New Delhi: As 2014 approaches, Sushma Swaraj is a clear frontrunner to lead the BJP. From the campaign trail, in an exclusive interview, she opens up on her RSS origins, views on the Babri demolition and to whether she sees herself as the shadow Prime Minister of India.
Sreenivasan Jain: Sushmaji thanks so much for talking to us in the middle of your campaign schedule. I know how busy you are and how difficult it is to pin you down for these interviews?
Sushma Swaraj: Thank you.
Sreenivasan Jain: I want to begin with from your entry into public and political life. Did you come from a very political family?
Sushma Swaraj: No, not at all. None from my family was in politics. I am a first generation politician. Sreenivasan Jain: But your father you were telling me was in the RSS?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes but that is not a political organization.
Sreenivasan Jain: Yes but there was a kind of exposure to public life through that?
Sushma Swaraj: I come from a RSS family, my father was a strong supporter of the RSS and he was a swayamsewak of the Palwal Shakha.
Sreenivasan Jain: Palwal is in Haryana, the village where you were born and grew up?
Sushma Swaraj: It is a town. I was born in Ambala Cantt., but my parents belong to Palwal. My father was a Bal Swayamsewak.
Sreenivasan Jain: From the very beginning?
Sushma Swaraj: From the very beginning, that's why they are called Bal Swayamsewaks.
Sreenivasan Jain: I see, someone who is a Swayamsewak since his childhood?
Sushma Swaraj: Since childhood, yes.
Sreenivasan Jain: And your grandfather as well?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, my grandfather also. Our family is a RSS family.
Sreenivasan Jain: I suppose that exposed you to the public life in a different way?
Sushma Swaraj: I'll tell you an anecdote. Actually what happened was that there was a Chhath ka mela...
Sreenivasan Jain: Chhath is a very big festival in north India.
Sushma Swaraj: Yes and in Palwal's RSS shakha they always had Antakshari on the day. My father had taken me to that mela so there were two teams playing Antakshari and this Antakshari is always for poems not for film songs. Sreenivasan Jain: Patriotic poems?
Sushma Swaraj: Mostly patriotic poems. So for our team the last word came to tha. No one knew a poem with tha so our team was going to be defeated. Immediately I told my father that I knew one poem so if you allow me I can recite it. He told me to go ahead so I just got up and recited that poem "thal saja kar kissey poojney chaley aaj tou milwaaley " and our team become victorious.
Sreenivasan Jain: How old you were then?
Sushma Swaraj: 5 years, so my father called it my manch pravesh.
Sreenivasan Jain: Manch pravesh, the first time you come on the public stage?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, yes he told me this is your manch pravesh, he used to recite poems of Veer Ras.
Sreenivasan Jain: Veer Ras are the patriotic poems?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, patriotic poems. So he used to give me many poems and asked me to memorize them, recite them and then one incident happened during the 1962 China war. I was in Ambala at that time and it used to be a very big junction, so these jawans used to go from Ambala Cantt. And these RSS workers used to give them tea and food. At Ambala junction, the train used to stop for about an hour so I told them, I will go with them to the railway station and recite these poems for the jawans so they really feel happy. So I began going to the railway station to recite these poems for jawans.
Sreenivasan Jain: So it was like a discovery that you had at that time, I suppose that you had this gift?
Sushma Swaraj: My father discovered it.
Sreenivasan Jain: But when one looks at you today and when one sees you in public and speaking....this anecdote becomes relevant as it gives the origins of that, where it all started from.
Sushma Swaraj: You can say that.
Sreenivasan Jain: So then you went on to university in Punjab?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, Punjab University in Chandigarh.
Sreenivasan Jain: Is that where you got exposed to more formal politics like student politics and so on?
Sushma Swaraj: Right from the college days I was in politics. But in formal politics you can say since the JP movement as an activist of ABVP, I joined Chattra Vahini. In Chandigarh I became an activist of ABVP, the student wing of RSS not BJP.
Sreenivasan Jain: From there you got into the JP movement?
Sushma Swaraj: First I joined Chhatra Vahini, then I joined Yuva Wahini.
Sreenivasan Jain: What kind of activities were you involved in those days?
Sushma Swaraj: We were holding dharnas, demonstrations and then we came to Delhi also for that big rally. When the Janata Party was formed, I was asked to campaign for it.
Sreenivasan Jain: Those were the days when the Jan Sangh had merged.
