Serving his third term as Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot’s victory in Rajasthan last year gave the Congress party an electoral boost after a long time.
The party’s decision to choose Gehlot as chief minister, and not Sachin Pilot, who was being largely held responsible for the Congress’s win in the state, showed that the veteran politician had the central leadership’s ear.
The former Union minister believes that the Haryana election results — where another old guard and regional satrap Bhupinder Hooda led the party’s resurgence, after a tussle with Ashok Tanwar, considered close to Rahul Gandhi — have shown that the tide can turn in the Congress’s favour anytime.
MANOJ C G: In the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the Congress finished fourth, but saw a resurgence in Haryana. Following these results, what changes can we expect to see in the Congress?
Earlier, I had said that there won’t be any change in the Congress after these state elections. An atmosphere had been created in the country… (But) Fortunately, people of the country have sent out a message. The results of the Haryana and Maharashtra elections… it’s an extraordinary message. Earlier too, during Indira Gandhi’s time, we got wiped out from all over North India and no one had a clue how it happened. But later, there was a wave in favour of Indiraji, and she became the prime minister. There have been several such instances in the past.
The Congress has almost no resources (now). We often hear that there is no democracy. The climate of the country is worrying. Two people are ruling the country — Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, and the country is moving towards one-party governance. It’s like China, where everyone follows the direction of one party.
When (the BJP) says Congress-mukt Bharat, it is clear that they want only one-party rule. But the country will never be Congress-mukt, they (the BJP) may eventually be wiped out. In every village, every home, every family in the country there are people who believe in the Congress ideology.
Everyone is sad, barring a few… Jobs and businesses are being destroyed. Instead of getting work, people are losing jobs. Automobile sector, real estate sector, small businesses… apart from big industrialists, everyone is struggling.
There is both fear and anger among people. There is also an atmosphere of violence in the country, and that should not be the case in a democracy. Mob lynching is an example of this. The Prime Minister had once said that anti-social elements (are responsible for such attacks). Later, under pressure, he didn’t say it again.
If he had stood his ground and asserted that these (attacks) are by anti-social elements, and that the government will not tolerate them, then these incidents could have been stopped. The PM just said it once and then there was no discussion on it. Now (RSS chief Mohan) Bhagwat saab has said that lynching is a foreign word. These circumstances are only creating more differences between people of different communities and castes in the country.
MANOJ C G: But if people are angry and sad, why did they not give the Congress a majority in Haryana and Maharashtra?
We did not fight elections there (like we should have)… Another ploy is being used to finish democracy — going after resources of big parties. Earlier, people would give chanda (donation) to the Congress party… Also, no matter how big a chanda they gave to the BJP, the Congress did not raise questions over it. But now they (the BJP) are like how did you give so much chanda to the Congress? So everyone is scared.
MANOJ C G: But a year ago, when the Congress won in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, didn’t the party have the same resources?
There is a difference between then and now. The difficulties are only increasing. Till the time the Congress party does not come out and protest on the streets, we will not move forward. All big parties — the CPI (M), CPI, BSP, JD(U) — should join the Congress on the field.
MANOJ C G: The CPI (M) and the CPI are still seen agitating on the streets, but the Congress is only seen on Twitter, Facebook, and press conference rooms.
According to me, when everyone comes out on the streets and there is an agitation, only then will the judiciary, which is working under pressure, the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI, will all change on their own. And, you will also see the country’s atmosphere and people’s minds change. Only then will bureaucrats and agencies understand that change can happen anytime.
VANDITA MISHRA: In Haryana, in the last five years, the Congress has not taken up any issue and agitated on the streets. You improved your performance in the state, but do you think that instead of doing anything actively on the ground, the Congress is simply waiting for its turn to return to power… For the cycle to continue?
About the cycle… It is not that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t work hard. No one went to (campaign) in Maharashtra, but why do people still talk of Rahul Gandhi there? No one went and still the performance was such. It is the extraordinary common sense of the people… They understand what decision to take for the country and save democracy. That’s why I salute the people of India.
