Why Kapil Sibal?
Kapil Sibal held the important portfolios of HRD and Telecom in the UPA government. The changes in education system brought in under him are now being examined by the Smriti Irani-led ministry. He remains one of the leading lights of the Congress and was recently nominated by the party, that is looking for strong voices in Parliament, for a Rajya Sabha ticket. A legal eagle, Sibal has returned to a successful practice and is leading the Gandhi family’s defence in the National Herald case
KAPIL SIBAL: My biggest worry for the country is that an aspirational India finds itself in great difficulty. When we talk about our demographic advantage, the young people in this country find the education system not fully aligned to the market. Also, when they get out of the university, they can’t get jobs. And remember there are about 12 million people who move out of the university into the job market every year. The maximum job creation was in 2009, with 1.2 million jobs as opposed to the 12 million required, and there has been a constant decline after that. So I wonder what those 12 million will do. Whatever you do in life, if it’s disengaged, it’s a perilous journey not just for them individually but for the nation. I think political parties must get together because remember, there is no quick fix to this.
It must start from the education system; from the schools. But the education system cannot be tweaked unless you have teachers. Teachers don’t come from the air unless you have institutions to teach. Having done that, you move up the school ladder and go to the universities. What is the kind of teaching you must have in your university? What kind of a market interface must you have with the educational system? Where are the jobs being created? Where in future will jobs be created? Then align the education system to that opportunity within the economy, and you will have a purposive India. I don’t see that happening; I don’t see political parties discussing this.
I only see angst, a sense of destruction through verbal abuse, allegations without proof, (talk of) a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, as if that will save this country from the impediments ahead. That’s my greatest worry, and unless you fix this, there is nothing else that will be fixed.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: The Modi government has completed two years and we all saw what happened at India Gate. So the impression that one got was that we are growing as a nation.
I would love the nation to grow; I have no problem with that. I just have a problem with the statistics that he (PM Modi) has churned up. One of the statistics that he gave was of new ration cards — three crore. It is only 66 lakh. Then he said my Jan-Dhan (Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana), in the first 100 days, saw 21 crore accounts. The fact is 8.6 crore. He said we have given new LPG cylinders to crores of people, but actually it’s only 45 lakh. So if the Prime Minister of India, at India Gate, talks of statistics which are incorrect, then how do you trust our leaders?
The Central Statistical Organisation is also giving out data which economists are now questioning. So you may tom-tom about yourself but the fact of the matter is what is on the ground, and we all see that.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: The aam aadmi seems to be buying these statistics.
If dal is Rs 200 (a kilogram), then how is he buying these statistics? His income has not increased. If vegetables are as expensive as they are now, and if one tonne of potato sells for one rupee, then what statistics are we talking about? And what’s the feel-good factor on the ground? What worries me is that you may have a wonderful advertising campaign but the fact of the matter is that when the voter thinks about himself, he’ll ask the question to himself at the right time — ‘Has my life improved?’. For the last 17 months, exports have been on the decline; imports are on the decline. So what’s on the up? Modi. Nothing else is on the up.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: So how does the Congress party plan to expose the government?
I think we must take this message to the people. I think the media also needs to investigate this at the same time. When he (PM Modi) gives a statistic… for example he said in America that India is a $9 trillion economy, when we’re just about near 2 trillion. Now the press did not pick it up. So how do we deal with this? They repeat the same statistics. He goes to Kerala and compares us with Somalia. Of course he got some flak for that, but I think every time he makes a statement, for him it’s an election rally speech… You don’t act like the Prime Minister of India; you act as if you’re an RSS pracharak. You spew venom and you give statistics thinking that it’s the next election. And then suddenly, one of them goes and has food at a Dalit’s house when he’s not even a Dalit. You should remember Modi’s tweet on a previous occasion about this.
