Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's anointment as the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate was done in the most democratic manner. Speaking to CNN-IBN's Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, senior BJP leader said
the opinion poll has shown that Modi is the choice of the country.
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate and a special interview with BJP's leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley on why his party has appointed Narendra Modi its prime ministerial candidate.
Karan Thapar: Mr Jaitley let me start with a simple question, why was it important to appoint Narendra Modi as your prime ministerial candidate now rather than wait just a few months and do it after the Assembly elections which is what many of your senior leaders initially wanted?
Arun Jaitley: Well the larger collective wisdom in the party was that there are several good reasons and I will just give you two of those good reasons. First, elections are really contested to be won and therefore you put your best foot in front and all surveys and opinion polls have shown that he has a very large popularity in this country. Secondly one criticism of the BJP and I think a legitimate criticism was, are you not being able to put your house in order? You can't decide upon the leader, and I think we have a six month run up to the general election. This is the right time for the right decision to be taken and in one sentence if I have to say why we selected Mr Narendra Modi, it's for the winning decision which the party has consciously taken.
Karan Thapar: You know its interesting to say that one of the criticisms that you cannot actually put your house in order actually what you have done is put it in greater disorder. To begin with at least three of your senior leaders had reservations. Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj may have been won around but LK Advani boycotted the Parliamentary Board meeting and as a result rather than unite the leadership behind Narendra Modi you have divided it.
Arun Jaitley: I have said this elsewhere so even at the cost of repetition let me tell you. Today the structure of the BJP is that it is a very large party. At least in a large number of states we have a substantial following. We have lakhs if not more of active political workers in the country and when parties take a decision you have to factor in what is the collective wisdom and what is the pull coming from your cadres itself and your support constituency and therefore in the process, even if an alternative view was possible, the presence of an alternative view in any democratic organisation is a fair thing. We can live with it but at the same time we cannot defy the opinion of either or rank and file or defy the opinion of our supporting constituency.
Karan Thapar: What you are call an alternative opinion actually its an opinion of a man that you and everyone else in the party repeatedly called the tallest leader. LK Advani is a man who created the BJP. Today, not only have you sidelined him, many people believe that you humiliated him and as a result Narendra Modi not only does not have his support but its quite possible that he doesn't have Mr Advani's blessings.
Arun Jaitley: Well I think these are presumptions you are raising. We certainly have the highest regard for Advaniji, I have said this elsewhere...
Karan Thapar: Very strange way of showing it when you ignore his wishes
Arun Jaitley: But there can be two alternative views available in a party and therefore when I said the party had to factor in it's larger public interest and the collective wisdom, of not a majority but almost an overwhelming majority in the party the groundswell was that we take this decision at this time.
Karan Thapar: You know what you are saying that you weighed in the balance LK Advani on one the hand and the mass cadre on the other and the mass cadres weighed heavier.
Arun Jaitley: We weighed all possibilities and when I say that I weighed the opinion of our supporting constituencies and our cadre, I think that is important in any democratic set up.
Karan Thapar: You are saying in other way that LK Advani is effectively marginalised
Arun Jaitley: That's the way you are paraphrasing it I'm not putting it that way.
Karan Thapar: You know the message you sent out to the country whose support you need, they now say that the initials BJP stand for the Bharatiya Jhagda Party. You have reduced yourself to a comic entity.
Arun Jaitley: Well if we had come out on the 13th on the meeting and said we have not decided anything, perhaps you were entitled to paraphrase it in this manner. We have taken a decisive decision and therefore this decision has a support of a very large section of the country. Certainly an overwhelming majority of the BJP cadres and there is no question of this phrase being now used at that context.
Karan Thapar: You know it sounds to me as if you saying you had a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, both of them were bad choices but you took the least worse one.
Arun Jaitley: Not in the least. We had a choice between postponing the decision, facing a criticism that we are unable to decide or taking a winning decision and we have taken a winning decision.
