Rajya Sabha member Shahid Siddiqui was the face of the Samajwadi Party in Delhi, and was also the party's authority on the Indo-US nuclear deal. It was even said that he was among the few powerful people who were instrumental in the coming together of the Congress and the SP after the Left withdrew support to the United Progressive Alliance government.
Siddiqui said since he had given an elaborate interview to rediff.com as an SP general secretary, he explains why he shifted allegiance to the Bahujan Samaj Party and what his views on the issues now are.
Excerpts from an interview with Krishnakumar P and Vicky Nanjappa:
Why the change of loyalties?
I was against the nuclear deal for the last three years. Ever since July 18, 2005, when Prime Minster Manmohan Singh went for the framework agreement, I have studied it. When I say studied it, I mean in a thorough manner. I have read every document. I have studied the 1954 Atomic Energy Act not just the 123 Agreement part of it, but the entire act. I have read the 1974 NPT guidelines. I have had long discussions with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nick Burns, scientists and experts.
This deal is not about the Congress or Dr Singh or Sonia Gandhi. This deal will decide the future of the country for the coming many decades and it is not in India's interests. Therefore I saw the need to rise above party politics and oppose the deal.
This is very different from what you said earlier...
Yes, for the last one month, I have been speaking a different language. I was speaking like an opportunist. That is because I held a position in the party and have to say certain things as the general secretary. In the past few days, a lot of my friends from across the political spectrum -- and more important, intellectual friends, fellow professors (Siddiqui was a professor of political science at the Delhi University) and from the media -- called me and said they did not expect this from me. If you were ignorant of what the deal is about, we would have understood, they said, adding that it was unacceptable for someone who had so much knowledge about the deal to back it.
So it was today that I decided to speak my mind and go with my conscience and oppose the deal. I am now urging other like-minded MPs to rise above party lines and vote against the government.
Couldn't you have just stepped down and made this point? What is the reason behind joining the BSP at such a crucial juncture?
I didn't plan to join the party. It just happened. I was meeting friends and I happened to meet (Telugu Desam Party chief) Chandrababu Naidu who was going to (Uttar Pradesh chief minister) Mayawati's place. He asked me why don't I join him. Only after I stepped out did I realise so many of your media friends were there. I said what the heck and announced the decision to them.
Do you mean you decided when you were facing the cameras?
No, no. When I met Mayawatiji, she said, 'you have been close to (BSP founder) Kanshi Ram for a long time, which is true. I was friends with him from the early days. I have interviewed him more than any other journalist in the country, I also realised that if I leave the SP now, I have to do my politics in UP. And I believed that for sometime now, the backward-Muslim alliance never worked. While the Muslims vote for the Yadavs, the Yadavs never reciprocated.
But with Mayawati, I reaslised how the Dalits were voting for Muslims. Whoever the candidate was, if he was under a BSP symbol, the people voted for him. As someone who has always been fighting for Muslim empowerment, I realised that I must join the BSP and work for their betterment.
Did you speak to any of the SP leaders before you quit?
I had spoken to them earlier. I had spoken to Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav saying that the way they are trying to rake up communal feelings over this issue hurt me. We have always fought against this. People like (Delhi Imam) Syed Ahmed Bukhari have used the common Muslims name to further their interests. They have always bartered Muslim strength to achieve their personal gains. Today, to revive people like them is to do utmost damage to the Muslim community.
You had earlier said the UPA will sail through. What is the situation now?
It is difficult to say what will happen. Some friends in the UPA are saying they are satisfied with the numbers they have. The NDA people are saying they are happy with the numbers. Mayawati-ji and the Left say they have a majority. So there is no saying which way the vote will go.
Never has the nation be so divided on foreign policy. Any foreign policy initiative needs to be taken on the basis of consensus.
Are saying the government should not go ahead with the deal even if it wins the floor test?
Yes, the prime minister should not go for the nuclear deal even if he wins the trust vote because it is clear that the deal is not in the nation's interest. Especially since what happens now will have an effect on our foreign policy for the next 50 years, and we must not burden the coming generations by taking a decision without a consensus. There is no consensus in Parliament and there won't be any either in the near future.
Moving to the political front, is this the beginning of the emergence of the third front?
Of course. Stronger than ever. The BSP, the Left, TDP, AIADMK and a lot of other parties are involved and it is shaping up well. One thing is clear, in the coming elections both the Congress and the BJP are going to lose tremendous ground. It is the parties of the third front that will do well.
So, does that mean Mayawati will become the next prime minister?
Many important senior leaders are talking of Mayawati as the next prime minister. Take CPI leader A B Bardhan for example. If there can be a Barack Obama in the US why not a Mayawati in India? She is a Dalit leader who has risen on her own. She is not the daughter or mother or sister of any prominent leader. She is where she is because of her hard work.
What about horse trading, which is said to be increasing as the date of the vote nears?
I don't know about horse trading. But there are various other inducements. Because of the delimitation, a lot of MPs across parties are feeling jittery. With the redrawing of constituencies there are not sure about their positions within their own parties. That is why it is so difficult to say what will happen on July 22.
So horse trading is there?
I am not saying that. What I am saying that if it is happening it is unfortunate. Such things should not exist in a mature democracy. There is one way we can do away with horse trading. If every party asks its MPs to vote according to their will, and does not issue whips, there will be no horse trading. I hope such a day will come when our country will become a mature democracy and people stand up for what they believe in.
Isn't it sad that a person like Manmohan Singh has to come to this level?
He is an honest man. People who are for the deal are also honest and those against the deal are also honest. Both sides believe in what they stand for.
With Dr Singh, he has always believed in the World Bank brand of economics. What is surprising is the attitude of the socialist SP.
It is said that your move has caused jitters in the UPA and that you may take MPs with you.
You must ask them if my move is causing jitters. And yes, maybe MPs should actually follow me. I am not in the dirty business of pulling people by unfair means. I have just been telling people who have called me today that these are the reasons I decided this way and you should also think and make up your mind and stand by it.