The Uttarakhand Congress has few prominent faces to fight the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image. Will this work against the party in the polls?
While the BJP is seeking votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress is seeking votes for change. All Congress candidates are campaigning on the same issue. Hence, not having a prominent face is insignificant.
What is the Congress’s political agenda? Your party candidates have been seeking votes against Modi.
We are questioning the work done by the Modi government. Speaking about promises that the Modi government failed to deliver is natural.
You lost from two seats — Kichha and Haridwar Rural — in the 2017 Assembly polls. What has changed since then?
Many things have changed. People have started comparing my government with the current Trivendra Singh Rawat government. They can see that the current government is not performing well, so that is in my favour. Also, I continued to work in the state as a Congress leader even after I lost the 2017 elections. So I have people’s sympathy.
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How important is this election for your political career?
I don’t let victory or defect affect my political work. This election is as important as all previous elections I have contested. Also, the 2017 poll was an Assembly election — the format was different.
What is at stake for you and the Congress in Uttarakhand?
I have been the CM and I can tell you that the roadmap of development that I pursued was in line with the development that should be carried out in a fragile and environmentally rich hill state like Uttarakhand. The right kind of development is the one that is environment-friendly and not against the ethos of the state. And this is what is at stake for the Congress — the opportunity to lead the state on the right path.
As chief minister, you started the reconstruction work in Kedarnath in 2014. However, since then, the BJP has taken credit for the work. Will this benefit the BJP?
The pilgrims who visit the shrine regularly and the locals know the truth. After the deluge (in 2013), I started the reconstruction work under tough circumstances. The BJP won’t be able to benefit from it.
Why are you contesting from the Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar seat instead of Haridwar, from where you won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls?
Haridwar is a more comfortable seat for me than Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar. I felt that I had done so much work in Haridwar when I was elected MP in 2009 that I wouldn’t be able to repeat the same performance. People’s expectations from me are high in Haridwar. Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar is a new area for me and I will have to work from scratch, which is challenging. But I’m ready for it.
What are the issues you are flagging in your campaigns?
The current BJP government in the state has not carried out much development work. The law and order situation is deteriorating and there is a lack of employment opportunities. Farmer suicide is another issue. Then there are national issues like the deteriorating internal security situation. As compared to 2014, there has been an increase in Maoist activities. Also, the recent terror attack in Kashmir… These are all reflection of the failures of the Modi government.
On national security, the BJP has gone on the offensive, attacking the Opposition for raising questions on the Balakot air strikes and the Congress for promising to review AFSPA. Does that worry you?
AFSPA cannot be seen in a narrow context. It has to be assessed keeping in mind a larger context. As far as showing the Congress in a bad light on the issue of national security is concerned, it only speaks of the kind of party the BJP is. The party is using nationalism and the Indian Army for its electoral benefit and people won’t appreciate it.
The Congress candidates in the state seem to lack the kind of organisational support that the BJP’s enjoy. How will that affect them?
I agree that the BJP is better in terms of their organisational structure. But Congress workers have more passion. The party needs to efficiently use the enthusiasm of its workers.