact that for all these years when the lacunae in the law were being utilised by the Congress to engineer defections from other parties to strengthen their position, even though they said that these lacunae should be removed, they never moved even an inch. And now when they are at the receiving end, they are not only talking about amending the law but talking about amending the law through an ordinance - which only shows the state of panic in the Congress. I have been of the view that if a person resigns from the party on whose ticket he has been elected, whether it is in the singular or in the plural, all such members should forfeit their membership. I have reservations about extending the definition of defectors to all those who violate a party whip. In effect, this means total suppression of dissent. There can be conscientious dissent in certain matters. Or it may be regarded as a case of indiscipline. Dissent and indiscipline should be tackled by a party through normal party sanctions. This extreme step of divesting an elected member of his membership should be confined exclusively to defections. Violation of a whip, entailing forfeiture of membership, should be confined only to a no-confidence motion or confidence vote or a motion that can lead to the fall of a government.
Has the party been able to solve the controversy over the reported remarks of Govindacharya against Vajpayee? Do you see any design behind the episode?
I think it is over. Govindacharya met Vajpayee. They talked about the whole issue. Nothing remains. Some people have been trying to circulate stories aimed at senior individuals in the party like Govindacharya and also try to create an image of dissension. These people are outside the party.
The Bommai judgment of the Supreme Court has a mandate for secularism, and for action against parties and State governments violating the constitutional philosophy that prohibits the mixing of religion and politics. Is not Kalyan Singh guilty of mixing religion and politics because he stated, after assuming office, that he is committed to building a temple at Ayodhya?
No mixing of religion and politics has taken place. I wish the phraseology of the law were appreciated. The law talks about the abuse of certain attributes such as religion, language, caste and race for political and electoral ends. By itself, these attributes are not bad. Unfortunately, under Marxist influence people draw a distinction between these words. They think it is religion that is bad. The other three, language, caste and race, are not bad. My view is that all these are benign attributes. Only their abuse has to be condemned. Bommai was a different matter. Many people have disagreed with that part of the judgment. But basically we have to abide by what is said in the law.