'Our request was moderate'

Print edition : December 13, 1997

Congress president Sitaram Kesri today is fighting off the image of a weak leader and of a person carried along by forces that he does not even agree with. The events that followed the publication of the Jain Commission's Interim Report and the Congress decision to topple the United Front Government are widely considered to be examples of his lack of control of events. In an interview he gave Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Kesri gives his perception of the issues.

Do you now think that the Congress overreacted to the Jain Commission report? Had the party not taken such an extreme position, elections could have been averted.

What do you mean by extreme position? Rajiv Gandhi, who was our supreme leader, was assassinated and the Commission that investigated the matter indicted the DMK. All that we requested was that that party be kept out of the Union Ministry until the investigation is completed. We made it clear that it can come back to the Ministry if further investigations exonerated the party. It was the United Front that took an extreme position and forced elections on the country.

You were being credited with a moderate view; it was being said that you were against pushing too hard for the removal of the DMK but were overwhelmed by pressure from within the party.

Our request was moderate. There was no pressure from within the party to take any extreme position. All that is the imagination of the media.

What is the electoral strategy of the Congress? What are its campaign planks?

The Congress is the only party in the country that has assimilated all the positive elements of India's struggle for Independence. In the 50th year of Independence, the biggest threat that the country faces is communalism. Communal forces threaten the country's Constitution and its secular character. The interests of Dalits, minorities and the backward castes are being threatened. We will put an end to all this. Being the largest secular party, we are committed to protecting the Constitution. Experience has taught the country that only the Congress can provide a stable government and guide the country properly. The elections will reflect this realisation of the people.

If the biggest threat is from communalism, why did the party bring down a secular Government on an issue like the Interim Report of the Jain Commission?

Look, you should not mix issues up. The Jain Commission report has its place and the threat of communal forces has its place.

You consider the threat of communal forces as the major election issue?

Definitely.

Sitaram Kesri displays to mediapersons a copy of the letter he submitted to the President withdrawing support to the U.F. Government-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

And the indictment of the DMK has only secondary importance?

Both are important. One is a question concerning the future of the nation and the other is an issue of giving punishment for past mistakes. Both have to be carried out.

If elections produce a hung Parliament, what stand will the Congress take?

We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Is the Congress trying to ally with regional parties?

We will join hands with all like-minded parties that are ready to combat communalism.

But some of the major political adversaries of the communal forces are in the U.F.

We will associate with them also. Could you be specific? Not now. Let things crystallise.

It is said that the Congress does not have a leader to direct the election campaign and that this has led to the cry that Sonia Gandhi should lead it.

A request was made to Soniaji to lead the party not because we do not have a leader. The Congress collective leadership is the best. But we all feel unanimously that the family that has contributed so much to the country should continue to do so.

Will Sonia Gandhi be able effectively to address national issues such as communalism? There is an opinion that Sonia Gandhi is still not Indian enough and her understanding of contemporary political issues begins and ends with the Jain Commission report.

This is a canard spread by the BJP. Soniaji is as much or more Indian than I or Advaniji. And why can't she address national issues? She feels concern for the poor and the downtrodden and knows what Rajivji's vision for the country was. She will make an able leader.

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