By Anando Bhakto,
New Delhi, 03 April 2014: Expelled leader Jaswant Singh slammed the BJP for becoming a party of “individual leaders” and said he was “not sure if the BJP is fit to govern” India since “there was no collective leadership.”
“There is no longer any collective leadership… I don’t know if the BJP can be called fit to govern the country today,” Singh, a former foreign, defence and finance minister at various times in the previous NDA government of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said in an interview to IANS over phone from Barmer where he is busy campaigning as an independent candidate.
“All important decisions are being taken by a few people in the BJP,” he said, adding that senior leaders are being sidelined.
Singh, 76, was expelled from BJP March 29 following his decision to contest as an independent candidate from Barmer in Rajasthan in defiance of the party. He said he misses the Vajpayee era, not out of sentiments, but for the fact that decision-making was not concentrated in a few hands then.
When it was put to him that the BJP looked like hinting at envisaging a new leadership in which the older leaders were making way for the new, he said, “I would like to ask who in the BJP is wanting to finish me? Who is dropping such hints? Such questions are being repeated again and again. This is a facile question, which doesn’t merit an answer.”
Singh, who was expelled from the BJP for the first time in 2009 over his controversial book “Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence” and was taken back in 2010, did not rule out the possibility of lending support to the NDA after the poll results.
“This is a question which will be addressed when I come across that situation. As of now, I do not want to comment anything,” Singh told IANS when asked whether, in the event of his victory as an independent, he would support the NDA if it falls short of the 272 majority mark.
Singh, who was once close to Vajpayee and formed the leadership troika in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with L.K. Advani, said people in Barmer were angry that his candidature was rejected by the BJP “without any validity of reason”.
“They are feeling personally humiliated that I have been expelled from the BJP. They are enraged that the BJP picked a candidate who recently lost in assembly election as a Congress candidate,” he said, referring to Col. Sonaram Choudhury, who is now contesting from Barmer from the BJP ticket.
When asked if caste equation might have persuaded the BJP to field the former Congressman, Singh said, “The caste factor is a stupid and destructive reason being churned out.”
“My son Manavendra Singh won the Barmer Lok Sabha constituency in 2004 on a BJP ticket by a margin of over two lakh (200,000) votes. Where is the caste equation here?”
Singh said it was the highest margin ever from Barmer-Jaisalmer. “If caste equation had dominated this constituency, such a victory would not have been possible for my son.”
Singh claimed he enjoyed a popular support base across caste and communities in Barmer. “I have three lakh (300,000) Muslims supporting me but I am not a Muslim,” he said.
Singh, who has also been leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha and chairman of the important Public Accounts Committee of Parliament which oversees government spending, said it was an “absolutely facile and incorrect explanation” by the BJP which has maintained caste equations do not favour Singh’s candidature.
Singh appeared confident he would win the election.
“There is an overwhelming support for me in Barmer. Never before have I seen such public enthusiasm,” remarked Singh, who faces a triangular battle from Choudhury and Congress’s Harish Chaudhary.
When asked what were the factors working in his favour, Singh said, “I have a long political experience backing me; I have been a nine-term MP. Wherever I go, there is a demonstration of affection for me. I am confident I will win.”
Singh does not believe that the lack of organisational support will come in way of his campaign, now that he is out of the BJP. He added that he accepted the reality and challenges of today, but those challenges need to be dealt with collectively in the BJP since the “BJP is not a party of individuals.”
When asked why he had sharpened attack against Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, whom he accused of using religious places for political activity (a charge found baseless by the district administration), Singh exclaimed, “What do you mean by sharpened attack? They have never been charge free.”
Singh said that he met L.K. Advani, old friend and colleague, before leaving from Delhi, but now that he had been expelled from the BJP, he “did not find it fit to call anybody”.
Significantly, he dismissed rumours that he might join any other political party. “I am not joining any political party. The Samajwadi Party was very kind; Mulayam Singh called me. Azam Khan called me, too. I also had a talk with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. But I am not looking forward to joining any party.”
(Anando Bhakto can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)