Janata Dal -- United President and National Democratic Alliance convenor Sharad Yadav tells Aasha Khosa about the issues the alliance will raise during the coming Lok Sabha elections.
Lok Sabha elections are round the corner. How come the NDA is yet to meet?
We were waiting for the Bharatiya Janata Party to complete its National Council and National Executive meetings. After that I plan to convene a meeting of the NDA to discuss the strategy for the Lok Sabha elections.
Right now, we in the Janata Dal - United are working on a seat-sharing pact with the BJP in Bihar. I must confess that the process has been slow, not because of any problems but due to the challenge of selecting suitable candidates, as profile of many constituencies has changed drastically after the delimitation process.
You had recently criticised all political parties, including your ally, the BJP, for choosing the wrong candidates for the election. What exactly did you say?
My charges were against all the parties. I have no objection to the entry of people from different walks of life into politics just before the election. However, I believe that such people should at least have a link with some political ideology. Just because a person is successful in the corporate world or somebody is a son or a daughter of a politician doesn't mean that he or she deserves a ticket. Politicians cannot be raised by transplanting people from anywhere into politics.
In the past, we have had poets like Kaifi Azami who were political thinkers but never aspired to join politics. Even actors like Sunil Dutt and Raj Babbar had definite social commitments. But then, if a party decides to replace a veteran politician like Ram Naik with an actor like Govinda, what is the future of politics in this country?
Ram Naik is a man who has worked for people and has invested a lifetime in his political career. I did not name BJP specifically but said that all parties were following this new culture of choosing celebrities as candidates.
Coming back to the Lok Sabha elections, what issues does the NDA plan to focus on during the campaign?
The biggest issues for the NDA are farmer suicides, inflation and the very scary scene of unemployment in the country. When public-school educated, English-speaking people are finding it difficult to retain their jobs, what about 95 per of the job-seekers who have studied in regional languages?
The global economic slowdown has hit trade and exports of textiles, handicrafts, ornaments and carpets, which were a source of livelihood for millions of people in rural areas, have dropped by 60 per cent.
In this context, our struggle against the government policy of giving agricultural land to Special Economic Zones takes a new turn. In last four years, the poor farmers have lost about 100,000 hectares of land to SEZs. Now, with traditional exports falling, people will need this land back desperately so that they can sustain themselves through agriculture. The NDA will campaign for the return of this land to the farmers in the light of the economic meltdown.
You did not start with the issue of terrorism? Is it low on your priority?
Terrorism is a major issue on which the NDA will present a fresh outlook before the country. The fact is, for the past 60 years, we, as a nation, have been dealing with the issue of terrorism superficially, mainly fighting it through rhetoric.
What happened after the terrorist strike in Mumbai? Officers at the top merely held meetings. Does that actually help?
We believe that unless you involve the people on the lowest rungs of the social and economic ladder in fighting terrorism, we will never win this war. Ticket-checkers, vendors, waiters and janitors in the railways should be involved in combing the stations and trains for explosives.
Take the example of the recent Guwahati or Delhi blasts, where the bombs were placed inside trash-bins in public places. Has anyone in the government thought of roping in 'safai karamcharis' into the scheme of things to prevent such occurrences?
Why not involve the fishermen living on the coast from Karachi to Mumbai -- along which the terrorists are believed to have traveled to strike in Mumbai in November -- to prevent such incidents?
Being a parliamentarian, you must have projected these ideas to the government.
Yes, I did speak in Parliament, though I did not attend the all-party meet called by the prime minister after the Mumbai attacks. I made it clear that no amount of money spent on sophisticated gadgets will be able to prevent recurrence of terrorist strikes in India.
The only potent weapon with us is the people of this country, who can become the watchdogs against terrorists for a small incentive. They will also take pride in becoming defenders of the country.
Is your party with the BJP on its stand on the controversy raised by the Chief Election Commissioner's letter recommending the removal of his colleague?
I would not like to speak on the BJP's stand, but I rate this incident as the most unfortunate one in the history of democratic India. What a shame for us that we are openly dubbing one Election Commissioner as a supporter of one political party and the other of another party.
This incident should now serve as a wake-up call for us. It is high time that the members of the Election Commission are appointed by a collegium as is the case with other statutory bodies and judges.
What are your views on the incidents like the recent attack on a pub in Mangalore by the self-styled puritan brigade?
Karnataka, like the rest of the world, is becoming a melting pot of cultures. We believe that all activities, unless these amount to breaking law and order, should be permitted. If young people are dancing and drinking, they are not breaking any law. We are a country that prides itself in Khajuraho's erotica.
Those preaching cultural purity should first go and break the statues at Khajuraho and then attack the pubs. I ask these self-styled cultural defenders to use their energies to work in Abujmarh (a tribal area in Maharashtra) where people live without clothes and need to be brought into the cultural mainstream.