In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor D K Singh, Congress UP in-charge Madhusudan Mistry goes all out against Narendra Modi. He invokes the 2002 riots, questions Modi’s role in the Akshardham attack and calls his crowds orchestrated
D K SINGH: How did you get into politics?
I am from the trade union. My only ambition was to become a college lecturer. I did post-graduation in geography from MS University, Baroda. Then I went for teaching, which did not suit me, so I left it and joined a trade union in 1970. The first union I organised was that of cycle rickshaw pullers in Ahmedabad, followed by that of construction labourers. I have also worked with textile labourers’ problems. Then, I got a scholarship to study at Ruskin College, Oxford, which gave diploma to all labourer students. When I came back, I began working with and organising forest labourers. I was part of the protests that forest labourers took up regarding the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. I was leading one of the protests in Godhra where Mr Shankersinh Vaghela, then a BJP MP, had to pass through. Because we were organised, he couldn’t pass through. He enquired about me. When he left the BJP, he floated a party called the Rashtriya Janta Party. He sent a proposal that if you come into politics, we will make you state president. As it turned out, everyone decided that I should go into politics. That is how I entered it.
COOMI KAPOOR: Many people in the Congress are puzzled about how Rahul Gandhi and you have become so close. How did you come in touch with him?
In 2001, I was first elected to the Parliament in by-elections, which was a dream since I had no such intentions. You need financial resources to contest, and the party bore all expenses related to me in the first two elections. Nowadays, politics is caste-based, and I don’t have a caste. I had work. I am a Mistry and there were hardly 10,000 votes in my constituency of 16.5 lakh. Rahul Gandhi also got elected that year but we hardly communicated except on one occasion when a vote was to take place in Parliament. He was leaving and I told him that he should wait as voting was taking place and then he could go.
I lost the election in 2009 by 17,000 votes. One day, I got a call from his office and was told that he wanted to meet me. I said I am in Ahmedabad and would come the day after. We met and spoke for half an hour about different things. I spoke to his team as well and was then asked to go. Two months later, I got a call asking me to come to Delhi the next day. It was afternoon, and I was watching TV. One channel flashed that there would be a press conference at 2.30 pm and Janardan Dwivedi would address it. He spoke my name and I could not believe it until the scroll said that I was made general secretary. It was a surprise.
D K SINGH: Many of your party leaders have been making fun of Narendra Modi’s claim of being a chaiwallah. What is your take on that?
To be frank, I respect all kinds of work because I myself have done them. In school, I worked as a labourer who would hold on to a ladder during whitewashing and was paid Re 1 per day. I worked in godowns where I was paid Rs 1.5 a day. Even during graduation, I worked in a textile mill, as a peon, colour mixer, paaniwallah.
D K SINGH: Who is a better candidate? A chaiwallah or a shehzada?
A chaiwallah can be as or more ruthless than anyone else. I was quite surprised that whom we call chaiwallah now had once stopped rickshaws and hawkers for five days during the Gujarat Summit. When he uses the word shehzada, he is sending the message of polarisation, because such words — sultanate, shehzada — are used by minority communities. I can claim I am more downtrodden than him. He is leading a more lavish lifestyle now than a chaiwallah. I would be very happy if he lives like a chaiwallah. Let me tell you he did not contest the Assembly elections as a chaiwallah. He was first made the chief minister and then he contested the Assembly elections. I challenge him, let him contest in Uttar Pradesh. He can never win an election without the support of the administration. He will never dare to go and contest in Uttar Pradesh because there is another party in power. And he himself will not declare now because I am 100 per cent sure that his own party leaders will ditch him. That’s why he is not declaring the seats. I am saying declare the seats. Declare it now that you are going to contest from this seat.
D K SINGH: Apart from shehzada versus chaiwallah, another comparison being made is that of Amit Shah, BJP’s UP in-charge, versus Madhusudan Mistry?
I have not gone to jail. There is no CBI enquiry or cases pending against me. I don’t have money in share capital because of my ideology. I never put my money for someone else’s capitalist society. He (Amit Shah) has a whole history behind him. Muzaffarnagar is an example. Adding ghee to a small fire flares it up.
Somebody told me that the BJP has influence in entire UP. I said you mean they want to create another Muzaffarnagar? Why did Narendra Modi and his party felicitate the two BJP MLAs accused in the riots? What sort of a party are they? Tell me, has he gone to a single minority victim after 2002 to give them solace or an inch of a land to rehabilitate them?
D K SINGH: NCP leader Praful Patel said that now that the court has given a verdict, let the matter rest as far as Modi’s role is concerned.
He must have got clean chit five times. Every time some case gets transferred from a local court to another court, it is a clean chit. Is the case still not going on against him? Is he still not an accused? Did you see what others have said? His own ministers were directing the police where they should go and not go. It is a matter of time before the truth comes out. The agencies are also protecting themselves by not giving a 100 per cent true report. Has there been any independent inquiry? There are a host of questions. He was the head of state. It was his duty to protect the lives of citizens. He was a constitutional head and he has to answer.
MANOJ C G: The SIT probe was monitored by the Supreme court itself. Can you point fingers at the probe?
