Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, remains well-known for his eloquence, wit and his straight-talking on current issues.
Jaitley, who kept the government on its toes in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session of Parliament, spoke to the media, including Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt on the eve of the first anniversary of the United Progressive Alliance's second tenure in power. He blasted the government like only he can.
On the first year of UPA-2
Normally, the first year of any government is always a very comfortable year. In political parlance it is called a honeymoon period.
If I talk about the pluses and minuses of the government, let me start with the fact that the Congress and the UPA had a slender majority. They had the opportunistic support of three parties, namely the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Because of the support of these three parties they found some cushion to capture more votes (more numbers in Parliament).
So they started 'governance of arrogance' as their political culture. Due to the Congress's arrogance they had uneasy relations with these three parties. Before the last session of Parliament, the government suddenly found that they have been reduced to a majority of three in the Lok Sabha and are in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.
Even with their allies they have uneasy relations. (Trinamool Congress leader and Union Railways Minister) Mamata Banerjee doesn't follow any conventional discipline. The DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham) has an ongoing battle in the palace. It is just not the battle for political power or succession, it is also the battle where the commercial advantage of being in office has to be shared.
In UPA-1, the national highways programme suffered due to the DMK's corruption. In UPA-2, (Telecommunications Minister) A Raja's corruption in the allotment of spectrum is staring you in the face and you (the Congress) are saying you are unable to act.
The Nationalist Congress Party lives in its own world. I think the relationship is because of the compulsion between the two parties; in Maharashtra they need each other.
So politically the government's achievement is to tolerate corrupt ministers, indiscipline and undisciplined ministers. Then use the Central Bureau of Investigation against the three parties outside the government. I always say that the RJD (Lalu Prasad Yadav), SP (Mulayam Singh Yadav) and BSP (Mayawati) are the vulnerable sections of the Opposition or the phoney Opposition at the Centre.
In 2008, when the vote of confidence took place on the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament and when recently voting took place on the cut motion, you will find that voting took place in Parliament, but the game-plan for voting was decided by the CBI in the corridors of the Supreme Court!
In 2008, anticipating the Left parties' withdrawal of support, the UPA government referred the PIL (Public Interest Litigation) against Mulayam Singh to the CBI. Then the government went soft on Mulayam by changing the affidavits submitted in court. It got Mulayam's support till its term lasted, but it was an uneasy relationship.
On the day of the cut motion in the Lok Sabha, Mulayam and Lalu walked out to save the government.
In the corruption-related case against Mayawati, the suggestion comes to settle the case outside court as if it is a property dispute requiring a compromise between two brothers! The attorney general says to the court, 'Yes, yes, we will look into it again.' The next day, Mayawati declares her support to UPA-2.
During voting on both occasions, it was evident that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has the capacity to damage institutions to remain in power. Then he doesn't speak on these vital issues and sustains his 'decent' image.
See how he uses the CBI, allows telephone tapping, sustains corrupt ministers, ignores indisciplined ministers, had the cash for votes scam and used the Election Commission.
Which institution has not been damaged by his government?
Has Dr Singh lost his shine?
I think in the first year of UPA-2, Dr Singh's image as the reputed economist has been damaged. (Planning Commission Deputy Chairman) Montek Singh Ahluwalia said by February, prices will be moderated. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also said it will come down. Food stocks are bumper, but we allow rats to eat that food.
The government has run out of ideas on how to control prices.
On strategic issues
On strategic and foreign policy issues, Dr Singh comes under international pressure too easily. I read an article on the UPA-2 recently that (Jawaharlal) Nehru in his 17 years visited the US only three times. Dr Singh has gone (to the US) thrice in a year.
Take the nuclear deal, Sharm-el-Sheikh, the Copenhagen talks, foreign secretary-level talks and now, the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan -- all show that pressure works.
So many people have briefed us on the nuclear liability bill. Why do we need this bill except for the fact that the US wants it? In India, only the public sector is allowed to build it (nuclear plants). We don't mind whether the PSU (public sector unit)pays compensation to the victims or the government. Why do you need the bill to help the PSUs?
It is possible that after the law is passed private companies will enter to take the advantage of the law.
On the BJP's prime ministerial candidate
All our chief ministers are relatively young and will be in politics for many years to come. We have by and large satisfactory co-ordination amongst them. On the issue of our prime ministerial candidate, I always say that we are different from the Congress and other regional parties.
Even today, in the BJP and the Communist Party of India, one has to put in a decade into the party. You have to reach a particular stature. And then your ability and merit matters.
In other political parties, there is a pattern. You belong to a certain family so the successor of the family inevitably gets the leadership of the party. Nobody asks the Congress or the Akali Dal or the DMK about their next leader.
They ask only the BJP and the Left parties because our leaders don't come from any particular family. In our country, the mindset of the people and even the media has become so feudal on this issue. Many times reporters tell us, "They (the Congress) have got the boy (Rahul) now. Their leadership is defined but in your party leadership is not defined yet."
I tell friends in the media that in the CPI-M and in the BJP, it's not possible to fix the leaders five years before the election. I argue that we bring leaders on merit but many reporters tell me, "You don't have a son in the party! Aap ke vahan to beta nahin!". It's our success that we have many leaders who can come up from within the party from below.
The media has turned our success into a negative point. We have many leaders and many chief ministers. We will make up our mind when it's necessary.
On Dr Singh's attempts for peace with Pakistan
The BJP wants to improve relations with Pakistan. But the thread of it should be picked up from the terms and conditions outlined in the January 2004 accord between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Islamabad and not as per the terms set at Sharm-el-Sheikh.
In the government all kinds of anarchic statements are being made. Someone supports Khap panchayats. (Environment Minister) Jairam Ramesh is speaking on his own.
How can (Law Minister M) Veerappa Moily blame judicial activism for the problems of Maoism?
Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh's utterances are another chapter in itself.
After the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the Cabinet was reshuffled. It seemed that on the issue of Maoism and jihadi terrorism, the government will have a strong policy. At least that was (Home Minister) Chidambram's Unique Selling Proposition.
In the last two days, the Congress has toned down its approach. Now they say that there is complete agreement on the two-pronged strategy. The day before yesterday (May 17), Chidambaram said one of the prongs -- namely security -- has suffered but now he is under pressure.
Take security, corruption or policy issues, I think governance is taking a backseat.
The impression has gone around that you can do any hanky-panky because Manmohan Singh doesn't do anything against you.
On Rahul Gandhi
He is one of the principal players of the Congress party, therefore everybody has to take notice of it. He is in Parliament and going out in the field. I have one caveat on that.
He is in Parliament for six years and he is a party functionary. I think Indian politics can't be a series of photo-opportunities.
The country is entitled to know his views on crucial and sensitive subjects. In the last six years, I don't have the benefit of knowing his views on any important subject. There is a limitation where you keep taking pictures and get votes, but this politics can't last forever.
On the UPA's pro-people bills
As far as the Women's Reservation Bill is concerned, we are repeatedly saying that this bill was passed by the House where the Congress is in a minority. If we were not pro-active then this bill would not have been passed. It should not be made a partisan issue.
We do support the Right to Education Bill, but we will wait and watch to see what resources the government is giving it. The last word on it has not yet been said.
Food security is a good idea. After all, our government in Chhattisgarh started it by giving rice to the poor.
It is good that the idea is being given the shape of legislation, but we have yet to see all the dimensions of it.