'BJP has changed a great deal'

Print edition : March 21, 1998

Among all of the BJP's regional friends who have contributed to its latest electoral performance, Ramakrishna Hegde's Lok Shakti in Karnataka has a special place. Hegde played a major role in the BJP's victory in the State. He threw himself into electioneering, driven as much by personal reasons as by political considerations. The perceived need to humble the Janata Dal and his arch-enemy H.D. Deve Gowda in a popular election was perhaps his strongest motivation. For the BJP, its successes in Karnataka mark a breakthrough in the South. However, as part of its post-poll stock-taking, the BJP has downplayed the contribution of its alliance partner. There is also evidence of a more serious fissure appearing in the alliance over the approach to take to the J.H. Patel Ministry. While the BJP has called for the resignation of the State Government and fresh elections, the Lok Shakti is clearly hoping that large-scale defections from the Janata Dal would automatically bring it to power. The BJP's emerging equation with this regional party may well set the tone for its relationship with other regional parties with which it will have to coexist in power in New Delhi. Parvathi Menon spoke to Ramakrishna Hegde to seek his views, with regard to his equation with the BJP and also the State Government led by J.H. Patel. Excerpts:

What are the reasons for the impressive performance of the BJP-Lok Shakti alliance?

It was because we fought jointly and with perfect coordination. Of course, the Lok Shakti did not get as many seats as we expected on our own, but we still did well.

There seems to be a difference of opinion between you and your alliance partner on the approach to be taken to the J.H. Patel Ministry.

Some of my friends in the Lok Shakti met the Governor and told him that he should not accept dissolution if Mr. Patel recommends it. After all, he is in a minority. The Governor must consult other political parties before taking such a step. Proper procedure has to be followed.

J.H. Patel has said that the Janata Dal must offer issue-based support to the BJP. Do you think he is saying this in order to save his Government from possible dismissal by a BJP government?

There can be no other interpretation. Till a day ago he was attacking the Lok Shakti and the BJP. Perhaps he is inspired by Chandrababu Naidu who is saying the same thing. Patel is buying time for his Ministry. There is a long session of the legislature, the budget session, starting now, and he doesn't want anything to happen to him. Once it is over he will get another six months' lease of life. And after that there is only a year left for elections.

Would you support a BJP government taking action against the State Government?

No, I would oppose that. I have always opposed the use of Article 356. I think the matter should be left to the parties in the legislature, through a vote of confidence... or Patel himself should step down. The right course is for him to step down and seek a fresh mandate, as I did in 1984-85. Their performance has been very poor and this is bound to generate disenchantment within the ruling party itself.

Is the Lok Shakti anticipating a situation where there are large scale defections from the ruling party to it so that the Ministry in effect becomes a Lok Shakti Ministry?

There is the possibility of that happening, and it won't be surprising at all. In 1971, when Veerendra Patil was Chief Minister and I was Finance Minister, the ruling party fared badly in the Lok Sabha elections. Those were the Garibi Hatao days. In two days, 40-50 MLAs crossed over to Indira Gandhi's camp and Veerendra Patil was forced to resign. The same thing happened in R. Gundu Rao's time too.

The BJP has been suggesting that the Lok Shakti's contribution to its performance was marginal and that the party really made it on its own.

Well, some people do not like to give credit where it is due. In the 10 constituencies we contested, we got 34.5 per cent of the vote. Overall there has been a 12 percentage point increase in the vote share.

Will you as an alliance partner oppose the Hindutva agenda of the BJP?

(Laughs) Well, as you can see from their statements, particularly what Mr. Vajpayee has been saying, the BJP has changed a great deal.

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