During 1984 riots, Rajiv Gandhi sent me to Gurdwara Rakabganj Road to stop a mob of Congressmen from attacking it, clarifies Kamal Nath.
New Delhi: There is “nothing conclusive” about the anti-BJP alliance announced in Uttar Pradesh Saturday for the Lok Sabha elections, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath has said, suggesting that while the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) might have kept the Congress out and declared their alliance and seat-sharing formula, there was no final word on it yet.
In conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta and associate editor Neelam Pandey at Off The Cuff, Nath played down the SP-BSP decision to keep the Congress out of the alliance, saying that they were “in it together”.
“There is no end to this,” he added, “I don’t think anything is conclusive. This is not something that will be the Geeta or the Bible, which you can’t change. Again, talks will evolve.”
“We don’t want seats to lose. We want seats to win. What we want should not damage the BSP or the SP. We are in it together,” Nath said.
The 1984 taint
During the chat, Nath, for the first time ever, also gave a detailed rebuttal to allegations about his involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and explained the reason behind his oft-cited presence at Gurdwara Rakabganj where a mob had laid siege.
According to Nath, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had asked him to go to Gurdwara Rakabganj Road to control a mob of Congressmen preparing to attack it.
“I was with Mr Rajiv Gandhi, who had just become Prime Minister,” he said. “He got a phone call that Congress people have congregated outside Gurdwara Rakabganj and they are going to attack it. He told me, ‘Kamal, go there and stop all this nonsense’…”
“I went there. I found Mr Gautam Kaul (Indira Gandhi’s cousin) there. He said, ‘This crowd is here. Control them for 10 minutes. My force is coming. I don’t have adequate force.’ So I started talking to them,” Nath added.
“They said ‘no’, they have taken someone inside the gurdwara. I said, leave all this, this isn’t your job, this is police’s job. So I was keeping them engaged for 15 minutes. His force arrived (and) I left,” he added, “That was the end of the matter. That’s why no one filed anything against me.”
“Nobody charged me,” he said, “Nobody filed a case against me. I took oath as a minister in 1991 but nobody said anything. I took oath again later, nobody said anything.”
“I was the general secretary of the Congress party in charge of Delhi, where the riots took place, nobody said anything. It’s only now that it is being raised. So I leave it to your judgment to realise how political it is. No charge no FIR, no case,” he added.
“Then the BJP government set up a commission of inquiry. Somebody went and filed an affidavit a couple of years ago… That inquiry, we know what it says. It says it didn’t charge me. Now, suddenly, when I become chief minister, everybody has started charging me. In all these years, the Sikh community has honoured me, felicitated me. Nobody has said anything. Suddenly it comes up,” said Nath, who assumed office as chief minister last month.
To a question about why the crowd listened to him, he said, “Because they were Congress people. I had to keep them engaged. There was a mob… one or two of them I saw were known faces. They were, of course. This has been established in so many cases that there were one or two. It was a mob of people.”
“I personally deplore this, what happened,” Nath added. “It was deplorable. The Congress party has apologised to the Sikh community on this. Dr Manmohan Singh himself apologised on behalf of the Congress party and the government.”
“The process of prosecution and the judicial process has been lacking in this. It’s been 35 years,” he said. “I’m not in the central government now, but when we are, we will certainly want to act on this. Because if there is one black mark against the Congress party, it is this. Because there was nobody else responsible for it. Rightly or wrongly, by design or by default.”
On PM Narendra Modi
Nath also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he was not loved, but feared.
“Rahul Gandhi is tolerant. He is a great listener,” he added, “He is loved by those who know him. Modi is not a loved PM, he is a feared PM.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the 2014 elections with 31 per cent of the votes, which means 69 per cent of India’s voters were against it, he added.
“It isn’t by opposing alone that you win elections, it is by exposing. The BJP today stands exposed,” Nath said.
Asked if he thinks Modi is beatable, he said, “He is already beaten.”
Nath conceded that his predecessor, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, wasn’t an unpopular leader and it was attacking Narendra Modi that got him “more cheers”.
He also sought to reject the controversy over his government’s decision to reportedly stop the practice of government officials singing ‘Vande Mataram’ on the first day of every month before starting work.
“I don’t know why it was a controversy. I said I wanted to change the format of this (singing of ‘Vande Mataram’). I stopped ‘Vande Mataram’ the way the BJP did it in the state,” he added. “I wanted to make it ceremonial, like a tourist attraction.”
“I said they will march from a park. I said the police band will go with them and let the public join in,” he added. “And I’ll make this a tourist attraction. Like you have the changing of guard at the UK’s Buckingham Palace. They will start from Shreya Park, police band and everyone will be there,” he said.
Talking about last year’s assembly election, Nath said that the BSP had “damaged” the Congress on 10-11 seats in the assembly elections.
“In the Vindhya region, we did very badly,” he added. “I was expecting to do far better in the region. Our victory margin would have been far better if we had done better there.”
The Madhya Pradesh chief minister said he was now working on a land monetisation policy to raise resources for the state. He added that he would cancel the lease of all old coal mines that are not functional anymore, and use the land to build houses for the economically weaker sections.
Nath hinted at “cleaning” the textbooks, stating that the BJP had used crores of government funds over the past 15 years to build a political apparatus.
“Desaffronisation is a project in itself,” he added. “They had this Jan Abhiyan Parishad, what was this Jan Abhiyan Parishad in every village? Paying people, RSS workers, make them a part of the parishad. So much going from the exchequer. You cannot use government funds to create your own political apparatus. This is what’s wrong.”
He said close to Rs 1,000 crore was spent on this parishad, adding that his government would set up an “apolitical jan aayog” to investigate alleged corruption by the previous government.