Karan Thapar: If you had postponed the decision to the end of November, it was almost certain that LK Advani would have supported you to be a united party you would have lost nothing. Two months would have cost nothing.
Arun Jaitley: I am not in the least doubt that Advaniji being such a seasoned and a senior person, will eventually support every decision that the party takes.
Karan Thapar: That is a guess at the moment.
Arun Jaitley: I think that is a political assessment, a political comment. Therefore the profits of doom as far as the BJP is concerned need not assume otherwise.
Karan Thapar: Let's move beyond LK Advani, the second problem with appointing Narendra Modi your prime ministerial candidate is that you virtually ensured that no other political party will join the NDA and you will going to fight the elections as a rump of tree. That puts you at a strategic disadvantage.
Arun Jaitley: You see you also have to also see the changing chemistry as far as this country is concerned. My own assessment is that if we either did not have a leader or decided something else, was there a possibility of in the pre-election scenario a very large number of our earlier allies coming back to us. That is an assessment and a call we had to take. And the call was that it does not appear likely, therefore the BJP's assessment is that the stronger the BJP emerges, the stronger will be the NDA.
Karan Thapar: Yes, but look at the risk that you are taking. If you end up with less than 200 seats and most analysts say that you are more than likely to end up with less than 200, in that circumstance if you want to try and form a government you will have to jettison Narendra Modi as your prime ministerial candidate and find another man and that will embarrass you.
Arun Jaitley: I am not willing to exercise the option of discussing any hypothetical situation at this stage. At this moment my strategy is, my party's strategy is we win the maximum number of seats. And I think the chemistry on the ground is changing and analysts will ultimately have to realize that the arithmetic will depend on this changed chemistry.
Karan Thapar: You hope that the chemistry is changing. There is no sign of it there is no proof of it at all. And the problem is by dismissing my question as hypothetical, you are refusing to face up to a reality that you may actually have to contend with. If you get less than 200, you will have to ditch Narendra Modi and find someone else otherwise you can't form a government.
Arun Jaitley: Not in the least. It is not a hypothetical assessment that I am making. Why is it that every opinion poll conducted by every media organisation through independent agencies show Narendra Modi in the popularity chart ahead by almost a mile.
Karan Thapar: So not a single opinion poll that's put the the BJP in 180, leave aside 200. You stop at 150, 160, sometimes 130, 140.
Arun Jaitley: The opinion polls may or may not be correct on the numbers but the opinion polls are today 6-8 months before the elections indicating a trend, that trend is hostile to the UPA. This elections and I can tell you is going to be a strong and anti-incumbency elections. This election may also become a referendum on the leadership issue.
Karan Thapar: You know, whatever you say and I have let you say in full, what you cant deny is the risk you have taken in making Narendra Modi your prime ministerial candidate is that if you fall short of 200 and that point you can only form a government by jettisoning him.
Arun Jaitley: I don't think there is a risk involved in this. With Narendra Modi in front, I think our possibility of getting the largest number of seats within our capacity does reasonably exist.
Karan Thapar: The problem that you face is that the concerns about Narendra Modi your prime ministerial candidate don't stop with the NDA, they don't stop with the numbers, they don't stop with LK Advani's anger. There are many and multi-fold concerns. For instance there is a real danger that you can now face a plethora of allegations like Mr Vanzara's pointing figures at Mr Modi for allegedly involvement in fake encounters. Even saying he has a answer to give which he is refusing to give that will embarrass you.
Arun Jaitley: Listen this kind of question has come to us in the last 10 years or 11 years. And this has been repeatedly answered by the people of Gujarat. Therefore to say because we made an allegation, the allegations has not found favour in any enquiry. It has not found in any court but you please answer the allegation. I think these extra judicial trails in the media will go on, appropriate replies will be given. But the people of India are discerning enough to realise where the truth lies.
