In this Idea Exchange moderated by Editor (Chandigarh) Vipin Pubby, former Union home minister and Punjab governor Shivraj Patil says he is not bitter about having to resign after 26/11, the role of governors, and his decision to allow live TV coverage of Lok Sabha proceedings.
Why Shivraj Patil?
The country faced one of its biggest terror attacks, in Mumbai, under his watch as the Union home minister, a post that was given to him even after he had lost the elections. However, Shivraj Patil proved to be a survivor after the NDA government took over too. Known to be close to the Gandhi family, he was not asked to go unlike some other governors and was allowed to complete his term. He was at this Idea Exchange shortly before he demitted office as governor of Punjab.
Mukesh Bhardwaj: Is the change of governors with the change in government justified?
Do you know when governors were first changed after a change in government? Not before Morarji Desai’s government came to power and Charan Singh became home minister after the Emergency. Nine governors were changed. Morarji Desai was not in favour of changing the governors but Charan Singh insisted. After that, we have not changed on a large scale governors appointed by previous governments. When I was Union home minister, we had changed only four governors. Here also they have not asked all governors appointed by us to go. Only a few governors were asked to go. There is no constitutional provision in this regard. If the present government wanted to change anybody, it should have been me as I had changed four governors when I was the home minister. I don’t know why they were nice and friendly to me. If they had asked me to do so, I was ready and had already packed my bags. I am not in favour of wholesale change of governors with each government.
Manoj C G: The Supreme Court judgment of 2010 was very clear on this aspect. After that, was it appropriate for the government to ask governors to step down?
I did not change all governors except four. They also did not change everybody. I should not be sitting here and passing judgments on the current government.
Mukesh Bhardwaj: Did you have problems in dealing with the new Central government?
A governor’s powers are limited. Governors or the President become important when governor’s rule or President’s rule is imposed in the state or country. Pranab Mukherjee made an interesting statement. He has started video conferencing with governors. He said the difference between the powers, duties and responsibilities of governors, and chief ministers and the prime minister, is this — the President and governors are expected to protect and preserve the sanctity of the Constitution, but the chief ministers, prime minister and other ministers are asked to function as per provisions of the Constitution.
Manoj C G: Do you plan to return to active politics now that your term as governor is ending?
I joined politics at a very young age. Now because of my age, I plan to leave politics. I have no regrets. My party has been extremely kind and considerate. They have given me everything. They have given me tickets to the Assembly, Parliament. I was given party ticket 11 times and I won 10 times. Even when I was defeated, they made me Union home minister. As an individual, I will not ask (for anything). If they ask or order me to do something, I will not say no.
Vipin Pubby: Were you asked to quit as home minister following the Mumbai terror attacks?
The party kept saying you are not responsible. ‘It happened in Bombay, how are you responsible?’. The chief minister is not responsible, the state home minister is not responsible, the DG is not responsible. We had given them advance warning (but) you do not have specific information. You do not know where exactly they are going to strike. You do not know when it is going to happen, how it is going to happen. The information collected by different sources showed there was a plan and we had passed on that information. We can only increase vigil. Such incidents had taken place in other countries like the US, Spain, Russia, etc. Are these countries less efficient than we are? But these things are happening because terrorists have two things in their favour. One is that they decide the time, the other is the place.
Manoj C G: Do you think there was a lack of coordination between security agencies at that time?
If you were in the government, you would understand this. When Kargil happened, we were sitting on the opposition benches. We were trying to tell them you were not vigilant enough, that there was no coordination between the Intelligence Bureau, defence intelligence, and RAW and state agencies. Those are political statements. The Opposition said similar things after 26/11. But after the Kargil war, they had appointed a committee which gave a report. One of the recommendations was to have better coordination. There should be a committee of heads of organisations to put together information they have and decide how to go about it. This report came and L K Advani produced it before the inter-state council. Even if the security agencies are coordinating, time and place are decided by the extremists. You can never know when and where they are going to strike. That is why incidents have taken place in most developed countries. Criticise you must because it will make people alert. But ultimately, the totality has to be considered.
Vipin Pubby: Do you think the rescue operation could have been handled better?
There is always scope for improvement and there are always lessons to be learnt. And yet, as I said earlier, you are not in a position to anticipate everything they plan to do. Such problems cannot be resolved only with weapons and security forces without trying to tackle the political, economic, social and psychological aspects related to it.
Man Aman Chhina: Are you bitter about having to resign after the Mumbai blasts?