COOMI KAPOOR: Why has the Congress not been able to capitalise on the failures of the Modi government? And the Congress’s own position has come down in the last two years. It has lost its stronghold in Kerala, in Bengal, in Assam…
Since when did a government in Kerala win a second term? That’s the pattern. As far as Assam is concerned, we’re deeply disappointed about that, but how many chief ministers have got a fourth term in the history of this country? Hardly any. Our vote percentage in Assam is 31 per cent. I think where we might have gone wrong is with the alliances. In West Bengal, we have emerged actually as an alternative to the TMC, because in our alliance we have gained much more and we’re now leading the Opposition there. The DMK, I think, was a great disappointment because there the pattern also is the AIADMK and DMK. We could have won. I think again, if we had made some alliances, we might well have succeeded. But if you look at it overall, the BJP fought 696 (Assembly) seats (in all) and got 64, and we fought 335 and got 135.
AMBREEN KHAN: Sonia Gandhi said the Prime Minister behaves like a ‘Shahenshah’. What does that imply?
I think Arun Shourie put it very well in the course of his interview — narcissism, megalomania, trying to control the government, a statue at Madame Tussauds. They give you an indication of the persona of the Prime Minister. Giving out statistics without regard to the truth and basically concentrating everything in the PMO, not allowing his ministers the kind of freedom that was allowed during the UPA government… these are personal traits of character… wearing a name-printed striped suite and then auctioning it off. These are all very significant characteristics of a man who basically is in love with himself, which is not a bad thing, but in politics it may not sometimes succeed for a long period of time.
LIZ MATHEW: Regional parties have been successful in keeping out the BJP to an extent. But why has the BJP managed to defeat the Congress so easily?
If you go back to analyse the decline of the Congress party, I think we go back several years, to the compromises that we made with regional parties by sharing seats… What happens in politics is that the moment you compromise for sharing of seats, then your entire cadre shifts from one party to the other, and that’s the genesis of the decline of our regional presence.
We did it in Uttar Pradesh, and see the consequences of it. We have not done it in Odisha but there the Congress has been a weak force for a long time. Luckily, we are now the alternative in West Bengal. I don’t think we made a mistake because, had we gone with the TMC, we would have landed in a much worse position.
SHALINI NAIR: The Prime Minister often raises the point that governance under the NDA, unlike the Congress regime, has been corruption-free.
What are the charges of corruption against the Congress party during the UPA regime? It started in 2010-11 with the telecom issue. What was the corruption there? We did not sell the spectrum because the policy was not to sell. It may be right, it may be wrong, the Supreme Court ultimately said it was wrong, so you auction it. What is the result of that auction? That the very telecom sector which bought 5 Megahertz of spectrum at an administered price of Rs1,680 crore buys it for Rs 45,000 crore and that goes to the consolidated fund of India. Now, you will not call this a scam, because all this money has gone to the Government of India, which should have gone to the sector, so the result is that, by calling it a scam, and by reversing the policy, you have, in fact, destroyed the sector. The same with coal, nobody wants a coal mine anymore.
RITIKA CHOPRA: In a recent interview, Smriti Irani said that during her predecessor’s regime, education had become a political akhada, states wouldn’t see eye to eye, whereas she has achieved consensus.
I don’t want to react to what Smriti Irani says. I think the people of this country know how the education department is being run. Did we appoint RSS people or Congress-minded people as vice-chancellors of universities? Did we appoint people of a particular ideology as directors of IIT? Was there a controversy about the Prime Minister’s degree? What about the corruption in Madhya Pradesh, the Vyapam scam? Is that not the BJP?
AMITABH SINHA: As a former HRD minister, what is your opinion on Smriti Irani’s tenure so far?
I’m not worried about individuals, I’m worried about the change of textbooks, I’m worried about the effacing of history, I’m worried about a Vedic board being created. See, these are real worries. You tell Ramdev that you can have a private Vedic board in India so that our children get aligned to that ideology as they grow up. I’m worried about that. I’m not worried about Smriti Irani, I’m worried about what she symbolises.
