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'We should not be afraid of the US'

By Krishna Kumar P in New Delhi
July 19, 2008 17:36 IST
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Shahid Siddiqui. Till Saturday afternoon, he was the face of the Samajwadi Party in New Delhi. He was the voice of the Muslims within the party. And he was the expert on the nuclear deal, someone who expressed full-fledged support for the deal.

On Saturday afternoon, he defected and joined Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party. He slammed the India-US nuclear deal. "It is against our national interest. I was suffocating and under pressure from my community. This deal will only take us into the dark. I will surely join the BSP and will fight for the Muslims and Dalits," Siddiqui, standing next to Mayawati, told journalists.

But 48 hours ago, he had explained in this interview to's Krishna Kumar P why he supported the deal and how the BSP was the Samajwadi Party's main enemy.

The Rajya Sabha MP also said all Samajwadi Party members of the Lok Sabha were united and there was no reason to fear that the United Progressive Alliance might lose the trust vote. He, however, ended the interview by saying that there was no telling who would vote how till the time the votes are actually cast.

The only indication that not all was well was a survey that his newspaper Nai Duniya had published, saying that 70 per cent of Muslims were against the nuclear deal. But he dispelled that doubt too in the interview.

What is your stand on the nuclear deal as an MP and what is your party's stand?

I have -- and my party too has -- always been for the deal. We think India has reached a stage where we can confidently deal with the United States. We feel India has arrived and we don't have to behave like a colonised country anymore. We are an equal power today.

We are investing more in countries around the world and we should not be afraid of the US.

And we were never against nuclear energy. Of course, there were certain grey areas that were bound by the Hyde Act. Those apprehensions had to be removed. These were issues relating to our foreign policy that could not be explained in public.

What were the reasons for the delay in accepting the deal?

The mistake of the Centre was it never discussed it with us. Many things were clarified when the Centre got in touch with us and by former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. We re-looked them from our viewpoint and not from the Left's point of view as we had done earlier. We have tremendous respect for the Left, but they have their own distorted view of the globe.

And finally, no deal is perfect. A deal is itself giving and taking. We have given something and have got something. Overall, we should have the confidence that it is a good bargain for India.

Why did you not take any effort to clear these doubts earlier?

First up, we didn't want to annoy the Left. The Left was talking to the government, but we were kept out. They never asked us anything or shared anything with us. Anyway, it was not that we never cleared our doubts. There were a lot of things that we questioned before but never answered.

Nobody talked to the Samajwadi Party in these three years. They never thought we were worth taking the support of.

Finally, our supporting the deal does not mean we agree with the policies of the UPA. We still disagree with most of the things. We are supporting the deal on principle. Mulayam Singh Yadav had done many things. When Dr Kalam's term ended, we believed he was the best, and wanted a second term for him. The Left opposed this and they were so annoyed with us and angry with us, they broke and denounced us.

Ultimately the BJP, the Congress and the whole nation agreed that he was the best president we ever had. People are saying the Samajwadi Party is now supporting the UPA for its gain. Tell me, did we take any money to support Dr Kalam? Like then, today also we are supporting an issue that we believe in.

So, what are these differences that you needed clarification from the UPA?

Broadly speaking it was our foreign policy. The Hyde Act said India's foreign policy should be in congruence with the US's policy. Iran found mention some four or five times. But then India worked on ties with Iran and the government went public saying that they were for friendly ties with Iran. The National Security Adviser's visit to Iran, the foreign minister's visit and Iran President Ahmedinejad's visit to India all happened in the last three months. So our concerns on that issue was allayed.

That was our major concern and not because Iran is a Muslim nation. It was because India cannot afford a war in the Middle East. India gets it highest remittance form the Gulf. If there is a war, India will be the first sufferer in terms of oil also. Nobody is talking about the real reason for the oil price rise. It is the threat to Iran and thus the speculation arising about a war there. A war in the Gulf is against our national interest.

After all major issues were settled, there was this survey in your newspaper that said...

That survey was planned earlier, like all other surveys. Unfortunately, it coincided with this nuclear deal issue and it blew up.

