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Sharad Yadav, Janata Dal (United) chief and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convener, tells Gyan Varma if the United Progressive Alliance had discussed Pranab Mukherjee’s nomination for Presidential election before announcing his name, the NDA would not have put up its candidate against the former finance minister
Why has the Janata Dal (United) decided to support United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA’s) nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential election, instead of former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma who is the official nominee of its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)?
But the top office of President of India is a constitutional post. I feel in 2014, the political scene of the country will not be very different from what it is today. So, we believe a person close to Indian politics — one who knows the country — should be made the President.
Mukherjee has been in politics for 40-45 years in New Delhi. He is the seniormost leader of the Congress; he is also the leader of the party in Parliament and above all, he is a politically sharp person. I am not supporting the economic decisions taken by him, and there is no difference between Mukherjee and others in the UPA for taking those wrong economic decisions. So, it is not right to think we are backing the UPA by extending our support for Mukherjee.
We were ready to support former President A P J Abdul Kalam, but he did not agree to contest the election. It is true if Kalam had contested, Opposition parties would have gained political mileage out of it. But, when he announced his decision against it, other political parties took their own independent decisions. Even Shiv Sena — another NDA ally supporting Mukherjee — was ready to back Kalam.
I don’t see a point in supporting others, when Mukherjee is going to win. We had supported Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in the last Presidential poll, and we did not gain anything out of it — instead it went against us. So, we were clear from the beginning.
But Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik were not ready to withdraw their support for Sangma. During our discussions with Jayalalithaa, she made it clear that she would continue backing Sangma, and not Kalam. And, why just us, all the three political fronts are divided on the Presidential election — there is division in the UPA, the Left and the NDA.
But the divide is not new in Indian politics. During the United Front, Shiromani Akali Dal had supported former President Giani Zail Singh. Similarly, Shiv Sena had supported President Pratibha Patil the last time, as she is from Maharashtra. Hence, it is wrong to conclude there are differences between the NDA partners.
Did senior BJP leaders try to convince you against your support for Mukherjee? Usually, JD (U) always supports decisions taken by the BJP.
During our discussions, the BJP leaders only told us what they were thinking. The fault lies with the UPA. If the UPA had consulted us before announcing the name, I do not think the Opposition parties would have put up any candidate against Mukherjee. But the Opposition parties were pushed to the wall.
The BJP leaders are supporting Sangma, who has been nominated by Jayalalithaa and Patnaik. Do you think they will soon join the NDA, as they have been part of the alliance earlier?
No, this is not my assessment, but senior BJP leaders perceive that both Jayalalithaa and Patnaik can join the NDA. According to me, there is a difference in coming together to support a candidate in the Presidential election and joining hands to form an alliance.
You had stopped senior BJP leader L K Advani from making any announcement on the Presidential election before the NDA meeting. Why was the NDA talking about a wait-and-watch policy?
Even before the NDA meeting, the alliance partners had agreed to disagree. We had told of our decision to the senior BJP leaders. When the final decision on the Presidential election was announced, the BJP had first conducted a press conference. Only then, did we announce our decision. The NDA was unanimous in its support for Kalam; these contradictions started only after Kalam decided not to contest.
Apart from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), none of the other non-Congress and non-NDA parties has backed Sangma. Do you think a third-front formation has been dented, which will take a long time to recover?
There are only two fronts in Indian politics for now. The only third front is the Left parties. Earlier, a third front was possible because Janata Dal was a national party; we had a strong presence in Karnataka, Odisha, Bihar, Kerala and a considerable one in almost all the states. We used to win seats in Uttar Pradesh, too, but it is no longer the same.
There was a recent discussion over its Prime Ministerial candidate, when the NDA was unable to decide on its Presidential candidate. Who was responsible for it? Do you support Narendra Modi as the NDA’s candidate for Prime Minister, or if the BJP gives him a national role?
I don’t think this is the case. The BJP has said it would first take a decision in the Parliamentary board and then discuss it in the NDA. This was the process earlier and the same process would be followed in future also.
Jagan Reddy’s popularity is growing fast in Andhra Pradesh. He is becoming stronger in comparison to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Can we expect some kind of an official dialogue between Reddy and the NDA. Will you talk to JD (Secular) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to join the NDA before the Lok Sabha election?
No, we are not talking to Reddy. As far as the TDP is concerned, it is suffering because of the Congress. Both the Congress and the TDP are suffering in Andhra Pradesh. I strongly believe discussions between political parties do not happen through media.
If Mukherjee becomes the President, a vacancy will be created in the finance ministry. Will you accept Home Minister P Chidambaram as the finance minister? Also, what corrective steps are required to revive the economy?
If the UPA government doesn’t take immediate corrective steps, our economy will suffer even more in the coming days. The gross domestic product growth is declining, the value of the rupee is going down and industrial production is suffering. People who had invested in India are now withdrawing their investments.
Deciding on the next finance minister is a prerogative of the Congress and the UPA allies. We cannot give our opinion on this issue. Our opposition to Chidambaram is intact. If he is made the finance minister, our attack on him will increase. There is no change in our stance.