Naresh Gujral, the low-profile son of former Prime Minister late Inder Kumar Gujral and an Akali Rajya Sabha member from Punjab, has established himself as a key strategist of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Hindustan Times spoke to him on various issues as he landed in Punjab after playing a pivotal role in bringing Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) into the NDA fold.
HT: What is your take on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls?
Gujral: The elections are set to witness a pro-Narendra Modi vote rather than an anti-incumbency vote.
Isn’t Modi’s rise linked to the anti-incumbency against the UPA?
The UPA misrule definitely laid the foundation. But thereafter, the BJP has been very successful in establishing Modi as a pro-development, pro-change leader. Anti-incumbency is only one of the factors responsible for Modi’s rise.
What about the anti-incumbency against the SAD-BJP government in Punjab?
There is anti-incumbency against our government, but it’s not strong. Wherever we lacked in development, it was because the SAD had no say at the Centre. Every time we raised our demands, these were turned down. However, once the NDA comes to power, apart from having SAD ministers, we will have Arun Jaitley (BJP leader) to raise the suppressed voice of Punjab.
How can Jaitley make a difference for Punjab?
After my father’s demise, who was there to raise the voice of Punjab in Delhi? After the NDA regains power, Jaitley is sure to get one of the top three slots of the cabinet. He is going to become the next Inder Kumar Gujral for Punjab. It’s a golden opportunity for Punjab that we must grab with both hands.
But how can Punjab voters trust an ‘outsider’?
(Laughs) Who says Jaitley is an outsider? My ties with the Jaitley family are very old. In Lahore, my father and Jaitley’s father-in-law Girdhari Lal Dogra were classmates and they remained friends forever. Jaitley’s mother and wife were born in Amritsar. Like our family, they are also victims of Partition who stayed in refugee camps. For his Punjabi feelings, Jaitley does not need any bona fide certificate from Capt Amarinder Singh.
Do you think the Congress’ move to field its seniors has given a sudden fillip to the party in Punjab?
Not at all. Putting all senior leaders in the battlefield is a desperate attempt by the party to save its skin. But I am sure the SAD-BJP will do collective jhatka to all of them or, you can say, halaal them. It’s only a matter of time now. How can the new faces overcome the shadows of misrule, price rise and corrupt rule of the UPA? Contrary to what the Congress has always thought, people are no fools.
You must have travelled on Jalandhar’s bad roads. Are such failures of the state government non-issues in the polls?
I never said so. But we have to look at these issues within a wide spectrum. I repeat: the state government did whatever it could from the limited funds, especially those meant for cities, received from Centre. At the state level, we increased revenue collection to 18% and spent money on development. But our miseries are going to end as we will have our own government at the Centre.
Are the doors of NDA open for the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) after the polls?
In the NDA, we are very keen to bring all our old partners on board. But with the Chautalas behind bars, the NDA think tank does not want to be accused of shaking hands with tainted leaders. If they get the clean chit, the INLD is likely to join us.