JD(U) leader and Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav clarifies his party’s stand on demonetisation and calls differences in the Opposition’s position ‘natural’, asks why anyone who questions the government is branded anti-national, and warns Prime Minister against rushing into things, as it could lead to his ‘fall’
ANAND MISHRA: Eight days after demonetisation was announced, the Winter Session of Parliament commenced. But there have been disruptions every day and the House hasn’t functioned. Who do you think is responsible for this?
It is not right to say that Parliament has not been functioning. It has been. Leaders of all parties have spoken on the floor of the House. The Prime Minister said that demonetisation was kept a secret. The Opposition’s argument is simple: you cannot just make an announcement and not speak about it in Parliament. All we are demanding is that he must discuss the issue in Parliament. But he hasn’t agreed to do that. We can’t have a one-way debate. This is such a big step, the entire nation has been forced to stand in queues. These are unusual times.
ANAND MISHRA: But the government is accusing the Opposition of shying away from debate. They say PM Narendra Modi came to the House twice, and that even then there was no discussion, especially in the Rajya Sabha.
I have never said that he (the Prime Minister) should come to the House and apologise. If some other minister had made the demonetisation announcement, say the Finance Minister, then we would have asked him to answer. But only the Prime Minister knows the complete details of this move. He says he has been preparing for it for six months, so our demand is justified. If he agrees tomorrow (to a debate), the House will function.
ANAND MISHRA: There have been conflicting voices from the Opposition on the subject.
That is natural. We marched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan against the land acquisition Bill, the AIADMK wasn’t a part of it, the BSP wasn’t there either (Congress president Sonia Gandhi led a march of 100 lawmakers from Parliament House to the Rashtrapati Bhavan last year. The AIADMK, BJD and BSP did not join). This time all these parties are on board. Sixteen opposition parties haven’t sought a rollback of the new notes, because we know that it will be an even more difficult task to execute. All the 16 parties agreed to the fact that this step was taken to curb black money. Having said that, the conditions that have arisen because of this move are very severe. Farmers, daily wage labourers, truck drivers… There is no section of society that is not bearing the brunt of demonetisation. This is our concern and so we have been raising the issue.
ANAND MISHRA: You and Nitish Kumar do not seem to be on the same page either.
There is no difference in our positions. Nitish Kumar has welcomed the move, but in his statement he added that whenever he (the Bihar government) announces a scheme, he prepares for it.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: There have been complaints from the Opposition that anyone who raises questions is branded an anti-national.
If you raise an issue today you are immediately called pro-Pakistan, anti-national. There have been attacks on three military camps, who is responsible for this? There has to be some accountability. We have a defence minister, we have a government, but it has now become difficult to even ask basic questions. This has all happened in the past two years. Not just that, they have put a large number of eminent people, and many in the media too, on this path. But this won’t continue for long.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: If some other government, say a non-BJP government, had taken the demonetisation decision, what would have been different?
The BJP doesn’t know how to run a government and the Congress doesn’t know how to be in the Opposition. Earlier, the BJP was with us in the Opposition. We emerged from a struggle and they learnt that from us. Today they are running the government and are the opposition too. If anyone raises a question, they go after them.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: What are your views on the Supreme Court order making the national anthem compulsory in cinema halls?
The concepts of patriotism and nationalism have been distorted. There are so many cases pending in courts, but the judges chose this. Given the climate in the country, what was the point of such a judgment?
Nationalism is a serious subject, why make it a frivolous one? I don’t have an issue with the judgment, but nationalism, as it is being defined today… Around 80-85% of our country is made of hard-working people who have toiled to earn their money. Their lives haven’t changed for 70 years. For me, real patriotism and nationalism would mean helping these people.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: But political parties haven’t really voiced their concern over the judgment.
No one in the country has ever thought of not respecting the national flag or the national anthem. A large number of people in the country live below the poverty line, if their lives don’t change, how will the country become strong? It (the national anthem) will get respect when lives of these people improve.
ANAND MISHRA: There is speculation that the JD(U) is warming up to the BJP again (owing to its support to the demonetisation move).
There was a meeting of opposition parties to discuss demonetisation. After discussing the issue for over an hour, all parties decided that a rollback would cause more trouble. Black money is a big problem, but 16 parties said that we cannot oppose this move, we all said that we welcome the move. But we raised the problems of the people who are queuing up from day one.
What Nitish said wasn’t published in its entirety. He welcomed the demonetisation move and supported it, but he also said ‘I don’t work without preparation’. But this government wasn’t prepared, which is leading to chaos.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: When the issue of the emergency landing of Mamata Banerjee’s flight was raised, all opposition parties supported her. Now, she has objected to the Army presence in Kolkata and compared it to a “military coup”. What do you think about that?
It is true that many people don’t trust the present dispensation. There is a lot of talk about encroachment on the federal structure of the country. The same fears are at play here too. But the government said it is a routine exercise.
AMITAV RANJAN: Nitish Kumar had recently raised the issue of treatment of minorities and fears of attack on the federal structure of the country. What kind of fear does your party sense?
The circumstances in the country are formidable. Look at the Kashmir issue, never has an unrest continued for this long in the region. Look at freedom of speech. Writers, artistes are sensitive people, they have been feeling that freedom of speech and expression is under threat. So these are the fears in the minds of people. Ghar wapsi, love jihad, you never heard such terms earlier.
