Mahagathbandhan a tried, tested, failed idea: Arun Jaitley jab at oppn alliance

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New Delhi: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley addressing media after the 22nd meeting of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council, in New Delhi on Friday. PTI Photo by Atul Yadav(PTI10_6_2017_000240A)

Next year’s general election will be a contest between the “tried, tested and failed idea” of a “maha gatbandhan” (grand alliance) of opposition parties and the promise of stability and coherence held out by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling dispensation with a strong leader, finance minister Arun Jaitley predicted on Saturday.

And India’s aspirational society will not commit suicide by choosing the former over the latter, Jaitley said on the concluding day of the two-day 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

Maha gatbandhans are inherently unstable and their longevity is limited, the minister said, citing the examples of previous coalition governments led by Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

“(The) 2019 (national elections) would be a choice between a stable government with a coherent policy and a strong leader versus a completely anarchic combination,” Jaitley said.

His remarks come in the backdrop of efforts by the Congress and other opposition parties to cobble together an alliance to take on the BJP led by Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections. A successful coalition should have a “very strong nucleus,” Jaitley said, noting that the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi had provided such a nucleus to the previous and current National Democratic Alliance governments.

“You cannot have a nucleus of a handful of people..it will then be a unstable nucleus..” Jaitley said. Next year is not a time when one can opt for an anarchic combination, he said, adding that an aspirational India, having missed the industrial revolution of the 1970s, wouldn’t plump for such an alliance .

“There are some (constituents of proposed grand alliance) whose leaders are temperamentally maverick, there are some whose interests are purely regional – give my state extra money; and there are some who only wants some criminal cases to be closed,” Jaitley said.

In reply to a separate question, Jaitley said trusting individuals who came to the BJP only for positions of power had been a a mistake that the party made in the past. Describing such politicians as “career nationalists,” the minister said they remained nationalist only as long as the BJP offered them a career.

“The moment chips were down and we could not do it, they looked elsewhere. I have always maintained within the party and outside that trusting people like this who hang around in the periphery of political parties was probably a mistake that we historically made,” Jaitley said.

He did not name anyone, but it was an oblique reference to former union ministers such as Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie who have openly criticized the Prime Minister and his government on policy matters and the way India’s ruling party was functioning.

Jaitley also dismissed Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s claim the current regime was not allowing a debate to take place and was imposing its own idea of India on others.

“I have heard him say (so) in the past. But I cannot respond to hallucinations,” Jaitley said, responding to a question on Gandhi’s claim that he had told the finance minister that Kashmir was on fire, but he hadn’t been heard. “I am second man to have suffered from (Gandhi’s) hallucinations. President (Emmanuel) Macron was the first,” he said in an apparent allusion to Gandhi’s claim that the French president told him there was no secrecy clause in the deal for Rafale jet fighters signed with Paris; Macron’s government had denied the claim.

Jaitley also dismissed Gandhi’s allegations that there was a sense of fear among the people and autonomy of institutions was being compromised. “Tell me in the last two years(the names of) two businessmen who have been wrongly arrested. When you (Gandhi) make a speech… something must be based on some factual basis.”

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