When Sonia Gandhi decided to campaign for the Congress(I), observers were quick to conclude that the influence of Congress Working Committee member and former Union Minister Arjun Singh in the affairs of the party would grow, given his known proximity to the family. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Arjun Singh to find out his assessment of the situation in the Congress(I) and national politics after Sonia's campaign got under way. Excerpts from the interview:
You have all along wanted Sonia Gandhi to enter politics. Now that she is campaigning for the Congress(I), how do you see the situation?
I never demanded that she enter politics. My consistent approach has been that a decision on that must be taken by her. But I had also held that if and when she took a positive decision, it would be in the interests of the country and certainly in the interests of the Congress. Now that she has decided to campaign, what is happening around the country is what all of us expected.
Some of your former party colleagues - Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, for instance - are of the opinion that her decision has come too late for it to have any impact.
That is their opinion. Since he is no longer in the party, I do not think that I should take his opinion.
Many of your former colleagues also believe that Sonia Gandhi will not have any real say in the organisational affairs of the Congress(I).
Let them have their reservations. Events will prove whether they are right or wrong.
You had said that under P.V. Narasimha Rao's leadership, the Congress(I) was deviating from the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. Will Sonia Gandhi be able to correct these deviations?
All our problems have arisen because of this deviation. As a matter of fact, many of these deviations have already been corrected in various party forums, including at the All India Congress Committee session in Calcutta. Soniaji is only trying to re-emphasise what the Congress meant for the country and what it still means, and why it should be strengthened.
Sonia Gandhi's decision to campaign raised apprehensions within the Congress(I) that the Jain Commission's Interim Report on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination would become the central campaign issue.
Has she spoken one word on the Jain Commission? It is not for her to say anything on that. The Congress party has to say it. There were attempts to bury the entire issue of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, first by Narasimha Rao, by denying (the Commission) documents. For four years, the Commission was not allowed to function; it has functioned only for two and a half years. The country must know this.
But Narasimha Rao is still part of the Congress(I), from which you expect a more active role in the matter.
That is not the point. He did what he did and that is now documented in the Jain Commission report itself. The present regime is not giving the Commission vital documents that are required for the inquiry into the conspiracy aspects. What has Prime Minister I.K. Gujral to hide? Whom is he helping? After having promised the Congress president that the Government would do everything to see that the inquiry is completed and the guilty are punished, why is Gujral not giving the documents? Gujral's rhetoric will not help. He is involved in this game of cover-up as much as Narasimha Rao was.
In your view, is this the central issue in the elections?It will be one of the very important issues.
But some sections of the Congress(I) feel that this will distract from the main issue, that of fighting communalism.
The fight against communalism is also on. But why do you want to rate national issues? I maintain that this will be one of the main issues.
Some allegations against the Nehru-Gandhi family, such as allegations relating to the Bofors issue, are bound to be back in focus with Sonia Gandhi's entry.
Soniaji herself has said that the truth should come out. She has demanded that all the papers related to the investigation should be made public.
But there is a feeling that this will backfire on the Congress(I).
That is what some people wish will happen. Let us be very candid about this. What Rajiv Gandhi said in Parliament - that he is not involved - has not been controverted by facts. Soniaji has only put it in a more precise manner. She has said that if you have any proof of the involvement of Rajiv Gandhi and his family, it should be produced and probed. Innuendoes and insinuations will not answer this question. Gujral says that some people are trying to thwart the investigation. Why does he not name them? Is it Sonia Gandhi? Is it Priyanka Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi? Rajiv Gandhi cannot come and thwart the probe now. We want to know the names. That is what Soniaji wants, that is what the country wants. We have had enough of this mudslinging. There are some people who would like Bofors to become a frightening ghost. If it is not a ghost for Soniaji and her family, it will not be a ghost for us.
The BJP talks of 'Ram rajya versus Rome rajya.'
They are not aware of the legacy and tradition of this country. There has never been a conflict in this country between Rome rajya or Mecca rajya or Ram rajya. All religions have co-existed in India with respect and honour. They are conjuring up this conflict because they do not have anything else to say. And that is how they are dividing the country.