Karan Thapar: As the political situation in Karnataka turns from crisis to farce, we ask is the BJP the big loser. That’s the key issue I shall explore with the party’s former president and the man they consider the architect of the BJP’s alliance with the JD(S): Venkaiah Naidu.
Mr Naidu, on September 27 you said there will be a transfer of power and there is no doubt about it. On October 1, Mr Kumaraswamy said he will transfer power and you said reports to the contrary are completely untrue. Today is October 5—the transfer hasn’t happened. Can you accept you were wrong?
Venkaiah Naidu: Still there is 24 hours time, let us see. Right from the day one when Kumaraswamy came out, had discussion with us and told me that he has got non-Congress blood, he was uncomfortable with the Congress party and he wanted to have an alliance with the BJP—not only now but even in future also we will go together, we believed him.
Karan Thapar: That’s the problem. You believed him but you are not listening to him. You say you have 24 hours more yet. Deve Gowda has gone on record to say that the power sharing agreement is invalid. His son has said that he will break the promise. Have you been betrayed or have you been outsmarted?
Venkaiah Naidu: I don’t want to say betrayal or to use any such words till the alliance is on. Once alliance is broken, then we will take the people into confidence and we will tell them whatever happened all these months.
Karan Thapar: The alliance is as good as broken. Kumaraswamy is accusing the BJP of being communal. He says he cannot trust the peace and harmony of Karnataka in your hands. He does not believe that the safety of the state can be secured by the BJP. That’s why he says he is not handing over power.
Venkaiah Naidu: No, one must understand that we are ruling around 10 states. All of them are safe and secure.
Karan Thapar: But your ally in Karnataka doesn’t trust you.
Venkaiah Naidu: In Karnataka, in 20 months, when he was chief minister and we were supporting him everything was fine. The BJP was secular—he was comfortable. Law and order was completely comfortable. Now if he gets doubts, I can’t help him.
Karan Thapar: In fact not only has he got doubts, The Hindu says that he is going to call a special session of the Assembly on October 18 and he is confident that even without the BJP he can secure a vote to keep in power.
Venkaiah Naidu: I don’t think so. First, let us understand the 2004 mandate was anti-Congress. The BJP got 80 (seats), the Congress got 64 and the JD(S) at that time got 58—later 10 people left under the leadership of Siddharamaiah. So the mandate was very clear but for their own reason JD(S) and Congress joined, ruled the state for 20 months and subsequently JD(S) realised the Congress had betrayed them. JD(S) fell apart, came to us and said we will have a long-term relationship. We believed them.
Karan Thapar: And now when the JD(S) is about to betray you, are you suspicious and are you worried that may be Kumaraswamy has an assurance from the Congress that they will support him that Congress, will keep him in power and he can then—forgive my language—kick the BJP in the teeth.
Venkaiah Naidu: I can’t say anything about the Congress; it may do anything everything to keep the BJP away from power. But I must tell you, understand the mood of the people of Karnataka. Anybody does and they twill be in for a big shock from the people. I am sure the mood is in favour of the BJP. All opinions, surveys, media reports in Karnataka suggest 90 per cent of the people want transfer of power as assured to the people at that time.
Karan Thapar: Let us in fact talk about the BJP, let us look at the central question of who is the biggest loser. I put it to you: the answer is the BJP. You had a clear understanding the power would be transferred on October 3. When it didn’t happen why didn’t you go to the Governor and withdraw support. What you did was to present a meaningless resignation of 17 or 18 ministers. You know it hasn’t worked.
Venkaiah Naidu: Please try to understand. Devegowdaji telephoned to my president and told him that he would like to discuss with him and he will be coming over to Delhi on October 4-5. But there is no hurry. Our ministers resigned because there was a statement made by my deputy chief minister on the floor of the House and also because both sides had agreed that we will resign on October 2 to facilitate the Chief Minister to resign.
Karan Thapar: But it hasn’t facilitated him. He was laughing at the resignations.
Venkaiah Naidu: Heavens are not going to fall in another two days. He will be further exposed if he breaches the promise.
Karan Thapar: Heavens may not fall but the impression you are giving to the country that you are hoping against your hope. You are hoping against reality that a miracle will make Yediyurappa chief minister. Do you really believe that will happen?
Venkaiah Naidu: Tomorrow or day after or in near future it is Yediyurappa who will be the chief minister of Karnataka, you take it from me. Future chief minister of Karnataka will be Yediyurappa.
Karan Thapar: That sounds like brave words. You have already waited three days, how long you are going to wait. You are going to wait a week, a month.
Venkaiah Naidu: We have our parliamentary board meeting tomorrow; we will take further decision about the next step tomorrow itself.
Karan Thapar: I put it to you, you have chickened out that final decision. You are desperate to make B S Yediyurappa chief minister and in the process you are humiliating the party. That’s the problem.