Sushma Swaraj: All political parties merged with the Janata Party. Jan Sangh, BLD, Congress O, all political parties merged together and they formed Janata Party. So the first political party I joined was the Janata Party.
Sreenivasan Jain: That was your political debut.
Sushma Swaraj: That was my political debut.
Sreenivasan Jain: In the JP movement and...
Sushma Swaraj: After the JP movement, the first political party I joined was the Janata Party.
Sreenivasan Jain: Then you went around, you campaigned for all these big leaders including Mr. Vajpayee, LK Advani, all of them, JP himself?
Sushma Swaraj: Advaniji was not contesting that time. I campaigned for Vajpayeeji, I campaigned for George Fernandes, I campaigned for Madhu Limaye.
Sreenivasan Jain: This must be at a very young age?
Sushma Swaraj: I was 23 and a half.
Sreenivasan Jain: That is quite remarkable and how did all these leaders treat you?
Sushma Swaraj: Very well, just like their daughter. Actually how I came to electoral politics is also a story because JP selected me for it and told them, that she was campaigning for all of you, why don't you ask her to contest. So it was JP who selected me for electoral politics.
Sreenivasan Jain: He said that you should contest the Haryana Assembly elections?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes
Sreenivasan Jain: Which is when you first became an MLA?
Sushma Swaraj: MLA and Cabinet Minister also, that very year in 1977.
Sreenivasan Jain: You were 25 years old when you became a cabinet minister in Devi Lal's Government in Haryana?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes Choudhary Devi Lal's government. He was the Chief Minister.
Sreenivasan Jain: Were you the youngest Minister?
Sushma Swaraj: Youngest ever. Even today because that is the minimum eligible age to contest elections.
Sreenivasan Jain: Quite remarkable and from there?
Sushma Swaraj: I know your parents since then.
Sreenivasan Jain: That is right, that is how long association is. And subsequently of course both parted ways, the Janata party went its own way and the BJP and Jan Sangh came out and then BJP was formed in 1980.
Sushma Swaraj: Yes
Sreenivasan Jain: That is the time you also left?
Sushma Swaraj: No I joined BJP in 1984.
Sreenivasan Jain: So you stayed?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, this happened in 1980 and I came to BJP in 1984.
Sreenivasan Jain: So in a way Sushmaji you were part of that first team of BJP, in 1984 when Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji and Advaniji were there and you were the General Secretary?
Sushma Swaraj: First he took me as a secretary in his team. For two terms I was a secretary, then I was promoted to general secretary.
Sreenivasan Jain: So you were there, there was Pramod Mahajan?
Sushma Swaraj: In our team besides me there was Pramod Mahajan, Govind Acharyaji, Venkaiya Naiduji and Ushabhau Thackery was general secretary of the organization. So we were the five general secretaries.
Sreenivasan Jain: Advaniji?
Sushma Swaraj: Advaniji was the President. Sreenivasan Jain: The dream team, some would say, of those days?
Sushma Swaraj: This was a very formidable team I can say.
Sreenivasan Jain: It was a formidable team?
Sushma Swaraj: Very formidable.
Sreenivasan Jain: But when you look at the BJP then and you look at it today, do you feel that it has changed dramatically?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes with time, organizations do change.
Sreenivasan Jain: But do you think it has been a decline or deterioration somewhere?
Sushma Swaraj: No, I won't call it decline and deterioration. Change means change in the team, now the 3rd generation has taken over and even the 4th generation is there, so the value systems change. But I won't call it a decline or deterioration. The style of functioning changes.
Sreenivasan Jain: Let me bring you to the present. If you look at today, what are the three or four things that BJP are making headlines today for? You tell me whether you won't say it's a decline. One as we speak today, the biggest headline is that three BJP ministers were caught watching porn in Karnataka Assembly?
Sushma Swaraj: But within 24 hours their resignations were taken. That should also make the headline.
Sreenivasan Jain: It did make the headline but the fact that they were from the BJP is I think repeatedly underlined. It's not to say that these things can't happen in any party, but the fact is that it happened in the BJP, which was something which caused even greater outrage?
Sushma Swaraj: I will call it unfortunate and shameful too. But I am happy that action was taken immediately.
Sreenivasan Jain: What was your first reaction when you saw that? Were you appalled like everybody else?
Sushma Swaraj: Of shame.
Sreenivasan Jain: Of shame. You felt terrible that it had happened and especially within the party?
