Starting out as a member of panchayat, Shanta Kumar became the first non-Congress chief minister to rule the state, and was then appointed as a union cabinet minister in the National Democratic Alliance government. Having witnessed many ups and downs in his political career spanning more than 50 years, he quit electoral politics two-and-a-half years ago, but is back now. HT talked to him on a number of issues. Excerpts:
HT: You had quit electoral politics two years ago. What is making you contest the elections this year?
Shanta Kumar: Yes, I had told the party that I will not contest any election. However, the party leadership wanted me to contest these polls as the political scene is changing rapidly, with the anti-Congress wave sweeping across the country. I have an opportunity to serve the people again.
Rebels to whom you were opposed earlier are being taken back into the party. Is this not politics of personal benefit?
I was never opposed to anyone. Even when Maheshwar Singh and others were contemplating moving away, they put the decision on hold at my request. However, as the party did not realise the importance of these leaders, it led to a split. Now, I am happy that most of them are back in the party and want Maheshwar to return.
You had never been on good terms with Prem Kumar Dhumal. Does the rift still exist?
It is not true. I share cordial relations with Dhumal, though there may be differences on policy decisions or some other issues. It happens in a family, but it should not be reflected like there is a big divide.
You talk about corruption. Why are you defending the HPCA, which is embroiled in cases of irregularities?
I have never spoken about the merit of the case, but I condemn the way the government has taken decisions in haste, whether it was the midnight swoop to take over the HPCA’s property or the prosecution sanction against former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. It clearly reflects the vindictive nature of the government’s actions.
People cast doubt over you and Virbhadra praising each other. What is your stand?
We are from the generation which believes in politics of values and never hitting anybody below the belt. We never touched that low in politics that the Indian democracy is witnessing today. Even if we condemned each other, there was always a sense of reverence.
Post Godhra, you were critical of Modi. Why this change of heart?
Everybody should have courage to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances are. In those circumstances, I spoke against what I felt was wrong. Vajpayee ji too said what he felt was right at that time. However, the situation has changed a lot since then. Now I am saying what I feel is right. Your point of view about a person cannot be the same forever. It changes with the change in the person.
How will the Congress raking up the issue of Modi’s marital life impact the poll outcome?
Leaders raising irrelevant issues shows that Indian democracy has not become mature yet. Instead of debating on issues linked to the common man, Congress leaders are busy raking up someone’s personal life. Modi ji was attracted towards stoicism after his marriage and left home. We have many such examples in the lives of saints.