That survey said 70 per cent of Muslims interviewed were against the nuclear deal. Can you share the methodology and other findings of the survey?

5,000 people from Bangalore, Bombay, Calcutta, Patna, Delhi, Malegaon, Muradabad and a few other largely Muslim-dominated small towns in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were interviewed. It talks about their views on the Sachar Committee report and other relevant issues. There was even a question about whether Obama will be better for the Muslim world and 70 per cent felt they were the same.

So, in this survey, 70 per cent said they were against the nuclear deal.

But when they were asked what major issue will decide their vote in the upcoming general election, they said inflation.

The Muslim opposition to the nuclear deal does not mean an electoral setback for the Samajwadi Party?

People generally have very poor opinion of Muslims. The middle class, the media and politicians have only contempt for Muslims. They think the average Muslim votes on issues like Pakistan, Iran and Islam. But the truth is that he votes on local issues.

But the above said groups think they a homogenous vote block without any personality. Every Muslim is an individual who thinks. They don't vote in a similar pattern from one district to another. Even in a same district, the voting pattern differs from the rich to poor and the farmer to the businessman.

Can you explain how the Samajwadi Party-Congress came together?

Contrary to the assumption that it happened in the past three weeks, the coming together started more than a year back. We were for good ties with the Congress even during the UP polls. For us, the BSP was the major enemy. But the Congress saw us as enemies. They thought unless the SP was destroyed, they will never become a 200+ party at the Centre.

When they suffered major losses they realised what a big monster they had created in the BSP and understood they needed the SP's help they started sending overtures to us. They started saying they are not against the SP, but against only one person.

But we told them our support comes as a complete package. Mr Amar Singh is a senior leader. But even if it had been a lower member, the Congress has no business telling us who to keep and who to sideline in the party.

In October the Congress said they will give us eight ministries for our support.

So, Mr Amar Singh said if I am in the way of the party's interest, I will resign.

The party did not accept his resignation and the Congress also started speaking to him.

Since they knew the BSP was emerging stronger, they Congress knew they had to check its rise. They also sensed the Left would go. Mr Amar Singh can be a very bad enemy and a very good friend. Now he is a friend of Smt Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. He is their Sankatmochan. He was at one point the Sankatmochan of the Left and also even the BJP. But it is a pity that Advani who used to address him brother is calling him names now.

What about your party dissidents? Do you have the support of all your 39 MPs?

This is again a very unfortunate development thanks to the media. They have been playing up the issue of Munawar Hassan. But he left the party a year-and-a-half ago and is working for the Bahujan Samaj Party. We have gone to the privileges committee, but the Congress was dragging its feet on a decision.

But isn't his name in the list of 39 MPs you submitted to the President?

Yes, he is our MP. WE will issue a whip, and if somebody defies the whip, the matter will be addressed accordingly.

What about the other two MPs who have openly said they will not vote for the government?

They are going away because they know they will lose their tickets. Again, it has nothing to do with the party, but with the delimitation process.

But the real threat is not whether the SP MPs are together. It is who will vote how? Nobody knows how the vote will go till July 22.

But we are confident that barring these three people our MPs will vote for the government.

There is no apprehension that this is a deal that is not favourable to the Muslims?

Who are our Muslim leaders? Azam Khan is there, I am there. Along with Salim Sherwani we are the faces of the party. I had my apprehension about the deal and then realised we were beating around the wrong bush.

What the Left and others should have opposed was the defence strategic agreement with the US. That has been signed and the damage has been done. Nobody paid attention to it. That was a major mistake of the Left.

Going back to what you just said, what did you mean by there is no saying who will vote for whom?

Yes, that is true. But ultimately, I think, we will sail through. But all this speculation will go on till the vote takes place. Even five minutes before the vote, there will be a lot of speculation. We can't say this is how the vote will go. We have to wait and watch.

I have the confidence that the UPA will win, but this is a very crucial point in the history of the country. New forces are emerging and what happens on the 22nd will go a long way in formulating the future of Indian politics and India's place in the world.

Image: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

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Krishna Kumar P in New Delhi