Karan Thapar: You know you are putting on a brave face and I understand and appreciate that but look at the ominous comment made buy Mr Vanzara, not in last years just 10 days ago. He says and I am quoting "I would like to categorically state in the most unequivocal words that the officers and men acted and performed their duties in compliance with the conscious policy of the government," and then he adds and this is even worse, "I am of the firm opinion that the place of this government instead of being in Gandhinagar should either be in Taluja Central prison or in Sabarmati Central prison.
Arun Jaitley: See this is the comment coming from the gentleman who's been in the prison for the last 6-7 years. He has come out with a statement and what are his motivations with coming out with a statement, this will all has to be assessed and therefore my advice to anchors like you would be whenever such allegations are thrown up please don't expect them as the gospel truth, factor in the possibility of the collateral consideration behind them. I think you have the necessary ability to discern facts from possible strategies of various people. This has been going on in the last 11 years.
Karan Thapar: Except that it is not anchors your problems, if more people like Mr Vanzara, and that is the risk, come up with comments like this pointing fingers at the Gujarat government may be Narendra Modi himself, the people of India will smell something fishy.
Arun Jaitley: Tell me which political leader in India face such a hostile media, which political leader in India first face enquiries by court, by local police, by SIT, by CBI, by the Supreme Court repeatedly and finally not a shred of evidence against him could some.
Karan Thapar: Well, actually you are now coming on to the second issue that is going to be raised. 2002 and the allegation that Mr Modi was involved, that he has answers to give and that he has covering up for his party.
Arun Jaitley:None of the allegations has even been prime facie established against him before any forum and therefore we are a society governed by the rule of law, we are not the society governed by motivated allegations. If some allegations is established in the court or law or even prime facie established, Mr Modi would answer it, but 11 years despite investigations and hostility nothing has been established.
Karan Thapar: Mr Jaitley, what you are forgetting is that as we talk there is a case in front of the magistrate in Ahmedabad, which is coming to conclusion and I am told that there is only one substantive day of argument left, after that the case will determine whether Mr Modi has an answer to give for his involvement in 2002 or not. And if that judgment were to come out and damning, it would defamate Narendra Modi. It would cripple the BJP, that's the risk you have taken.
Arun Jaitley: Karan Thapar has no existing facts to put to me. He has only a hope that something may happen and I'll have to give an answer. Now, let me answer this particular fact, I won't comment on what the magistrate is doing, it's in the process. This matter has gone before the court, before the court the SIT gave a report that the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court complimented the SIT. Thereafter they ask the SIT to reinvestigate it, the SIT again cleared him, then they appointed an amicus. The Supreme Court asks the SIT to examine the amicus' report. The SIT said,
Karan Thapar: I don't think that's correct. The Supreme Court did not ask the SIT to ask the amicus' report, they ask them to include the amicus' report and the amicus did not support the SIT.
Arun Jaitley: The SIT has to file a final report under section 173 before the court, the SIT has done it. Now all these enquires, if there is not a shred of evidence against him. Therefore you please reserve your interview, when you find there is an evidence against you, you can ask me those questions with a smile but your smile is coming a bit to early.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, I am not smiling with glee, I am smiling because actually your account depart what the amicus has to say about the SIT report is a little inaccurate. Because Mr Ramu Rama Chandran confirms that his comment on the SIT report that allegations against Mr Modi need to be cleared in a court by way of a trail not by way of a investigative cliche. The SIT overlooked that. They included Ramu Chandran's report with their report but they have not accepted Ramu Chandran's report. And it is now being investigated and tried by the Ahmedabad magistrate and that is why I say, if that trial which is coming to an end finds against Modi, the risk you have taken is your prime ministerial candidate will be indicted by a court's law.
Arun Jaitley: Not in the least, let me tell you at the little knowledge of law myself, no court investigates by saying let me see whether a case is made out or not made out. First the police agencies have to file a chargesheet. They must be definitive about it, the chargesheet say no evidence against Mr Modi. When the magistrates considers it he will definitely certainly considers any observation of the amicus but at the same time this whole process of going through amicus etc is an extra CrPC process. We have accepted it because we want to be cleared by it.
