One of the more significant outcomes of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission Report is that it has highlighted the Bharatiya Janata Party's growing discomfort with its coalition partner, the Shiv Sena. As Chief Minister Manohar Joshi launched a venomous attack in the Maharashtra Assembly on Justice Srikrishna's findings, the BJP maintained a studied silence. The reasons for that silence are not difficult to find. The BJP finds its efforts to represent itself as a responsible party of governance compromised by the Shiv Sena's overt communalism, and is discovering that significant sections of its middle-class electorate have been alienated by the Shiv Sena's politics. In this interview to Praveen Swami, Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Gopinath Munde pointedly distanced himself from the Shiv Sena's stand. Excerpts:
The BJP has been relatively silent on the Srikrishna Commission Report. What is your party's stand?
The BJP's reaction to this report is simple. We have accepted the recommendations made by Justice Srikrishna in toto. We have accepted what he has to say on the police force, and the need for its modernisation. On this front, I have already acted to improve intelligence, vehicle strengths, communications, and so on. The Commission also made certain observations and remarks on Bal Thackeray, Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, Madhukar Sarpotdar, and the Shiv Sena. The Chief Minister objected strongly to these remarks. We have also regretted them. But on the Commission's recommendations for action, the BJP is in complete agreement.
The Chief Minister explicitly charged that the report was pro-Muslim.
We do not believe the report has any bias in favour of any community or person. That was the Chief Minister's personal opinion.
But surely Manohar Joshi speaks for the Government?
Of course he does. As the Chief Minister, he represents the Government. But as the Deputy Chief Minister and the Home Minister of this Govern-ment, I also speak for this Government. I do not believe that the Justice Srikrishna Report is biased in favour of any community. That is all I have to say on this subject.
The report also charges the BJP with some degree of complicity in the riots, pointing to the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the maha aartis in Mumbai and so on.
Those are Justice Srikrishna's views, but they are not correct. There was indeed a reaction against the events at Ayodhya, but it was not linked to the BJP's movement for the construction of a Ram mandir. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement predated the Mumbai riots by a long time. If it was provocative, why did the riots in Mumbai not take place during its course? Lal Krishan Advaniji's rath yatra had passed through Mumbai in a completely peaceful manner, which disproves the theory that the movement for a Ram mandir was the cause of the riots. As for the maha aartis, the BJP had no role in them. They were a spontaneous reaction of the community to Muslims reading the namaaz on the streets and so on. They were not political in nature.
On the eve of the tabling of the Action Taken Report in the Assembly, there was speculation that there would be violence. Is such violence possible in the future?
I do not believe that there is a possibility of further riots. As the Home Minister, I will not compromise on law and order issues. I will not tolerate rioting. We have been in power for three and a half years now, and there has been no incident of rioting in Mumbai and other communal riot-prone towns. That is proof of our effective governance. This time, we brought in the Gujarat Police, the Rapid Action Force, and the Central Reserve Police Force to ensure that trouble makers were not given any opportunity. I even posted police personnel right in front of the offices of certain political parties, regardless of the party involved, to ensure that peace was maintained. I did not consider which party was involved, only the need for maintaining law and order. You do not have to believe me on this, or our record in office. Satisfy yourself by asking Muslims in Mumbai what my record has been, and whether anyone can accuse me of partiality. As I said, there has not been and will not be any compromise on the security of citizens.
There has been considerable comment on the erosion in popular support for the Shiv Sena-BJP Government, particularly after the Lok Sabha elections. Allegations of corruption and misadministration are at an all time high.
That is not true. The Government has managed to fulfil many of the promises it made during the election campaign. We have also investigated complaints of corruption against our own Ministers, which is unprecedented. Of course, in some areas there is still a lot of work to be done. But I am confident we will realise all our promises. As for the Lok Sabha results, Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are two different things. The next elections in the State will prove my point.