Sushma Swaraj: I did.
Sreenivasan Jain: And so action was swiftly taken?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes I am happy about that.
Sreenivasan Jain: But is it damaging for BJP's image?
Sushma Swaraj: Image has been controlled by the action. By this strict action.
Sreenivasan Jain: But you don't see that as an example of decline in the culture of the BJP or the character of the BJP?
Sushma Swaraj: It is an aberration.
Sreenivasan Jain: The second headline came out particularly out of these UP elections was the entry of Babu Singh Kushwaha into the BJP which again many felt was extremely unfortunate. People of your own party have spoken out on it and was that again something avoidable?
Sushma Swaraj: No, the national President has said that when he took this decision there was no case against him. But I think after his letter to the national President that his membership should be suspended, episode should be over.
Sreenivasan Jain: What did you feel about it? The fact that you need to bring in someone like him?
Sushma Swaraj: Whatever I felt, I told the President at the appropriate forum. I don't think media is the appropriate forum to say that.
Sreenivasan Jain: But reading between the lines is it fair to say that it was not a decision you were comfortable with?
Sushma Swaraj: Whatever I have to say, I have said there.
Sreenivasan Jain: Again you have been in UP, you have travelled there; you think that decision has done some damage to the BJP's image particularly to your anti-corruption plank, a very strong attempt to pin the government down on the corruption? Do you think that Kushwaha episode has put you on the back foot?
Sushma Swaraj: No, everybody thinks that episode is over so I don't think any shadow of that decision on the campaign.
Sreenivasan Jain: Ok the third thing that made headlines in the elections and which involved you are that top leaders like you of the BJP are sulking and have been reluctant to come out to campaign?
Sushma Swaraj: I am sorry to hear that because I was very very unwell and I don't think when battlefield is there anybody will sulk and will not go to the battlefield. I tweeted on Twitter that have to go to the battlefield, very wrong time to get viral. You have been there with me, I was just 80% well when I was in the battlefield and every day I am going still. Who told you that I was sulking? First of all that is not my style. Sulking is never my style because whatever I feel I tell it at the appropriate forum and that is the thing's end.
Sreenivasan Jain: So the reason for your late entry into the campaign is just your health?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, because I was unwell.
Sreenivasan Jain: There was no other reason as it is made out to be?
Sushma Swaraj: No I was down with viral and as I told you that I didn't wait for getting well. I was just 80% well and I had gone to UP. I am sorry to hear this.
Sreenivasan Jain: I think you are seasoned enough a politician to know that some of these reports emanate from your own party and this is not something which has happened for the first time. But it is not entirely a media creation when these reports emerged and were put out but an impression was sought to be given that leaders like yourself and Narendra Modi were unhappy for whatever reason with the party leadership. That is why you kind of stayed away from the campaign?
Sushma Swaraj: No, I am very sorry to hear that any party colleague of mine will say that I was sulking especially after knowing this that I was unwell. Everybody knew I was unwell. I am very sorry to hear that.
Sreenivasan Jain: But did you campaign in Punjab, Uttarakhand and in the other states as much as you would have wanted to?
Sushma Swaraj: That is what I am saying, I was unwell and did not go to Uttarakhand and Punjab but fortunately in Punjab when the launch meeting was done in Moga I was there. Now I say that was a blessing that I could go to Moga. In Dehradun also I had gone for an ex-services rally. By then elections were announced. So these two meetings I could do - in Moga and Dehradun. But after I came from Bhopal on 19th I was down with viral, so I could not go to Uttarakhand and Punjab. Now I feel very bad.
Sreenivasan Jain: Why is Narendra Modi staying away from the UP campaign? He has not come even once.
Sushma Swaraj: I think he will come. There is still time. Till 1st of March there is campaigning.
Sreenivasan Jain: I know but I am saying that there are only a few weeks left. He still has not come. He is a very senior leader of BJP and somebody who by all accounts, the party once wanted to go into the campaign, and he is not there?
Sushma Swaraj: Only 1st phase is over, 5 more phases are there.
Sreenivasan Jain: But is it right to interpret his absence as the fact that he is upset?
Sushma Swaraj: Only he can tell that. I won't say that because I don't know about that. How can I say that he is upset?
Sreenivasan Jain: No, but as a senior leader of the party, are you concerned that someone like him, the prominent face of the party is not campaigning in Uttar Pradesh? What kind of signal does it send?
