Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru (ANK)
Mangaluru, Mar 21: Five-time parliamentarian Margaret Alva, with over four decades of active political career, is one of the best examples of a woman politician who has seen it all in Indian politics. Alva, born in the erstwhile Mangalore in 1942, has had a long and stellar innings. She has worked under four Congress prime minsters, was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha for four successive terms and was made a central minister at the age of 42, which was very rare those days. She also served as the governor of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Goa and Uttarakhand. Alva's autobiography 'Courage and Commitment', which not only provides insight into the functioning of the Congress, but also intricately details her journey from a small town that Mangaluru was, to the corridors of power.
Margaret Alva, in an exclusive interview with editor-in-chief Walter Nandalike on Daijiworld 24x7 channel's 'Public Challenge', reveals interesting details of her political career and journey with the Congress.
Q: One thing which all of us are curious to know - Are you still active in Congress and politics?
A: There is no retirement in politics. I have served Congress for 48 years. A senior politician like S M Krishna is still active in politics, and I am much younger to him. I will do any job assigned to me by my party wholeheartedly.
Q: Your autobiography 'Courage and Commitment' stirred a controversy. You also criticised Sonia Gandhi in the book. You have served as a union minister, governor and AICC general secretary. So was it right to criticise the Congress president?
A: Prior to the release of the book, I had personally handed over a copy of 'Courage and Commitment' to Sonia Gandhi and had a brief discussion about the same. The issues mentioned in the book are nothing new. They have been earlier published in newspapers and also debated in the parliament. There is nothing in the book that was not in the public domain. Even Sonia Gandhi herself had said that there was nothing wrong in writing about one's life story. She had no objection to the book.
When I quit the Congress party, I had mentioned in my resignation letter that I was unhappy the way the advisory and decision making team was functioning. I had said that I was a misfit in the existing situation, hence I wanted to quit. But media reported that Margaret Alva was sacked from the party. I was never expelled. I had spoken openly about the mismanagement and corruption that took place during Karnataka elections as tickets were sold. Sonia was unhappy with me for coming out in the open as she wanted me to tell her the issues personally. She said I let her down by going directly to the press. So, I told her, if I have embarrassed you, I'll step down. I also told her that I would mention all the issues in my resignation letter, which I did.
I have published my resignation letter in the autobiography for which I apologised to Sonia. She had no objection to my book and I had no intention to attack Sonia Gandhi.
Q: Do you still share the same rapport with Sonia Gandhi?
A: Definitely. We maintain good rapport even today. Within two months of the book release, Sonia Gandhi sent me to Rome to attend the canonization of Mother Teresa as her representative. If she were angry with me, she would have never given me the responsibility.
Q: In your resignation letter, you have mentioned about your mother-in-law Violet Alva. You have alleged that Congress insulted and sidelined her. She went on to resign from the post of the vice chairman of Rajya Sabha and passed away two days later. What was the reason to highlight that in your resignation letter?
A: Violet Alva quit office in 1969 after Indira Gandhi backed Gopal Swarup Pathak as vice-president instead of her. She was promised the post and then turned down. In fact, she was shocked and passed away a couple of days later. I had mentioned about the incident in my resignation letter as a comparison that even I may be insulted, but will never back down.
Q: You said that you were insulted in the year 2008 and your son Nivedith was not nominated for Vidhan Sabha elections.
A: It was all about the sale of election tickets in Karnataka. My son Nivedith and the grandson of former union minister C K Jaffer Sharief were not given nominations while relatives of other Congress leaders were given tickets. When media approached me with the list of nominations I told them that different people have different rules. I asked them if my son and Sharief's grandson were smugglers or terrorists. I really do not know why they were kept out.
Q: Was A K Antony behind this? You have mentioned his name several times in your book.
A: Everyone knows what transpired during the 2004 Kerala elections as Congress never won a single seat and A K Antony was the chief minister. Upset with the result, Soniaji deputed me and R L Bhatia to visit Kerala as observers. After meeting each MLA and office-bearers, we received a unanimous request for a change in the leadership. Pranab Mukerjee, Ahmed Patel and I were asked to visit Kerala to sort out the leadership issue. We submitted a report to Sonia Gandhi who asked us to follow up with immediate action. Pranab Mukerjee negotiated the issue and Oommen Chandy was elected chief Minister of Kerala.
