‘In villages, urban areas, people sit on one side, Dalits in another corner. No one discusses this’

Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot talks about Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits, says if not for Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks, Congress would have won Gujarat, asserts that the perception about “misunderstood” Rahul have changed.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: January 7, 2018 5:21 pm
Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot with Senior Assistant Editor Manoj C G in the Express newsroom. Amit Mehra

Shailaja Bajpai: Did Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks (describing the PM as ‘neech kism ka aadmi’) hurt the party in the last leg of the Gujarat elections?

What I feel is that they provoked Mani Shankar Aiyar. The comments about Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, by their own people, including Amit Shah and Modi, and their own politicians… they are such comments that had we repeated them I don’t know where politics would have headed within the country, with respect to Gujarat. We saved ourselves from it and didn’t repeat them. They (the BJP) reaped the benefits of this mudda (issue).

I feel in the last few days (of the election) they (BJP) made a mockery of the Model Code of Conduct. Modiji crossed all limits. In the name of a private show, he held a roadshow. We asked the Election Commission ‘what is this circus?’ On the one hand, you issue a notice to Rahul Gandhi (for giving interviews to TV channels a day before the second phase of the Gujarat polls), but you spare them. And then you withdraw the notice (to Gandhi) after the elections. This is not a good tradition.

Ravish Tiwari: While campaigning in the previous elections, the Congress party did not lay much emphasis on visiting temples. What changed in Gujarat?

It is not important to visit temples during elections. Everyone goes to temples and it is not a big deal.
Rahulji, in a very religious way, went to temples and did puja. The BJP got disturbed by this. Throughout the campaign, they were in turmoil over Rahul Gandhi’s visits to the temples as they couldn’t create an issue out of it. So they resorted to different tactics. They got hold of a comment made by Mani Shankar Aiyar and twisted it.

Manoj CG: If those comments hadn’t been made, would you have reached a simple majority?

Very easily, and won too. I also agree that we made a few mistakes but these elections were won by Congress and there are no two views about it. Even today what I believe is that the countdown to the BJP’s ouster from Gujarat has begun. Before these elections, people thought that Modiji would continue as Prime Minister for 10 years. That myth has now been broken.

Manoj CG: You have a strong hold on rural centres, but the party did not win many seats in urban areas.

I agree. The issues raised by the party and Rahul Gandhi in these elections — issues concerning farmers, the youth — were liked by the people of the state.

Ravish Tiwari: Why has the Congress failed in getting a hold of the cities?

Members of business communities live in the cities, and they have been traditional voters of the BJP. Since the Jana Sangh was formed, the businessmen or one can say the ‘General’ castes have stayed with the BJP. The RSS and the BJP have influence within Gujarat.

Thirdly, what I believe is that since the 2002 riots a fear has gripped people. The businessmen feel threatened. These days, the entire country is scared of the CBI, ED and the Income Tax. People are scared of talking on their telephones; politicians are scared. A lot of people we intend to meet are scared of talking, and say that they will only talk from their landlines. It is a very alarming state in the country.

Unni Rajen Shanker: You said five days of Modi’s campaign turned the Gujarat elections around, and that the BJP polarised the campaign. It is bound to happen in other elections too. What is the Congress’s counter to that?

We had a direct fight with them in Gujarat and the environment we created there, and the way Rahul Gandhi showed his charisma… it all showed for the first time that the public in the state is fed up that the BJP and that it has only been successful because of marketing. I feel Modiji was not very successful as a chief minister but his marketing was good.

Since I have been the chief minister (of Rajasthan), since 1998 — Modiji came to power in Gujarat in 2001-2002 — I have been hearing that Gujarat will be the governance model for the entire country. (L K) Advaniji had propagated it back then. Everyone is now fed up with the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ slogan. Back then, it used to sound so good that investments worth one-and-a-half lakh crore rupees would come to the state. From there, the investments rose to Rs 5-6 and finally to seven-and-a-half lakh crore.

Mukesh Ambani went there, Ratan Tata went, and many more big industrialists went to Gujarat and gave a certificate to Modiji, saying he was doing a great job and that he was prime minister material. But there was zero investment. The marketing, however, made Gujarat appear as a model for governance. It is the same model that the RSS and the BJP followed in Goa (during the 2013 conclave where Narendra Modi was declared the PM candidate) to project Modiji.