Sushma Swaraj: No signals. I am saying, hopefully he will come. I think he will come. Sreenivasan Jain: Do you believe that because of all this that a potential advantage you had in Uttar Pradesh after putting the Government on the back foot on corruption in the Parliament? You yourself had made very strong speeches. You've got a Government in Uttar Pradesh, which also faces charges of corruption but somehow you are not been able to present a united cohesive, strong front in UP?
Sushma Swaraj: I don't agree with that. Our campaign is very aggressive and corruption is one of the major issues. Even in my rallies, the major issue which I am taking up is corruption of the BSP government as well as of the Central government. So I don't think in any way it has hampered our campaign on corruption.
Sreenivasan Jain: You don't think so? You think that you have been a cohesive, united front in Uttar Pradesh?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, all of us are there. Rajnath Singhji is campaigning, Kalraj Mishra is campaigning, Uma Bhati, Nitin Gadkari is campaigning, I am campaigning, Arun Jaitleyji is campaigning. What else is united? All of us are there in UP. Dr. Joshi and Advaniji are also campaigning. I have counted, all of us are in UP.
Sreenivasan Jain: Right. One of the things that people I met in UP on the ground said that they would like an alternative to the BSP and the SP. They don't want to get caught between these two poles, but they want the national parties to clearly project who that alternative is and when you name all these different leaders, it is not clear to the voter who your leader is and who is going to lead your party in Uttar Pradesh. Was that a mistake? It should have a face as you have done in other places?
Sushma Swaraj: This is a conscious decision that we took and we have done both experiments. Sometimes we project the leader and sometimes we don't project. For example when in Chattisgarh, Raman Singh became the Chief Minister, we did not project Raman Singh, we did not project anybody. That time people took Dilip Singh Judeo's name or Raman Singh but ultimately we decided on Raman Singh and he is doing pretty well. Last time we did not project in Uttarakhand also. This time we did so both experiments we have done.
Sreenivasan Jain: Why didn't you feel that it was required to project in Uttar Pradesh?
Sushma Swaraj: It was a conscious decision of the party. It was a collective decision we thought.
Sreenivasan Jain: But based on? What was the logic?
Sushma Swaraj: Logic is not to be told to media. I can only tell you that it was a conscious decision not to project anybody.
Sreenivasan Jain: What would have happened if you had projected Uma Bharti for example? Would that have worked?
Sushma Swaraj: No, now you are asking the question in another form. I told you that it was a conscious decision and when we took the conscious decision we discussed all these names whether Umaji or Kalraj Mishra or Rajnathji or Surya Pratap Shahi. We discussed it and then we decided it is better not to project anybody and contest the election under the collective leadership.
Sreenivasan Jain: Was it a concern that if you projected any one person it could have led to factionalism, internal conflict, because often that becomes a problem?
Sushma Swaraj: Logics I'm not going to tell you, but after a thorough discussion we reached this conclusion that it is better to go under collective leadership where all these faces may be there.
Sreenivasan Jain: Sushmaji there was a time when the BJP had more than 160 seats in UP which have come down almost to one third. What is going wrong and today if someone were to ask what are you offering the voter in Uttar Pradesh, what would that be? What is it that you are offering? What is gone wrong that a party with your strength in UP has come down to literally 50 seats?
Sushma Swaraj: This time we will go up and we will reach that tally. Secondly we are offering a very clean government that is dedicated to development. See 10 years ago people have seen our rule also, now they have seen BSP's rule, they have seen SP's rule as well.
Sreenivasan Jain: 10 years ago it was very clear, you came in on a very strong platform of Hindutva that was just coming off the Ram Janambhoomi movement and so all of that.
Sushma Swaraj: No, what we performed is what I am talking about. The performance. It was our raj which was free from gundas, corruption, dedicated to development. We are offering a raj dedicated to development and a corruption free government.
Sreenivasan Jain: Is Hindutva, the way it was defined at that time in 1990 onwards, that is not a factor or an aspect of your campaign or of the BJP's current identity? The way you are positioning yourself?
Sushma Swaraj: See Hindutva was never our election plank, because Hindutva is a way of life. We cannot put it as an election plank.
Sreenivasan Jain: So it is kind of separate to actual campaign. I mean it is not something you are talking about in terms of some other core issues that you associate as the Hindutva issues?
Sushma Swaraj: No, that is our conviction, that is our way of life. How can we put it on the table of election?