Venkaiah Naidu: No humiliation at all. After all it was a solemn assurance to the people given by both the parties. We want them to honour it.
Karan Thapar: Why don’t you now act with dignity, why don’t you act with self-respect and walk out?
Venkaiah Naidu: The way with the dignity, with the decorum and with the decency we are functioning, the entire state and the country is watching and we are not abusing or we are not misusing. We have performed our responsibility we are not asking any favour.
Karan Thapar: You are not abusing, you are not misusing. The problem is you are being abused, you are being misused and you are not reacting. Let me tell you, you have been taken for a ride and what’s happened–you haven’t acted with respect or decency instead you swallowed your pride and you are letting small party trample over you.
Venkaiah Naidu: People of Karnataka wanted a good government. We have given good governance. They want this alliance to continue. If he betrays, if anybody goes back then they will be facing the people and people’s wrath.
Karan Thapar: I put it to you today, you are losing self-respect. The impression you are giving that people of Karnataka is so desperate to have a BJP chief minister; your izzat has been forgotten your self-respect has been forgotten.
Venkaiah Naidu: Not at all, all the newspapers, including the BJP critics, are of the view that the BJP is behaving with decency and decorum with dignity and patience, nothing is going to end in two days.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. There is no doubt that the chief ministership of Karnataka was an important goal for the BJP to achieve. But should you not gone above differently rather than ally with the unreliable and tricky JD(S) you should have awaited for the next election, you could have got a majority on your own.
Venkaiah Naidu: You are right. At that time this was the issue that was in our mind but when we discussed with our legislators they said immediately after the Assembly elections people do not like one more election and people want development to go on. So we joined together.
Karan Thapar: Now, with hindsight, can you accept you made a mistake.
Venkaiah Naidu: No, not at all—it is our experiment. Today BJP has become more popular also.
Karan Thapar: Experiment that gone against you.
Venkaiah Naidu: See the experiment that has gone against the people there, not against me. I have 80 MLAs.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, when Kumaraswamy came knocking on your doors in January 2006 everyone knew he was an opportunist, everyone knew that he was desperate to come to power anyway he could. Why did a party that is so proud of its moral content allow itself to become the handmaiden of Kumaraswamy’s naked ambition?
Venkaiah Naidu: Many people like you, many well-wishers even the media, at that time cautioned us that you cannot ray upon this party.
Karan Thapar: Shouldn’t you have listened to them?
Venkaiah Naidu: No, we thought he is an youngster and he spoke that he has got the non-Congress blood in him and he want to work together, we thought we must give a try to this.
Karan Thapar: So now accept that you made a mistake.
Venkaiah Naidu: No, let us see what he is going to do. Why you forecast things and make a statement.
Karan Thapar: Not only are you going to fail to get the chief ministership, but look at facts. What happened to your electoral prospects in Karnataka? You came third in the urban local body elections, where you should have been first.
Venkaiah Naidu: This is another wrong notion. Last time BJP had 482 local wards and in this election I get 1,180. Out of seven municipal corporations, four are now controlled by the BJP, Elections in Bangalore are yet to be held and in Mysore and Gulbarga no corporation can be formed without me.
Karan Thapar: You would have come first if you had not made this wretched alliance with JD(S). You would have come first if you had secured your interest as a party before the desire to grab the chief ministership.
Venkaiah Naidu: Try to understand, the Congress and the JD(S) alliance at that time would have further ruined the state. That was on our mind. And tomorrow when I am saying Yediyurappa will be chief minister not by machination, if they agree as per the agreement fine, otherwise let there be election I can tell you the BJP will become victorious and Yediyurappa will become chief minister.
Karan Thapar: That’s the second danger. Whenever national elections are held—and they expected to be in first half of 2008—you are in serious danger now, as a result of your alliance Kumaraswamy, of losing many of the 18 Lok Sabha seats you have. Instead of clinching to power and growing stronger in Karnataka you have weakened yourself because of greed and desperation.
Venkaiah Naidu: Not at all. It’s a wrong notion. The BJP will sweep the polls both for Lok Sabha and for Karnataka Assembly. The mood is upbeat; the morale of my MLAs and my cadre is also upbeat. We went to Bangalore—me and Yashwant Sinha. We had a detail discussion. We have also understood the mood of people also. It is the BJP, which is the choice of the people of Karnataka.
Karan Thapar: Let me end this part with one simple question. You keep saying 24 hours, may be in a week, may be little longer Yediyurappa will be Chief Minister. I put it to you if the JD(S) does not support Yediyurappa and he does not become chief minister at that point will you accept that the alliance was a mistake.
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no question of mistake. We don’t consider it as a mistake.
Karan Thapar: You will never accept you made a mistake.
Venkaiah Naidu: Try to understand we have made a wrong assessment. That can be a correct description. If somebody betrays you, gives an assurance…
Karan Thapar: A wrong assessment is a mistake.
Venkaiah Naidu: Try to understand, you come before the people and make a solemn assurance to the people that you will abide by what you are saying…
Karan Thapar: A party licked you and you didn’t have the capacity to know that they were lying. You got taken in.
Venkaiah Naidu: I am not an astrologer, I don’t have horoscope of everybody.
Karan Thapar: What about judgment and wisdom.
Venkaiah Naidu: The judgment and wisdom is that the son said I have nothing to do with my father, I am coming out, and there is non-Congress blood in me. I believed him.
Karan Thapar: So you got trapped.
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no question of trapping. After all it’s all experiment in politics.
Karan Thapar: He got the better of you.
Venkaiah Naidu: He definitely—he enjoyed it. If he doesn’t transfer the power then you will see what is going to happen in the future—for his future also.
Karan Thapar: Let’s broaden the canvass and let’s start with the Centre. The recent national executive held in Bhopal was supposed to position the party for the forthcoming elections. Yet a mysterious letter from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which he didn’t sign and may be he didn’t even write at all, has divided the party over the leadership issue. It’s a setback just when you didn’t need it.
Venkaiah Naidu: Not at all, there was no discussion about the letter, there was no discussion about the leadership.
Karan Thapar: Not at the convention but outside, in the press, through the press and within the party the discussion has gone on. In fact there is a division.
Venkaiah Naidu: It was in the media, there was no division in the party or in the executive. The discussions went on about preparation for the coming elections. We have chalked out our future programme and the party is very clear about the future.
Karan Thapar: I am afraid when you say it’s in the media not only are you correct, you are more right than you actually realised because all your party colleagues exposed their differences to the media. You and Jaswant Singh endorsed Advani’s claim to leadership; Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Rajnath Singh made an absolutely clear they don’t, as a result the five of you have given the impression that the party is tearing itself apart.
Venkaiah Naidu: It’s a totally wrong reading and you ask question and you interpret that reply its your way of doing things. We are clear in the executive, outside. In the entire party there was total unity and there is total clarity.
Karan Thapar: If you say there is unity and that the press is making a mistake, then let me ask you a simple blunt question. If elections are held in the first half of 2008, will L K Advani be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate?
Venkaiah Naidu: Let the elections be announced. We will come out with the name of the leader. You ask Congress party who is the leader. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. You leave the ruling party and you are putting the question to me.
Karan Thapar: Because there is a serious question mark about the leadership of the BJP and your refusal to answer makes it clear that the party is divided on the issue.
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no division at all. Let me clarify it.
Karan Thapar: Then answer my question, will L K Advani be the prime ministerial candidate.
Venkaiah Naidu: You want to have your question I want to have my answer, I want to put it in my prospective. The Congress party, which is ruling the country, let them clarify who is going to be the leader: Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh or Rahul Gandhi?
Karan Thapar: I thought the BJP believes it could form a government. If you are a credible contender for power, why can’t you name the prime minister who will rule the country if you win?
Venkaiah Naidu: Still the ruling government is continuing, we are preparing ourselves. The moment elections are announced we will come out with the name. There is no difference of opinion at all.
Karan Thapar: You are revealing to the country there is confusion and dissention.
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no confusion.
Karan Thapar: Otherwise name Advani and stand by the name.
Venkaiah Naidu: It’s your suggestion. I am happy about your suggestion. But the question is every political party has got certain systems of doing things. My party president has already given clear indication that in our party Atalji is our tallest leader, after Atalji it’s Advani ji. What is the doubt in it?
Karan Thapar: You are hiding behind excuses. In fact everyone in the party believes that if the letter from Atal Bihari Vajpayee was genuine, it was designed as an attempt thawed Advani. Another proof that even between Advani and Vajpayee over Advani’s ambition there is division there is difference.
Venkaiah Naidu: Not at all.
Karan Thapar: Many people believe in fact the letter was fraudulent.
Venkaiah Naidu: It was totally wrong. My president told the executive that the letter was given to him by Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji and there is nothing wrong in that letter. He has expressed his desire to come back.
Karan Thapar: Advani in his speech gave the clear impression that when he had met Vajpayee after the alleged letter had been given to Rajnath Singh, Vajpayee had not indicated anything of the sort. So one again differences have emerged.
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no differences. You are all trying to read something, which is not there in the letter.
Karan Thapar: You are trying to hide something which is there.
Venkaiah Naidu: Nothing, I must tell you. We believe the party president. Advani also said that Atal ji should become better soon and then guide us. What is the difference I am not able to understand? We have clarity and we have unity and you people are trying to say there is confusion, where is the confusion?
Karan Thapar: You are able to understand but you don’t want to understand because understanding will expose the difference.
Venkaiah Naidu: There is no difference at all. After Atal ji it is Advani ji.
Karan Thapar: Let me for the sake of the fact that you are sitting in front of me accept your argument. In Gujarat you actually have a crisis on your hands. Keshu Bhai Patel, Suresh Mehta, Kanshiram Rana, Balav Kataria, A K Patel and 10 MLAs have publicly stood up and opposed Narendra Modi as chief minister and they have promised not to campaign for your party in the forthcoming elections—10 weeks before the elections. Is the BJP in Gujarat in danger of breaking up.
Venkaiah Naidu: Not at all. There is a problem in Gujarat. I do admit. Keshu Bhai is a respected leader but at the same time you must understand Modi has given a good administration to the state everybody in Gujarat is very happy and the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi going to sweep the election irrespective of whatever happens in between.
Karan Thapar: It’s not just a problem as you delicately describe it. Suresh Mehta has gone on record to say that within a couple of weeks he will be breaking and leaving the BJP. Keshu Bhai Patel says that he will be conducting 70 public meetings right across the length and breadth of the state in the next 10 weeks. The problem is growing. It is growing to the point of a division and a divide in the party.
Venkaiah Naidu: The popularity of Narendra bhai is growing day by day.
Karan Thapar: Is it?
Venkaiah Naidu: Yes.
Karan Thapar: They why are the Kohlis and the Patels refusing to vote for you?
Venkaiah Naidu: Who said so?
Karan Thapar: They said it.
Venkaiah Naidu: I have a survey with me which shows that 80 per cent of the Patel community is supporting the BJP and Narendra bhai. Don’t bring caste divisions on the people.
Karan Thapar: I’m not bringing them on the people. The people themselves are doing it.
Venkaiah Naidu: No, some people are taking the name of their caste so as to promote their own caste.
Karan Thapar: If you are so confident that people of Gujarat are behind you, then how come you broke the tradition and did not hold the national executive in Gujarat. It is a tradition in the BJP to hold the national executive wherever the state election is happening. Instead you retreated to Bhopal.
Venkaiah Naidu: Is it a big issue?
Karan Thapar: Yes.
Venkaiah Naidu: We are preparing ourselves. The choice is ours.
Karan Thapar: But you didn’t have the guts to test your strength is Gujarat.
Venkaiah Naidu: We always hold the national executive in a particular state so as to improve the position there. Here the position is very clear. We are winning hands down in Gujarat.
Karan Thapar: You could be in for a terrible surprise. Let me put it like this. Which is more important to the BJP: to present a united front to the people of Gujarat or to promote Narendra Modi as the next CM of the state.
Venkaiah Naidu: It is important for the BJP to get back the state of Gujarat.
Karan Thapar: Will a united party do it or will Narendra Modi at the head of a divided party?
Venkaiah Naidu: Some people don’t follow the majority. What can you do? I only wish better sense prevails upon everybody, and they will all work together for the party. If somebody wants to break and go out, I can’t help it.
Karan Thapar: It’s not just somebody within the party who wants to break and go out, even at this moment when national elections are looming, your own allies are losing faith in you. Mamata Banerjee is distancing herself from the NDA, Jayalalitha says this is not the right time for an alliance with the BJP, the TDP has repudiated you once again.
Venkaiah Naidu: Alliances are only for elections.
Karan Thapar: But this is an election coming up in six months.
Venkaiah Naidu: This hasn’t been confirmed.
Karan Thapar: You know it’s likely in six months’ time. Advani has gone on record saying it will happen in six months.
Venkaiah Naidu: You can’t believe the Communist parties…
Karan Thapar: I am quoting L K Advani
Venkaiah Naidu: We are preparing ourselves.
Karan Thapar: By losing allies?
Venkaiah Naidu: NDA is for governance. By the time elections come nearer, you’ll see the polarisation of BJP on the one side and Congress on the other side.
Karan Thapar: My last question: Do you know what the opinion polls are saying? Although UPA is in crisis, you’re not climbing the polls either. The most recent poll says you’ll end up with less than 100 seats, probably less than half of Congress’ tally. You look less incredible; you look like a loser.
Venkaiah Naidu: You will see what’ll happen. The same polls once said NDA is going to win, UPA will have a hung Assembly and so on.
Karan Thapar: I’ll tell you what the problem is: you don’t just have a problem in Karnataka. You have a problem nationwide.
Venkaiah Naidu: There’s no nationwide problem. There are some problems in every political party, so there are some in party too and we are capable of resolving them. You’ll soon see that people are tired and disgusted of the UPA Government. They want India to come back and BJP to lead it.
Karan Thapar: I hope for your sake those aren’t the famous last words. Mr Naidu, pleasure talking with you on Devil’s Advocate.