On ideology and governance

Print edition : July 20, 2002
Interview with Arun Jaitley.

The leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party has passed into the hands relatively of young leaders. In this interview to V. Venkatesan in New Delhi on July 14, Arun Jaitley, who quit as Union Law Minister to take over as the party's general secretary and chief spokesperson, explains what the changes mean for the party and the government. He does not see any conflict between ideology and governance. But where the two "do not mix", he finds "no harm if the party projects governance alone". He dismissed the suggestion that Advani wields extra-constitutional authority in the party as a perversity. Excerpts from the interview:

Both you and M. Venkaiah Naidu have been given important political responsibilities although you have no independent political bases. How do you plan to steer the party in the coming Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland?


I cannot speak about myself, but Venkaiah Naidu is certainly the best choice the party could have as its president. He has held several positions in the party hierarchy, and he knows how to motivate party workers, who are the key link between the party and the electorate. Charisma is not built in a day; Naidu has a number of years ahead, and it is too early to worry about his lack of charisma. After all, both Vajpayeeji and Advaniji became charismatic over the years.

Except you and Venkaiah Naidu, none of the Ministers has quit to take up party work, even though Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had claimed that many had offered to do so.

Of course, there were many who had offered to quit the government to take up party work. But it does not mean that the Prime Minister should let many of his colleagues to leave the government and create a crisis-like situation.

At the National Executive meeting in Goa, L.K. Advani said the party should not be apologetic about its ideology. He has often said in the past that ideology has no role to play in large areas of governance. Now that the BJP's new team is keen on projecting the achievements of the government at the Centre, will it mean less of ideology for the party?

I do not see any conflict between ideology and governance. In fact, there is an interface between ideology and governance where the party can play a useful role. In that sense, the Goa formulation that we need not be apologetic about ideology is relevant. Where ideology and governance do not mix, there is no harm if the party projects governance alone.

When the BJP was an Opposition party, it used to treat electoral setbacks with equanimity. Is there a sense of desperation now to retain power at all costs, which is reflected in your emphasis on ensuring victories in the next round of elections to some State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha?

We are in the business of politics, and we are in the business of winning elections. If we lose, we try to learn and we have to rejuvenate ourselves. As a political party, we cannot be indifferent to defeats.

How do you explain the perception created by Venkaiah Naidu that the party, rather than the government, is responsible for its recent electoral setbacks?

No, it is absolutely wrong. I don't think anybody has said that the party is responsible. First, it is the party which leads the government. Secondly, the party has to create a perception about the governance, which is so good. Thirdly, we must have an active party machinery, to be able to communicate all these. Venkaiah Naidu did not say that the party is responsible (for the defeats); when we fail to communicate effectively our government's policies, programmes and performance to the people, there is always scope for improvement. It does not mean the party did not attempt it. What he said was that the party is the instrument that is expected to create an environment on the basis of the positive performance of the government.

Does the party president have any role in influencing the electorate? During the election campaign, it is Vajpayee or Advani who articulates the party's stand on various issues. But you seem to have blamed Jana Krishnamurthi's leadership for the party's poor electoral performance.

I think you are underestimating the role of lakhs of our party workers all over the country, who put the party in campaign mode, by giving their sweat and blood for the party. Top leaders will not be able to achieve much but for these cadres. Therefore, what is the training of these cadres, how are you going to mobilise these cadres and enthuse them - that is the role of the party organisation. You cannot just decide an election in one month of campaign. You have to build up the organisational machinery - one which goes right up to the polling booth, which has to be motivated. And that is not done in four weeks. It takes a few years and almost a generation to build up that machinery.

Do you think that the party was dormant in this respect?

I have not said that. There is always scope for improvement.

Advani's emergence as Deputy Prime Minister has coincided with the BJP's request to him to interact with the party much more frequently than what was possible earlier. Just as the Indian Constitution does not state anything on the post of Deputy Prime Minister, the BJP's constitution has nothing to say about the powers of an extra-constitutional authority like Advani in party matters. Are we heading towards an arrangement in which an influential person plays a crucial role in the party and the government without much by way of accountability?

I would have ordinarily sympathised with the spirit behind this question. This is not the first time in this country that the post of Deputy Prime Minister has been created. Are you trying to suggest that Sardar Patel as Deputy Prime Minister was an extra-constitutional authority created by Jawaharlal Nehru? Nobody ever in history has suggested this. I reject that suggestion.

As far as the party is concerned, Vajpayee and Advani are unquestionably the two topmost leaders. Vajpayee is our supreme leader. Advani has always been temperamentally interacting with the party. The suggestion of extra-constitutionality is perversity. The perception of his role differs, depending on who has that perception. I don't think any of us is competent to talk about the general perception (about Advani's role). We can talk about ourselves.

Is the BJP nothing more than a public relations department of the government? That is the impression one gets if one goes by your emphasis on the party's duty to project the positive achievements of the government.

Political marketing has one basic principle to follow, which is applicable even in commercial markets. If a product you sell is inherently good, it markets its own self. People have a sense of fairness. Performance projects itself; the party is also one of the instruments to do so.

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