So why are they blaming the Congress? They always say the CBI is contesting elections on behalf of the Congress. Tell me why that after D G Vanzara went to jail, not a single encounter has taken place. If you look at the pattern of encounters, a month or two months before whenever the BJP was about to take a decision on him, encounters would take place in Gujarat. The people had come to kill him or kill Advani or anyone else. They had instant information that they were from Lakshar-e-Toiba. Like Akshardham, when it was hit, immediately it was said that it was this outfit which had attacked the temple. I still doubt that the truth about Akshardham will ever come out. I saw it myself when I went the next day where 38-40 people were killed. Who attacked? Why they attacked, just a hundred yards from the chief minister’s residence? It is his establishment. If they can detect the probable terrorist outfit which were about to come to kill him, and before they could kill him they were killed by the
CM’s squad, why couldn’t they detect these people who had come all the way from Mumbai to attack Akshardham?
D K SINGH: Are you suggesting Modi’s role in all this?
I suspect. Because of the failure of his entire machinery to detect them. If you can detect the people coming from any part of the country, and you can eliminate them before they reach Gujarat or Gandhinagar, how is it that you had no clue about armed people coming to the railway station, hiring a taxi, going to Akshardham, jumping the walls, and going inside? What sort of an administration was it then? Common people can get killed, the police have no information. If somebody comes to kill him, police has information well in advance. His personality is such that he can go to any extent to capture or retain power. This is his mind. He has no regret whatsoever about the people whom he once used.
Rakesh Sinha: Mulayam Singh Yadav has been very critical of Rahul Gandhi. He said that Rahul, on one of his surprise visits to a Muzaffarnagar relief camp, stole in like a thief. That is the expression he used.
Why shouldn’t he go? He is a member of Parliament and he has the right to go. And he went. I accompanied him. In this camp, 70 per cent of the people were anaemic and malnourished. It had no facilities. There were no proper huts. Even if you want to do something, you can’t because it is the state government’s responsibility. Why are they not using the calamity relief fund?
Rakesh Sinha: Do you think the state government failed?
Completely, it failed. The job of the administration is to ensure confidence in the people.
D K Singh: You once raised that the SP and BJP were….
From day one, if anything happens in Uttar Pradesh riots, rest assured, that if the state government fails to stop it, then SP and BJP are hobnobbing. Because one creates and the other delays action.
Coomi Kapoor: How would you rate Rahul Gandhi’s performance in a recent TV interview?
Who am I to rate it? I won’t comment on my leadership. It’s for the people to review his interview.
Ravish Tewari: It seems Rahul Gandhi is trying to fix something in the Congress. He is always using words like ‘systems’, ‘processes’, etc.
Any political party has to keep pace with the changing times. Because it is quite an old party, so naturally, the attitude or the style of functioning may have disadvantages. In some states, we have an ageing leadership, so one has to create space for new people, and you may have to change your way of working as well. That is what he has been pushing for, and without making a lot of hullabaloo, things have changed a lot. After Jaipur, we began to realise that many people with no patronage joined the party. They began to perform, and performers have been rewarded. The avenues have opened up.
Unni Rajen Shanker: In your own state, you have not been able to fight Modi. Systematically, the Congress has been losing its ground there, and a similar thing is happening in Madhya Pradesh. It is like a state that the Congress has lost forever.
That is not entirely true (in Gujarat). Look at the Lok Sabha results. In 1999, we won six seats. In 2004, we got 12. In 2009, we were told that we’ll be wiped out, but we got 11. The issues are different. The people of Gujarat believe that it is only the Congress party that can hold this country together and run it.
Rakesh Sinha: But he must have done something right that is translating into votes.
In the Assembly, yes. How is that nobody has questioned that he was claiming to get 151 seats but got a lesser number? Nobody questions him. How is it that in my constituency, we won six out of seven seats? We defeated the home minister, the state minister for education. We almost defeated the cabinet minister of education. He was saved by only 11,000 votes. We used to get 48,000 votes and we increased that to 80,000. Where was his charisma?
D K Singh: How do you justify your support to the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi?
I feel that it was not to force another election immediately.
D K SINGH: But you are suffering humiliation daily at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party.
I would not say that. See, in politics, there are certain forced situations you will not like,
and yet you have to strike a compromise.
Dilip Bobb: Modi’s single biggest selling point is development. What would you say is Rahul’s single biggest selling point?
I got a chance to accompany Rahul before the Karnataka elections and once in a while when he was visiting Uttar Pradesh. What I liked most is that he is open to listening and understanding the processes, new ideas and changing moods. It is not the kind of rigid thinking that people have when they say that I am at this post. Also he gives complete freedom to and allows the young leadership to grow.
Maneesh Chibber: Rahul Gandhi’s readiness to listen maybe be good for the party, but how is it good for the voters? Why should I vote for Rahul Gandhi?
Why not! He is a person who is receptive to any person from the country. When we were in Kerala, in the scorching sun to attend a meeting, hundreds of people were just waiting to catch a glimpse of him.
Maneesh Chhibber: But the same can be true of Modi also. Wherever he goes, he also attracts crowds.
People are brought and put there to chant Narendra Modi’s name whenever he comes. What an awful situation it was when he was in Bangalore to address a university crowd before the elections. When he came, people who had been brought from Gujarat began to chant his name even as the Karnataka chief minister was sitting next to him. And when the chief minister began to speak, the chants still went on. And then he said, let the Chief Minister speak for a while. What an irony. So it is well-orchestrated and organised.
DK Singh: Congress party members have talked a lot about how Modi has marketed and branded himself. If Modi has marketed himself, why do you grudge that?
We don’t have a grudge against anybody. We say yes you sell a product. But it is a product, which 10 days after buying, you realise that it is useless and second thing is that the cost is going to be very high.
— Transcribed by Debesh Banerjee and Pallavi Chattopadhyay