'Where they lose, you never ask why they failed there, like in Bihar and Punjab.'
'You are stuck on the UP victory, thinking they have the mandate to rule for all times to come.'
'The BJP has 282 MPs, but can I honestly say that the BJP is the party for everyone?'
Sachin Pilot battles for a beleaguered Congress party, takes up for Rahul Gandhi's leadership and tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih that just because the BJP won UP, it doesn't mean it will win every election in every state for all times to come.
Why has the Congress been unable to provided an alternative agenda since it lost the 2014 election?
We lost the election in 2014, but that came on the back of two back-to-back victories, which had not happened in 30 years since Indiraji's (Indira Gandhi) time.
In 2014 we had a bad loss. Personally, what we need to do is stick to our core strength and thinking.
Post-Indepndence, what did the Congress party stand for?
Building institutions, that was what Pandit (Jawaharlal) Nehru did for 20 years at a very challenging time with hardly any resources.
Then the Congress party transformed itself into a Left of Centre party -- poverty alleviation, socialism, inclusiveness.
In the 1980s under Rajiv Gandhi, we moulded ourselves into a reformist open, IT-led economy, and a young youth-based agenda.
The Congress has evolved its thinking according to the needs of the nation.
Today we need a Congress which is a party of everyone.
Not for one religion, community or appeasement that people accuse us of.
The Congress is reflective of millennia of cultural inheritance that India has as a nation.
We must not lose sight of that despite the losses.
Moving forward we have to be centrist, inclusive, open to all and not get bogged down by the criticism of favouring one and not the other.
But your party is reduced to just 6 states in the country. You are talking about Nehru, but the youth of today perhaps doesn't know of Nehru, or even Rajiv Gandhi -- so how do you intend to re-tell the Congress story?
I am not one who has allowed himself to be pessimistic. I am conscious of the fact that we have lost elections.
We are at a point that we have to reinvent, redefine the narrative, attract a part of the society which is perhaps not as connected to the Congress.
In Rajasthan I've tried to reach out to the non-traditional voter.
India has changed, people who should be credited for bringing India to the threshold from where we can leap forward and become a great nation that we deserve to become, those people are the ones (the Congress party) who need to present ourselves in that way.
It is not an easy task. I don't have 10 points that you are expecting me to say. I am giving you a general sense of what the Congress party needs to do.
It is a party that is terribly essential for representing India.
The BJP has a brute majority in UP. It has a clear mandate of 282 MPs in Parliament, but can I honestly say that the BJP is the party for everyone?
Does it work for sabka sath sabka vikas?
It is very nicely coined phrase, but in reality it might not be true.
That is what we have to go to the people with -- not to criticise the BJP, they are our political opponents, we are not enemies.
We are all there to work for the nation.
Who can do it best, that's the competition. It's as simple as that.
We have to go to the young people of India and tell them what the Congress party has done and what we plan to do.
It should range from the agrarian crisis to internal security challenges to foreign policy.
If we do it with a positive mindset, humility and a sustainable long term vision, I think we can overcome the current challenges.
The criticism against the Congress is that it has only criticised Mr Modi and not presented a constructive agenda beyond that.
If you look at all of Mr Modi's speeches, in fact he was doing the attacking.
I have never seen a PM so unconcerned about attacking (the Opposition). He said things against Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati. That is what PMs have generally not done before.
But this is a new PM, this is a new politics.
He is doing what he thinks is best for his party and quite frankly the results have shown that the BJP has won.
The numbers for the BJP are massive in UP, but is it so simple to take that mandate for what it is or we have to look at the reasons behind it?
Or is it that the BJP is the best party -- the winner takes all -- or are there other issues that one must look at?
Attacking the PM was in response to what he had been saying in his speeches. Attack would be a very benign word for what he has been saying.
You say one must look at the reasons behind the BJP's victory, but politics is finally about winning power.
If you have to be in the reckoning you have to win seats and the Congress has not been able to win back states like Chhattisgarh, MP, Gujarat in decades.
I agree with you. I have never not accepted the verdict of the people.
I have with full humility extended my congratulations to the victors and the BJP has won fair and square.
But it does not mean that it's the end of life of the Congress party.
Some people are very hastily writing off the Congress party. That is not going to happen.
They are leaders and workers throughout this country in the crores who have a certain sense of belief in what we stand for.
Rahul Gandhi has said he has to structurally change the party and change is inevitable.
One must embrace it and we are going to do it.
The messaging of our wholeness, inclusiveness has to be done and will be done in due time.
But that was said in 2014 also -- ki badlav hoga (change will come)...
Changes will happen.
I am looking after Rajasthan. I have brought about changes in my state.
