'Caution will be my watchword'

Print edition : November 27, 1999

Ram Prakash Gupta was as surprised as the rest of the political class in Uttar Pradesh when he was chosen as Kalyan Singh's successor. Known for his austere ways, 76-year-old Ram Prakash Gupta's qualification for the top job was that he was not pa rt of any group in the State unit of the BJP and was acceptable to all groups. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met the Chief Minister at his official residence in Lucknow to find out about his priorities and how he proposed to pursue them. Excerpts from th e interview:

You have taken over as Chief Minister at a time when the BJP faces internal dissension. Also, there are complaints about misrule by the earlier regime. What are your priorities now?

My primary objective is to improve the understanding between the party and the government. In this, I am getting support from all sections, including the MLAs of the ruling coalition, the workers of our party and the people in general. I myself am a repr esentative of the high command and that ensures the cooperation of the central leadership. Because of these factors, I am certain that my job will be relatively easy and that I will be able to accomplish the party's objectives.

SUBIR ROY

During the Kalyan Singh regime, sections of the State and central leaderships identified three major problems - lack of coordination between the government and the party; tussles between various factions led by prominent leaders; and divisions on cas te lines in the State leadership, which had manifested themselves during the Lok Sabha elections. What specific steps would you take to address these issues?

These are not permanent problems that cannot be solved. These can be overcome with some care by the leadership, including the Chief Minister. But problems such as these should not be seen as the creation of a single person. Nor is finding a solution to t hem the responsibility of one person. And, if the government and the party function in such a manner as to bring welfare and justice to the people without bias or favour, these problems would disappear automatically.

There is a perception that you are a stop-gap Chief Minister with a specific brief - to run a feel-good government that would create the right ambience for mid-term elections. It is also said that because of your long absence from active politics, yo u have difficulty in understanding and adapting to contemporary political practice.

Elections are not in my mind. Nor are they part of my brief. As far as I am concerned, elections are far way. My task is to provide good governance and I want to strive towards this end with the help of my MLAs and the bureaucracy. With regard to my abil ity to adapt to the new political situation, I have full knowledge of the situation, its challenges and nuances. I am also aware that there is no use talking about the past. But I am sure that I can learn what is to be learnt, by taking a realistic appro ach, realising my strengths and weaknesses as they are. My effort will be to make my actions speak louder than words. That, I hope, will put an end to all this talk about my inability to adapt to the political situation.

You said that providing justice and welfare to the people would be your primary concern. Does it imply that the Kalyan Singh regime was not able to do this?

I do not say that. My predecessors have done so much. But nobody is perfect. There could have been decisions and programmess that upset people. I will look into all these.

Some decisions taken by Kalyan Singh during the last days of his government, particularly the one on the appointment of his friends and close associates to sinecures, have generated controversy. Will you review these decisions?

There is no need to review all decisions. But if there are specific charges, I shall look into them.

A section within the BJP is opposed to the reforms initiated by Kalyan Singh in the financial and power sectors and in local administration...

I shall look into such specific questions. There is a perception that some of these plans were pushed ahead in a hasty manner. So, caution will be my watchword.

Could this review lead to a rollback of some of these steps?

It could. If a rollback is in the interests of the people, we will do that. I want to assert that these measures should not be seen as steps against a person or a group. I would like decisions on these matters to be unanimous. Hence, I shall ensure wide- ranging consultations on these matters.

There is a perception that Kalyan Singh is being isolated by both your government and the party. The exclusion of his supporters from the Cabinet is cited as a case in point.

This is all media speculation. You will see all of us working together harmoniously.

There is the feeling that the intervention of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in government will increase, since you are more committed to the RSS than Kalyan Singh is.

There will be no need for the RSS to intervene. All its intervention will be done through me, because I am the seniormost RSS worker in Uttar Pradesh. There could be more important RSS leaders in the State, but there is unanimous opinion about my being t he living example of the RSS way of life, values and ideals. So I am there to take care of the RSS interests and there is no need for intervention.

But many of the BJP's allies, such as the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC) and the Janatantrik Bahujan Samaj Party (JBSP), do not accept the Hindutva philosophy of the RSS.

I would like to affirm that none of the RSS' ideals is against the people. The RSS is pro-poor and wants to remove corruption from society. The RSS has idealism unmatched by any other organisation. If I may add, the Hindutva philosophy was manifest in a striking manner in Mahatma Gandhi. If you realise the fact that Gandhi was the greatest Hindu of this century, then there is no difficulty in understanding Hindutva. The RSS has kept Gandhi as part of its "pratha smarana" (things and people to be remembered first in the morning) along with Rama and Krishna. People do not try to understand Hindutva in all its depth. They approach it superficially. To some people you are Hindu if you become anti-Muslim. I do not think these people are Hindus.

But it was the BJP and the Sangh Parivar that created this impression during the Ayodhya agitation.

I would only like to say that the basic Hindu value of life is humanity. I believe that this is the value in Islam and Christianity too. My effort will be to underscore this and create a situation of harmony in Uttar Pradesh society.

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