Was your revolt in 1996-97 against Narendra Modi?
No,it was against the system. When the Jan Sangh was disbanded after Emergency and became the BJP,we would go to villages,live there,talk to people to attract them. Then when the party came to power in 1995,it was decided Keshubhai Patel would be CM. But Modi began telling everyone I had ambitions to become CM. He tried to influence Keshubhai and Delhi leaders. Atal Bihari Vajpayee came here to sort it out. So much had Modi brainwashed Keshubhai that he never met me for six months. We used to dine together every month,even that was gone. When the BJP formed the government,Keshubhai once told me over some issue,This is the CMs privilege. I said,What is this? We have contributed to your becoming CM! He was under Modis remote control. I always felt Keshubhai should have asked me once and verified all that he had heard.
Many in the BJP are choking but not able to carry out a coup like you did. Why?
If you think about your security,you cannot take risks. All of these people want to be secure and then fight. If you have a fight on principles you should go all out,whether you will form a government or not. Was I going to form a government? I never used force,no carrots. Jaspal Singh came to my camp and returned. Babu Bokhiriyas wife came to take him back,and I said go. I told them,you come with me only if you are courageous enough to go against a confidence vote even if Vajpayee and L K Advani are standing before you.
Are you in touch with Keshubhai?
No,I only say namaste when we meet on a flight. I regard him as a veteran. He must be so pained that he has to do all this at this age. I did it at an age when I could tolerate it; there were physical assaults,and I gave it back.
Do you think everything has come full circle?
When Keshubhais wife died,I went to see him. I asked him,Do you think I was responsible [for the rebellion? He said no… Whatever I did then,today Kashiram Rana,Dr A K Patel,Suresh Mehta are doing. Keshubhai has reached that stage; note his tone. I am happy that the Gujarati public are realising that the cycle is complete. Then they called me a rebel,but they will now realise that the situation that Keshubhai is facing now,I faced back then. Because the party split,I had to form the government.
Do you think the Congress can form a government till Modi is around?
Hundred per cent. The 2012 results will give the Congress a majority. The way the BJP graph is going down,the Congress will get more than 112 seats,based on the 12-point programme showing a development vision not manifesto of the Congress.
Will you tie up with Keshubhais front?
We wont tie up. But any shrewd politician should be batting on winnability. Defeating the BJP is part of it; simultaneously I have to bat to win. Defeating them is a goal but at the same time I have to put my strength behind the winning party.
Can they cut into Congress votes?
I have that much faith in Keshubhai. Neither he nor the Congress will put up a candidate because of whom the BJP will win. Caste combinations will work; the candidate is immaterial.
How did you lose the Godhra Lok Sabha seat?
Because of overconfidence. There was only 40 per cent voting and I toured the constituency in seven days one day per Assembly seat. Plus the BJP put up minority candidates as Independents and ran a campaign [asking people to vote for Muslims and not the Congress. Amit Shah along with the police brought antisocial elements of the BJP and camped here. Muslims voted only 25 per cent,Independents got 35,000 votes which would not have been possible without sponsorship. Plus internal rivalry… It was sabotage. They struck a deal with BJP leaders to defeat Dinsha Patel,Madhusudan Mistry and me.
Do you think Sadbhavana will work for BJP?
Negative. They got exposed in Sadbhavana. In Kutch they bought burqas and made women wear them. In Ahmedabad they made Hindu workers wear Bohra Muslim caps. They insisted that bearded Muslims come,not clean-shaven ones. This is marketing. Advani,a staunch Hindu whose cartoons too feature him with a trident and tilak,if he goes to Pakistan and bows before Jinnahs grave,will this countrys public will take it?. Your brand is Hindu. Kauua chala hans ki chaal… You try to be what you are not.
In your last meeting with minorities,you said you had become Shankarullah Khan.
The Congresss minority cell hosted a convention. Gujarats Muslims have been fearful since 2002. They are branded Congressmen and the Congress is branded a party for Muslims,as BJP alleges. I said that when I was a candidate in Radhanpur,BJP called me Shankarullah Khan. I told the minorities,we have faith in you,but if you dont vote [for the Congress and the Congress loses for such people,there might be a problem.
Some Muslim leaders did not like it.
If they didnt like it,so be it. Where was I wrong? Today the Congresss monopoly among minorities is gone,but the branding remains. But the people because of whom this branding happened have moved out. How can we get results? In a majority vs minority war,the majority always wins.
Why does the Congress not trust you? There were rumours of you joining the BJP,the NCP…
Yes,I was going,I say this openly. I did not want that in 2012,suddenly I should be told that let us give it [Gujarat up. I feel the party should be readying candidates at least six months,if not a year,in advance. It is barely six months to the polls. Where are the candidates? My displeasure still stands. Then,I said,no negative campaign: abuse the BJP but if by mistake it takes a Hindu vs Muslim turn,then it becomes just like 2002 or 2007… So we should go with a positive campaign to the people after doing proper homework. In the last one year the Congress toured 156 municipalities. I wanted to do this… if they had agreed I would have gone ahead. But they went on. These were my reasons [for wanting to quit then. I did not want to go to the BJP; if I went to NCP it would have damaged the Congress,which I did not wish. But now the party is activated. There is faith that there will be change. Workers have confidence,people have confidence.
Has the party given you autonomy?
There is no autonomy in Congress. We are one team,no differences.
Do you think you can become a Congress chief minister?
That the party will decide. It is undemocratic to declare a PM or a CM because you take the public for granted; the public votes for the party. Even if they project me I will call it undemocratic.
Does your ITDC job give you enough time for Gujarat?
This post is part-time… because I am not minister though of course I am of cabinet rank. Plus my larger focus is on the Gujarat elections of 2012.