I've got a mix of young and old people who have given 30, 40 years of their life to this party.
They also deserve to be accommodated and heard, but we need the energy and imagination of young people too.
We need to strike a balance. I have done the best I could in Rajasthan.
It is being done in other states. Nationally also, Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has said he will do it.
How is it to work with Rahul Gandhi? In Rajasthan, is it your show completely?
He has made me (Pradesh Congress Committee) president, but I have the authority to run the party here.
Unlike the BJP, we are not a one person party.
It is my job to take the entire family of the Congress in the state along.
That is the reason we are doing reasonably well in the state.
I have had no interference at all.
He has given me the job to do and it's for me to deliver. How I do it is my business.
I have tried to keep the party together so that we can win elections.
It can't be my way or the highway.
You have known Rahul Gandhi for long and perhaps have a personal equation with him.
How does a Congress worker get heard in Rahul Gandhi's office?
I don't think there is anyone who can say they have an issue in giving their views or meeting Rahul Gandhi and explaining to him what they feel.
That's not the case and I can tell you that from experience.
It is easy for people to make allegations...
The allegation is that he is surrounded by a coterie of his kind of people and penetrating that is difficult...
Nahi aisa nahi hai. That is very far from the truth.
Everyone has to work with a team of people. You can't work alone.
I've never had that problem, but if you are saying it is so because I have known him personally, that may not be true because anybody who has a party position and is a recognised worker of the party, you can always reach Rahul Gandhi and Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi.
They may not get exactly what they want, but it is wrong to say there is no access.
People who are making these allegations are those who are making excuses to either quit the party or put blame on the leadership.
You can't run a party without hearing different points of view.
You may not concur with those views, but you have to have that platform.
There is obviously something that the BJP is doing right. It cannot just be Hindutva alone that is getting them votes.
That is open to question. That could be your interpretation.
In UP, they did not declare a CM candidate. So the only face they had to sell was Mr Modi's.
But in Rajasthan they have a CM and her performance will be judged.
In Rajasthan it is not so simple to say that Mr Modi will come and work his magic.
If that was the case, why did they lose in Bihar, Delhi and Punjab?
Many speculate that a grand alliance is the way to take on the BJP, but what happens in single party states like Rajasthan where there is a one on one fight between the Congress and BJP?
At the risk of being immodest, I am supremely confident that the Congress party will form the next government in Rajasthan. No matter what happens.
I am not living in some la la land, but have worked for 3.5 years.
It will be a tough fight because the ruling party has all the resources, but we have won elections in Rajasthan -- panchayat, nagarpalika, by-elections and in the CM's constituency -- we have won.
Why should anyone feel we will not win?
There is also a disconnect between the PM and CM and it has been talked about in Rajasthan and Delhi.
I always say public ki MLA nahi sunte, MLA ki mantri nahi sunte, mantriyon ki mukhya mantri nahi sunti, aur mukhya mantri ki pradhan mantri nahi sunte (the public is not heard by the MLAs, the MLAs are not heard by the ministers, the ministers are not heard by the chief minister and the chief minister is not heard by the prime minister).
There are many chinks in the BJP's chain.
When do you expect a Congress revival?
Hopefully as soon as possible.
I can speak about Rajasthan, but I am getting good feedback from Gujarat and Karnataka.
Look at Manipur and Goa. In Goa their sitting CM lost the election.
But the BJP formed the government -- that is what BJP leaders said about the Congress, that you don't have the drive, a killer instinct?
Drive to misuse the governor's office?
Drive to subvert the people's mandate?
It's okay that we don't have that drive because the sitting CM loses the election and Manohar Parrikar says it's a mandate for the BJP, you don't have a pre-poll, but a post-poll alliance, and the governor does not even look at the single largest party!
The BJP won the UP election and a win there needs to be looked at carefully by the Congress, but it doesn't mean they are going to win every election in every state and be there for all times to come.
That's what many believe -- that the BJP is already working for 2024?
When (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji lost 2004, nobody expected that.
When we won in 2009, no one expected that.
Politics is the unexpected. Politics changes very quickly.
One must not be either over or under confident and must never take the people for granted.
What is the Congress counter to the Modi-Amit Shah combine?
We are countering them in every state.
Where they lose, you never ask why they failed there, like in Bihar and Punjab.
You are stuck on the UP victory and thinking they have the mandate to rule for all times to come.
They have actually centralised all power.
They have killed institutions, they put the fear of God in all institutions including our friends in the media.
They are grabbing power through the governor's office.
That is not a role model for everybody, but politically you are right -- jo jeeta wohi sikandar, but we will counter them.
We believe in hard work, it will take effort, but it will happen.