Then there was the drama of Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev. We must accept that we did not counter them then. Had we, then the resulting situation would not have occurred. It created an environment that gave the Congress no chance in the elections. And then Modiji created an aura around him in Goa. By then, we had elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, and in those elections, Modi’s aura worked too.
I was a chief minister and I can say that governance was good in Rajasthan. We still remember Sheila Dikshit for so many things that happened in Delhi. But nothing was heard about our performance… The Congress got left behind. Rajiv Gandhi had brought in social media, and it was our right to use it first. But Modiji made full use of it and was successful.

Manoj CG: A lot of Congress leaders feel that the party has a realistic chance in Rajasthan. Would you want to go to Rajasthan?

I’m a very lucky to have got so many opportunities in the party, both under Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. I got an opportunity to become an MP and then a Union minister. Under Narasimha Rao, I was the minister for textiles. I was chief minister for 10 years. So for me to say that I should go here or there is not right. I have never asked anybody to lobby for me. Only once in my life, I asked for an Assembly ticket, and that was in 1977. After that, I never asked for a ticket even as an MP, minister or chief minister. Without asking, the high command has always given me a chance. Whatever the high command decides, I will follow.

Shailaja Bajpai: You say that the people of Gujarat are in love with Rahul Gandhi. You have worked very closely with him. What has changed in Rahul Gandhi?

Rahul Gandhi has not changed. People’s views of him have changed. The way he spoke, the campaign he implemented and the remarks he made — people understood that he is an honest person and good for the country, the poor and the common man.

Today, the goodwill we have is due to the principal policy programmes by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Rajiv Gandhi and Sardar Patel. The democracy we gave the nation, the programmes and policies we drafted; the Congress party is still working on that. We have never compromised on secularism. These people, they were first Jana Sangh, then became Janata party, and then the BJP. They talk just for the sake of talking.

Rahul Gandhi is being defamed now. Earlier, they maligned Rajiv Gandhi with Bofors. They called Sonia Gandhi a foreigner. It’s been 25-30 years. Today the whole nation says Soniaji follows Indian tradition. Why does Modiji need to repeatedly attack the Gandhi family? Why are they scared of them? If our high command and president is attacked and damaged, they feel the whole party would collapse. There is some truth in that, as there was a time when people from the Congress were joining the BJP.

Sonia Gandhi did not want to, but she still joined the Congress because she felt it was the duty of her family to take care of the party. She did a remarkable job and was successful for 18 years. When Rahul Gandhi first joined the party he was inexperienced. Even I was. I remember I could not even stand and talk initially. So they created an impression of him on social media. Whatever they said about Rahul Gandhi, people believed. He remained silent. He would say, ‘people can say what they want, I won’t feel bad.’ He said that there should be love and that we should be cordial in politics. The perception about him has changed with Gujarat; it will stay this way.

Shailaja Bajpai: About the Congress’s relationship with Muslims, many people feel that the minority card was important for you earlier but it is not the same now. In Rajasthan, after Afrazul Khan’s death, not many heard the Congress’s reaction. Have you forgotten the Muslims? What do you tell them now?

That is not the case. Congress believes in secularism. We can’t compromise on democracy, socialism and secularism. Congress’s identity is dependent on its principles, policies and programmes. Only the Congress can take care of the nation and keep it united. The future of this nation is dependent on the Congress, its programmes and policies. Modi’s vision of a Congress-mukt Bharat, has been shattered by the people of his own state.

Ravish Tiwari: What is your opinion on forming alliances, especially in bigger states where the Congress does not have a strong position? Should the party form alliances in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, UP and Tamil Nadu?

At a personal level, I would say don’t form alliances, head for elections on your own at all these places. But if there is such governance that is ruining the country and its economy, then if you want to go in for an alliance, then you should. When the UPA was established Sonia Gandhi showed intelligence. Some people did not like her. She made Manmohan Singh the PM, and did not take the position herself. But then they (BJP) maligned him (Singh), accused him in the coal scam. There was loss but now the truth is coming out. The world now looks up to Manmohan Singh. Congress also has to strengthen itself, work for the welfare of the country, the states. So alliances become necessary.

Ravish Tiwari: In 2004, Sonia Gandhi took the lead. In an alliance, every party, person has his own agenda, his own ego. Do you think Rahul Gandhi has the ability to deal with that? Will he be able to build an alliance with Mamata Banerjee, Stalin, Sharad Pawar, Jagmohan Reddy and so on?

