Of agendas and manifestoes

Print edition : March 21, 1998

Sunder Singh Bhandari, the BJP's senior vice-president and a Rajya Sabha member, served as the returning officer for the election of the leader of the BJP Parliamentary Party in New Delhi on March 7. Immediately after Atal Behari Vajpayee was unanimously elected, Bhandari, who hails from Rajasthan and who oversees the affairs of the party in Uttar Pradesh, spoke to V. Venkatesan about the BJP's performance in the elections, its strategy to form a stable government, and its relationship with its allies.

How would you assess the BJP's performance in the elections?

Overall, we are satisfied with the results. The political coup in Uttar Pradesh on February 21, however, adversely affected our prospects in at least five seats in the State. In constituencies such as Gonda, Faizabad, and Sambhal (where Mulayam Singh Yadav was the candidate), where our party lost, security arrangements were relaxed to facilitate booth-capturing and rigging.

In Maharashtra, the BJP and its ally, the Shiv Sena, suffered a reverse. Muslims and Dalits voted for the candidates put up by the Congress(I), the RPI and the Samajwadi Party. That made the whole difference. We did not expect this to happen to this extent. There was a possibility of triangular contests in several seats, but as the polling day approached, it became a straight contest. Our adversaries succeeded in polarising the votes in favour of the Congress(I) and its allies. Such a coming together of non-BJP parties may not take place again. We will strengthen our party among Dalits. The attitude of Muslims towards the BJP may also change.

In Rajasthan, it was always a close contest between us and the Congress. This time, one side has been favoured, perhaps because of the anti-incumbency factor. We will improve our administrative efficiency and redress the people's grievances. In spite of our raising national issues like stability and an able leadership, people seem to have voted on the basis of local issues. This has been the pattern throughout the country.

SUBIR ROY

Does that mean that the people of Maharashtra and Rajasthan have not endorsed your promise of stability and an able leadership?

No. When local issues were predominant, national issues became secondary in some areas. It did not mean that the people considered our claim to provide a stable and able government to be less valid.

Given the fact that the BJP and its allies are still short of real majority, how can you hope to offer a stable government? Will you bank on abstentions by your adversaries during trials of strength?

The stability of a BJP-led government need not depend on abstentions. We have positive strengths. The U.F. is not united; even Left parties like the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc have decided not to support a Congress(I)-led Government. There are dissensions within the Congress too. We hope to secure an absolute majority. We are confident of getting Bills passed in the House without any hurdle. There is no need to adopt any dubious method to continue in power. We see things to be in our favour. Independents and MPs from the northeastern States who did not oppose us in the elections can support us.

What is the nature of the BJP's relationship with its allies, some of whom do not share your perceptions on many issues? Will it affect stability?

Our relationship with our allies will be governed by the National Agenda, which is being drawn up. There may be issues on which we disagree. We can still express our demands, even if the National Agenda excludes them. It is for the Government to decide whether to consider the demands or not. The BJP will continue to demand the implementation of the promises it made in its manifesto, regardless of whether they are part of the National Agenda. If the Government goes, the Agenda too will go, whereas the party's manifesto will remain. We have to explain why we did not fulfil our party's manifesto in its entirety. The abrogation of Article 370, building of a Ram mandir at Ayodhya, and the enactment of a uniform civil code are parts of our manifesto, and have, like other promises in the manifesto, equal value and importance for us. Like us, our allies also have their own agendas and manifestoes. If a particular demand is not part of the National Agenda, then it is for the Government to consider it.

What would be your response, for instance, if your ally Jayalalitha demands the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government in Tamil Nadu?

She can go on demanding. Let the Government decide whether to consider it or not.

If she threatens withdrawal of support on this issue...

It all depends on her. Similarly, the BJP can go on demanding that a temple should be built at Ayodhya, though it is not part of the National Agenda. Nothing can prevent us from demanding it. But not every issue can destabilise the Government. Stability is not so fragile. After all, no one appreciated the Congress' demand for the removal of the three DMK Ministers from the U.F. Government supported by them.

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