Q: You’ve been very closely associated with Atal ji. Please share with us some anecdotes, some of your personal experiences of working with him, how was he as a person, as a politician, and as the Prime Minister?
Ans: He was socially and personally a very sensitive person. His commitment to nation was far more intense than his commitment to the party or to self. He never thought that power is be-all and end-all, this was not his premise. He would avoid power at all costs. I’m very well reminded of one incident in 1984, when Shreemati Indira Gandhi was killed by her body guards and there was a huge commotion, unrest in the society. They wanted to vent their anger against the Sikh community. It was 1st November and there was this taxi stand in front of Atal ji’s house at 6 Raisina Road, nearby was the Youth Congress Office. An unruly mob moved towards this taxi stand targeting the taxi drivers. At that point Atal ji bravely stood in the way between the unruly mob crowd and the drivers, and he stood there till the police arrived. He had fairly understood that politically it may not have been the correct step but nationally it was the needed step. What happens to his politics? Does he gain votes by this or not? Or he loses votes, it was not a matter of concern for him at all at that point and that’s how he behaved. This was the reason that he could win the trust of all communities, because he was genuinely a socially sensitive person.
Q: It’s quite common that people who work together have certain kind of disagreements. Was there ever a disagreement between you and Atal ji, on any of the issues?
Ans: No, as I told you Atal ji was a socially sensitive person. And Atal ji was politically democratic to the core, this one has to understand. He definitely asserted whatever he believed, but, his foremost adherence was towards teamwork. So, even if his views were not adhered to he still continued with the party culture as a leader. This was his democratic attitude, it was the core of his personality. For example, about this Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra movement initially the talk was that maybe four central leaders should start from four corners of the nation and congregate at Ayodhya on 30th October. It was thought that this would be an appropriate way of movement and mobilization of people for kar seva on 30th October, 1990. Atal ji said that I don’t believe in this political mobilization so pardon me. Ultimately Advani ji agreed to it and from Somnath this kar seva was arranged, but Atal ji though he did not agree with this idea yet he participated in the rath yatra as a democrat, as a soldier of the political party. His speech at Delhi’s boat club on 4th April 1991 about Hindu, Hindu samaj, Hindu sanskriti was so intense, emotional, logical, factual. Atal ji was absolutely fantastic and majestic. This is what Atal ji was.
Q: Whenever we talk about Ram Janmabhoomi, we talk about 6th December 1992, but what was Atal ji’s reaction to indiscriminate firing on kar sevaks in 1990 that was ordered by Mulayam Singh, the then Chief Minister of UP?
Ans: He was sad about all this whatever was going on. He didn’t agree with the way it was talked ‘parinda par nahi maar sakta’ (even a bird cannot enter Ayodhya) that’s what Mulayam Singh ji had said and Atal ji talked to him that this is not the democratic way. He asserted that Mulayam Singh ji should take care of law and order but should not provoke others.
Q: Why did you call Atal ji as the “Mukhauta” of Sangh Parivar?
Ans: No, no, it’s not that, whatever I said, I never said ‘Mukhauta’. I was asked by British High Commission officials that ‘who is going to be the next president of your party’. That was the question asked by them to me. And to this I had answered that ‘there are so many versatile persons in our party’ and I also named eight of them. Then he asked me, ‘why not Atal ji?’ To this I had answered, ‘that because Atal ji is our Prime Ministerial candidate, he’s the most popular and the most accepted face of the party, by projecting him we expect to garner those extra percentage of votes, to romp home with absolute majority’. And they were convinced by this. But these British High Commission officials were accompanied by one Bhartiya person as well. He talked about our interaction to his colleagues in British High Commission office in Hindi. So now he told them ‘chehra’ instead of ‘face’. Then one of these gentlemen met Bhanu Pratap Shukla ji (former editor of RSS-mouthpiece Panchajanya) in the evening, and now he said, ‘mukhauta’ instead of ‘chehra’, and then after four days there was this news, the very news of Bhanu Pratap Shukla ji where he wrote that Govindacharya calls Atal ji as mukhauta of Sangh Parivar. A few days later it was translated in English and again the heading was “Govindacharya calls Atal a mask”. So, the journey of that phrase, it started from ‘face’ and then metamorphosed to ‘chehra’, then evolved from ‘chehra’ to ‘Mukhauta’ and finally from ‘Mukhauta’ to ‘mask’. I think the date when this was first published was 6th October 1997.
Q: So Bhanu Pratap Shukla did he not crosscheck with you when he attributed the “Mukhauta” remark to you? Rather he misquoted you.
Ans: Again, I will not blame him. Whatever was told to him, only thing is he could have verified it from me. That he didn’t, that he trusted whosoever reported to him, it is because of some age-old prejudice which may be there in his mind, so he did not feel the need or he did not have that trust or confidence in me that I would tell him the correct information or not. It happens.
Q: It’s been more than two decades since this rather unfortunate “Mukhauta” episode, yet even today whenever journalists or writers refer to you they do some background research they would always append this ‘mukhauta’ phrase to your name….
