Former Union Minister Shanta Kumar, 84, sitting Lok Sabha MP from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, is among the Bharatiya Janata Party elders (BJP) who have been abruptly made to retire from electoral politics in 2019. He is, however, unfazed by the decision and says he has got enough from politics and has more to accomplish in literary and social fields now. But the former Chief Minister of Himachal, who is known for his forthright approach to politics, has reservations over the way the BJP leadership chose to pull the curtains down on careers of veteran leaders like LK Advani. In an interview to ARCHANA PHULL in his home town Palampur, Shanta Kumar spoke on the current political scenario. Excerpts:
Q: Has the present BJP leadership been fair to seniors in party?
A: The BJP decided to put an age bar of 75 years and has implemented it. I have accepted it without any hitch. I have said goodbye to electoral politics and am celebrating it. But I do feel that the party leadership could have chosen a better way to convey the decision to elders without hurting them. Senior leaders like LK Advani, who took BJP to heights in the country, were in tears and I really felt bad. I even talked to JP Nadda on this. As a writer, my opinion is that age can’t be a yardstick to decide the potential (youth) of a person. Youth can be determined by age, but not by age only. The history of the freedom struggle is full of such examples.
Q: How satisfied are you with your political journey?
A: I am fully satisfied. The principle of my life is that we should work hard. Whatever we get, we should smilingly accept it as God’s blessing. I have got enough. But I feel that I became chief minister of Himachal twice for two-and-a-half years each. Had I got ten years to perform, I would have done much more for the state. On this, I have a ‘meetha gila’ (sweet grouse) with the Gods.
Q: Did you suffer due to your plain speak in politics?
A: I did pay the price for not compromising with principles in politics, but I don’t think I suffered a loss. Whatever I did was right, and I never compromised to stick to power. I shared some of my concerns within BJP, and many times, the party also listened to me. I always left the final decision to the party.
Q: What changes do you see in politics over time?
A: Unfortunately, the entire politics has changed now. Earlier, politics was based on principles. But now politics is only for power. I am pained to see leaders jumping to different parties for power. The country’s biggest election has turned out to be a ‘mandi’ (market) of leaders.
Q: What about BJP in this context?
A: BJP is still better than other parties, but is not untouched by the eroding values in politics. The party needs to be cautious. BJP is the biggest political party of the world. It’s good to be big. But all those who are big may not be good. The BJP should also try to be the best party in the world.
Q: How do you evaluate the performance of the Modi government?
A: The NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee also put in sincere efforts. But we got the full mandate for the first time in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have any personal agenda, and no one can raise fingers on his integrity. He had the guts to take difficult decisions and his five-year rule has brought many basic changes in the system. During Congress rule in the past, there was little done for social justice. The rich and elite sparkled and the poor kept sobbing. In five years, Modi government has thought about development of people at the bottom. It requires more work, and we need five more years for that. I have written to PM Modi that benefit of all the government schemes should first go to the poorest of poor. To ensure this, we should have a separate Antyodaya department. ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ is fine, but we should also focus on ‘Sabsey neechey ka vikas sabsey jyada, sabsey pehley’.
Q: What about former Union minister Sukh Ram’s switch to Congress in HP again?
A: A drama is going on in Himachal. Sukh Ram has been frequently changing political parties only for a ticket for his son and now grandson. He has virtually begged for this. In this case, I would say mine and former Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s party (thought) is same so far as this principle is concerned. We never left our party.
Q: How do you rate first time CM of Himachal Jai Ram Thakur?
A: The general opinion is that Jai Ram Thakur is decent, honest and hard working. He is from an ordinary background. Any leader who carries this image has a bright future. He is handling governance issues gradually and has performed well in over one year of rule. The beginning is good.
Q: Anything for young politicians to follow?
A: The youth should never shed values in politics. Politics for power can make the government but can’t take the nation to prosperity.