Karan Thapar: You know, let me put it like this, there is a saying in the English language that 'Caesar's wife should be about suspicion'. What about the man who want to be Caesar himself. Is it acceptable for him to be surrounded by suspicion to be on the verge of a possible court case that may find against him? And yet be made by the BJP its prime ministerial candidate.
Arun Jaitley: Well there is a principle of law, that a person against whom no evidence has been found, certainly not tried by the media. And therefore if repeated enquires have found not a shred of evidence then at least people must fairly express that. They should not sulk about those investigations. .
Karan Thapar: Let me remind you of the BJP's great claim, where a party with a difference you said this to the world with repeatedly with a pride. That difference was your alleged moral superiority. Let me finish. If you chose a man surrounded by suspicion and allegation as your prime ministerial candidate to rule India, then that moral difference you think is makes you superior is thrown out of the window.
Arun Jaitley: Not in least, the differences between the 1984 and 2002. 1984 was an exercise and cover up from top to bottom. 2002, Modi had gone through at least six kinds of investigation and has been cleared by each investigation and therefore because we are a party with difference, we say with a sense of pride, our leader is not involved in any of these case.
Karan Thapar: On this particular issue, but by no means that it is least concerned, what message are you sending to India's 150 million Muslims, when you choose Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Isn't it a slap in their face?
Arun Jaitley: Not in the least. The manner in which in the last 11 years Gujarat has been governed, every section of the society including the minorities have prospered. They have seen it living their themselves. Gujarat which had a history of curfews, which had a history of riots, after the unfortunate riots of 2002 has had a peaceful co-existence. And therefore I would appeal to everyone including the minorities to please judge Narendra Modi by his performance.
Karan Thapar: Mr Jaitley, let me quickly come to two quick concerns about Narendra Modi. First it said, he is an authoritarian, he doesn't bare descent, he insists on getting his way.
Arun Jaitley: Well if being decisive, if being determined is considered by some people as authoritarian, I am afraid, I cannot agree by that. We have seen a face of indecisiveness as far as government is concerned. In fact India is suffering economically today because of leaderlesness, indecisiveness and therefore this whole image of Narendra Modi as a competent chief minister of Gujarat has come because of his determination and his decisiveness. Please don't confuse it with any form of authoritarian.
Karan Thapar: The second concern is that because he is today being pushed by the RSS who are perhaps its greatest champions, he will be very much a puppet in their hands and RSS influence over India if he becomes India's prime minister will grow
Arun Jaitley: Modi's appointment as the potential prime ministerial candidate of the BJP has come about in the most democratic manner in the BJP. It's been pulled from the bottom, is the rank and file and the supporting constituency of the BJP, which has compelled the leadership to take this decision.
Karan Thapar: So the fear that RSS influence over India will grow if Modi becomes prime minister, you are saying is an unrealistic fear?
Arun Jaitley: Well the RSS is not interested in influencing governments or politics. They have sufficient work of their own to do.
Karan Thapar: So far I have been put into you the risks the BJP is running in making Narendra Modi your prime ministerial candidate. Now that he is, many people say if he is serious about becoming prime minister, there are certain things he needs to do. Mr Jaitley lets come to the critical steps many believes Narendra Modi must take if he is serious about becoming Prime Minister and the first is they say to bury the ghost of 2002, which haunts him. Why doesn't he apologise or issue a statement of regret.
Arun Jaitley: He has repeatedly said if I am guilty, please hang me. And if I am not guilty, don't let the scar of guilt be on my forehead by saying I have apologized for something wrong that I have done.
Karan Thapar: The truth is that when he is questioned about the 2002, he has a tendency to walk out of interviews. You know that. He has done it with Devil's Advocate.
Arun Jaitley: Well a lot of people have walked out of interviews except me, but that apart. As far as he his repeated interviews on public forums, to the media has been, if I am guilty why should I just get away with just any apology than you must trail me but if you can't find me guilty then just don't score a debating point by saying that please apologise for something which you have not done.
