Margaret Alva interview Where is the south in this whole set-up, asks the Opposition Vice-Presidential candidate

We are developed States, we have done so much… but we don’t have a representative at the highest level, says the Opposition’s Vice-Presidential candidate

We are developed States, we have done so much… but we don’t have a representative at the highest level, says the Opposition’s Vice-Presidential candidate

The Opposition’s Vice-Presidential candidate, Margaret Alva, who never shies away from a good fight, has made the election about ‘non-representation’ of South India in the country’s top leadership. Edited excerpts:

The numbers are stacked against the Opposition in the Vice-Presidential [V-P] election, but you have chosen to contest. Is there a political point that you wish to make?

Well, win or lose, a contest had to be faced, right. You’re not going to just give away. The Opposition requested me, saying that most of them felt that I would be able to articulate their point of view. And I said yes, without hesitation. Let me say I am making a point. Always, there has been a convention that the top posts have a representation of different regions. In the present set-up, the President is from the north, the Prime Minister is from the north and now you have the VP candidate from the north. The south is nowhere in the picture, including the Lok Sabha Speaker. I want to know why the south is ignored. Why couldn’t Shri Venkaiah Naidu be given another term? He could have been given a second term. He’s been such a distinguished person, a very loyal man of his party and respected in the south very much. Why not he for another term? Where is the south in this whole set-up? Who represents us?

Secondly, I do want to say that there is a great deal of unease in the south. We are developed States, we have done so much. We are bringing down our population. We are contributing to the taxes and Delhi. Now as we go along, they say there will be delimitation and the south will begin to lose seats in Parliament. This is a matter of concern to all the southern states. I mean our numbers will go down in Parliament. We don’t have a representative at the highest level. So, what’s going to happen? It’s time the MPs from the south decide and send a message: they need to be heard.

This is a secret ballot; you can’t issue a whip. Our Constitution provides that the two top constitutional posts should have the best persons for the country.

The Constitution has to be saved, democratic institutions need to be strengthened and the voices of the people must be heard. Today we have a President, who is a woman and a tribal. I am proud of her achievement. But what about the agitations by tribals, fighting for their land rights, fighting to be recognized. All their leaders have been put in jail. The voice of reason is being silenced by threats, blackmail or putting people in jail. Since this is a secret ballot, I am appealing to the MPs to listen to their conscience.

Why bring in the element of regionalism for constitutional posts?

It’s not a question of regionalism, it’s a question of representation to all parts of the country.

Since you made an appeal to MPs across party lines, have you reached out to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to seek support?

In an election, as a candidate, I am in touch with everyone, including NDA allies and BJP friends with whom I have worked for many years.

You went to meet MPs in Parliament on a day when one witnessed a face-off between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Union Minister Smriti Irani. What are your thoughts on the nature of the relationship between the Opposition and Treasury benches now?

Did Smriti Irani behave like a Minister in the House? I believe Parliament is for debate, discussion and for a consensus to be worked out in spite of differing priorities and differing perceptions. And that is the role of the Chair. And that is why I’ve been saying you need strong, impartial people in both the Houses. You can’t be part of the government, you have to be independent. You have to direct the debate in the House. And when things break down, it is your role to call people; may be to your chamber, not suspend people or adjourn the House.

Yesterday, for instance, they were shouting about price rise, which affects every constituency, every voter. But you don’t want to debate that because it embarrasses you. This is where the Chair and the Business Advisory Committee come in. You have to fix the agenda for the day and say these are the issues that need to be discussed.

You recently made a serious charge that the fear that ‘Big Brother’ is watching permeates all conversations. Did you really feel that the government was listening in on your conversations?

To everything. My phones get diverted to some unknown number. That’s not only me. This fear permeates all MPs, members of the press and even the judiciary. We have seen in the earlier debate on Pegasus. Are we heading for a police state? Free press is the basic requirement of a living democracy. How many journalists have been picked up for tweeting simple tweets? If you say something you’re charged with sedition. What kind of democracy are we living in?

The day your name was announced, BJP leaders quoted from your autobiography, Courage and Commitment, to target the Congress leadership, especially the Gandhis. Did that make you uncomfortable?

Why are they [BJP leaders] worried about my relationship with my party? I have nothing to hide. And everything recorded in my book is part of parliamentary debate, records and so on. I have nothing to hide, nothing to explain and I have no problems with Sonia yes. So why should others have?

What are your thoughts on this perception that the Congress as a party lacks focus, can’t win elections even at the State level and uncertainty about its leadership at the top?

Please don’t say it can’t win elections. Even when we are the single-largest party or people elect us to rule, like in Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Karnataka, you use your Central agencies, threaten people, use money power. I know because I come from Karnataka. The idea is to change the composition of the government and not what the people voted for. So don’t say you lost elections, say we have lost the governments we formed. The idea is to first finish the Congress if they can.

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