People have not understood Rahul Gandhi’s abilities. He is well-behaved and polite and is not egoistic. He wants to participate in politics with everyone and promote non-violence. Everyone likes such a person. The big leaders who you have named, they also understand what is good for the nation, society. They will also come forward for the alliance.

Krishn Kaushik: You said secularism is part of the Congress ideology. But at the time of the election, the talk was all about temples, janeu, and the Ram Mandir. No one spoke of Afrazul or the other minorities.

We haven’t forgotten them. We went to the temple for darshan. I understand your point, but if someone is Hindu, they go to the temple; Muslims go to the dargah, no one is offended by that. The Congress is secular and we go forward with all religions.

The BJP has, however, created a perception that the Congress has become a party of the Muslims, and that thought has been imbibed by Hindus. A lot of people in the BJP do not believe in temples, or in Ram, but they have also started talking about Ram. They have been successful in building the belief in Hindu society that Congress is synonymous with Muslims. And that the BJP stands for Hindus. It is important to remove this sentiment from the minds of people. Otherwise, there will be a problem in the future.

Today, it is easy to talk about Muslims. There has been terrorism in Kashmir for the last 30 years. How many Indian Muslims have been caught there and killed. The terrorists there are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran , Iraq. Does anyone think of that? The BJP is fascist. It has no religion, honesty, ethics and only wants to capture the country. If Modi comes to power in 2019, we don’t know if there will be another election. People are worried about that. I feel this is a problematic time in the country. Muslims are scared. If you keep on cornering them, they could turn into terrorists.

Under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress put up a spirited fight in the Gujarat elections, reducing the BJP’s tally to under 100 for the first time since 1995. (Express Photo)

Ravish Tiwari: The solution that Ashok Gehlot has come up with is visit as many temples as you want, and don’t talk about Muslims in Gujarat.

No, that is incorrect. We went to temples, we met minorities. What do they (BJP) do? They play mischief. Earlier also Modiji said, ‘if you vote Congress to power Ahmed Patel will become the CM.’ Now, will Modiji decide who will become CM in the Congress. They are playing politics. What else can you call this? We want peace between all regions, religions, groups. There should be a fight on the basis of ideology, not in the name of caste and religion.
I have a personal complaint. There is untouchability even today. Go to villages, everyone will sit on one side and people from the Scheduled Castes will sit in another corner. This happens even in certain urban areas. No one discusses this; people keep talking about Hindu-Muslim and other things. It must be some difficult for the Dalits.
aushik: The Congress did not do as much as the BJP during its campaign in Himachal Pradesh. It seems the Congress is just contesting for the sake of contesting, whereas the BJP is fighting to win.

I can’t talk about Himachal, I was not there. In Gujarat, everyone was on the ground to win the elections. All the decisions were taken by Rahul Gandhi. The campaign was very good. Separate meetings were held with different sections — farmers, the youth, workers. The manifesto was also drafted accordingly.

(Madhusudan) Mistry and Sam Pitroda travelled across Gujarat for the manifesto. We put things in the manifesto according to what people were saying and not what we were saying — it was an experiment. It was successful. People appreciated the manifesto. Unfortunately, they (BJP) were successful in the political games they played.
: You have worked closely with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. What is the difference between Sonia Gandhi’s Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress?

Rahul’s Congress has just come about. Wait for a bit. Rahul Gandhi is young and he will want to do well for the nation. He will of course strengthen the party. He will nurture those in the younger generation who are willing to work according to the Congress’s ideology. People who believe in the principles of the Congress should come forward. There should be a good cadre, so that people who become leaders in the coming years can serve the nation.
Rahulji feels that politics should reflect love, affection, brotherhood, non -violence and truthfulness. His thoughts will gain acceptance in India, especially among the youth in the coming days.

