Four phases done, one distinctive aspect of the campaign so far is that the Congress president is constantly attacking one person: the chowkidar, the Prime Minister. This is also what the PM says, trying to build his personality cult. Why focus on the person, not the ideology?
Let’s be clear. If the person you refer to, Mr Modi, had run a government similar to Mr Vajpayee, where there were multiple centres of power, then I would have attacked the people responsible for the mess this government has left us in. But Modi is solely responsible for the actions of his government because nobody else has any say in this government. When he demonetised the economy, nobody in his Cabinet was consulted. When he did the Gabbar Singh Tax, nobody in his Cabinet was consulted. There are many, many more instances of his unilateral decision-making style that has left our economy in a shambles and unemployment at a 45-year high. He’s the unilateral head of the BJP government. He also represents an ideology — the RSS ideology. So when I attack him, I’m also attacking the ideology he represents. When I attack him on Rafale, I’m attacking the fact that what the Rafale scam represents is the complete bypass of all of India’s institutions. Bypassing them because that’s what Mr Modi feels like doing, and it allows him to steal money from institutions like the Air Force. When I talk about demonetisation, behind the thought of demonetisation is the fact that the RBI, an institution we hold in tremendous respect, has been badly damaged and its autonomy crushed.
On Rafale, one figure you keep mentioning is Rs 30,000 crore. The total deal, as per records, is Rs 60,000 crore….
The benefit to Mr Anil Ambani from the offset contract and all the Rafale proceedings will be Rs 30,000 crore. There is enough documentation available that shows this.
Offsets don’t add up to Rs 30,000 crore.
The fact is that there is a massive question about the procedure that was involved in Mr Anil Ambani getting the deal… The Hindu has published documents that show that the negotiating team was against the manner in which the negotiation was being conducted and the inflated prices, and put their dissent down in writing. Defence Ministry officials themselves said that the PMO was carrying out parallel negotiations, the former President of France has said that France was told that the contract had to be given to Mr Anil Ambani. What we’re saying is that we have a particular view of the numbers. Let us investigate it, let us have a JPC. Why is this government running scared of a JPC? Let the truth come out. Let’s see what’s inside the files.
What is prima facie very clear, is that Mr Anil Ambani has no locus standi in making aircraft, is Rs 45,000 crore in debt and barely managed to stay out of jail. On the other hand, HAL has the experience in making aircraft and it’s been doing it for 70 years.
But the Rs 30,000-crore figure has not been explained. We ask this because when the figure of Rs 1.7 lakh crore got tagged to the 2G scam, the Congress government kept asking how did you get the figure.
We’ve done the calculations. If you want to understand the details of our calculations, I can put you in touch with Mr Randeep Surjewala and Mr (P) Chidambaram, who can share those with you. By the way, Anil Ambani’s own investor presentations put down these figures. Mr Anil Ambani was given a mysterious tax write-off of over 100 million Euros by the French, shortly after the Rafale deal was signed. Why? What is going on?… I’ve said to the PM let’s have an open debate. You speak for 15 minutes, I’ll speak for 15 minutes, let’s see who is left standing. The PM won’t be able to face the Indian public after a debate on Rafale.
You coined the ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ slogan….
Not at all. I was giving a speech in Chhattisgarh and I said ‘Chowkidar has not forgiven farmer loans’, ‘Chowkidar has not given jobs’, ‘Chowkidar has not given you 15 lakh’. There were some youngsters standing there, and when I said, ‘Chowkidar’, they said ‘Chor hai!’. And I said, ‘Ah, one second, say that again’ and he said ‘Chowkidar chor hai!’. It’s not come from me. It’s come from the people of India.
But no one from the Congress Working Committee has been heard saying that slogan. Not in Parliament, not in rallies.
That’s just not true, I’ve heard senior leaders of the party say this in every state we go. They say ‘Chowkidar’ and the crowd says ‘Chor hai’.
We haven’t heard any of them say it. Except, perhaps, at a press conference, when Surjewala said it.
That’s not true at all. But what’s the point you are trying to make?
Why are you the only one using it?
Firstly, it isn’t only me who is saying it. It’s being said by people all over India. I also happen to be the Congress president and, when I say it, it gets picked up by the party and amplified.
Are other leaders afraid of saying it?
Look, Mr Modi is a very vindictive man, a cruel man. But he doesn’t frighten me. I’m not afraid of him and I never will be. Mr Modi can’t push me around, and there’s absolutely nothing he can do to me that I’m afraid of. So my job is to tell the truth, and the truth is ‘Chowkidar chor hai’.
2014, 44 seats, the worst ever. But there was no big churn in the party, no clash of ideas, no debate for five years?
