'From the time Rahul Gandhi entered the scene, I started feeling dissatisfied. No true Congressman will be able to agree with the way Rahul Gandhi functioned. He has not attained enough maturity or wisdom.'
'You cannot compare Rahul Gandhi with Narendra Modi. When you take into consideration Modi's political experience and abilities, nobody can think of projecting Rahul Gandhi against him.'
'The main culprits behind such a humiliating defeat are Veerappa Moily and P Chidambaram. It was Moily who did the maximum damage to people and the party.'
T H Mustafa, one of the first Congress leaders to criticise Rahul Gandhi, speaks out in this interview to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com
Ever since the Congress party got its worst-ever drubbing in the Lok Sabha election, there were murmurs about the way Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi led the election campaign.
T H Mustafa, a former All India Congress Committee member and a former minister, was the first person to openly question Rahul Gandhi's abilities and style of functioning. It was reported that he called Rahul Gandhi a joker, which he denies.
In no time, he was suspended from the party by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee for indiscipline. But the senior leader is happy that more and more Congressmen are coming out and courageously airing their views on the young Gandhi.
In this interview to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com, he speaks about what ails the party.
A few days ago, you expressed strong displeasure about the way the Congress party functioned. When did you start feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with your party?
From the time Rahul Gandhi entered the scene, I started feeling dissatisfied. No true Congressman will be able to agree with the way Rahul Gandhi functioned. He has not attained enough maturity or wisdom.
He doesn't have the ability or experience to be the prime minister of this country.
Did you express your disapproval at any of the Congress meetings or you just kept quiet?
I kept my reservation and dissatisfaction within myself. I never discussed this with anyone.
Why is it that the Congress party still stands behind this family?
That is because even today, people accept this family. The love the people of India have for the Nehru/Gandhi family is immense. But those who are at the helm of affairs should remember this, and they should be able to work according to the wishes of the people.
Were you satisfied with the way Sonia Gandhi functioned?
She worked carefully and thoughtfully. That was why there was no problem when she was at the top. The disaster that came during the elections was because of Rahul Gandhi.
Do you feel more than the bad image of the United Progressive Alliance-2, it was Rahul Gandhi's inexperience that affected the party?
Yes, there is no doubt about it. All the corruption charges against the UPA were created by the media and they are not true. Most of the bureaucrats and officers including the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) were BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) supporters. All these scams and corruption charges were created by these people to give mileage to the BJP. Other than that, there is nothing much in the corruption cases you talk about.
More than this, the way Rahul Gandhi conducted himself affected the party the most.
Why did you use the word joker to describe him?
I didn't call him a joker. I said he acted like a joker. The media picked up only the word joker and wrote that I called him a joker. When he was in Kerala, he jumped on top of a jeep. Then, at a Congress press conference, he barged in and tore the ordinance. How do you describe such behaviour?
Nothing is serious; everything is flippant and tomfoolery for him. He behaves without understanding the seriousness of issues. I meant only this and I didn't call him a joker.
Is that the reason why people of India found him not up to the mark when compared to Narendra Modi?
You cannot compare Rahul Gandhi with Narendra Modi. When you take into consideration Modi's political experience and abilities, nobody can think of projecting Rahul Gandhi against him.
Who, according to you, the Congress should have projected against Modi?
According to me, the party should have projected Priyanka Gandhi.
But then, like Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka also doesn't have any political experience....
She was only in charge of two constituencies -- Amethi and Rae Bareli -- but the way she spoke and conducted herself was exemplary. It was her speeches that troubled Modi. Modi was forced to say that he had no enmity towards the Gandhi family. In fact, it was her actions and words that made Modi react.
Priyanka is like Indira Gandhi; she has the guts to take on anyone. Her way of speaking and courage is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi.
You mean to say, Sonia Gandhi should have brought in Priyanka in place of Rahul Gandhi?
That is my opinion.
I would say Sonia Gandhi herself would have been better than Rahul Gandhi. Had we fought the elections under her, such a disaster would not have happened. People of this country did not accept Rahul at all.
Do you feel he doesn't have the ability to be a leader?
He has so many shortcomings. He is not fit to lead a party.
You mentioned Priyanka's name as an alternative. Can you think of any other Congress leader who should have been projected against Modi?
New leaders should emerge within the party and for that you need to give them opportunities. The situation today is such that nobody can come up in the party.
What do you have to say about the Congress not allowing strong leaders to emerge at the state level?
You are right. There are no opportunities for new leaders to come up at the state level. Only sycophants of this family become ministers and they also enter the working committee. Those who have strong opinions and have the courage to air them, are ignored.
Do you think an educated person like Shashi Tharoor can emerge as a leader?
He is not fit to be in politics. Our main problem is bringing in people like him and giving them plum posts and not those who have the ability to be a political leader.
Did the elections results sadden you?
I have been with the Congress party for the last 61 years. I have not seen such a fall for the party till now.
The situation is so pathetic that we do not even have 10 percent of seats in Parliament. The party is not fit to be the Leader of the Opposition. For a Congressman like me, to get 44 seats in the Lok Sabha elections is something to feel sad about.
Even after all this, Rahul Gandhi is still the leader...
Those at the top do not have any love for the Congress party; they only want power and the paraphernalia associated with it. They only want to take care of their interests. They are not bothered about the party and its future.
Is it not because the party does not have any strong leaders that only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi campaigned throughout the country? Did a single minister from the Centre or an AICC general secretary campaign in the elections? Was there not a single person other than the two who had the ability to campaign for the party?
How can the party be rescued?
There is only one way to rescue the Congress. Bring in Priyanka as the Congress president. Sonia Gandhi should be the Leader of the Opposition. You need not throw out Rahul now; you can make him the AICC general secretary. The party needs to have more members and there should be elections at the unit level.
A new leadership chosen by the party should emerge. This is the only way the party can get a new life.
You are still talking about those from the Nehru family leading the party...
There is no other option till a new leadership from the grassroots level, emerges. When you have elections at the unit level, the importance of a high command will end.
According to me, there shouldn't be a high command. It is the working committee that should take the decisions and not the high command.
Did you expect the KPCC to suspend you for criticising Rahul Gandhi?
What else can you expect from sycophants?
It is only because of me that many Congressmen from other parts of the country are showing courage to express their views. What I said is being talked about throughout the country. I am happy that I could initiate this debate.
Here also, when the KPCC met, there was a debate on this issue and many courageously spoke against the central leadership.
I would say the main culprits behind such a humiliating defeat are Veerappa Moily and P Chidambaram.
It was Moily who did the maximum damage to people and the party. He increased the price of cooking gas and also linked the Aadhar card to gas subsidies. His decisions frustrated everybody. Because of him, all the women in this country became anti-Congress. He should be thrown out of the party.
People like Chidambaram who could not contain price rise are not Congressmen; he was brought in from some other party and given plum posts. Anyway, the entire country was fed up of the Congress party.
What do you have to say about the way Modi campaigned?
The BJP started working towards the elections for the last two years. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members were campaigning in north India from them. With money and threats, they got the voters on their side. There was no way the voters could escape from their clutches.
I don't know from where they got so much money; no organisation could spend so much money till now.
Modi's campaign was well planned and wherever he went, there were huge crowds.
When the Congress party lost five states in the assembly polls, the party should have taken it as a warning, but it didn't. There was no working committee meeting to analyse why the party lost so many states and what should be done to rectify the mistakes.
What they did was, under the directives of Rahul, his own people were made PCC presidents when they should have taken steps to meet people and talk to them.
In fact, nothing was done at the booth level at all. When the party should have made efforts to strengthen at the bottom level, they only concentrated at the top level. The central leadership has no knowledge of the ground realities. That was the biggest mistake. There was none to counter the work done by the BJP and Modi at the ground level.
I don't know why the Muslims from the northern part of India rejected the Congress and voted for the BJP. We have to analyse the reasons.
Was it right on the part of the Congress to divide Indians as Hindus and Muslims? Was it not vote bank politics?
In a way, what you said is right. The Congress was one party that looked at Indians as Indians. That was the policy of Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru).
From the very beginning, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the minority communities were with the Congress. Minorities moved away from the Congress with the Babri Masjid demolition.
The party should understand the changes that have taken place in our society and see Indians as Indians. There shouldn't be any divisive politics. Development is the only plank that will work hereafter.
When the Congress got a drubbing all over the country, it did quite well in Kerala. Do you attribute this success to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy?
There is no doubt about the fact that Oommen Chandy has been working tirelessly day and night. His Jana samparka meetings in all the districts have been very successful, and his government has been doing a lot of good work for the poor and sick.
The appointment of V M Sudheeran, a very clean leader, as the KPCC president has done a lot of good for the party. In fact, he brought back all those who left the party and also those who were dismissed earlier. His stand against liquor bars also helped the party a lot.
As a person who has been with the Congress for the last six decades, what is in your mind now?
I have seen how Nehru ruled the country. In those days, the decisions taken at the Congress Working Committee were looked at keenly by the world. Those days are gone.
What is your opinion about Modi inviting SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony?
It was a very bold and welcome decision. Only if you have good relations with your neighbours, will you be able to rule peacefully. Otherwise, you will have no time for developmental activities; you will have to spend all your money and energy guarding the borders.
Will the Congress party be able to come out of this situation?
It all depends on two things: How Modi performs and whether it will be acceptable to the people. If people are unhappy with him, they will look for an alternative and there is no alternative other than the Congress at the national level.
If Modi rules the country well, and people find his performance impressive, it will be tough for the Congress to come back.