For consensual politics

Published : Mar 07, 1998 00:00 IST

Once a central player in the politics of what has come to be called the United Front, Vishwanath Pratap Singh today sees himself in the role of a political commentator. The appellation of choice may reflect some modesty on his part, since his views still constitute the guiding principles for many within the U.F. Although illness and disinclination make him an unlikely participant in the frenetic efforts at Ministry formation that will follow the elections, his political perceptions still retain a certain relevance and acuteness. V.P. Singh spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan and S.K. Pande about the scenario that he sees emerging from the general elections. Excerpts:

The results are going to be in soon and the broad outlines of the new Lok Sabha seem fairly clear. It is likely to be an indecisive outcome and a possible alliance could take shape on the lines of 1996 to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party from assuming power. You have yourself spoken on this issue in the recent past. What is your perception at this stage?

Yes. But we should also realise the difficulties involved. It is a peculiar condition and a difficult one. Obviously, nobody is getting a clear majority. Last time an equation with the Congress was made, but it did not come easy because the regional parties and the Left, legitimately, had serious reservations. The regional parties and the Left were not inclined to join the government at all and it took a lot of effort to convince them. They joined the government finally, but there is no question of their supporting a Congress-led government this time. That is one hard reality.

The shared desire to keep the BJP out of power is not likely to be an adhesive...

At that time the U.F. was much larger than the Congress and the latter knew that it would not be able to lead. But many things have happened since then. The Jain Commission Report has now become an issue. The U.F. Government was brought down by the Congress on this very ground and the matter has been raised in the elections also. Naturally, any arrangement with the Congress would require the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to be out of government. It has burnt its boats with the DMK. That is why I was saying don't raise such issues, issues which will become very troublesome later on.

The U.F. will not give up the DMK. If they do so, the U.F.'s disintegration will begin. This is a political dilemma. Also, the Bofors issue has been revived. Certain names are known as the holders of the accounts into which money has flowed. There is agreement that action should be taken. There is a consensus that we should arrive at the truth. But let us see how this works. These are going to be the problems, and this time the Congress will bid for leadership. The U.F. will also bid, but the Congress will not concede its demand. And the Left too will not be inclined to support the Congress. The Samajwadi Party has shown a willingness to work with the Congress, nobody else has. So no immediate solutions are likely.

So there is likely to be a prolonged phase of negotiations that will test the patience of the nation?

Yes. Games will be played. Both the BJP and the Congress will try to create rifts within the U.F. But I have full confidence that the U.F., the regional parties and the Left, will hold.

But the S.P. seems more inclined to go along with the Congress...

That is why I say that the regional parties and the Left. What could happen in this scenario? Today everybody is saying that he will sit in the opposition. The Congress is saying that there is no question of an alliance with the U.F. and the U.F. is also saying that they would rather sit in the opposition. Let us take each of them at their word. The BJP will be invited. The government will not last because it will be voted out. It is a peculiar dilemma. You cannot form a government, you cannot run a government.

Some kind of realignment should be forced in that case. You have yourself spoken about the possibilities...

All I am saying is that there are national issues like the economy, defence, corruption in administration, unemployment, education. All these are major issues. There should be a dialogue between among the parties to come to certain conclusions on these. What happens if differences are always projected? The nation will come to the conclusion that in running the affairs of the country, the top leaders are totally damaging it. There could be a dialogue and at least on these issues, whoever runs the government should get support. This would build confidence within the country and also send a favourable message to other countries. With all the mudslinging that people see in elections, a sort of diffidence arises about the capacity of the country itself. It is demoralising. So there should be an emphasis on areas of consensual politics, rather than confrontational attitudes.

You are referring to a situation of consensus by compulsion...

Yes. We cannot agree on everything. That would be Utopia. Differences are necessary. Social and economic conditions are different. It is because of these differences and discontents arising from social hierarchy that changes come. These are the engines of change. But in spite of all this, there should be a voice, a common voice, of all the political parties, which indicates that the country is united on these issues. And not just by general proposition, but by certain steps that should be spelt out. For instance, if you look at the economic programmes, there are lots of differences, but on certain issues you will find general agreement.