I was blamed for my report and also told that I had instigated the high command for the change of leadership in Kerala, which was not true. A K Antony was the chairman of the disciplinary action committee of AICC and recommended my expulsion from the party. Sonia Gandhi consulted and said that I should not be expelled as I had given unstinted service to the party.
Q: Do you think senior leaders in Congress have been sidelined? S M Krishna is ready to join BJP, senior Congressman Janardhan Poojary is frequently criticising the state government and Congress, J P Hegde too joined BJP and Shashi Tharoor is praising Modi.
A: There is nothing like senior and junior in politics. When Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister there were many senior leaders in his cabinet. Senior leaders themselves elected Rajiv Gandhi to be the Prime Minister. Winning and losing is a part of election. I would say, those who want to abandon the party are free to do so if they feel secure in the other party. May god bless them.
I had worked hard along with Devraj Urs to gain victory for Indira Gandhi in the Chikkamagaluru constituency. Still, we were expelled from the party two years later. I did not join any party then and was later appointed as the united opposition candidate by Devraj Urs in the Rajya Sabha. I was the only one to win in the whole of south India during Indira Gandhi's second tenure as the Prime Minister. I never left Congress (Urs) even when only five members were left with others joining Indira Gandhi's side. I am proud to say that my loyalty did not change. I joined Indira Gandhi after Devaraj Urs' death. She gave us place in her party where I was elected as the convenor of Mahila Congress.
Q: There were rumours of you joining BJP after your book release. Have you received any offers from rival parties?
A: Yes, I have. When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, I was serving as the governor of Rajasthan. During the PM's swearing-in ceremony, all the governors were invited for the occasion. When I met Modi at his house, I told him that I was ready to resign from the post. He said, "Tumhare jaane ki baath hi nahi hai, you are doing such a good job, tum toh tehero, kuch nahi karenge tumko." (There is no question of you leaving. You are doing such a good job. You stay, nothing will be done to you). Soon after, I was handed over the additional charge of Gujarat and Goa.
Politically, we may differ on issues of ideology. I believe, in politics we have more personal relationships than political. I had close bond with Advanji, Deve Gowda and Ramakrishna Hegde. Parties do change, but friendship continues.
Q: BJP came out victorious in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the recently concluded elections. Being a Congress leader, what is your opinion about 'Modi Wave' which is on since 2014?
A: BJP has lost elections in Punjab, it did not bag a single seat in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and won one a solitary seat in Kerala. Nothing is permanent in politics. There are many places where BJP has not won even a single seat. So, I do not see this as a permanent verdict of the people. There will be change. Modi had promised to credit Rs 15 lac to every individual which is still pending. People are clever and will give a befitting answer in the forthcoming elections if Modi does not fulfill his promises. In some regions there are patterns of voting behaviour which will give the verdict. I wish Modi good luck. He is doing well. People have elected him and we cannot challenge the verdict of the people in a democratic country.
Q: Despite securing lesser seats than the Congress in Manipur and Goa, BJP went ahead and formed governments in these states. If you had been in-charge of Goa, as you had been in the past, what would you have done in such a situation?
A: I would have formed the government. Elections were held on March 4. There were eight days for the counting. During this time, you get feeback on how many seats you may get. Whatever be the case, you have to prepare for the D-Day. Congress should have sorted out all the issues regarding alliance and leadership in these eight days, and within two hours of the results should have approached the governor.
Q: So you believe it was Digvijaya Singh's (Congress leader in-charge of Goa) failure?
A: I cannot say whose failure it was. I do not know what was going on. I was in touch with Goa Congress, but everyone was saying nobody was taking a decision. That was the problem. But all said and done, right or wrong, the governor's duty is to call the single largest party. The majority has to be decided on the floor of the House, not in Raj Bhavans. The single largest party has to be invited to prove its majority in the floor of the House. In case you are not able to prove majority, then you have to resign. Then the next party is called.