We have been involved in an ideological war over the last five years. And the Congress party has systematically fought the BJP and has destroyed the idea of Mr Modi. How can you say there is no churn in the Congress? How can you even make that statement? The Congress has stood its ground on ideology, it has defended the institutions of this country, it has taken beating after beating from Mr Narendra Modi and his goons. It is the Congress party that is going to defeat Mr Modi in this election. Mr Modi doesn’t say Mukt-Bharat about others. He says Congress-Mukt Bharat and there’s a reason. Because we are fighting him ideologically and we are the only real threat to him and the RSS. Mr Modi tried to take away the land acquisition Bill, but our 44 members in the Lok Sabha fought like lions and didn’t give up an inch. I saw it, I stood shoulder to shoulder with them and was extremely proud of the way in which they didn’t give up even in the face of extreme hostility.
There was no meaningful soul-searching.
Where are you coming up with this from?
Should we give you an example?
Why you? Let me give you an example. Post-2014 we’ve injected thousands of young leaders into the Congress at all levels and in every state. Leaders like Rajiv Satav, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya (Scindia), Sushmita Dev. I can name at least 50 young leaders in every state.
Everybody you named comes from a major political dynasty.
Which political dynasty does Rajiv Satav come from?
Except him, all the names you mentioned come from political dynasties.
Jothimani, which dynasty does she come from? She’s fighting an MP election in Tamil Nadu, and is about to win. Manicka Tagore, which dynasty does he come from? Please get your facts right. Which political family does Keshav Chand Yadav, our Youth Congress president, come from? Where are your biases and questions coming from?
(Satav is a former president of the Indian Youth Congress. The MP from Hingoli in Maharashtra, he is the AICC in-charge of Gujarat. Jothimani Sennimalai, a media panelist of the Congress, is the candidate from Karur. Tagore became an MP for the first time from Virudhunagar seat in 2009. He lost in 2014 and is again the Congress candidate from the seat this time.)
Why I’m asking this question is…
You’re asking these questions because there is a propaganda systematically working against the Congress party. And you are a victim of that propaganda. The Congress has a particular background, a particular legacy, has senior leaders whose children happen to be in politics. But the Congress party has a lot of people who don’t belong to political families and have risen to the top. Take a look at Mr (Bhupesh) Baghel, our CM in Chhattisgarh, Mr (K C) Venugopal, our organisational general secretary. By the way, doesn’t this apply to other parties as well? Mr Akhilesh Yadav? Mr Rajnath Singh’s son? There’s a long list of children of political leaders who have followed their parent’s footsteps into politics in every single political party in India.
You may call it propaganda but one thing held against you is that you have got it all because of your lineage. How can a modern political party…?
Are you telling me my blood lineage is what helped me fight Mr Modi these past five years? Have you not seen the brutal campaign I’ve been a part of? Please, judge me on my capabilities. Judge me on my ideas and my actions. And one more thing, please do not disrespect the fact that I’m a three-term elected member of the Lok Sabha.
One taunt is that five years ago, you knew you would be the Congress president. But nobody knew who would be the BJP president.
Really? Isn’t it a fact that Mr Narendra Modi knew exactly who would be the BJP president — the one person who listens to every single order that Mr Modi gives him. So please don’t tell me that nobody in the BJP knew who would be the BJP president. And Mr Amit Shah doesn’t do one little thing without an order from Mr Modi.
Let me go back to your earlier question, because the root of your question is an important one. Transforming a massive organisation like the Congress party is not a political event. It’s a process, it takes time and it’s a fight. If you look at where the Congress party was in the people’s imagination in 2014 and where it is today, it’s a completely different place. In 2014, people were angry and disillusioned with the Congress. In 2019 people are hopeful of the Congress and are saying that it is this organisation that is going to demolish Mr Narendra Modi, the BJP and the RSS. You cannot just wish that away.
But that’s by default.
How is it by default?
People disillusioned with Modi….
So you are admitting people are disillusioned by Mr Modi? That’s good. But how much time have you spent getting attacked by Mr Modi? How much time have you spent getting brutalised by Mr Modi and his goons? How many lathis have you taken? My workers have taken lathis, they’ve taken thrashings, they’ve even been murdered. They’ve been slapped with case after case. I myself have got some 15-20 cases against me put by Mr Modi and his gang. So we’ve fought a battle, my friend, and that battle has helped us. I’m very happy that 2014 happened, it taught the Congress party a hell of a lot.
In 2014, there was a net erosion of votes for the Congress, from 11.91 crore to 10.69 crore. The BJP went up from 7.84 crore to 17.16 crore — a massive shift. You were honest and, once, said you (the Congress) had become arrogant. Where was accountability?
You can’t just say that a person with the talent of Mr Ashok Gehlot or Mr A K Antony is going to be removed because we lost an election. Some of our assets have tremendous experience and capabilities, some are younger, more dynamic and have great energy. We’ve got to mix-and-match those people.
Just two to three years ago, there was not a single pressman who didn’t say
Mr Narendra Modi isn’t going to be here for 10 years. Now, there is not a single pressman who can guarantee that Mr Narendra Modi is winning this election. Not a single one. That transformation, that destruction of the idea of an invincible Mr Modi, that destruction of the lie of Mr Modi, is primarily the work of the Congress party.
