THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW
SS Ahluwalia was part of Rajiv Gandhi&’s ‘shouting brigade’ during the height of the Bofors controversy. When he joined the BJP later, during
the NDA regime, it was L K Advani
who announced his entry into the
party. Therefore, when the BJP patriarch tendered his resignation from party posts recently, Ahluwalia had reasons to feel bad.
Recently appointed vice-president of the party and chairman of the working group on the northeastern region, Ahluwalia is known to be a sincere backroom strategist and objective analyst on legislative issues. The former deputy leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha spoke to NIRENDRA DEV on various issues. Excerpts:

To start with, the BJP is passing through a testing time. What’s your assessment of events during the Goa conclave culminating in L K Advani’s resignation? You were among the first to rush to Advani’s house.
I will not say much. But there are big challenges for the party in coming days; it should be united, and stay firm and focused. To achieve that, whatever decisions are to be taken should be taken by party president Rajnath Singh. We should whatever steps are necessary to live up to the expectations of the people and the country.

What do you have to say on the Goa conclave, the manner in which things unfolded and Narendra Modi’s elevation?
(Smiles) I have answered all your questions in the first instance itself. Let us move on…

Let&’s focus on the responsibility entrusted to you for the northeastern states. You are an old hand on that region, so the going should not be very tough.
The assignment is very important, especially in the context of the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, which can happen sooner rather than later. You are right, I have some experience of the northeast and have travelled to remote parts of states like Nagaland and Assam since the time of Rajiv Gandhi when I was in the Congress.
The BJP is considered a popular party in the northeast, but we have to improve our standing in terms of winning elections.
Perhaps, you have a more challenging task in Assam, as there are always expectations from your party in the state, yet the BJP has not been able to make a mark. What could be the reasons and how do you propose to improve the party&’s standing in the state?
I have a good team that includes Bijoya Chakravarty, Kabindra Purkayastha, Rajen Gohain, Ramen Deka and others. They are from the region and have first-hand knowledge of the area as well as its problems. My personal perception is the BJP always stands a good chance in Assam. Besides traditional voters, the party has a good following in Assam among linguistic and even religious minorities, including Christians and Sikhs. We have to tap those.

What, according to you, has been lacking in terms of efforts in the case of Assam? Why does the party&’s popularity not translate into votes?
Look, electoral politics is complex and also competitive, more so in a sensitive state like Assam. We have just started working there, but I feel we have to find the right alliance partners in order to achieve electoral success. We may try to focus on that in the coming months. The Assam unit has convened a meet of its state executive committee in Silchar where I have been invited; I shall try to attend that.

People in Assam expect your party to fight the Congress and Badaruddin Ajmal&’s AIUDF. What&’s your take?
As I have told you, electoral politics in Assam is very complex. One cannot make off-hand remarks. But we are aware of our responsibility and we are ready to fight both Congress and AIUDF. One cannot forget AGP too, even though it has been decimated lately; AGP has 10 MLAs and we have five in the 126-member assembly.
AGP&’s vote share was more than that of the AIUDF in the 2011 Assembly elections ~ while AGP had 16 per cent, AIUDF bagged 12 per cent of the votes. The BJP&’s share was no less at 11 per cent. Things are often very close. That&’s why I say we have complex electoral issues in Assam. But I am confident, if we work hard, my team will be able to live up to the expectations of the party leadership.

On a different note, you also made news when you lost the Rajya Sabha election from Jharkhand. BJP watchers say this was more due to the party&’s internal machinations. You are thus a victim of the ‘party with differences’ that the BJP is today.
(Smiles) What you are referring to is a matter of the past. And wise men say it is always better to leave the past behind and move ahead in life.
You have not answered my question. How is infighting harming the BJP? There are internal quarrels at every stage.
You are wrong. The party is always united and the rest is all media speculation. This ***masala and sprinkling of spices helps the media and most often, they are a creation of the media too. For instance, in Goa, one journalist asked me whether putting a turban of a particular colour had any special significance with regards to the outcome of the conclave.

What&’s your assessment of the loss in Karnataka? In the last few years, the BJP has also lost Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Himachal.
Actually, much has been said on the Karnataka elections. But as a matter of fact, I feel that in Karnataka, we took a principled stand against corruption. And you have to pay a price for some principles. The losses in Uttarakhand and Himachal were largely due to the anti-incumbency factor. Otherwise, the BJP&’s governance track record has been good everywhere, including these two states.

You are a former deputy leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. How do you justify the BJP stonewalling smooth functioning of Parliament in practically every session?
Why don’t you all ask about the Congress’ role? In every session, we come across new cases of corruption. Floor management on the part of the government has been extremely poor. At times, they simply don’t communicate with all sections of the House.
I wonder what made them take a rigid stand over the resignations of Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Bansal. Had they quit when the Parliament was in session, things could have been different.
But I agree with you, Parliament sessions should not be disturbed so frequently.