Ans: Because, Bharatiya journalism is afflicted with two malaise. One is, sensationalism and another is one-upmanship. Now because of these two they transgress the limit and cross the ‘laxman rekha’, which is the ethics of journalism.
Q: How did Atal ji react to all of this?
Ans: Atal ji was very much hurt by this so-called comment that I understand.
Q: Its been more than two decades since this episode. Does it still hurt you?
Ans: I have all the regards and sympathy for Atal ji. As for me, I contradicted it right on the day it was published in newspapers, I contradicted this and said all this (Mukhauta remark) was concocted and baseless. It has definitely hurt my reputation as an obedient worker of the party. Atal ji arrived from abroad, he was very much irked by what he read in the newspaper. So on one side he approached the Sangh adhikaaris, which was natural and let me clarify once again that there was a tape of the whole talk with British High Commission officials. When asked for it (the tapes) I said, ‘yes what can be a better testimony for me’. I clarified that I had not called Atal ji as the “mukhauta” and explained that if I have made any such undignified remark about any central leader then I will quit. I said to the then RSS Chief Sudharshan ji, ‘you just call me up, I’ll quit publicly’ because I was so confident that I have never told all this. That emphatic contradiction on my behalf was there, but a whole month passed and Atal ji had not contradicted. I told Atal ji on 30th October that Atal ji I have contradicted it in a dignified manner, quite emphatically, because I believed in it you got opportunity twice or thrice, press people hounded you for your comments but you never offered….
Q: He did not counter it? Atal ji never countered it?
Ans: On 30th October I told Atal ji, it’s alright that this issue is getting closed today but if I had been in your place I would have first contradicted very effectively to the press that Govind ji cannot say all this and then I would have gone in search of that tape (the recorded conversation with British High Commission officials) and after getting that tape I would have sent for Govind ji to announce his denial once again. And since it has not been done this epithet will stick on you, opposition leaders will mis-utilize this, that’s what I told him.
Q: And what was Atal ji’s reaction to this?
Ans: He said that ‘let’s leave it, jo ho gaya so ho gaya, ab aage ki socho, kaam karo’ (whatever has happened has happened, think ahead begin your work)
Q: Okay, and probably this is one of the reasons that this remark has stayed on with you..
Ans: Not with me, rather on him. It’s unfortunate. He didn’t deserve it.
Q: In his heart of hearts, did Atal ji know that you did not say this, did he believe that?
Ans: How can I know, but afterwards he never approached this topic.
Q: And how was his reaction to you in a later phase, was he as friendly as he was with you earlier?
Ans: Atal ji never questioned my motives, he had complete trust and faith in me as an obedient party worker, though he may not have been comfortable with my views and adherence to certain ideological and political aspects.
Q: Was Atal ji aware of the fact that he might lose the 2004 General elections?
Ans: See, the best part of Atal ji’s psychology was that he was a pessimist plus realist, he was not a blind optimist. He was not a propagandist. The understanding of the pulse of the people was his forte. So his recipe was this. So he was not quite enamored by shining India and all that. And he was not in favour of pre-poning the elections. But he agreed to the team discussion that was his unique quality as a democrat. And he went for polls, he did his best. Because his politics was beyond elections, it was not for power only but for the people which one can serve as effective as an opposition leader also.
Q: Coming to the present-day scenario, how would you rate the present-day political discourse in the country? We have been hearing a lot of talk about intolerance. How do you rate the current political discourse vis-à-vis Atal ji’s time and probably Indira ji’s times? Do you see a deterioration…
Ans: I think, opposition could not digest their colossal defeat in 2014 elections. And they became panicky and instead of constructing an effective role as opposition they couldn’t understand which way to go because they were not used to being away from political power. This is one reason. The second reason is that BJP also did not expect that they will romp home with absolute majority but they got it. People supported it. People have very high expectations, and expectations were aroused by the Prime Ministerial candidate Shree Narendra Modi ji, very effectively. That is his forte, because he thinks that power stems from elections. Government is not merely for political party, it is maybe of the political party but meant for the people. And people includes BJP voters and non-BJP voters equally. So dialogue and trust is the basic requirement of democratic style of functioning. The ruling party has to take initiative so when you are in majority you take initiative, enter into dialogues, and take others into confidence such that they feel that you are treating them equally. Just because we won elections that doesn’t make us more superior human beings than others who stood as the opposition. These things continue, what party is in power, who goes out of power, it’s all just temporary phenomenon, nation continues, civilization continues.
Q: Do you feel the level of political discourse will be lower in 2019 general elections than in 2014…
Ans: Well, irresponsible utterances will be there, but again, it’s the ruling party that should take initiative to lift the level of political discourse. And if they do it, then the opposition people who are utterly irresponsible, they will be isolated.
(Vivek Sinha is a Journalist, Filmmaker and Author of the Novel "Chip in the Madrasa". His Twitter handle is @viveksinha28)