VANDITA MISHRA: The Prime Minister scrapped high denomination notes, and Nitish Kumar imposed prohibition in Bihar. In both cases, the State seems to be acting tough and, in a way, it is an attack on individual freedoms. Many people have raised questions about the prohibition law too. Have there been any discussions in the party regarding this?
We prepared a lot before imposing prohibition. There was a campaign in villages and towns. We got a lot of support from women as well. We called a meeting of all parties and sought their suggestions, because the law had failed earlier. In short, we prepared for it.
SHAILAJA BAJPAI: There were talks of an alliance before the Uttar Pradesh elections next year. What is the situation now? And do you think demonetisation will have an impact on the elections?
About a year ago, six parties, including the Samajwadi Party, RJD, INLD, JD(S) and Samajwadi Janata Party, had decided to come together. The flag, symbol, everything was decided. We even garlanded Mulayam Singh Yadav. Five meetings were held. But then the plan didn’t work. The Samajwadi Party even fought elections in Bihar.
Then, last month, on November 5, the Samajwadi Party called everyone and floated plans of an alliance again. We went, HD Deve Gowda (JD-S president) also came, INLD members came too, Lalu Prasad was there. All of us went out of concern for Uttar Pradesh. We all believed that elections in the state should be fought with proper planning.
Then he (Mulayam Singh Yadav) made a statement that he wants a merger, not an alliance.
So all I can say is that we tried our best, but things couldn’t work out. However, things change every day in politics.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Funding for political parties usually comes from undeclared sources. At a time when we are talking about black money and demonetisation, shouldn’t political parties declare the sources of their funding?
The BJP and Congress are the two parties that receive this (funding). All our details are with the Election Commission. If you see our accounts, you will know we have no black money… We received such little donation in the previous elections that we have run huge debts; we had to sell fields.
Black money is a problem, but the country has much bigger problems, and all of them have to be solved in a democratic manner. These days there is talk of improving elections, but for that the society needs to change first.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: The Prime Minister has spoken about simultaneous Central and state elections on several occasions. What are you views on it?
In a country like ours, one has to move forward in a democratic and balanced manner. If you rush things, you will fall. This is my advice to the Prime Minister. There are so many regions, castes… what he is saying sounds good, but circumstances in the country need to be analysed as well.
You promised jobs to two crore people, you said you will clean the Ganga, you said you will bring back black money… You have not fulfilled any of those promises yet, instead you made the country stand in lines. The speed with which he (the Prime Minister) is surging ahead, there could an accident.
ANAND MISHRA: It has been over a year since you stitched together the Grand Alliance with the Congress and RJD. But cracks have already started emerging. Will the Nitish government manage to complete its five year term?
The alliance has people’s approval, they voted for us. We know that and Lalu Prasad understands this as well. So, there is going to be no trouble between us.
VANDITA MISHRA: Nitish Kumar wanted to make a national opposition front against the BJP. Since demonetisation, however, it seems that space has been taken up by Mamata Banerjee.
See, the Janata Dal may appear scattered, but we all come from the same family. Without it, any third front is not possible. We are a total of nine parties — the RJD, Deve Gowda’s party, Chautala’s party (INLD), Naveen Patnaik’s party (BJD) — and our core is the same. We have never said that Nitish Kumar should be the face of this front, all we want is to create a strong alternative to the BJP. That effort is still on.
ANAND MISHRA: Do you think a non-Congress opposition front is viable?
After the Emergency, all parties were forced to come together. Given the current climate in the country, and the direction in which the BJP wants to take the country, a second force or third force, Congress or non-Congress, all forces will be mobilised soon.
I don’t want to comment on whether it will be a Congress or non-Congress front, but there will be a time when everyone will have to come together.
AMRITH LAL: Why are there so many groups in the Samajwadi parivar. It is not just a question of the present, these factions have existed since the ’50s, nine leaders, nine groups.
Well, that is true. Earlier, there were no losses because of our divisions, but this time there has been a heavy loss. The Congress failed miserably (and) in fact, we had a role in their failure. We raised the issue of scams during the Congress regime and the BJP benefited from it. The Janata Dal was scattered and the country is now bearing the brunt.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: The BJP’s Hindutva movement can be countered with secularism, but how do you politically counter allegations of being pro-Pakistan when you question the government?
The Hindus form about 80-85% of this country. But a fear has been instilled in their minds regarding communities that form less than 15% of the country.
Also, Hindus are not one community, there are over one lakh castes in it, there are 35 crore gods and goddesses. So this exercise that the BJP has undertaken, they are bound to fail in it. They don’t want to cure the diseases in the country. There is social disparity, there is poverty, farmers and labourers are living in poor conditions, these issues are not important to them. They only raise non-issues such as ghar wapsi.
VANDITA MISHRA: This is Nitish Kumar’s third term in Bihar and he has a good development record. Why then is the JD(U) scared to fight elections solely on Nitish’s record, than bank on allies?
See, there is a 70-year-old ideological school, but it has been split because of political parties. The divisions have happened and the faultlines are deep. People are split and they do not vote for one party just based on its good work. I spoke about the ‘diseases’ in the country, those diseases don’t let people come together.
ANAND MISHRA: Earlier, NDA allies Akali Dal and Shiv Sena had taken a contrary stand on demonetisation, but they are now on board. Have you reached out to any of them?
We have always held talks with the Shiv Sena. Their stand and our stand is the same, that people are facing hardships because of the move. They are with the NDA, but there isn’t much of a difference between our positions.