The Opposition NDA's candidate for the Vice Presidential election, Jaswant Singh, has hinted that the ruling UPA government may misuse its position to get votes for its nominee, incumbent Hamid Ansari.
While speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, the veteran BJP leader said that he was "adult enough to know the reality of India's political life".
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. Why does Jaswant Singh want to contest the Vice Presidential election? How does he rate his chances? And if he wins, what sought of Vice President will he make? Those are the three key issues I shall discuss today with Jaswant Singh himself. Mr Jaswant Singh, with the UPA, the SP, the BSP and two out of four communist parties supporting him; Hamid Ansari is guarantied to win the Vice Presidency. In those circumstances what purpose is served by standing against him?
Jaswant Singh: There are two questions. And I think, your question begs questions. Guarantied, and I don't know how you are guarantied even before the election has taken place.
Karan Thapar: I will answer that for you...
Jaswant Singh: No, no you don't have to answer because I still have to answer. Why am I contesting - you have sighted the UPA, various other political parties. I am contesting because the NDA and the BJP, and NDA comprises of four parties, asked me unanimously to contest this election.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that the Indian Express has already estimated that out of the 790 votes, 460 are assured to Mr Ansari, which means he has got pretty close 60 per cent votes. You would end up being a sacrificial lamb for the NDA.
Jaswant Singh: Well, that is your faith. And the second thing is that there is a substantial error in these figures. And that error arises from what is enjoined upon the political parties and the members - there shall not be a whip and the anti-defection law does not rely. So if the parties cannot issue whips then prima-facie parties must not announce whom they are going to vote for.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that they have. You are hoping for a conscience vote but actually what you need is not a conscience vote, you need a revolt in parties committed to Hamid Ansari to give yourself a fighting chance.
Jaswant Singh: That is your description. Why is Mr Ansari contesting?
Karan Thapar: Because he knows he can win. That's why.
Jaswant Singh: No. Is that why he is winning? Then that is one reason more than anything else why he should not be contesting.
Karan Thapar: In other words, you are saying that it is important to put up a competition?
Jaswant Singh: No more than that I think these two positions of the republic carry with them a great many requirement, both of propriety, both of the environment in which we go about these elections and both the sense of politics without being political.
Karan Thapar: Are you saying to me that it is important that Mr Ansari shouldn't be given a walkover?
Jaswant Singh: No... We have worked together. I have worked in the ministry of external affairs, he too was there. So, I wouldn't like to make a personal comment about what Mr Ansari ought to do and ought not to do.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. If it is important that the NDA should put up competition for the top posts of the country then why has your party and the NDA not put you up for the most prestigious of the top two posts, the Presidency. Instead of after a month of dithering, supporting someone else's candidate.
Jaswant Singh: Not dithering, there are two aspects here. One is why not put up a candidate...
Karan Thapar: Why not put up you for the Presidency?
Jaswant Singh: It is not I or any one else, it is a question of what you want out of these two high offices of the republic. Over the years without any doubt whatsoever, any question whatsoever there has been a diminution in the stature as also the prestige of these two offices. The NDA certainly endeavoured, at the very beginning, requested Mr Kalam to be the presidential candidate. And when he declined, by which time PA Sangma had joined the fray. So that would have really crowded scene.
Karan Thapar: Let me it like this Sangma was not the NDA's candidate until they adopted him. Do you accept that?
Jaswant Singh: That is true.
Karan Thapar: Let me put a second point to you. As a former external minister, defence minister, finance minister, as a former leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, as a former deputy chairman of the planning commission... you are smiling and laughing because you have so many thinks attributed to credit. You are far more qualified to be President then Sangma. Yet the BJP choose Sangma and not you.
Jaswant Singh: It is circumstances. Most often in life it is not the choice that determines course of action, it is circumstances that decide upon what path we have to go down.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that it is not the circumstances alone. You have been a loyal member of the BJP from its inception, except one year in 2009-2010. Mr Sangma has never been a member of the BJP, yet he has been a frequent critic of the BJP. And what does the BJP do, the BJP chooses a critic, a man who is not member of the party, over looking a more qualified Jaswant Singh.
Jaswant Singh: Well it is not overlooking. Circumstances were not opportune and to crowd the scene... he had already been declared a candidate by other parties, by AIADMK and BJD.
Karan Thapar: Two small parties, forgive me, with a miniscule vote in the elected presidency. The major support that Sangma got came in fact from the NDA. Now if the NDA had chosen to back you, you would clearly have been the second out of the three. Thirdly, if the NDA had put your name up earlier instead of dithering for a month and a half, you could have given Mr Mukherjee a pretty good fight. So I ask you again, if it is important to put up candidates, why were you not put up for the presidency?
Jaswant Singh: It is not dithering as you describe it. It is really because of the process and processes rather, a decision making. In the UPA they are dictatorial; in the NDA and the BJP they are more consultative.
