Prabhu Chawla interviews Pranab Mukherjee on his future in politics

first_imgPranab MukherjeeThe quintessential politician and a veteran of many a political battle, Pranab Mukherjee, as external affairs minister, is typically in the thick of things. Not only does he continue to head a dozen important government committees but is now on a hectic tour of India’s neighbours including Pakistan and,Pranab MukherjeeThe quintessential politician and a veteran of many a political battle, Pranab Mukherjee, as external affairs minister, is typically in the thick of things. Not only does he continue to head a dozen important government committees but is now on a hectic tour of India’s neighbours including Pakistan and the ASEAN summit at Cebu to promote India’s foreign relations. Before he left, he sat down for an hourlong interview with INDIA TODAY Editor Prabhu Chawla and Associate Editor Saurabh shukla in the executive drawing room of South Block. Excerpts from the interview:Q. As part of your tour of India’s neighbours you would also be making your first visit to Pakistan as foreign minister. What is your agenda?A. I am going to Pakistan, firstly, to extend an invitation to President Musharraf to attend the 14th SAARC Summit. That is the official purpose. And surely we will not discuss the weather, we will discuss issues which are there. We will discuss SAFTA. With all other SAARC countries, tariff reduction has been finalised. But with Pakistan this has to be done still. Similarly, we would also like to review at the foreign ministers’ level the third round of Composite Dialogue that just got over.Q. The biggest impediment to the peace process is the issue of terrorism. Will you be seeking an assurance from General Pervez Musharraf that all terrorist acts against India will stop?A. The assurance was obtained by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on January 6, 2004. President Musharraf assured him that Pakistani territory or Pakistani-dominated territory will not be allowed to be used by terrorists. The question is not of assurance; the question is how these assurances are actually implemented.Q. You said General Musharraf’s promises on terrorist camps are not being implemented. You used the word “unconvincing”.A. What I stated is that infrastructure of launching terrorists has not been dismantled. His (Musharraf’s) pledges have not been implemented.Q. But do you think that the peace process will be affected if terrorism continues from across the border?A. That is the issue which has been flagged at the foreign secretary-level meeting. We will flag it again.”Infrastructure for launching terrorists has not been dismantled. We will flag the issue during the talks.”Q. Do you think we can trust Musharraf now?A. We have to deal with the head of a state. The basic presumption would be that we would trust each other.Q. What about Jammu & Kashmir? Do you have any package solution?A. I don’t have any readymade solution.Q. But are we discussing a Kashmir solution on the lines of the four-point formula that General Musharraf has been suggesting?A. We are trying to resolve the issue of Kashmir in the context of Shimla Agreement, Lahore Declaration, and the series of talks which have taken place; we are having a composite dialogue of which resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue is a part. In that context we are going to discuss it. These are the issues that have been raised from time to time and the responses are there; you have heard the response of the prime minister in Amritsar.Q. Are your allies constraining you on foreign policy choices, be it Sri Lanka, the US or Iran? Your allies are dictating foreign policy choices now.A. No, not at all.Q. But you have to do a lot of explaining to them.A. Yes, as I have explained to my Left allies, I have equally explained it to the BJP leaders. Because parliamentary democracy demands that when there is a broad consensus in respect of foreign policy we should try to maintain that consensus. Keeping that in view, we apprised them of the developments which took place in our neighbourhood.Q. There have been reservations over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Even the scientists have opposed the deal.A. No, only a section of scientists have opposed it. They have expressed their concerns. But these concerns will not be ignored.Q. So are you saying that you will go for 123 agreement only if those concerns are taken care of?A. Of course, that is the commitment we have made.Q. Are you also saying that in the current form the deal will not go through, unless your concerns are sorted out?A. Unless certain issues are taken care of, certain concerns are addressed, it would not be possible for us to go with it.Q. The Congress is heading a coalition for the first time since Independence. So is handling coalition conflicts a major problem?A. Of course, running a coalition government in a country like India is a difficult task. More so when Congress leads the coalition, since most of the political parties were anti-Congress. To have a coalition, to run a coalition government, you require a lot of adjustments, a lot of flexibility. But the success of the coalition Government to a great extent is the contribution of UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.Q. You could have done better if it was only a Congress-led government?A. That would be a value judgement right now because we do not have the majority.Q. But have you also compromised on your ideology?A. Sometimes compromise is not bad. Sometimes absolute power creates problems. There is an old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.Q. Don’t you think that most national political parties are getting marginalised? Rather, people are looking up to industrialists and entrepreneurs.A. I would not put this as marginalisation of politicians or political system. I would put it as the recognition of other sections. Earlier it was monopolised by politicians only. Now there are other sections of the society- industry, sports, academics, judiciary- which are important too. They too have roles to play.Q. Your 1991-96 economic policies and the present ones are almost the same. But you lost the election then.A. Compare my Budget of 1982 with Manmohan Singh’s Budget of 1991. The policies which I proposed were almost the same but Indian industry strongly resisted my proposal for NRI portfolio investment. In 1991 it was welcomed because conditions had changed.Q. In the reforms process, you have not been able to fulfill certain things like FDI in telecom and insurance. Labour reforms are also stuck. Is it because of coalition compulsions?A. We have done whatever was possible through the administrative route. But where you require legislative support, you need the backing of others.Q. Has the Left been more of a hindrance than an asset for you?A. No, not at all. We are getting the support of all their 60 members solidly.Q. But you are paying a price for it.A. For everything, you have to pay a price. You are not running a single-party government.Q. You have always been the number one minister. Weren’t you upset when Manmohan Singh, whom you once appointed as RBI governor, became prime minister?A. I am neither number one nor number two. I am just one of them.Q. Don’t you have prime ministerial ambitions?A. Thank you for coming.advertisementadvertisementlast_img