Sreenivasan Jain: One thing you said in your campaign speech though you were talking about corruption a lot, but there is one thing you said in the context of Hindutva which I wanted to ask you about, you talked about the business of people cheering for Pakistan after a cricket match. You said that is something which is not acceptable if those of the Muslim communities are found cheering for Pakistan. I had to confess I was a little taken aback when you brought that up. How was that relevant in the context of today's election and today's campaign?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes, it is very very relevant. See I was emphasizing on the point that we are not anti-Muslims and we are not against any schemes for their welfare by the Government. Even our various state Governments have brought in such welfare schemes, but I was against the reservation based on religion. So religion based reservations I was opposing. I opposed it in my Lokpal bill debate in the Parliament. So I was saying that we are not anti-Muslims per say, but we are against the mentality and what is that mentality that if on the day of the cricket match, if you raise a slogan Pakistan Zindabad that shows a mentality. So we are against that mentality, we are not against Muslims per say. We are not against any religion.
Sreenivasan Jain: Against Muslims who cheer for Pakistan is what you have a problem with?
Sushma Swaraj: I was differentiating between our community and our mentality. We are not against the community per say, because I was saying Eid ki khushiyaa manao hum shirkat karne aayengey, rozey rakho hum iftaar ki daawat dengey. That is regarding the community, but if somebody says that, we will not tolerate it. I was differentiating between the community and the mentality.
Sreenivasan Jain: One is the legacy of the Ram Janambhoomi Movement. When you say that you are not anti-Muslim in a way it is reflecting two incidents which give the image that you, as in the BJP, is anti-Muslim. Were you very actively involved in the Ram Janambhoomi Movement, from travelling and participating in Advanijis campaign ?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes yes yes, I was travelling with Advaniji in the entire total Haryana campaign. I was with him on the Rath throughout.
Sreenivasan Jain: But on the actual day of demolition you were not there?
Sushma Swaraj: I was not in Ayodhya.
Sreenivasan Jain: Where were you on that day?
Sushma Swaraj: I had gone to Mizoram, my husband was the Governor that time.
Sreenivasan Jain: So you were in Mizoram that time, but would you have wanted to be there?
Sushma Swaraj: Why not?
Sreenivasan Jain: On the 6th of December you would have wanted to be in Ayodhya?
Sushma Swaraj: I have no problem. I am a BJP worker, I was there in the movement but that day I was not in Ayodhya because as I told you that I was in Mizoram.
Sreenivasan Jain: But in the light of what happened would you still have wanted to be there or were you glad that you were not, in the light of the fact that it led to the demolition?
Sushma Swaraj: In the light what happened, I think it has become a thing of the past because even the court verdict has proved our point. So now don't take me to that day. You talk about the day to day after all this is the High Court's verdict.
Sreenivasan Jain: The verdict is on the dispute, the distribution of the land.
Sushma Swaraj: No the verdict is on this also that since Hindus feel that Ram was born here, therefore don't dispute the faith and belief of our community.
Sreenivasan Jain: I am not disputing that, I am only speaking on the act of demolition which some of your own leaders feel was very unfortunate. Advaniji called it the saddest day of his life. So I just want to hear from you what is your thought?
Sushma Swaraj: It is a hypothetical question which you are asking. A totally hypothetical question. I had not been there.
Sreenivasan Jain: Even if you were there, when you heard the news, what was your first reaction?
Sushma Swaraj: This is what I'm saying. Why are you asking this today, a lot of water has flown in the Ganges.
Sreenivasan Jain: Only because as you said in the course of the election campaign, even today in UP, the BJP uses all those matters and the views that individuals like yourself hold. When you say that you are a progressive party and are not against community, these views become important.
Sushma Swaraj: But that image is far from the truth. That we are anti-Muslim per say is far from the truth.
Sreenivasan Jain: But you don't want to answer my question about what you felt about the demolition, what you thought about that?
Sushma Swaraj: I am telling you because after that also whatever happened in all the movements I was there. After that also whatever programme party has undertaken I was there.
Sreenivasan Jain: So is it fair to say that you don't have any regrets about it? Not about the movement but about the demolition?
Sushma Swaraj: About the movement I don't have any regrets.
Sreenivasan Jain: Demolition regrets?
Sushma Swaraj: After the recent verdict when the court itself has said that you should not dispute this, please have faith in our belief also. Respect our belief also. Sreenivasan Jain: Sushmaji you're known for your plain speak but on this one issue you don't seem to be giving me a direct answer, on the question of Babri Masjid.
