Enter the BJP's Troubleshooter!

Though Mr. MUPPAVARAPU VENKAIAH NAIDU's recent appointment as President of the BJP was at a difficult time, he is optimistic to turn the tide in his party's favour. In an exclusive interview with RENU MITTAL, Mr. Naidu outlines his strategy to rebuild and galvanise the party, both at the state and national levels

As President of the BJP, how do you see your role and what are your priorities?
We have completed two-and-a-half years in office and we have another two-and-a-half years to go. So keeping in view the overall situation and the states where we have received setbacks, the campaign launched against us by the opposition, our inability to communicate effectively with the masses all these matters were assessed and the prime minister and the leadership took a decision to revamp the party. My immediate aim would be to tone up the party and revamp the organization at the national level as well as affect some changes at the state level with particular reference to the nine to 10 states which are going to the polls. In some places changes would be made in the state leadership, in other places there would be structural changes.

You have earlier spoken of re-establishing contact between the workers and the party, and between the party and the people. Is that an admission that your predecessor Jana Krishnamurthy's failure?
I did not say re-establish. I said we would have to effectively communicate with the masses more effectively. Secondly, Jana Krishnamurthy has been taken in the government and I have been entrusted with the party. What are my tasks, my responsibilities and my priorities. I would like to talk about that and not discuss the past.

But the PM had said that this revamp is in the nature of a mid-term correction implying that much has gone wrong with the functioning of the party?
Yes, the prime minister has said that these are mid-term correctives. We will take corrective action and there will more introspection. We do not mind admitting that some corrections need to be undertaken. There is need for further improving governance and the speed of implementation of programmes. There is need for improvement. We as a party would be acting as a watch dog of the people's interests and from time to time reminding the government that issues concerning the people have not been implemented.

The BJP leadership has always spoken about the BJP being a party with a difference. But we see that an elected president has been removed just as it happens in other party the Congress and another president is foisted. How do you see that?
There is no question of foisting anybody. The president resigned to go to the government, there is a vacancy and by consensus a new president is selected and would be elected on August 3, when there is a national council meeting. There is no internal problem as far as our party is concerned, no grievances, no such expression of views in the BJP. We cannot compare ourselves with the Congress party.

Some sections of the party feel that the manner in which you have been installed from the top augurs ill for inner party democracy?
Nobody in the BJP can speak like this. No one has spoken even privately. And privately I would say that it is the media which says this because they need spicy copy.

You would like whoever is speaking to say this openly?
Yes, of course. Party provides a forum for everyone to speak within the party and if they they speaking outside the party they are not working in the party's interest. But I don't think any of my party people are speaking privately.

You don't think this comparison to the Congress is either valid or fair and that your party is not plagued by the same problems?
There are weaknesses which have crept into the body politic of the country. They have been there in the Congress and now they have crept into the BJP but on the periphery. Indiscipline, groupism and craze of power but on the periphery. But we are concerned as we had declared that we are a party with a difference with a mission. Nobody compelled us to say that we were a party with a difference but having said it, you must see that you live upto the expectations of the people.

Is it the price which a party has to pay for being in power, a syndrome which hits all political parties?
I don't want to make this a generality. But if power is seen as an end in itself, then these problems arise. I want to tell my partymen that we have a mission, we are an ideological political party and not a party which sees power as an end in itself. As far as the party cadre are concerned, we persuade them, educate them, motivate them but if the 'laxmanrekha' is concerned action has to follow. It is a virus which will affect the party.

More and more it is becoming clear that L.K. Advani is the man who is calling the shots in both the government and the party. He is also seen to be the power behind your presidential throne. How accurate is this perception?
This entire argument is absurd. I don't agree with it at all. There is no factionalism at all, not even one per cent at the top. There is some factionalism in some states which cost us heavily. The party is introspecting on that and some correctives are being taken. I want to say I am not a nominee of Advani or anyone else. I am a nominee of the party. People talk of Advani's line, Vajpayee's line. There is one line and that is the BJP line. Today Mr. Vajpayee is the undisputed leader. Leader of India, of the BJP, of the NDA, of Venkaiah Naidu, of L.K. Advani also. It is Vajpayee who has appointed Advaniji as the deputy prime minister and since that is the case where is the question of being unhappy about it or of creating more than one power centre in the government. This shows his command, control and confidence. Vajpayee is very much active and is the guiding force behind the party.

Is the emergence of L.K. Advani at the centrestage a reassertion of the BJP's Hindutva politics?
It is not because of our stand on Hindutva. India is a liberal country and we are a liberal people and we want to continue with our liberal image. Hindus also are liberal and we don't represent those extreme sections. The important point, however, is we don't want to be apologetic about our ideology or our philosophy. There is some amount of confusion created by our political rivals. On the one hand they say that the BJP has foresaken its ideology for the sake of power and on the other they say that BJP is secretly implementing its agenda. The saffronization of education, filling up posts with their people, communal virus creeping into the government. Soniaji has said all this recently. We can only laugh at all this. Now they say there are differences between the RSS and the BJP. Till yesterday they said the RSS is controlling the BJP. These are all theories offered by our opponents.

But you have said that the BJP is not apologetic of its agenda. Do you like many others feel that building the Ram temple is part of your agenda?
I want to make it very clear that the BJP is not apologetic about its agenda but proud of it. But today it is not the BJP government but an NDA government. We have a common agenda which was approved by the BJP also. We want the Ram temple to be constructed at Ayodhya but where, when and how is the question. There is no consensus within the government on this issue. At the moment the foremost duty of the BJP workers is to see that the government experiment succeeds because the Congress had been saying that except for us no one else can give a stable government. We have disproved it so far and we want to complete our full term and disprove this fully. If the image of the government goes up, the maximum beneficiary of this would be the BJP. That is why I have used the slogan, "Ek haath mein BJP jhanda, doosre haath mein NDA agenda". This means we are giving up our party flag but at the same time carrying on with the NDA agenda. In the next round of elections, good governance is going to be our poll plank and for this we have to show the people that we are capable of good governance. BJP stands by its ideology and philosophy but there is no question of thrusting our ideology onto our NDA allies.

Do you see yourself going to the next elections with Mr. Vajpayee as the leader?
He will decide that but the wishes of the party, its workers and leaders is that Vajpayee should lead the party again.

Mr. Naidu, you have never been a member of the RSS unlike many of your predecessors. Then how do you propose to interact with the RSS and the Sangh Parivar who have been known to interfere in the functioning of the government and the party?
I have been brought up by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad. I have been in the RSS but I don't claim that I was groomed by the RSS. I have not been in the Jan Sangh. I think that I am the first president who was not in the Jan Sangh. There is a generational change which has taken place in the party, blessed by the leadership. I believe in collective leadership, as I know my limitations and my strengths. .

And what about the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. How do you propose to handle them?
I am all for a dialogue with the RSS and come to a broad consensus on issues to a great extent possible. The BJP is independent of the Sangh Parivar. The sangh parivar outfits are all independent organizations, they are not a part of the BJP while we are a political party.