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Veerappa Moily,former Karnataka CM and the man in the thick of the Congresss election campaign,was at the Express for an Idea Exchange. In this session moderated by Special Correspondent D.K. Singh,Moily speaks about the partys Jai Ho theme song,the Third Front and the Congresss electoral chances
D.K. Singh: Congresss Jai Ho theme song reminds one of the NDAs India Shining campaign.
This is not our only theme. As in any war,you fight on different frontsthis is one such front. This is a song that caught the publics imagination. It reflects a predominant theme that the Congress is using. I do not think it is a big issue,I do not think it will go against us.
Maneesh Chibber: This general election is being perceived as one without pan-India issues. What are the issues the Congress will use to appeal to the voters?
We cannot say there are no pan-India issues. The BJP has raised the issue of Hindutva again. Terrorism is an issue and so is nuclear deal and communalism. There was only one aspect of terrorism earlierterrorists would attack us from across the border. But now there is the terrorism of militant groups that might be a part of the BJP or the Sangh Parivar. Terrorism is born out of communalism and will further divide the country. Then comes the question of identity politics. It is fine till it is about a particular region or caste but,again,it will go against the national interest. The country is the largest,stable democracy in the world and the major contributor to that is the Congress which has governed the country for 45 years on its own. Today,there is a threat to that stability and to the countrys prosperity. We can face the external enemy but many times,the enemy exists within the country and then it becomes very difficult to tackle. For example,the kind of statements Varun Gandhi has made is a reflection of the mindset of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. These are all national issues that the Congress has to fight. Then come the Left. They have released a manifesto saying they are against the nuclear deal. Suppose the Third Front comes to power,which wont happen,but if it they do,then the nuclear deal will be done away with. The Front will create grounds for caste politics. I am not against regional politics but caste politics,identity politics go against the concept of Indian nationalism. Whenever the Third Front has attempted to form the government,the idea of India is lost. Whenever the BJP has come to power,the same happens. I think these are turbulent issues that the Congress has to fight against.
Maneesh Chibber: The Government staked its future on the nuclear deal. So why doesnt one hear of Congress going to the masses and celebrating the deal?
Nuclear energy is very important for the common man. If energy security is not insured for the country,the country cannot progress. The energy sector can wipe poverty off the countrys map. We are going to sell this idea to the public. Not only that,we needed this deal for ensuring security. Without this deal,we would not get many essential drugs. Our scientists are very capable but you require 12-15 years to develop the kind of technology we can now get. Could the country wait for that long to match the standards of advanced nations in technology and research?
Seema Chishti: What is the central grain of your campaign and how it is different from India Shining?
It is totally different from India Shining. Jai Ho does not say that slums are singing. It is a theme to inspire,to motivate people and that is what has been done by the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The Congress makes public perception studies every week. Then there is a task force which decides the strategy for the following week,based on the perception audit. Whatever media publicity happens,whatever interaction our spokespersons have,we study those and then modify our campaign accordingly. This will remain till the elections get over. We bank on that flexibility.
Coomi Kapoor: Who do you feel is a bigger challenge to the Congressthe NDA or the Third Front?
Both. Even if it is an insignificant enemy,we must prepare as if we are facing a mighty enemy. That is our approach. For example,the BJP has always benefited from the Third Front fighting the Congress. It is on the crutches of the Third Front that the BJP will rise to power,if ever. And that is why we will have to fight them equally. Whether its the BJP or the Third Front,if they want to come to power,they think their main target should be Congress.
Vinay Sitapati: Many of the suggestions of the Administrative Reforms Commission,of which you are the chairperson,like setting up a central investigating agency,were implemented after 26/11 in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill. Had your recommendations been accepted earlier,would it have been possible to lessen the impact of the Mumbai attacks?
A common agency to gather intelligence is must. I wont say that our recommendations have been fully implemented. The preamble of the Act remains under considerationCongress requires a full mandate of the people to go ahead and implement it. We did not have a majority in Parliament to be able to do so.
Vinay Sitapati: Are you saying that if the UPA comes to power with a full mandate,then the role of the national investigating agency will move from security to policing?
Matters like traffic and domestic policing should be taken up by the municipal bodies. I have said that in my report. A case of terrorism has to be registered at a police station. Do you think a police station is equipped with the wherewithal,the knowledge,and technology to deal with terrorism? Terrorism cannot be investigated by an ordinary constable. I do not say there should be centralisation but networking is very important.
Suman K. Jha: You are a member of all the important Congress committees. As the CM of Karnataka,you streamlined the admission process to engineering colleges. You are a lawyer,a poet. How do you manage all this?
I work for 18 hours a day. I learnt it from my mother. She would wake me up at five and not let me stay up after 12:30 a.m.. When I became CM,I continued with that habit. A poet produces just one mahakavya but because of this habit,I produce two poems. I have to read or write every morning,it is like my recharge fuel. If some day,I lose my temper,it is because I havent read that morning. I have the ability to attach and detach myself from events. One day,while I was working at LIC in the personnel department,I suddenly realised that I was working alone in the office. Later,I found out that an alarm had gone off when a man committed suicide by jumping off the fourth floor of the building. I had been so absorbed in my work that I did not even realise that something had happened.
Dhiraj Nayyar: What is the reason behind the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP in Karnataka?
I do not attribute Congresss decline to the Third Front or BJP. In fact,the BJP is not that well rooted in Karnataka even today. If we made a concerted effort with effective management,we could have even won the last assembly electionsthe percentage of votes for the Congress was more than the BJPs. We failed somewhere in the management.
Dhiraj Nayyar: Do you think the BJP can come to power in other states as well,say,Andhra Pradesh?
I dont think BJP has even one percent chance of winning in Andhra Pradesh. Karnataka was an accident: they came in by accident and they will go by accident.