VANDITA MISHRA: But people also say that when the central leadership of the Congress does not campaign, and in states where the local leadership is strong, the party performs well — like in Rajasthan and Haryana. So is it more important to pay attention to the regional leadership?
Some of it depends on the media also. The media itself is under pressure. There is such an atmosphere in the country about who knows what will (PM) Modi do? You can take bytes and write your stories, but only when you publish the stories will you be able to show that there is anarth (disaster) happening in the country.
After the general elections, when Rahul Gandhi said that he didn’t want to be president of the party, it came as a shock to me. I must admit it… Rahul Gandhi interacted with students. He thought for the poor, for the country. But, one has to also look at the resources which are needed to take this message to the people. The BJP has all the resources. Before the Uttar Pradesh elections, to block other parties, they announced demonetisation.
Such strategies are being used for elections now, people need to understand that. Issues of nationalism, surgical strikes are being raised during elections. Indira Gandhi also got Pakistani armymen to surrender, but she did not make a loud noise about it. You do surgical strikes before elections… People are not foolish. They are now starting to see through these things. This government will collapse.
RAVISH TIWARI: You said that the judiciary is not standing up for issues. Why do you say that?
The atmosphere of the entire country is now corrupt. It is the reason for the poor condition of the country. But, the times will change. The masses will rise. If you do not stand up, then history will not forgive you. I can assure you that under Sonia Gandhi the party is coming together. This is just the beginning.
The Congress, which is one of the country’s oldest parties and has made several sacrifices during India’s Independence movement, is now being bombarded with insults on social media, including (its leaders such as) Jawaharlal Nehru, who spent so many years in jail.
Even Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t accepted during the Independence movement. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who is now being hailed, was earlier shunned. The new generation knows nothing. They have no idea about the number of sacrifices that were made. History is being broken and twisted.
RAVISH TIWARI: But how will the country trust you to stay united when there is so much infighting within the Congress?
If I tell you the truth, you would not believe me. It all depends on the media. These things happen in big parties, it is no big deal. But trivial things that do not matter make headlines.
RAVISH TIWARI: But the party has also been speaking in different voices on most national issues, including abrogation of Article 370, the Ram Mandir etc. The youth and the senior leaders all seem to have different views.
The issues that you mentioned, the youth and senior leaders are not divided on them. But I admit that in the atmosphere that has been created in the country, we have not been able to make our point as forcefully as we should have. The mandate that the BJP and the NDA government got from the people of the country, the atmosphere created because of that… There is talk of Hindutva in the country and people are accepting it!
There is talk of nationalism… Are we not nationalist? Are only those who get a certificate from PM Modi and the BJP nationalists? There are many reasons for such an atmosphere to be created, they must be researched. But what I must accept is that in such an atmosphere it becomes difficult to know and understand what the people of the country are thinking.
MANOJ C G: The Congress’s 1991 general election manifesto said that the party was in favour of a Ram temple, without demolition of the Babri Masjid…
The Congress has always condemned riots. The way the issue of (Ram) temple was raised in this country, there’s no doubt that it changed the character of the country. When it was raised 25-30 years ago, it divided the entire society along religious and caste lines. It’s unfortunate. Let’s talk about Rabindranath Tagore. The BJP also talks about him. He said humanism is above nationalism. If there is no humanity, how will there be nationalism? Who will make them understand this? This is our and your responsibility.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: In case of the Maharashtra elections, the central leadership of the Congress seemed very demoralised. The new Congress MLAs also complained that nobody from the central leadership came to campaign for them. Mallikarjun Kharge campaigned five times, Rahul Gandhi twice. If you had campaigned more, perhaps you would have got more seats.