In Manipur Congress secured 28 seats whereas BJP won 21. Still, because their governors are sitting there, they were doing whatever was dictated to them from Delhi. It is wrong. I have said this to the press in Mangaluru too. It is unconstitutional, it is unethical, and it is unacceptable.
Q: Do you agree that Congress' graph is declining in the country?
A: Congress has faced ups and down in the past. Both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi lost in the 1977 elections. Everybody said that Congress was finished. Slogans were raised against Indira Gandhi because of Emergency. Two years later, the slogan changed to "Lathi goli khayenge, Indiraji ko vapas layenge" (Will endure batons and bullets, will bring Indiraji back). People were fed up with conflict and mess created by Morarji Desai-led government and Indira Gandhi-led Congress made a come back in 1980. According to me, in politics, there is no permanent wave, especially in India.
Q: The entire nation is saying that Rahul Gandhi was responsible for Congress' decline....
A: That is no nothing but RSS propaganda. They started it. I am not saying who is the best leader or who is the most suitable leader. I cannot pass such judgements, as it is for people to decide. But I will say this much, if the people do not want a leader, there is no acceptance. If people want a leader, nobody can stop it. So let the people decide as we go along.
Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party leader and former UP CM) had won with a big majority. But this time, there was conflict within his party, and somehow, they could not sell their programmes to their voters, and they lost. But this may not be a permanent situation.
Q: Siddaramaiah-led state government has completed almost four years now. With only one year left for the Assembly elections, what is your opinion about the government?
A: The state government in Karnataka has done a tremendous job. They have introduced people-freindly schemes. Drought is one of the issues which has been troubling the state. But no government cannot bring rain which has to happen naturally. Siddaramaiah has tried his best to balance both positive and negative issues in the state. At the end of the day, it is not a question of what work you do, but how you present it to the people. We have to market the work we have done. I had told this during the recent co-ordination committee meeting. Public perception needs to be positive and this will be the plan for the next one year.
The work in rural areas has been good, but problems of roads, law and order and garbage still persist in the cities. We also found during the coordination committee meeting that we were yet to deliver 80 percent of the promises as mentioned in the manifesto.
Demonetisation has affected a lot of people and we raised our voice against it incessantly. The central government sold demonetisation as a pro-poor programme. Common man adjusted accordingly thinking that Modi would help.
Q: What do you think about reservation for women in politics?
A: Women's representation in politics is on a rise from several years. When I was part of the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, we wanted to enforce reservation for women in Assembly. National Perspective Plan (NPP) was prepared under my tenure in which 33 percent reservation for women was recommended from panchayat to parliament.
The parliament found it difficult to introduce the reservation because most MPs were men and were not ready to leave their seats. A bill was passed in Rajya Sabha after which over 15 lac women won the panchayat elections. This has changed the whole atmosphere in rural areas. Women are leading taluk and zilla panchayats and are more enthusiastic in the field of politics.
The bill for reservation for women in politics has to be passed as every political party is ready to support it. Women who are leading in the local body elections should reach the assembly as well.
Q: Have you trained or recommended any woman leader for the next generation?
A: Yes. I had trained a lot of women when I was serving as the Mahila Congress president. Women have to come forward if they have leadership qualities. Indira Gandhi picked and brought us to the parliament. We have picked young people who are prepared to take over.
Q: Your book 'Courage and Commitment' became a talking point in India and abroad. As the author, what is your say on the book?
A: The book contains the story of my life. The book was authored with 850 pages of handwritten transcripts as I had ample time at the Raj Bhavan. The book consists of beautiful photos with a few incidents highlighted. I have shared the journey of my life in the book. Sonia Gandhi appreciated my book and said that it will be an inspiration for young people to jump into politics. I am a woman from the minority community. I had no business, industrial or financial backing, but survived in Delhi for 50 years. That was the reason I named the book 'Courage and Commitment'.
You should have courage to stand for what you believe in and need to have commitment towards the party's agenda and cause and then can be successful. I am straightforward and spoke my heart out whenever something was wrong. In politics, all you must have is courage to speak.
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