Karan Thapar: Is that really it, or is it that people in our own party couldn't stomach the idea of Jaswant Singh being the presidential candidate. As a result of which they didn't put up your name forth and eventually they had to settle for Sangma, because there was no one else left.
Jaswant Singh: No, I suffer for no such fears or apprehensions.
Karan Thapar: Let me pursue that point by point to you. Even when it comes to Vice Presidency you were not the NDA's or the BJP's first choice. Mr Advani has publicly said he would have preferred Sharad Yadav.
Jaswant Singh: He did not say preferred. He said Mr Yadav was asked if he would like to contest.
Karan Thapar: He was the first choice.
Jaswant Singh: No it is not first or second. It is the question of the courtesy in managing the NDA's affairs.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that if Sharad Yadav had said yes, you wouldn't have come into the picture. So he was clearly the first choice. And newspapers like the Indian Express have publicly claimed that after Sharad Yadav, they then tried to perceive Najma Hebtulla. Which suggests to the outside world that you were the third choice of your own party.
Jaswant Singh: Well that is fine. I have no difficulty being the first, second, or the third and then the choice was unanimous and I am there now.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that people form the outside world look at you and say that here is a man who should have been the BJP's presidential candidate. He was better qualified than Sangma to have that nomination, he didn't get it. He should have been the first choice for the Vice Presidency; he ended up to be the third choice. I put it to you, are there people in the BJP who find it difficult to nominate Jaswant Singh?
Jaswant Singh: You have quite a vivid imagination and you jump to conclusions. And you are not there so it is best if you don't fear shadows.
Karan Thapar: There are really conclusion that I'm jumping to and not truth?
Jaswant Singh: No, they are not true.
Karan Thapar: I'm saying to you that you would have been the best choice for your party. Your modesty is smiling; you deny you would have been a better choice than Sangma?
Jaswant Singh: No, no how can I, come on. How do you want me to respond to this. This is not a competition.
Karan Thapar: With modest embarrassment because you know what I'm saying is true.
Jaswant Singh: No it is not a question of self assessment.
Karan Thapar: Alright, let's move on from this issue, why you were not the presidential candidate, why you ended up being the third choice of Vice Presidency, and let's assess your chances. Do you believe that the BJD and Naveen Patnaik will vote for you?
Jaswant Singh: Yes, I do believe that and I bank on it.
Karan Thapar: Do you have any reason to believe and bank on it?
Jaswant Singh: Yes, but the reasons I have, I need not necessarily share with you.
Karan Thapar: Let me tell you why I'm sceptical. Naveen Patnaik broke with the BJP over Kandhamal and then won an election on his won. Why will he today reverse the message that he sent out at that time, by supporting you as Vice President?
Jaswant Singh: For the same reason as both Mr Patnaik and AIADMK accepted the support of the BJP when it came to Mr Sangma's candidature.
Karan Thapar: In other works you are saying they owe a return support?
Jaswant Singh: Not at all. It is not a sought of quid pro quo, it is two separate assessments of two separate and different elections.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact they took the BJP and the NDA's support some 40 days after they had nominated Mr Sangma. This time around it is already a week since you were nominated and they are silent.
Jaswant Singh: But that is alright. I have no difficulty with silence. Quite often, though not on your programme, silence is a virtue.
Karan Thapar: What about Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK, are you confident that she will support you?
Jaswant Singh: Yes I'm.
Karan Thapar: What is that confidence based upon?
Jaswant Singh: You don't want me to share these things with you do you.
Karan Thapar: I will tell you once again why I'm sceptical. Although she supported, and to begin with Mr Sangma was her candidate, she ostentatiously didn't campaign for him. She chose to go to Ooty instead. And now it is no secret that she informally advised him to step aside because as she said it was a race he couldn't win. If that is her attitude to Sangma, why would she take up a second race that she knows is one you are going to lose and end up supporting another loser
Jaswant Singh: I think your facts are misplaced. Firstly she was in Ooty because she was undergoing treatment. And if she was undergoing treatment you hardly expect her to simultaneously be campaigning.
Karan Thapar: She could have picked up the phone in support of Mr Sangma.
Jaswant Singh: But she did.
Karan Thapar: She could have issued statements in support, she didn't. She advised him to step aside that is no secret now.
Jaswant Singh: No she would when the time is right, do all these things.
Karan Thapar: So you are confident that despite all the reasons I'm giving you Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa will endorse your candidature.
Jaswant Singh: I'm sure.
Karan Thapar: How embarrassing will it be for you, if it ends up on August 7, that no party other than the NDA supported you for Vice Presidency.
Jaswant Singh: Why should it be embarrassing, if a principle is involved.
Karan Thapar: It would be very embarrassing for the BJP because it would suggest that their ability to use their Vice Presidential candidate to reach out beyond the NDA had failed completely.
Jaswant Singh: Why don't you wait until the August 7, before arriving at such conclusions.
