People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
My Fight Is Against NDA Politics, Not Kalam
Interview with Dr. (Capt.) Lakshmi Sahgal
The Left and its allies presidential candidate Dr. (Capt.) Lakshmi Sahgal has called upon the people of the country, particularly minorities, to recognise the reality behind the politics of the NDA in choosing Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam as its nominee. She warned that just because the NDA nominee belongs to a minority community there is no guarantee that he will uphold the secular democracy of our nation.
After her first press conference, Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal has been busy giving interviews to various media organisations, including electronic media at the CPI(M) central office, AKG Bhavan. As part of this, correspondents belonging to the Party press talked to her on June 18. She dealt on various issues centered around the presidential polls.
Excerpts of this interview are given below :
What is the main purpose of your fighting this battle ?
The bottomline for us in this battle is that people should get to know what the reality is. They should understand the politics of BJP behind the choosing of Dr. Abdul Kalam as NDA's nominee. With our campaign we will impress upon the people not to fall into the trap that since NDA nominee belongs to a minority community, the problems of minorities will get solved. The BJP wants to whitewash its sins of Gujarat by this move. This has to be exposed.
There is a section of opinion which claims that Abdul Kalam, who belongs to a minority community, can be a guarantee for protecting secular democracy.
Not necessarily. In fact, I am sorry to say that his first statement on Gujarat is not encouraging for the minorities who have undergone the worst type of brutalities, aided and abetted by the Gujarat state government.
Your first visit in your campaign will be the relief camps in Ahmedabad. What is the significance of this decision?
Our resolve to preserve the unity of the country is reflected in this decision. We want to show that the Left and its secular allies are whole-heartedly on the side of the victimised minorities and against the fundamentalist communal forces running riot in Gujarat.
There are some who question the validity of the Left opposition to an "apolitical" Dr. Abdul Kalam.
I have nothing against Dr. Abdul Kalam as an individual. In fact, I have respect for his scientific contributions to the nation. However, I do not think his being apolitical is an important thing here. Who has put up his candidature is much more important. The fact that BJP has put him up is a dangerous thing for the country. That's why we have decided to wage this political fight.
How do you view the role of the Congress in this entire affair?
Congress has failed the nation not just on this occasion but ever since 1947. Whenever they had a chance to assert the secular character of our nation, they failed to do so. One example of it can be found during the demolition of Babri Masjid.
And, about Samajwadi Party's role?
Well, there are some people who run away from the battle midway. Otherwise also, Mulayam had an antipathy towards me. When he was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, he wanted to give an award to me. In the context of his government cracking down on the agitators demanding formation of Uttaranchal, in which many women suffered severe injuries, I refused to take the award. It angered him a lot.
When you fought alongside Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the freedom struggle, what was your dream of a future India?
We in the INA were dead against the partition of India. We were hoping to establish an egalitarian society and definitely not today's very very rich and very very poor society. We saw an India in which health and educational needs of the entire population would be taken care of. Our own cottage and small scale industries would be made to thrive, making India self-reliant. We also envisaged an India which would forge close links with the Asian and Middle East nations instead of the western powers. All in all, we had a vision of a socialistic pattern of society.
What importance you gave to the fight against communalism at that point of time?
We gave it top priority. We did not want to allow the communal forces to capture the minds of the people. There was this most celebrated case against INA prisoners in mid 1944, in which three officers of INA- Shahnawaz, Dillon and Sahgal- were tried by the British. They thought that by picking one from each community, they could teach that community a lesson. They never realised that it would have the effect of uniting all the Indians and that this case would become a symbol of this unity.
Finally, what is your message to the electoral college, in particular, and the people in general?
The greatest threat the country is facing presently is the communal violence unleashed by the fundamentalist forces. To combat this should be our first priority. Increasing poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and attacks on not just minorities but other weaker sections like dalits have to be combated.
India has become a country only of the rich. While the rich are becoming richer by the day, the poor are getting poorer. It is ironic that while foodstocks in the godowns are overflowing, the number of starvation deaths are increasing in the country.
The people have to think of this situation and participate in the struggles for achieving an egalitarian Indian society.
In the Indian constitution the president has limited powers. So, what is the relevance of these issues in a presidential election?
The president has got an important advisory role. He can raise his concerns with the prime minister during his meetings. Although, we do not get to know much about what transpires at such meetings, it is hoped that president advises the government. So, the views of a presidential candidate on such issues of concern are very much relevant in a presidential election.