With by-elections in three Assembly constituencies of Rajasthan being scheduled to be held on April 17, in an interview with The Indian Express, state Congress president and education minister Govind Singh Dotasra talks about the party’s prospect in the elections and how it is faring after the public tussle between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot last year, which had resulted in a political crisis in the state. Excerpts…
The by-elections are now days away. The Congress will test its electoral mettle in an Assembly election for the first time since last year’s political crisis. How’s the party dealing with divisions within itself?
There is no division in the party. Our party presented the budget this year after taking everyone on board, and we are united before the by-elections as well.
You say there is no factionalism within the party. But even now, senior MLAs such as Hemaram Choudhary, who sided with Sachin Pilot during the political crisis, keep openly criticising the government over its policies.
The Assembly is a place to voice your opinion but a person who is associated with a political party is there because of the party. That is why, along with the public, that individual should take care of the party too. I feel that one should voice his opinion staying within limits of the maryada of the party as this will bring better results.
If you say anything in an easy way, chances are that it will be heard. While we must continue raising the voice of public, it should be also kept in mind that the party is not damaged since we have been elected on its symbol. The attitude shouldn’t be such that I am only liable to the public and I won’t be affected if the party is damaged. One should understand both things clearly. Such statements damage both the party and the individual. It is because of the party that we are in the government and we should remember that.
What are the main issues for Congress in the bypolls?
It is generally believed that in any by-election an anti-incumbency factor works against the ruling government. But this time we are getting an advantage of the good work done by the government, be it during the Covid-19 pandemic or the three welfare budgets presented by our government.
Announcement of schemes such as the Mukhya Mantri Chiranjeevi Swasthya Bima Yojana, the fact that the agricultural budget will be presented separately, providing free electricity up to 10 HP to farmers, constructing English medium schools have sent a positive message to the public. At Sahara and Sujangarh, our two late leaders Master Bhanwarlal Meghwal and Kailash Trivedi had a very good public image. These factors have provided us with a clear advantage in the bypolls.
BJP has repeatedly targeted the Gehlot government over deteriorating law and order situation of the state and crimes against women. Do you think it will adversely affect the party in the bypolls?
In the past two years, the BJP hasn’t been able to raise a single issue and stick to it even for two days. They couldn’t find an issue to corner the government. When it comes to crime, it is a continuous phenomenon happening during the tenure of every government. The first priority of the government is to take swift and strong action after such incidents.
Our government is number one in taking action. It is not true that during the BJP’s tenure there were no incidents of crime, rape or other cases of violence against women. You can see how in Jhunjhunu, investigation in a rape case of a minor girl was completed within a very short time and the court pronounced the verdict even before a month. These are common and generic issues that the BJP is raising. Issues such as rising prices, water, health electricity and crime are common for every government. But our government is seriously working on those matters which directly impact the public. The BJP hasn’t been able to find any significant issues such as scams or corruption. Actually, it’s our party that has been raising issues in the public’s favour such as opposing the three farm laws brought by the centre or the BJP trying to topple elected governments. They tried this in Rajasthan too but were unable to succeed.
Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has lodged an FIR in Delhi against Rajasthan CM’s OSD Lokesh Sharma on the phone tapping episode. After initially accusing Shekhawat of trying to topple the Rajasthan government, has the now issue backfired for the Congress?
Actually, it is the BJP that has been exposed. At that time, if it was not Shekhawat’s voice, then he should have given his voice sample for testing. Secondly, since he is an MP from Rajasthan he should have lodged the FIR in the state because the incident is of Rajasthan. If you are accusing people from Rajasthan, for example, Lokesh or the CM or me, then according to what they are saying, the conspiracy was hatched here. If that is the case, then why did he lodge the FIR in Delhi and not here, that too after 8 months?
The chief minister had said during the trust vote that phone tapping has taken place before and will happen in the future too but only in strict adherence with the legal statutes and to the extent law permits the government. We have never said that we directly tapped the phones of any public representative. We reiterate the same thing now, that someone had sent it (audio) to us and we had just forwarded it to the media and had also addressed press conferences over the issue. These are political issues but their lodging FIR in Delhi shows their attempts at face-saving after they are on the back foot.
Now that the FIR has been lodged, can a possible stand-off arise between central and state security agencies?
The state has its own rights. The Centre is trying to encroach on the rights of the state, as can be seen by the farm bills. They wanted to make the NIA and CBI investigate this issue as well and there is a constant effort by the central government to misuse the security agencies. But due to the alertness of the state government, they are not able to succeed.
While you say that the Congress has no factions, it has been seen that the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) stayed away from the kisan mahapanchayats organised by the supporters of Sachin Pilot which he attended…
If a leader is invited to such a programme, what’s wrong with it? It is not necessary that the PCC will go everywhere. Sachin Pilot ji has also attended programmes organised by the PCC against the farm laws.
The BJP has always maintained that the government is clearly divided in two factions loyal to chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot…
The BJP itself is divided in eight factions now. At least eight leaders of the BJP are dreaming about becoming the chief minister. Arjun Ram Meghwal, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Gulab Chand Kataria, Rajendra Rathore, Satish Poonia, Vasudev Devnani, all of them want to become the Chief Minister. Plus there is also the ever-looming presence of Vasundhara Raje who doesn’t even attend the official party programmes. Their MLAs are not even allowed by party leaders to speak at the Assembly. The truth is that we are standing united but the BJP is divided in many factions.
Despite the government completing two years, most political posts in boards/commissions are vacant in the state. District presidents of the PCC haven’t been appointed as well…
We will start with the appointments right after the by-elections. Since the day of the trust vote till today, there is no division in the party. We have created the PCC with the help of everyone and soon, we will also start the expansion, appoint district and block presidents along with filling up political posts.
How do you see the role of Sachin Pilot now that he is not a part of the government? The high command had constituted a committee to address grievances of him and his supporters but not much has been heard after that…
The matter is in the notice of the high command and they have managed the issue very well by giving respect to everyone. There is no grievance of anybody now. As you can see, during the nomination process for the by-elections, all of us went together.
You were appointed party president at a crucial time during the political crisis. How has been the journey so far for you personally?
I give proper respect to everyone and interact with all the leaders. We take decisions after establishing coordination and discussing issues with everyone. It is in my nature to take everyone along as I have risen through the ranks of NSUI, Youth Congress and constantly interacted with party workers. The presence and guidance Ajay Maken ji ( AICC general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan) is also very helpful because he too has been part of both the government and party organisation.