Campaigning at Morena, one of the 16 bypoll-bound seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region, MP Congress president Kamal Nath speaks to Iram Siddique on the fall of his government, the recent row over his remark on a woman candidate and the working of the Congress. Excerpts
What makes you confident that the Congress has a fair chance of returning to power? What numbers do you have in mind?
I don’t believe in numbers and the speculation game. For that, one should ask Shivraj (Singh) Chouhan. I have contested and won elections for 40 years and no one has done it longer… I understand the voter’s mood. The logic is simple: in November 2018, people sent the BJP home and then they came back after 15 months. In the past seven months since they returned, have they done anything for the people that will make them change their mind? What they have done is purchase MLAs. Do you think the public are fools? The public is feeling cheated… Out of the 28 seats (going to bypolls), 25 are those on which ‘sauda’ has taken place and three are because of deaths, so what will they tell people? People made up their mind in 2018, now you have only made it worse for yourself (BJP). No one is going to accept this sauda, this betrayal.
Are these bypolls a Congress versus Scindia fight with Jyotiraditya being a major force in the Gwalior-Chambal belt?
On November 10, we’ll see the results. We saw the results of Lok Sabha elections when Scindia lost his own seat. A major factor was that he didn’t lose to a tiger or a very eminent person.
Sachin Pilot is your star campaigner, what impact do you think this will have, especially in the Gwalior-Chambal belt, considering his proximity to Scindia and the recent events in Rajasthan
I don’t know about his proximity, but he is an unadulterated Congressman which is why he is coming to campaign.
Do you feel that you failed to sense the ambition of young leaders like Scindia and accommodate them within the party?
We had a very young cabinet, but his agenda was very different.
What do you have to say about the unparliamentary language used by political parties on both sides, be it your remark on Imarti Devi or those from BJP.
I have said that when you are giving a speech you say something and at that point, I didn’t remember her name. There was no insult meant to anybody and if anybody felt insulted, I regret it.
But the way unparliamentary language is being used…
This is parliamentary, item no. 1 Smriti Irani, she was referred as item no… it says so in the Lok Sabha sheet, it says so in the Vidhan Sabha sheet; item no. 1 The Prime Minister, item no. 2 so and so minister… what does it mean…
Imarti Devi has accused you of paying Rs 5 lakh to your non-ministerial MLAs to keep your government intact…
None of the MLAs say that. Imarti Devi is saying that because she is contesting elections and she is desperate.
The BJP has criticised you for drinking coca cola and supporting a multinational…
Now, when they reach that level that they don’t know that coca cola is manufactured in India which is creating so many jobs but they say that I am supporting a multinational shows the frustration of the level of leadership.
Wiring MSP into the law was something the Congress never said, not even in its manifesto. Moreover, only 6-7 per cent farmers benefit from it, the opposition to it is restricted to Punjab and Haryana, no one protested in MP as well.
Farmers are forced not to sell on MSP. How many farmers sell at MSP? It is only about 15 per cent because the government does not procure and so he has to go to the traders.
You have been projected as the sole face of Congress in Madhya Pradesh for the bypolls and Digvijaya Singh is missing from manifesto to campaigns, why?
We divide the work, Digvijaya is doing his work. He is handling various issues that come up in different constituencies while I am touring. In the evening, we review our strategy, listen to complaints about misuse of police force and so on. Now the BJP is left with nothing but to try and use the police and administration to coerce voters and to buy votes….
The farm loan waiver during your 15-month tenure was delayed and came in bits and pieces which left many farmers in the lurch and thereby agitated.
Farmers were never agitated. I have waived off loans of all farmers — 27 lakhs they (BJP) have said themselves. There is a process and for the first time we were doing it with Aadhaar. There were six lakhs farmers who didn’t even have an account. And there were 27 lakh people, you can’t go writing-off loans without having a record. In December 2018, I proposed and then we started the process and I used to work till 10.30 pm… We reached 27 lakh farmers in 11.5 months, two months of my government was the code of conduct, one month was this saude baazi… My government did not fall because of farmers but because of betrayers.
What do you think about the letter written by 23 senior Congress leaders to Sonia Gandhi highlighting a need for change in the working of Congress
Every party has to always be in a process of change as times change, politics change and voters change. You have to be abreast with that… and that is what they highlighted. It was not against anybody; it was highlighting the need to bring about a change.
So, you agree with their concerns raised in the letter.
I am saying that the party requires persistent change.
Do you feel the Congress has failed to evolve with the times which is why it is suffering at the national level.
No, it is not. We had the elections in May 2019, right. You can’t start jumping into things.
Over the period, Congress has also taken to soft-Hindutva be it by welcoming the Ram Mandir verdict or construction of the temple. Then there is Rahul Gandhi adorning a janeu (sacred thread).
We have just welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict. I can only talk for myself, Rahul Gandhi will have to do it for him.