The BJP tries to message that there’s fear from outside, that’s why they’re bringing up national security. The Congress, too, is fear-mongering that if the BJP returns, India will crumble.
Never. The Congress will never indulge in fear-mongering. The Congress party is stating very clear facts: India has tremendous amounts of joblessness; India has a real problem with agriculture; there is an organisation that is trying to destroy our institutions; that the PM is corrupt. We’re not fear-mongering.
We are also providing a solution. We will give you a well-formulated GST, one tax, a simple tax. We will counter the damage that is being done by demonetisation with NYAY, which will give money directly to poor people and will help remonetise and fire up the economy. None of this is fear-mongering.
(And) Is it not a fact that the BJP has been systematically weakening our institutions and helping infiltrate them with people of a particular mindset? Is it not a fact that the BJP wants to re-write the Constitution? If the BJP wins, you will see all this happening. These are only facts, not fear-mongering.
Patriotism doesn’t belong to any political party. So how did you let the BJP walk away with nationalism?
We haven’t let the BJP walk away with nationalism. Not at all. We have a tremendous record on nationalism and the main issues in this election are joblessness, the destruction of India’s pride, which was her economy, the state of our farmers and the blatant corruption of Mr Modi. Now Mr Modi has a trick — he likes to distract the country whenever he is in trouble. In Gujarat, when he had his back to the wall, he suddenly jumped onto a sea plane and took off!
A terror accused is being fielded by the BJP in Bhopal and the Congress is silent.
No, we’re not silent. And we’ll defeat their candidate.
Will the Congress president campaign in Bhopal against Pragya Thakur?
I have no issues campaigning in Bhopal. But the fact of the matter is, that she’s losing in Bhopal by a very wide margin.
One omission this time, compared to your 2009 and 2014 manifestos, is the absence of the word ‘Sachar Committee’, which had highlighted systematic deprivation faced by Muslims.
We’re very clear that this country belongs to every citizen. It belongs to all its people, all its communities, all religions, all castes, all languages. We’re not here to eliminate anybody or create a ‘BJP Mukt Bharat’. We don’t believe in that nonsense.
Between 1967-1971, Indira Gandhi added 70 seats, a sitting government added 70 seats; 1980-84, 60 seats added; 2004-2009, another 60 seats were added by Dr Manmohan Singh. And in UPA 2, the party decimated Dr Singh, Congress general Secretary Rahul Gandhi tore up his ordinance (Gandhi had in September 2013 publicly denounced the UPA government’s ordinance to save convicted lawmakers from disqualification. He said the ordinance should be torn up and thrown away). Do you regret that it impacted the UPA?
I think what impacted the UPA was that we were trying to run a model that wasn’t working. Mr Manmohan Singh came with the model in the 1990s, it was very successful, we ran that model, we tweaked it and we ran in from 2004-09, and frankly we then tried to run the same ideas from 2009-14 and they didn’t work and the people of India punished us for it. Now we’re coming with a completely new set of ideas, with a new vision for this country.
That action of yours hurt Dr Singh’s image.
Maybe the way it was done was not right, I accept that charge. But I don’t think that any action of mine is going to hurt the image of a man with the stature of Dr Manmohan Singh… I love him. There’s absolute mutual respect between us. I use the words love and respect for him, not just respect.
At the level of ideas, the Congress traditionally used to have a Centrist position. And now there’s an impression that you have shifted to the shrill Left.
There is no shrill Left, shrill Right, or shrill Centre. The Congress listens to the voice of the Indian people and acts accordingly. It was the Congress that in the 1970s did bank nationalisation. Would you call that a left-of-centre policy? It was the same Congress party that did liberalisation in the 1990s. Wouldn’t you call that an extreme right-wing move? The Congress party is organic, dynamic and listens to the situation and acts in the interest of the Indian people.
The Congress president attacks corporates by name….
I don’t attack corporates by name. Any corporate which is an honest, legitimate, hard-working institution, I have never attacked it. People like Anil Ambani are crony capitalists. I don’t put Anil Ambani, Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya in the honest bracket. They, in fact, spoil the name of the great corporate legends of this country, who have done a fantastic job and I am an all-out supporter of their incredible work.
Many senior leaders were uncomfortable when you allowed the party to move an impeachment motion against former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, with evidence that wasn’t robust enough.
I don’t want to get into the minutiae of that stuff. That story is over. Let me tell you something, the institutions of this country are under systematic attack by the PM and his party president. They are under tremendous pressure. You seem to have forgotten that four Supreme Court judges held a press conference and expressed the desire that they were not being allowed to function. We responded to their feeling.
Many senior leaders said they were uncomfortable (with the impeachment motion).
The Congress is not like the RSS. We discuss stuff, we debate stuff and then we take a decision. There will, in every decision, be people who support a decision and there will be people who oppose it.
What is one idea for which people should trust Rahul Gandhi over Narendra Modi?
Rahul Gandhi listens, is compassionate and genuinely wants to help people.