From national consensus are you moving towards advocating a national government of sorts?

No, no. A national government is impractical. You will have governments of particular parties. But on certain issues, a message should go to the country that there is agreement. There is hope that something will be achieved on this front.

What kind of a configuration of parties would you need to put this scheme into practice?

Now you are speaking of government. I was speaking of a situation irrespective of government. There is a need for such emphasis. But what is seen today is leaders just speaking out against each other. But for someone like me who is just a spectator, I can see that there are several commonalities, which are not emphasised.

Do you feel alienated from this sort of politics?

Not alienated, I have opted out.

Midway through the election campaign, it seemed that although your heart was with the U.F., you had begun to go a bit soft on Sonia Gandhi in particular and the Congress in general..

I have not said anything beyond what some of the more important persons within the U.F. have. I have just spoken of dialogue. The S.P. has gone ahead and entered into an alliance in Maharashtra. I think that was the right thing to do. The Left parties, after their meeting in Calcutta, made a statement advocating a softer approach towards the Congress in areas where the U.F. presence is not there. I have only said that we should not use language which is abrasive, nothing more than that.

But we have a situation of conflict between the Congress and the U.F. constituents in most States. So how is it realistic to say that they should avoid abrasive language?

That I have made very clear. Let me repeat my statement. I have said it very clearly that the fight has to be vigorous against the Congress in Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. I have been consistent in this position. What I said earlier is that in the States where the U.F. is not strong, then those units at the State level could make seat adjustments to defeat the communal forces. This was rejected by the U.F. And then I said that I have thrown the proposal into the waste-basket. This was earlier. All that I have said recently is that in those regions where the U.F. is not very strong, there should be a constituency-wise approach so that the best secular-minded candidate is successful.

One view I have always held is that there is a need for two strong secular formations. I have held right from the beginning that in my model of democracy, the opposition space is as important as the ruling space. We have been concentrating on the ruling space and not bothering about whether the opposition space remains secular or not. We not only have to squeeze out communalism from the ruling space but contain it within the opposition space too, so that the oscillation of the pendulum is between two secular alternatives rather than between communalism and secularism.

At the same time, I have also lost faith in what is called "anti-politics", whether anti-Congressism or anti-BJPism. It does not lead anywhere. Anti-Congressism has prevailed in two situations, in 1977 and 1989, both times involving the BJP. It has strengthened the BJP in the final analysis. Anti-BJPism has led us to close our eyes to all kinds of corruption and scams. Do you think that a government led or supported by the Congress could do anything about the scams that have come to light?

You seem to have a pessimistic attitude towards the current situation...

No, I am a realist. I do not believe that the present is final, as a pessimist would. I am a realist. I see a bad situation. But things can be changed. I have been party to changes and I have seen changes. But we should see the reality and see it for what it is.

The situation today is that either the BJP will occupy the leading position in the ruling space or the entire opposition space. Either way the BJP seems to be the beneficiary...

The price is being paid. Any combine of the U.F. and the Congress cannot go into the past. If you do not get together, the BJP will gain. If you sit alone, even then the BJP forms the government, it is voted out and then you have no government again. So it is a difficult situation. But the solution will come and it will come by a complex process. And the process by which the new arrangement is worked out will influence its longevity.

Do you see long-term gains for the BJP from the splits within the secular ranks?

One cannot say so very clearly. Everybody would have thought that after they made a big issue of Ayodhya and the demolition of the mosque, they would win in U.P. But they were routed by a new social consolidation. The game is now between the various social groups and how they consolidate. So, the social groups are now in the process of settling down. They will settle down and a sort of stability will emerge when we have stable social combinations in power.

I think that after the 1996 general elections, you said that it would take two more general elections for some semblance of stability to emerge...

I still maintain this. If you see some of my statements from five years back, I have always said that this condition will continue till the end of the century. Politics is being changed at the ground level, and political parties are being tossed around in ways that they are yet to understand.

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