Karan Thapar: I will give you another reason why I'm sceptical. The word on the street is that your own party, the BJP, is not enthusiastic about your candidature.
Jaswant Singh: Well, often if you permit streets to drive policy then always your policy will go wrong. Let the leadership not be guided by what the street says.
Karan Thapar: Do you really believe that Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are actually campaigning you or is their silence truly telling because at the moment it is a death silence.
Jaswant Singh: No, I think you are so profoundly in errors because in fact Sushma is actively working - almost every third day she is holding conferences, meeting members of Parliament.
Karan Thapar: So, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are doing their honest and absolute best to support you. You have no doubts and qualms about that?
Jaswant Singh: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Sangma, who was the BJP and the NDA's candidate for presidency has publicly said that the UPA tried to buy votes by offering financial packages, they attempted to threaten leaders like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh if they didn't vote for Pranab Mukherjee. Are you apprehensive that something similar could happen in the Vice Presidential election?
Jaswant Singh: No I don't lend myself to such apprehensions, I'm adult enough to know the reality of India's political life. But it is much better for me not to clutter my thinking with that kind of detail.
Karan Thapar: There is a hint in what you are saying, when you say I'm adult enough to know the reality of India's political life that you expect that there will be such underhand practices, but you are not going to be apprehensive about that. Have I interpreted you correctly?
Jaswant Singh: Do you want adult details in public?
Karan Thapar: I will take that as a conformation.
Jaswant Singh: No. It is not affirmative. It is questioning your question.
Karan Thapar: Yes, but not actually negating the question.
Jaswant Singh: No, you are trying to unpeel an onion.
Karan Thapar: Mr Jaswant Singh, what do you believe are the important qualities that the Vice President of India should have?
Jaswant Singh: It is not so much quality, but as an individual, as attribute born out of experience. And I believe what is required essentially is the appropriate balance, a sense of the political situation in the country, the political dynamics of the county but simultaneously an ability to rise above politics of the country.
Karan Thapar: When you approach the job, assuming that the job is yours on August 7, is there a role model that you will have in mind as you fulfill the job of the Vice President?
Jaswant Singh: Role model as an example of such excellence. Well, I look back at times of the great Indian that have chaired this and I really would aspire to belong to the aristocracy of mind that Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
Karan Thapar: Now if you do become Vice President, you will have your experience, the time you spent as the leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, do you believe that will equip you in insuring that the House will function smoothly. Will there be things that you have in your mind that you can do that perhaps previous Vice Presidents weren't able to do?
Jaswant Singh: I think you should make a distinction between a recognition and a understanding and a sense of the politics of the country. And how to persuade the House to move in accordance with those. The Vice President is not a monitor. The Vice President is also not a supervisor.
Karan Thapar: He is a persuader.
Jaswant Singh: He must always persuade by example, by knowledge, by learning.
Karan Thapar: Do you believe you would be more successful at persuading the Rajya Sabha to function smoothly then previous Vice Presidents?
Jaswant Singh: No I don't wish to comment on that because then that becomes a subjectively judgmental.
Karan Thapar: An issue that has become one of some controversy is that televisation of Parliament. Do you believe this has brought the institution into greater access for the people of India; it has given them a better understanding? Or do you think it has actually ended up encouraging interruptions, disruptions and protests.
Jaswant Singh: The Parliament - both Houses, is not a forum for campaigning, it is a legislative body. The first function of Parliament is to legislate. Thereafter it must discuss great issues the day.
Karan Thapar: Does the presence of TV cameras encourage MPs to campaign rather legislate.
Jaswant Singh: They have been so well established and so far gone into the system of the House that it would be unwise to disturb it.
Karan Thapar: What about the parliamentary standing committees at the moment their meetings were held in camera but is there an argument for opening that for the press and the public.
Jaswant Singh: Yes there is. We need to find a balance because parliamentary standing committees were introduced to speed up the legislative work. But it shouldn't drop Parliament proper of the debating aspect of the floor of the House.
Karan Thapar: So if you end up chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
Jaswant Singh: End up.
Karan Thapar: Well, we don't know what will be the out come on August 7. But if you end up chairman of Rajya Sabha..
Jaswant Singh: End up is rather slang..
Karan Thapar: If events so determine that you get elected Vice President and become chairman of Rajya Sabha will you press to open up parliamentary standing committee meetings?
Jaswant Singh: I can' t go over and above the wishes of the determination of the House. The House is its own master.
Karan Thapar: But you will recommend this to the House?
Jaswant Singh: But of course I will. I will say we need to be more open to the rest of the country.
Karan Thapar: So you would be an advocate for this cause.
Jaswant Singh: I don't know whether I would be an advocate because I don't think that the role of the President or the Vice President is to be an advocate for a cause.
Karan Thapar: But you will silently try and persuade people to come.
Jaswant Singh: Yes, absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Mr Jaswant Singh, a pleasure talking to you.