Sushma Swaraj: No I gave this answer on the floor of the House while participating on the question of Liberhan Commission Report. I was very forthcoming. And I told in the Parliament that if you think that we're responsible for this demolition, we're ready to take punishment. All the 116 sitting here will take punishment. All the 45 MPs sitting there will take punishment. You punish us, why don't you punish us? We're ready to take punishment for that. So I was very categorical, very very categorical on Babri Masjid case and my stand is very clear.
Sreenivasan Jain: Despite the fact Sushmaji that after the demolition there was large scale violence, thousands were killed, you still feel that? You still feel categorical about it?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes I feel very very categorical about it.
Sreenivasan Jain: Sushmaji tell me, the reason why these questions are coming up is also because in a way if you have a look at 2014 and who is going to lead the BJP then it is very much down to 2 or 3 or a few names. Of course you will say that party will decide and you are fully entitled to say that, but it is really between someone like yourself, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley. These are the three or four names that keep coming up repeatedly?
Sushma Swaraj: Many more.
Sreenivasan Jain: But these are the three most prominent names?
Sushma Swaraj: Why are you leaving out the President?
Sreenivasan Jain: I shouldn't leave out the President, he himself should not rule himself out also. Advaniji is also there, but when you are the main Leader of the Opposition of Lok Sabha which is no small post. It is the post that has been held before by the likes of Vajpayeeji, Advaniji. Many believe that was an indirect way of indicating that you are very much the front runner for leading the party in 2014?
Sushma Swaraj: See in our party it is not automatic that whosoever is the Leader of the Opposition is the candidate for the Prime Ministership. It is not done like that.
Sreenivasan Jain: Advaniji has kind of indicated that to be the Leader of Opposition, you are like the shadow Prime Minister?
Sushma Swaraj: No that is not the practice in India. It is the practice in England, that if you are the Leader of Opposition you are the shadow of Prime Minister, so that seat is there but it doesn't happen here.
Sreenivasan Jain: In India it doesn't happen formally.
Sushma Swaraj: That is what I am saying.
Sreenivasan Jain: But informally it indicates that look this person is potentially one of the candidates who could be the PM candidate of our choice?
Sushma Swaraj: That doesn't rule out others. In England it rules out others, in India it doesn't rule out others. So that is what I am saying, by sitting on the seat of Leader of Opposition you do not automatically become candidate for Prime Ministership before the elections. Conscious decisions are taken by the party.
Sreenivasan Jain: But would that be a fitting conclusion for a long political career for those like you who have been in politics for so long. You were a minister at the age of 25, you have been the Leader of Opposition, PM would be the next step you would like?
Sushma Swaraj: See I have never aspired for anything. I will be very very true to you and my party has given me everything. I have no regrets that being a woman or being young, my party has discriminated against me. So I'm not the aspirant. Sreenivasan Jain: That's the other remarkable thing. BJP is seen as a very male dominated, patriarchal party so within that...
Sushma Swaraj: That's also not the real image. Many things are only perceived but they are not the reality. So that's what I'm saying, I'm not the aspirant for anything. I'm very happy in this position I'm performing.
Sreenivasan Jain: With all due respect, all politicians say that and perhaps you have to also because you have to be diplomatic. But out of the two options - whether you could play a more Parliamentary role, going forward as ministerial or Prime Ministerial candidate or an organizational role, would u have any preferences?
Sushma Swaraj: No preferences, whatever the party says I'll perform that. Whatever, whatever party says.
Sreenivasan Jain: But why is it then...
Sushma Swaraj: Am comfortable in both places.
Sreenivasan Jain: But why is it then in 2009 for the post of party President, people like you weren't keen to accept that position?
Sushma Swaraj: It is not a question of being keen because Advaniji on 6th May itself had declared that I'll become the Leader of Opposition. So once he has decided the post for me in Lok Sabha, naturally I can't be keen for another post.
Sreenivasan Jain: But it is not that you're averse to an organizational role?
Sushma Swaraj: No no I am not averse.
Sreenivasan Jain: Like party President?
Sushma Swaraj: Not at all.
Sreenivasan Jain: So if party presidentship was offered to you, you wouldn't be averse?
Sushma Swaraj: See that's what I'm saying. Whatever role the party gives, or even if it doesn't give me any role, neither the LOP nor the party president, even then I'm fine because roles have been assigned by the party and I'm always ready to perform.