J.P. Yadav: RJD and LJP,Congresss two most trusted allies,have snubbed the Congress. Is Congress sidelining its allies or are the allies sidelining the Congress?
Each outfit in an alliance has its own identity and ideology and each identity would want to grab all opportunities. Even they think,why shouldnt they grab power or become the Prime Minister? Sometimes the alliance is only a matter of compulsion. It may not be voluntary at all timesit is not imposed but it evolves. The Congress,as a national party,is the only one capable of fielding 300 to 400 candidates in India,no other party. So it is only the Congress that can be called a national party,not even the BJP because they are not an inclusive party. They have a presence in some regions,among some castessometimes,the BJP reflects one part of a particular community. But the Congress belongs to everybody.
D.K. Singh: But Lalu Yadav was one of your most trusted allies.
We trust everybody. Whether they trust us or not is left to their discretion but Congress,as the leader of the alliance,trusts all of them.
Vandita Mishra: The NCP is trying to project Sharad Pawar as PM. How does the Congress view that? Secondly,you have set up this war room in New Delhi where you have daily meetings. What goes on there?
There is no war room. We just meet in the evenings or at nights and exchange ideas. Even when Sharad Pawar was in the Congress,he nurtured the dream of becoming PMhow do you find fault with any leader who nurtures such a dream? But he has also openly expressed his support for the UPA led by our PM,Dr Manmohan Singh.
Sanjeeb Mukherji: Why have the allies suddenly started extracting their pound of flesh from the Congress?
Even before 2004,we never had a national alliance. People forget that. These parties have a strong presence in their respective states but that does not mean they have a strong presence in the rest of the states. In the coming elections,Congress itself will get more seats than it got in 2004. Having worked with the Congress for five years,I dont think our allies have friends in the NDA or in the Third Front.
D.K. Singh: Are you considering Rahul Gandhi as PM?
We are fighting the elections under the leadership of Soniaji and the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh. Both Rahul and Soniaji have declared that Manmohan Singh is our candidate. There is no ambiguity.
Dhiraj Nayyaar: Can we expect a Congress or UPA government without the Left to carry out reforms?
Now we have been liberated from the Left. That is why we could push through the nuclear deal and other reforms. We will continue with the reforms,the march towards growth,with the programmes of inclusive growth.
Shailaja Bajpai: If you are going to improve on your 2004 performance,where do you think you are going to make these gains and at whose costs?
We will make these gains at the cost of the BJP and their NDA partners. We will make these at the cost of Left parties. For example,in Kerala,we will make a dent. In West Bengal,Congress with the Trinamool Congress is going to create a big dent in the Left bastion. Rajasthan,Madhya Pradesh,Delhi,Punjab,Karnataka are some of the states where we are going to make a big impact.
Seema Chisthi: If in UP,a Samajwadi Party candidate and a Congress candidate face a formidable BSP contender,with possibly a couple of Independents and a BJP candidate,how is this alliance going to work on the ground.
It is not that simple. People are accustomed to voting against the Congress or the SP. They may not vote Congress,they will vote the SP.
Seema Chisthi: Are you trying to split the BJP votes? Is that a new definition of alliance?
That can happen. It could work to the advantage of Congress. As a practicing politician,I know what happens on the ground. There are many people who are accustomed to voting against the Congress. So suppose the SP candidate is not there,that vote will go to the BSP.
Dhiraj Nayyar: Has the Congress given up the idea of ever getting 272 seats on its own?
We are working towards that. We have not given up the idea of Congress rising to majority on its own. But that is a mandate that we need the people to give us. That kind of stability is absolutely necessary for the country for external and internal security and the implementation of reforms. But till that happens,we require support from others.
Maneesh Chibber: Many people believe that the coming elections are going to be the dirtiest ever.
It should not be. I am against playing such games,pitting caste against caste; community against community. I think the country requires electoral reforms. We require a party with the cultures and ethos of Indian nationalism. Dirty tricks of caste and communalism,people with money power getting in Parliament need to be stopped.
D.K. Singh: In Tamil Nadu,you have an alliance with the DMK. But over the last few years,you have been very careful with your comments about Jayalalithaa. Is there a possibility of any post-poll alliance?
There is no permanent enemy or friend in politics. At the same time,our alliance with the DMK is firm. Jayalalithaa offered the Congress support but we do not have a culture of snubbing a friend. We thank her for the cordiality but a political alliance is different.
Sanjeeb Mukherji: Are you willing to support the Third Front in a post-poll scenario?
The country is fed up with the Third Front. They could not deliver even when they got a majority.
Dhiraj Nayyar: Is there any particular mood in the country?
Yes,there is an anti-BJP mood. All their partners are pulling apart. People are thinking that an association with the BJP will not get them any electoral dividend,be it in Orissa or Bihar. Where are their friends? Telugu Desam is not with them,none of the Dravidian parties are with them. In Orissa,Naveen Patnaik is not with them and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar thinks that if Advani goes to Bihar,it will be difficult for (Nitish) to get votes.
Manoj C.G.: Are you in touch with the JD(U) in Bihar?
Nitish Kumar has openly said and I am quoting him: when a particular alliance does not get electoral dividends,one will try to distance itself from that alliance.
D. K Singh: Now that you have an alliance with the Trinamool Congress,is there no possibility of a post-poll alliance with the Left any longer ?
Prakash Karat should be asked that question. But we do not have a towering,enlightened leader like Surjeet Singh today. Karat is a different person,he has his own views and I do not think he can replace Surjeet unless he takes some more training in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Transcribed by Ayesha Khan.
This Idea Exchange was held before the RJD,LJP and SP entered into an arrangement for UP and Bihar