Absolutely not. Did you find any bitterness in anything I have done? They made me home minister of India even after I had got defeated in the elections. When I was being criticised, the party said it was not my fault but in public opinion, this needs to be done. The PM said he would resign, the defence minister said he would resign, the foreign minister said he would resign. Home minister ko kyun nahin resign karna chahiye tha? Unka becharon ka toh kuchch kasoor nahin tha. Agar tha toh direct mera hi link tha (Why shouldn’t the home minister have quit? What fault was it of the others? If it was anyone’s, it was mine, as I had direct control). So I did not feel bad. Did you see me making any statement? Yet, it is wrong to say something happened because of me. A lone person cannot do anything, much depends on the situation. So to blame others while leaving and to take credit while arriving is wrong.
Man Aman Chhina: Does the decline in Congress concern you?
I am concerned like many of you. There are many reasons — economic, political, social. I may not agree with what this government would be doing and what my government was doing. But having been in politics for so long, I know nobody in the government is fully in a position to do everything. One has to take into consideration what is acceptable to the majority.
Varinder Bhatia: What do you think has gone wrong with the Congress?
Please do not ask me to give judgment. I have written my book in which I have said how the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the public sector and the private sector should work, how can internal security be protected, how should the government provide better facilities to citizens. I have not mentioned whether the Congress or BJP has committed mistakes. I have pointed out problems in the functioning of democracy. These include the high cost of elections and the caste considerations. I have not mentioned that the Congress or the BJP has done something. It is a masala-less book.
Manoj C G: What is Rahul Gandhi not doing right that has led to a string of defeats?
All that Rahul Gandhi is doing is not being treated the way they should be. If he is discreet in not making statements, you say why is he not talking. If he talks something, you say why is he talking. This is not correct assessment.
Manoj C G: You started the system of live telecast of proceedings of Parliament. Looking back, do you think it has worked ?
The idea to introduce live telecast of the proceedings in Parliament struck me when I was attending an international conference of speakers. Many countries had started the telecast and some were against it. In that conference, the representative of the House of Commons said we would not like to show a circus to people. The Canadian government had started televising the proceedings. They said if you are staging a circus, let it be seen. When I started telecast of proceedings, people said these days they see members wearing nice clothes but don’t see them behave in a better manner because of television. And that, on the contrary, there is an incentive for them to create problems. Such differences take place in Parliament in Zero Hour. However, generally such dramas take place only in the morning sessions. In the afternoon session, we pass the Budget, the Bills. In Pandit Nehru’s time, Parliament functioned for 170-180 days. Now it is working for 70 days. The solution is that Parliament should work for more days. In Germany, Parliament works for all days of the year except holidays. How do we give an opportunity to members to express their grievances on the floor of the House if it works only for a few days in a year? Parliament should be convened for more days so that each member gets enough time. The system of live telecast has worked because it has helped connect to people. You are educating people about Parliament’s activities, about national and financial policies instantaneously. The speech of the Finance Minister, for instance, and the debate is heard instantly by everyone. Where could you have provided that kind of information?
Vipin Pubby: How serious is the drug problem in Punjab?
The problem of drugs in Punjab is definitely more serious than it is in other states. One of the reasons is that some of our neighbours think that direct war is not possible so let us fight it indirectly by creating a situation which will create a law and order problem and lack of economic development, and which will pollute the minds. This problem has to be handled by paramilitary forces. It becomes the responsibility of the government at the Centre, but after that, the state government too has to play an important role. It is also a fact that wherever there is affluence, the youngsters get addicted not only to drugs but many other things. You don’t have very rich people here, but you do have citizens who are economically better off. The children have money in their pocket and are using it. The third is that family members also have to control them. Thus the Centre, the state government as well as family members have a joint responsibility to deal with the drug menace.
Ifrah Mufti: You have written about all important events of your life but not 26/11 in your book.
This is exactly what everyone wanted to see — whether I have blamed the then CM of Maharashtra, home minister of Maharashtra, DG of Maharashtra, IB, defence intelligence and other officers. But I did not want to do that and I blamed no one. However, I just say that to improve law and order and prevent terror attacks, we need to strengthen our police force. We have just 14,000 police stations in the country and 6.5 lakh villages and cities. Each police station has to look after 10 villages. In cities, we have more police stations. There are just 28 lakh policemen working in the country. For a country of 125 crore, if you have only these many police stations and this kind of police force, it is not enough. Besides, the policemen have to do other duties such as control traffic, provide protection. There is an urgent need to increase the number of policemen and paramilitary forces.
Transcribed by Khushboo Sandhu