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  1. Abdul Wajid
    Jan 7, 2018 at 7:33 pm
    Kashmir Bnay Ga Pakistan.....It is Muslims land Muslims paradise and belongs to us....Kashmiries would keeping fighting till last spoy of terrorist indian Army leaves our land.....Azadi ki jang hay....No one can prevent by tagging it Terrorism against Indian Terrorist Army...Pakistan Zindabad....
    1. blackpower 666
      Jan 7, 2018 at 6:25 pm
      INDIA OF THE 21ST CENTURY??? An Old Casteist Practice Targeting 'Lower' Caste Women In This UP Village Was Finally Put To An End : huffingtonpost /khabar-lahariya/an-old-casteist-practice-targeting-lower-caste-women-in-this-up-village-was-finally-put-to-an-end_a_23322191/?utm_hp_ref in-homepage
      1. Ram Nath
        Jan 7, 2018 at 4:50 pm
        The english press in India is controlled by Church propa sts. The Hindus have no English media of their own. That is the real meaning of the Indian express campaign against Modi. Modi has provided a scam free government. People respect his honesty. Even if he is defeated, he will be back soon as the Italian Dynasty regime is overrun by corruption. Christians cannot rule India.
        1. blackpower 666
          Jan 7, 2018 at 5:08 pm
          Modi's commitment to corruption - Sharad Pawar awarded with Padma Vibhushan. modi personally escorted mallya out of the country. as CM of Gujrat modi never ins uted the corruption watchdog Lok Pal. his election manifesto of lies - will ins ute the lok pal as PM which he has never done. talks of repatriating blackmoney so that every indian citizen gets 15 lacs - cant get more brazen than that. modi and RTI activism - as modi mentioend - if an RTI activist who has filed and RTI dies (rather assassinated murdered) dies midway, his application dies along with him! so RTI activist who are dying like flies anyway are expendable - the corrupt are not. Modi welcomes the corrupt of other parties with open arms in to BJP - Mukul roy (narada sting scam), Sukhram and son (66 cr cash scam), present Assam CM t0 name a few. Prior to this judge's judgement, Modi 'met' Karunanidhi in Chennai to forge partnerships for the next TN elections.
          1. blackpower 666
            Jan 7, 2018 at 5:09 pm
            Modi allying with Sukh Ram -(1998), state elections were held in Himachal Pradesh - elections threw up a hung assembly with both BJP and Congress winning 31 seats each while Himachal Vikas Manch (HVM) won 5 seats. HVM was led by the Sukhram, the former Telecom Minister, who was arrested in 1996 for disproportionate asset case. In 1996, the CBI seized from Sukhram’s official residence Rs. 3.6 crores in cash concealed in bags and suitcases, which he had collected in connection with irregularities in awarding a telecom contract. Sukhram was later convicted and jailed for 5 years in November 2011. To grab power in Himachal Pradesh, BJP took the support of Sukhram and his party HVM completely overlooking his tainted corrupt background. The successful formation of the HPO govt under the tutelage of Modi was the basis on which Modi was chosen as the CM of Gujarat. The very founding stone of Modi’s career as an administrator was based on his successful role in forming a corrupt coalition
            1. blackpower 666
              Jan 7, 2018 at 5:10 pm
              FEKU SCAMS IN GUJARAT ATTN GOBAR-BRAINED BHAKTS (1) FISHERIES SCAM: The 400 Crores fisheries scam. Contracts were awarded to favourite parties without inviting tender. (2) AANGANWADI SCAM: Two bidders apparently formed a cartel and bid for supplying supplementary Nutrition Extruded Fortified Blended Food (EFBF) to Anganwadis with Government collusion. Contracts worth Rs. 500 Crores kept getting awarded to a handful of contractors, particularly Kota Dal Mills and Muruliwala Agrotech. The State continued to do this despite a 2006 Apex court warning to decentralise food production and a 2010 Gujarat High Court order which noted that the contracts were a violation of Supreme Court rulings. (3) SSY SCAM: The Rs. 500 crore Sujalam Sufalam Yojana Rice scam. The Rs. 6237.33 crore Sujalam Sufalam Yojana (SSY) announced in 2003 was to be completed by 2005. Public accounts Committee of Gujarat assembly unanimously prepared a report indicating a scam
            2. Muftkhor By Choice
              Jan 7, 2018 at 3:39 pm
              Gehlotji-People are educated. They can understand your vile casteism rhetoric. Your days are over.
              1. Yeshwant Umralkar
                Jan 7, 2018 at 2:28 pm
                Too many ifs and buts in Gehlot's narrative. He has to understand that nothing succeeds like success. Congress may give excuses but the fact is BJP was the winner on that day.
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