LIZ MATHEW: After the rout in the recent state elections, some in the Congress have talked about surgery and changes in the party. What do you think is the way forward?
Surgery of a political party will not change the future of India. We need to do a lot of things within the Congress party, but that’s not enough. We are here for the nation, we are not here for the Congress. We are presenting an alternative, right? That may be an unacceptable alternative, to that extent we need to change, to provide a wholly acceptable alternative, and people who have voted against us, we must bring them back to our fold, to say that this is the only party that recognises the needs, the aspirations, and the pain of every Indian.
SHEELA BHATT: Sonia Gandhi called the charges against Robert Vadra a conspiracy. But why make it political?
Who says don’t investigate? But you leak the email to the media, then you have the media play it up, that is what Mrs Gandhi is talking about. Your intentions are not to investigate in a fair manner, your intention is to besmirch the name, to have another way of saying you want to have a Congress-mukt Bharat. Who is stopping your investigation? Did we say don’t investigate? Why don’t they agree to an SIT under the Supreme Court? In all these allegations, have you found a single case where a Congress person has been convicted? This is all media stuff. You get something, you leak something, then you give a spin to it, then the Finance Minister writes a blog, then his people go up on television, then you create an atmosphere, and then you say he is corrupt. And when it comes to you, that piece of paper that names family members of the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and the money trail, then that’s irrelevant.
COOMI KAPOOR: Some people see similarities between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. What is your opinion?
Let Donald Trump fight the election then I will give you my opinion. But you have my opinion of Modi anyway.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Why is the Congress party always defending Robert Vadra and his alleged wrongdoings?
The point is that he happens to be associated with a person who is part of the family of the Congress leadership. So when you make an allegation against him, in a sense you are making an allegation against the Congress party. If the Congress party does not respond, then you would say that the Congress party has accepted it. Fact of the matter is, if you make a false allegation, the person is entitled to say it is false.
AFRAZ ALAM: This whole wave of admiration for Modi’s work has only increased in the last two years. Even if the people start rethinking about their decision to choose Modi, what is the alternative?
You must know that there is an army out there, which is funded by a particular political party, which has enormous presence in the social media to serve a particular purpose. That army whenever I say something will attack me within two minutes, then they will praise Modi. It is a self-serving army which is part of the narcissism that I talked about. There is a lot of trolling against Modi today… I bet that in the next two years, you will have an alternative. An alternative that will be far more compassionate, far more acceptable, far more inclusive and far less obsessed with himself or herself.
ANANT GOENKA: Do you agree then there is a need for an internal organisational change in the Congress?
There is no dispute that reform is needed. You ask us about the big idea, but Modi did not come with any big idea. It was lies, lies and damn lies. He was selling a dream and a person who looks forward to the next day for survival will buy a dream. So people of this country bought a dream.
AMBREEN KHAN : So who will be able to sell the big dream in Uttar Pradesh?
We should go back to the people of this country and say, ‘We will not tell you lies, we will try and tell you what the reality is, believe us and give us a chance. All these guys have fooled you by telling lies, we will not do that’. I think it is time for us to tell this to the people of our country.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: We saw what happened in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. What is your party’s take on it?
I think we need an amendment in the defection law. We should have a new law which says two things: first, that you are free to defect, but if you defect, you will not get a public position for the next five years. Even if you succeed in an election, you will not get a public position or ministerial post in the next five years. If you defect in the middle of your term, you will not be entitled to stand for elections in the middle of that term. If you do that, then this buying of people, horse-trading and all these shenanigans will stop. We should take off our political hat and think of the future of India. You cannot have a future that is bright when you have a party in power at the Centre destroying constitutionally elected governments in this completely amoral fashion. The other grave concern I have is (regarding) the investigating agencies, whether it is the NIA, CBI or Enforcement Directorate. These have by and large become tools in the hands of the dispensation which is in power.