Sreenivasan Jain: Some would argue that in your role as LOP you have performed remarkably well. You've managed to pin the Government on the mat, many many times. those speeches have been watched all over with a lot of interest on whatever has been happening in the Parliament. What's the feedback you've got to that and are you aware of the response that people have had to your parliamentary performance?
Sushma Swaraj: I can only say thank you for such kind remarks.
Sreenivasan Jain: Now don't be modest, I'm sure you've got enough feedback on your Lokpal speeches and many others.
Sushma Swaraj: Feedback is given by people like you.
Sreenivasan Jain: No I'm only reflecting what I've heard, this may not be my personal view.
Sushma Swaraj: That's why am thanking you and those also who have given you this feedback.
Sreenivasan Jain: But Parliament also teaches you the art of consensus and of reaching out...
Sushma Swaraj: It does.
Sreenivasan Jain: Even across the battle lines as we see in the well of the House, you have associations with Pranab Mukherjee, you've often spoken of him being one of the few people you've spoken to...
Sushma Swaraj: When the Government reaches out to us, we do talk to them and even otherwise from our side when I'm the LOP it is not only NDA I talk to. we talk to Communist parties also, we talk to BJD, we talk to TDP and all these people and that's why you must have seen that a very formidable opposition is formed in the House.
Sreenivasan Jain: Out of the Congress, is Pranab Mukherjee the only one who you find possible to have an equation with? Is he who participates in negotiations?
Sushma Swaraj: No, he as a senior person comes and talks but otherwise many ministers come. Ghulam Nabi Azad, if he has some bill, then Kamal Nath came when he had the bill. so these ministers also approach but they only approach regarding their bills.
Sreenivasan Jain: Any equation with Sonia Gandhi at all?
Sushma Swaraj: Very civil. we wish each other whenever we meet but no political consultations.
Sreenivasan Jain: Nothing beyond that?
Sushma Swaraj: Nothing beyond that but we're very civil.
Sreenivasan Jain: Are u still as strongly opposed to Sonia Gandhi becoming PM as you were?
Sushma Swaraj: As strong as ever.
Sreenivasan Jain: And the famous 3 vows that you'd sworn you'd take if she became PM at that time?
Sushma Swaraj: I've no regrets for that.
Sreenivasan Jain: That you will shave your head, that you will take sanyas?
Sushma Swaraj: I have no regrets for those vows because it still touches my sensibilities.
Sreenivasan Jain: It does?
Sushma Swaraj: It does.
Sreenivasan Jain: And tomorrow in the unlikelihood it was to arise again, would you take the same 3 vows?
Sushma Swaraj: Same vows and the same movement. Sreenivasan Jain: And Rahul, what do you make of him?
Sushma Swaraj: These things don't...
Sreenivasan Jain: I know they aren't directly linked but when you look at Rahul and when you see he's emerging as a very strong leader of the Congress...
Sushma Swaraj: No the question of those sensibilities don't come with regard to Rahul.
Sreenivasan Jain: What then is your response to Rahul?
Sushma Swaraj: That is for the countrymen to decide. If Congress comes to power, it is for the Congress to decide. But that issue does not relate to Rahul.
Sreenivasan Jain: No I'm just asking you for your assessment of Rahul who is a Member of Parliament and who has now been in the public life for several years. do you believe he has some potential?
Sushma Swaraj: In Parliament he never speaks. In 2 years I've only seen him speak for 5 minutes that day...first Lokpal speech. In Parliament he's never spoken. Now in UP he's campaigning but how can I form an impression of his formidability unless he speaks in Parliament.
Sreenivasan Jain: In conclusion I want to ask you, that you have said that the time you joined the BJP till today, it's been a change. It's not been a change for the worse, it's just a transformation from one generation to the next. But surely today if there's one thing about the BJP that you could change, what would it be?
Sushma Swaraj: I'll make it more disciplined.
Sreenivasan Jain: You feel there's been deterioration or some erosion of discipline that used to be there earlier.
Sushma Swaraj: There has been. It needs to be more disciplined.
Sreenivasan Jain: Anything specific that comes to mind?
Sushma Swaraj: No, generally in different states what happens, which I'm seeing.
Sreenivasan Jain: That is important?
Sushma Swaraj: Yes.
Sreenivasan Jain: Thanks very much indeed for talking to us.