You have completed two years as Rajasthan Congress president. Has the Congress been able to regain lost ground in Rajasthan?
We suffered a historic defeat in the Assembly elections. We were reduced to 21. To come out of the shadow of that defeat, we all needed to work hard. The first big test was the Assembly bypoll to four seats, all held by the BJP. We won three out of four. After that we had the panchayat polls. The Congress polled 30 per cent votes in Lok Sabha elections, and in the panchayat polls we polled 45 per cent votes. Then came the municipal elections. The BJP always says cities are their strongholds. But in the Chief Minister’s own constituency of Jhalawar, her son’s Lok Sabha constituency and in Dholpur, from where she belongs, we not only won there but the difference between BJP and the Congress in the state came down to just 1 or 2 per cent. So in the last 24 months, we have won byelections and increased our vote percentage. The BJP polled 56 per cent votes in Lok Sabha elections, they have come down to 47 per cent and we have gained 15 per cent.
If Assembly elections were to be held tomorrow, is the Congress in a position to return to power?
Assembly elections are three years away. But the poor performance of the BJP government is for all to see. They had made huge promises to the people which have been exposed. Sixty farmers have committed suicide in Rajasthan, such a thing has never happened before. There is an agrarian crisis, there is anxiety against the government. If you ask the people today, I think they will prefer the Congress. In a short time, the government has lost popularity and support.
How has national politics been affecting the state?
Even the BJP central leadership, the kind of promises they have made when it comes to black money, creation of jobs and for the agrarian community, all those have been exposed. The sheen has worn off. The facade has come off. The first big problem was the attempt to change the land acquisition law. In that they have been humbled. Similarly, huge promises were made in Rajathan too by CM Vasundhara Raje… And now the state is in the grip of a financial crisis… Even the crime rate has gone up. Rajasthan is second when it comes to crime against Dalits after Uttar Pradesh.
You spoke about Dalits. There is a big controversy now over the suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad. What are you doing to reach out to Dalits?
Atrocities and attacks on Dalits and tribals in Rajasthan have broken all previous records. We are organising a Dalit sammelan in February. There have been many incidents. For instance, an elected zilla pramukh of the BJP in Udaipur recently claimed he is treated with disdain and disrespect by the collector and the SP… A Dalit scholar in Ajmer University was abused and harassed and the court has now directed filing of an FIR against the vice-chancellor… For the first time in the history of Rajasthan, there is not a single Cabinet minister from the Scheduled Caste community in the state government.
You say the Congress is on a revival path in Rajasthan. Can you say that about other states with the same confidence?
We have won Lok Sabha bypolls in Madhya Pradesh. We have won rural elections in Gujarat convincingly, and we have wiped out Shiv Sena-BJP in Maharasthra local body elections, we have won in Manipur (local body polls)… these are all indications that the BJP is losing ground.
Is the continuance of same faces in the AICC hampering the Congress resurgence at the national level?
Many states have got new PCC presidents. As soon as the election process is completed within a few months, you will see changes in the Congress party which it wants to bring in.
When will Rahul Gandhi take charge as Congress president?
The Congress party wants Rahul Gandhi to take charge. But the timing will have to be decided by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Congress Working Committee and (Rahul) Gandhi himself.