Bred on Rashtriya Sawyamsevak Sangh ideology, National Senior Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader, Shanta Kumar (78) is the driving force behind saffron party's "mission repeat" in hill state.
One of the founder members of BJP, Kumar became the first ever non-Congress chief minister of the state in 1977. He is remembered as pioneer of "no-work, no-pay policy and public welfare scheme like "Antoydaya Yojna".
The party heavily depends upon the veteran leader while devising the poll strategy and selection of candidates. Kumar shares his optimism regarding the party's prospects in ensuing polls in a freewheeling chat with Hindustan Times staff reporter Naresh Thakur. Stating that party was united and will retain the power, BJP stalwart also speaks of the latest controversy surrounding party national president, Nitin Gadkari.
Q. With BJP voyaging on "mission repeat" in hill state, are you confident that party will be able to retain the power?
A.It is definite that BJP will form the next government in Himachal. Congress has been exposed due to the corruption. This is in the first time in history that Congress has faced so much embarrassment. Everyday a new scam surfaces in New Delhi. Current UPA government is the most corrupt government in the history of India. In Himachal, the Congress has projected a leader as chief ministerial candidate who is facing corruption charges and was even forced to resign from Union Ministry. The CD controversy is following him like a shadow and now he is accused of accepting bribe from ISPAT group. So who will vote for Congress or with what face Congress will seek votes. As for as the BJP is concerned, the party in its current regime in the state under the leadership of chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has done extraordinarily in all sectors and we are seeking votes on development.
Q. Do you think that anti - incumbency factor will affect party's prospects in ensuing polls?
A.If we see the present scenario in the state, there is no anti- incumbency factor. Second thing is that the people are fed up of the Congress. I have already said that the election of Himachal Pradesh will not be simply a mandate on formation of new government. People of Himachal, even Gujarat will vote on corruption issue and it will be like a referendum.
People know that it is the corruption that is responsible for inflation, poverty and is ruining the country. People are determined to get rid of it and it will become clear very soon.
Q. There is a battery of rebels who have entered the poll fray as independent candidates; won't the rebel factor affect BJP's "mission repeat"?
A.I will say there has been a degeneration of Indian politics. Selfish people have entered into the politics. This pollution of politics has also affected our party. But I want make one thing clear - the BJP is not a party of rebels and tainted people. Sacrifice is the tradition of our party. No tainted or rebel will be allowed to stay in the party. Only those will remain in party who have worked with dedication and are always ready to sacrifice in party's interest. After this election we are going to take some drastic actions like those who are betraying the party will never be taken back. Some have been legislature for four to five times but back stabbed party when they were denied ticket. I appeal to those people that it is high time to comeback or they will be expelled forever.
Q. Some of your loyalists parted way with the party. Are you pained over their move?
A.It is very painful that the people who were given respect by party took such step. People who couldn't think of becoming a member of Panchayat were made MLA's and ministers. It is unfortunate that they betrayed the party. Neither god nor people will forgive them. I reiterate my appeal to them that don't commit such mistakes and if they are firm on their decision then I will appeal to the party workers to decide whether they want dedicated leaders or rebels. I am confident the party workers will teach them a good lesson.
Q. Your loyalists who left the party have floated a new political outfit and promising a third alternative. Do you think they have relevance in politics of Himachal?
A.We see a number of parties trying to make inroads to the state politics but they have no future. Politics in Himachal is bipolar. They will contest election but only to lose.
Q. All this while you had differences with chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal. Just before the election you both sunk your differences. What transpired between you and Dhumal? Your detractors are accusing your of compromising for personal gains.
A.There were no differences. We are united. There may be differences on some issues but we are going into polls and are working together to ensure party's win. When there is internal democracy in party there may be differences but when it comes to take a decision it is taken collectively.
Q. You are very critical of corruption whether in other party or in your own party. Now questions are being raised on you regarding the financial irregularities in your dream project Vivekanand Medial Research Trust. What will you say?
A.Each time around the elections, some people try to target me on VMRT issue. I don't want to say much on this issue. Only thing is that my opponent has nothing to say against me. I have been chief minister of the state twice then I served as Union food minister. I have come out clean even after serving in one of the most defamed ministry. So when these people find nothing to speak against me they try to rake up the VMRT issue near elections. Nothing wrong has been done in VMRT and everything is before people.
Q. What will you say on the new controversy surrounding BJP national president, Nitin Gadkari?
A.Much hype was created regarding the issue. Kejriwal was claiming it to be a big expose. But I will say, "Ye Bomb Ka Dhamak to Kya Fuljhari Bhi Nahi Tha" and Kejriwal was on the receiving end. He lit a fire unnecessarily and burnt his own hands. He has lost his credibility. Government acquired this barren land twenty years ago. This was given to Gadkariji's trust on lease. He was promoting sugarcane plantation for the upliftment of poor farmers of that area. Instead of appreciating Gadkariji's work they are leveling baseless allegations. Now it is clear that Kejriwal is not fighting against corruption but is trying to make room in the national politics and all his allegations are intended on character assassination.
Q. Your letter to Arvind Kejriwal has sparked off a row and he had hit back on you?
A.I had just appreciated him for the campaign he had started against corruption but he started playing politics on my letter. I just wanted him to include property of Priyanka Gandhi in the document he had released revealing the irregularities committed by Robert Vadra. I will not comment on Kejriwal. My dialogue with him ended when he started politics on a letter.
Q. Was your hard line image the reason that party opted for Dhumal to lead the party in state?
A.It was a collective decision of the party and since I am in the national politics so it it's Dhumal who will lead the party in state. We will win the elections and Dhumal will become the chief minister for the third time.
Q. Did you have the dream of becoming chief minister of the state for the third time?
A.Ever Since I read Bhagwat Gita, I never thought of holding any post but work with dedication. I never sought anything for myself from the party or the God. I will continue to work for the party with full dedication as I have done for last over half a century.
Q. You are against Nepotism. Do you think this problem also persists in state BJP as chief minister, Dhumal's elder son is a parliamentarian and the younger one is also ready to enter politics.
A.I always talk about the politics of principles. I feel democracy should remain democracy and there should be no place for dynastic rules. But if someone has the ability and leadership quality then I have no objection even if he is kin of a leader. I am opposed to the person who is incapable but is imposed because he is son of a great leader.
Q. If we see the ticket distribution four sitting MLA's were denied ticket while two Independent MLAs are contesting the election on party ticket. Why did you oppose Nurpur MLA Rakesh Pathania's candidature even when he fits the criteria?
A.Decision on anybody's candidature is taken by the party. The decision is taken collectively by twenty to twenty five people keeping in view all the positives and negatives of a candidate. Then selection committee deliberates case to case and person to person. Some people were legislatures for four terms but when the party wanted to change them they started seeking ticket for their kin. This is not acceptable.
As far as Rakesh Pathania's case is concerned, it was also a collective decision. The entire district BJP committee and block committee was against him. Nobody wanted him to be allotted ticket. My words matters nowhere, the decision was taken on the recommendations of block BJP.
Q.Do you have any regret?
A.I have no regrets. I started my political career as a member of Panchayat and served in both the houses of Parliament. I was the one who also addressed the UN General Assembly. God has given me enough and people have given me affection. I just wanted to serve my state my country till I am alive.