Karan Thapar: How about accepting that he has up-hurt the sentiments of many, frightened them and someone who wants to be the ruler of India, why can't he simply say I deeply regret what happened. I will ensure it never happen gain and I am reaching out to the Muslims to say trust me you have nothing to be afraid. Why can't he say something as simple as that.
Arun Jaitley: I do maintain that post 2002, he has more than that demonstrated by his own actions. Every minority in Gujarat has been safe. They have all prospered. The propaganda of minority is being against him apart, in fact his support base amongst the minorities Gujarat has also increased.
Karan Thapar: You know, if Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi can apologise for 1984 is Narendra Modi to arrogant to big to be able to apologise.
Arun Jaitley: Not in the least, therefore if you say that cuse you of engineering the riots, is that is the propaganda, you certainly don't expect him to plead guilty on this when he is not involved ted enquires have cleared him.
Karan Thapar: Don't apologies, express regret. Say I regret what happened. Atleast go that way.
Arun Jaitley: We are now hair splitting. You are not guilty but to satisfy an interview please express regret. I think every person is entitled to his political strategy and Modi's political strategy is I will clear my name by my performance.
Karan Thapar: All right, the second issue people raise that is he is really serious about becoming prime minister, why doesn't he step aside and resign as chief minister of Gujarat and concentrate on the new responsibility he has got.
Arun Jaitley: Well I think that is only a procedural issue. People have earlier also been prime minister who held different offices. There is no convention in India that you resign, when you have to contest
Karan Thapar: It's not the question of convention, it's not the question of procedure alone. The chief ministership of Gujarat is a full-time job, becoming prime minister of India is a full-time ambition. If he combines the two, he has clearly not got enough time for Gujarat. Gujarat will lose. In the interest of Gujarat, he should step aside.
Arun Jaitley: I don't find substance in this objection at all. He is fairly dynamic and he is able to manage both.
Karan Thapar: You mean doing two jobs at the same time.
Arun Jaitley: The second is the campaign assignment. He is going to go around the country and address rallies.
Karan Thapar: And he will be absent from Gujarat and unable to handle Gujarat when he is away.
Arun Jaitley: No question at all, you see he is in Gujarat half the day. He goes to another part of the country. These days communication and movement are much faster. I am sure you know these.
Karan Thapar: My last question to you. The BJP has always maintained the principle one man one post at the moment. Narendra Modi has three posts at the very least. Should he not now step aside from the chairmanship of the campaign committee?
Arun Jaitley: Well that's a decision the party President will take because that's hardly a post that's a responsibility and therefore along with his responsibility in Gujarat and as a potential prime minister candidate, whether he is able to discharge it or the party President feels that he must discharge it, that's a decision party President can take.
Karan Thapar: The impression you give me reminds me of George Orwell in 'Animal Farm' where he said, "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others". Modi come into later category, he can have three jobs at the same time, he can hold onto all of them, no one will ask him to resign. Is that right?
Arun Jaitley: Well some of these are responsibility, can you say that I am the Leader of Opposition but I am also a member of BJP's Parliamentary Board. Is there a conflict of interest between these assignments? These are
Karan Thapar: But these are demands made by your party,
Arun Jaitley: Well I don't think anybody has seriously made any of these demands.
Karan Thapar: So you are ignoring the demands, you are not serious in your eyes
Arun Jaitley: No, according to me these demands have hardly been made by anybody.
Karan Thapar: In other words they are not worth considering.
Arun Jaitley: These are very minor issues as far as the campaign is concerned
Karan Thapar: If it turns out that these issues that concern LK Advani and are touchstones for him, will you then respond differently?
Arun Jaitley: I don't think so. I think we are being unfair to Advaniji. Advaniji had a view point. The party has considered it and Advaniji has had his own contribution and I am sure he sees reason in the alternative views point also.
Karan Thapar: Arun Jaitley, lets leave it their. A pleasure talking to you.
Arun Jaitley: Thank you.