I accept that the campaigns were not conducted with the enthusiasm with which they should have been conducted, whether in Haryana or Maharashtra. If there was campaigning, the results could have been different. (The sentiment) that whatever happens, we will do our duty, even if we don’t remain the chief minister or minister, we will step in with full force to help… That could not happen. Also, when such an atmosphere is created, the central leadership cannot come (to the state to campaign). The central leadership comes when it is in demand.
When an atmosphere is created that suggests that we are bound to lose the elections, and that the BJP will win… to believe that yourself, that was a blunder. You should come to the field with full force; you never know when the public’s mood might change. When it can change for Indira Gandhi, why can’t it change for Modi? His aura, the arrogance of his body language, his thinking, or his comments… It will not take long for it to collapse.
MANOJ C G: The Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme was a big poll promise in the Congress manifesto before the general elections. Why don’t you implement it in states where the Congress is in power?
It was an ambitious scheme. I believe it was announced late. If it was announced on time, it’s possible it would have had a huge impact.
VANDITA MISHRA: You have had a long stint in politics. Do you think you have had to change your political style in the times of Modi, as a politician and as Chief Minister?
Yes (laughs). Modiji hugs me whenever he meets me. I do not have any personal enmity against anyone. Our fight is on policies and programmes. The extraconstitutional authority that is the RSS… When the Congress was in power, it was said that Sonia Gandhi acted as an extra-constitutional authority. Then what is the RSS today? Does the media write about it? They are even deciding the names of chief ministers, ministers… This is happening for the first time in this country. You can see what is happening with the owners of media houses… Democracy is ending in the country.
HARISH DAMODARAN: When you were chief minister earlier, a lot of investment was made in the Neemrana region. What is happening now, are investments coming?
We are trying. We heard of Smart Cities, Skill India, Make In India… Modiji made such tall claims. It’s a jumla government. Modiji did the Vibrant Gujarat Summits. Ask him how much investment came? Kamal Nathji (Madhya Pradesh CM) did a summit, Yogiji (Yogi Adityanath, UP CM)… Very little investment comes. Investment will only come when the climate of the country changes. The atmosphere now is such that there is fear that even the investment that is coming could go away.
SOMYA LAKHANI: The Congress is often criticised for entering the ring very late, whether it is on issues such as mob lynching, the economy or pollution? Why is that the case?
No, it isn’t like that. Rahul Gandhi took the lead on the mob lynching issue. The Congress responded to everything in a timely manner. But you will have to accept that the Congress was pushed to the wall by the media. History and time will not forgive the media for it.
MANOJ C G: You are saying that the media did not support you. But when Rahul Gandhi stepped down, he said that the party did not support him.
You cannot make such comparisons. It can be about an internal matter of the party, do not generalise it. It was a matter of the country. Rahul Gandhi kept raising the (Rafale) issue. We also raised the issue but maybe not as per Rahul Gandhi’s expectations. But shouldn’t the media have raised such a big matter?
KAUNAIN SHERIFF M: Your government passed the anti-lynching Bill. But if you look at the Pehlu Khan case, even basic evidence was not sent for forensic examination. The family did not receive justice. You have brought a specialised law but the basic collection of evidence and its examination did not happen in this case, which is the job of the police. How do you plan to go about it?
The Pehlu Khan case was an issue of the previous government. A case was created against him. The high court exonerated Pehlu Khan and his sons. For the accused in the case, who had been released earlier, we formed a new SIT, whose report has been submitted. New challans have been issued.
The earlier mistakes were corrected, which included not asking for the FSL report. I put the blame on the BJP… they created a fake case against Pehlu Khan and his family. No FSL report was sought. The high court said that Pehlu Khan was innocent and the FIR was dismissed. We are not going to leave this issue.
RAVISH TIWARI: When will the fight between you and Sachin Pilot be resolved?
No comments… There is no fight. A fight is when you accuse someone, and they argue with you. In this situation, both are silent, so there is no question of a fight.
The Idea Exchange was held on November 1, before the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict