Jethmalani ©Gulf News
Well-known Supreme Court lawyer and former law minister Ram Jethmalani is known as a maverick because he never hesitates to take the unpopular line.

Even members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) do not feel comfortable with him. He resigned as law minister after a bitter quarrel with Attorney General Soli Sorabji two years ago.

He has also contested for the president's post in 1992 and in 1997. Though certain of defeat, he went ahead and threw down the gauntlet. A man with pronounced views, Jethmalani is an energetic man, who speaks his mind.

Though some of his views are extreme and whimsical, he backs them with the canny reasoning of a successful criminal lawyer. In an interview with Gulf News, Jethmalani spoke about the upcoming election for the president of India, the idea of Hindutva, culpability of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and what he considers to be the achievement of the BJP government in the last four years.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Are you contesting for the president's post this time?

A: I am not because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has refused to support me. They are favouring Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexamnder.

But on earlier occasions, you had contested as an independent?

I did. I wanted to make a point and I made it.

What was the point?

That the president of India must be a strong and articulate figure, with knowledge of constitutional law, and law in general.

Do you think that by opting for Alexander, the BJP too is indulging in the same kind of tokenism that Congress was known for?

Yes. Absolutely true. But there is a vital difference.

What is it?

I cannot tell you.

You are a BJP insider, and you must know it?

I am not an insider. I am not even a member of the BJP, though they support my membership in Rajya Sabha, and they had made me the minister for law.

Why is the BJP favouring Alexander instead of choosing a man with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background, who would spout Hindutva ideology? What is your hunch?

My hunch is that I would be favoured. (Laughs). I think that Alexander's proposed candidacy is a red herring. The party might spring a surprise in the end.

Do you think that the BJP is favouring Alexander to improve its image and to send out a message that the party is not against minorities?

It might be so.

Do you not think that it will be difficult for the BJP to improve its image after what has happened in Gujarat, and the party's refusal to replace Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi?

What has happened in Gujarat is wrong and should be condemned. I think it was due to the failure of the bureaucrats and the police officers. I think it is very harsh to punish Modi for the failure of the officers.

What about Modi's anti-minority bias, which he did nothing to hide?

What he said and what he did should be probed. There is a need to examine the evidence and cross-examine people involved in it. It is not right to rush to judgment.

What about Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech at Goa in April, where he lashed out against Muslims, and toed a hard Hindutva line?

That speech was misinterpreted. He spoke of two Islams, and objected to jihadi Islam, which unfortunately seems to prevail today.

It is equally true of Hindus as well. There are the militant Hindus like jihadi Muslims. Why did he single out Muslims?

Vajpayee expressed his reservations against militant Hindutva as well on another occasion. He said that he was afraid of militant Hindutva.

How can the prime minister favour Hindutva in the first place when the Indian Constitution is so clearly based on secularism?

The core of the Indian Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, is Hindutva.

In what way? How is Hindutva being defined?

Hindutva implies respect for religion, and also that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of religion.

Is this your positive interpretation of Hindutva?


But this is certainly not the Hindutva of the BJP and the other hardliners, especially the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal mobs who killed Muslims in Gujarat?

That is the wrong kind of Hindutva. It is a distortion of Hindutva.

What is the greatest achievement of the BJP government in the last four years?

It is in the field of foreign policy. It has brought India closer to the United States, which is a democracy. For too long we were in the shadow of the communist Soviet Union. We have now moved towards our natural democratic partners like the U.S.

Is India aspiring to be a client state of the U.S. like Pakistan?

No. India is a big country, and it can never be a client state.