NDA to win handsomely
Vajpayee hopes to win a "decisive mandate", exit polls notwithstanding.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said in an interview that the people will give a renewed mandate to the NDA. Excerpts:
Q. In the light of the latest polls, how optimistic are you about your forming a Government?
A. I do not wish to comment on the exit polls. However, I can say one thing with full confidence about the actual polls: the people will give a renewed mandate to the NDA. And it will be a decisive mandate.
Q. In case of a hung Parliament would the BJP be able to count on the support of people like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati or even Sharad Pawar?
A. The question of a hung Parliament will not arise at all. The people are well aware of the cost the country will have to pay on account of political instability.
Indeed the very talk of a hung Parliament, the growing disarray in the opposition ranks, and the conflicting aspirations of various opposition leaders for the office of prime minister, have further alerted the electorate to the danger of instability.
This new development will serve as yet another contributing factor towards a decisive majority for the NDA.
Q. The BJP -- and you personally -- seem to be making an attempt to woo the Muslim vote. At the same time, a BJP MP seeking re election says openly that he will accept Muslim votes, but only if they are washed in Ganga Jal. What kind of mixed signals is the party sending to Muslims?
A. I strongly disapprove of the statement attributed to a BJP MP that you have referred to. If he has said it, then it is wrong.
Q. Presuming that you will get an unprecedented 4th term in office, what would be your major foreign policy initiatives?
A. Our priorities have been clearly set out in the Manifesto of the NDA, and are encapsulated in three points: 'Development', 'Good Governance', and 'Peace'.
In foreign policy, our main task will be to continue the dialogue process with Pakistan in pursuit of a lasting solution to all the outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.
We believe that the joint statement issued during my visit to Islamabad in January this year, provides a good basis for movement forward.
We want to further strengthen our "Look East" policy to establish closer economic cooperation between India and ASEAN, as well as between India and countries in the Far East.
We attach much importance to further strengthening India's ties with countries in the Gulf region and West Asia. A large number of Indians work in these countries, contributing significantly to their prosperity as well as to our economy.
We would very much like to further broaden and deepen our multi-dimensional relations with the USA in the coming years. We look forward to working with the new administration in Washington after the November elections.
Q. What about your initiatives on the economic front?
A. We want to achieve an annual GDP growth rate of 8-10 per cent on a sustainable basis, and thus lay a firm foundation for India's emergence as Developed Nation by 2020. Towards this end, we remain committed to further speeding up implementation of our agenda of economic reforms.
In the past five years we have demonstrated that reforms can not only unlock the growth potential in our economy, but also benefit the common man. Removal of infrastructure bottlenecks, especially in the power sector will receive out utmost attention. We also have an ambitious plan to take our agriculture to a more productive level by launching the Second Green Revolution.
We believe that certain recent trends in the global economy provide a big opportunity for India to emerge as a major player in a relatively short time. For this purpose, we want to leverage our strengths in information technology, our newly gained competitiveness in manufacturing, and our rich pool of human resources.
We have set the goal of making India a centre of the knowledge economy, a global manufacturing hub, and a major global destination for tourism, healthcare and higher education. We will vigorously pursue this goal.
Q. Where do you see India's relations with Pakistan going this year? Will it be more peaceful or will there be more confrontation over Kashmir? Do you feel you can do business with General Musharraf?
A. I am optimistic that India's relations with Pakistan will move in the direction of steady improvement. The recently concluded cricket series has eloquently demonstrated the widespread aspiration in both countries for good neighbourly relations.
People on both sides want to see lasting peace and mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse fields. I have had good talks with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali in January. I am keen to continue this dialogue process.
Q. Why is it that the Indian voters are no more giving any single party a majority in Lok Sabha elections?
A. The answer lies in the steep decline and continued shrinking of the Congress party, which once enjoyed supremacy both at the centre and in most states. This process has led to the growth of several regional parties on the one hand and, on the other, BJP's emergence as the single largest party at the Centre.
In this era of coalitions, the polarisation is between the BJP and the Congress. However, there is one crucial difference between the two poles. Nobody trusts the Congress party to run a coalition, whereas we have already demonstrated both our faith and ability in this regard.
Q. Do you ever see any party, including the BJP, coming to power in New Delhi on its own strength?
A. At the moment, we are only focused on the current elections and our goal is to get a decisive mandate for the NDA.
Q. Looking back, what have been your most memorable moments of your political career? Did you ever feel that you should not have been in politics and just be a poet or a journalist?
A. No, I have never felt that I should not have been in politics. I made a conscious decision to work in the political field when the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was formed way back in 1951. There are many moments in this long journey that I would call memorable. Here I would like to mention one such moment -- the defeat of the Emergency rule and the victory of democracy in 1977.
It was an exhilarating moment, an event that greatly reinforced my faith in democracy and in the innate wisdom of the Indian people.
Q. You have been calling for Hindu-Muslim unity in recent times - something that has been widely appreciated. Do you think the BJP should have taken up this slogan a long, long time ago?
A. I am glad to hear that our call for Hindu-Muslim harmony is being widely appreciated. The fact of the matter is we have always believed in this ideal. Maybe the conditions are now ripe for its fructification.
I want to see a new chapter in Hindu-Muslim relations, so that our national unity is further strengthened and India is able to develop to her full potential.
Q. It is well known that the BJP and allied groups such as VHP and RSS have "moderates" and "hardliners". As a veteran politician, do you think extremism of any kind is good for India? Do you feel that secularism is a must - or whether it needs to be redefined?
A. Of course, extremism of any kind is bad for India. As far as secularism is concerned there is no need to redefine it. The meaning of secularism in the Indian context is very clear. It means Sarva-Panth Samabhava -- respect for all faiths. Indian society has never held that there is only one faith and one path to realize God.
Our outlook has been Ekam Sat, Bahudha Vadanti -- Truth is one, the wise interpret it differently.
This is why discrimination on religious grounds is repugnant to our national ethos. Indeed, secularism in this sense is so much of an inherent part of our society and culture, that the founders of our Constitution did not even consider it necessary to explicitly mention the word "Secularism" in its Preamble. It was a later addition during the Emergency, when no debate on it was possible. The Congress party added it purely for narrow political gains.
Since then, the Congress and the communists have been propagating a perverted meaning of secularism with the sole aim of isolating the BJP. However, they have failed in their objective.
Q. What do you like doing most when you are not engaged in politics? What is the book you are reading now?
A. I like to read and write. However, reading a book during an election campaign is a luxury, which I don't have.