'Kesri cannot hold the Congress to ransom'
The ongoing organisational elections have launched a bitter battle within the 111-year-old Congress party.
Sitaram Kesri, the Congress chief, is accused of trying to remove all the hurdles in his way by appointing his allies as returning officers in party units across the country.
Bogus enrollments, rigging and favouritism are the order of the day as the pro-Kesri and
anti-Kesri groups battle each other.
On June 9, some 7,500 Congress delegates across the country will cast
their votes to elect the new party president. Congress Working Committee
member and former internal security minister Rajesh Pilot has thrown his hat in the ring "to infuse youthful vigour and
vitality to the oldest political party headed by an old leader."
In an exclusive interview to Rediff On The NeT's George Iype, Pilot, outlines his agenda for the Congress party's revival.
What prompted you to challenge Sitaram Kesri for the post of Congress president?
I was neither eager nor ambitious to grab the Congress
president's post. But my supporters forced me to announce my
candidature. They told me if I do not take the plunge now, the party
will further deteriorate. As a loyal Congress worker, I do not have the
courage to witness the party crumbling in this 50th year of India's
Independence. Therefore, I made up my mind that this is the time I
should strike and take over the party leadership.
But will you succeed in your effort?
I am confident that I will get elected. After I announced my decision
to contest the polls, I have been getting a great number of telephone
calls and letters from Congress workers and leaders across the country
praising my resolve.
But I am also saddened by the dishonesty among many
Congress leaders. It has hurt me deeply. Privately, they would call me
up say: "Rajesh, you have done the right thing. I am with you." But in
public and at Congress Working Committee meetings, these leaders
keep quiet and behave as if they have never met me all these years. More
than 90 per cent Congress leaders are against Kesri's leadership.
But they do not have the guts to speak out. My main concern, therefore,
is to make them leaders of courage.
If you get elected as party president, what will be your agenda for
My main theme is the revival of the party which is
directionless and is drifting into a morass. Today, the Congress is a
fireball. I promise to douse those flames. Today, there is no inner
party democracy and accountability in the party. I promise to restore
them. Today, the party leadership is unable to face national issues and
challenges. I promise to face the challenge.
Kesriji cannot hold the Congress to ransom like this. There is no ethics
and moral values left in the Congress. I pledge to bring back these
values to the party.
In short, my agenda will be transparency, inner democracy and
accountability. I will weed out corruption and criminalisation of
politics from the party. People who indulge in corruption will have no
place in the party. I will also restore the age factor. I will put an
age limit after which a Congress leader cannot hold the party
president's post. My efforts will be to drive the Congress through the
tradition that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru taught us.
Are you happy with the way organisational elections are being held?
Not at all. I would say that bogus enrollments and favouritism could
have been avoided if Kesriji knew the meaning of inner party democracy.
Organisational elections are meant to strengthen the party, but
unfortunately what has happened in many states is dictatorship by
the Congress president's supporters.
You mean to say that Kesri is clearing all hurdles in his way by
appointing his own men as returning officers.
He is doing that. But he may not succeed in his mission because I
expect Congress leaders to cast their votes conscientiously.
I do not blame Kesriji alone. All of
us responsible for this. In the CWC, when matters of importance are
being discussed, everyone keeps quiet with anger in their minds. If I
show courage and speak out, I am branded a rebel.
To tell you very honestly, whatever dangers we face in the Congress is because of
our collective faults. We Congressmen are not true to ourselves. Often,
we are so dishonest with each other that we shake hands with daggers
Don't you think the party polls have divided the Congress considerably?
The party polls have not divided the Congress. There have already been
divisions in the party. It has now come out in the open with more accusations,
allegations, resentment and unhappiness. The inner party polls have
opened the floodgates of the pent-up feelings that Congress leaders
have been keeping in their minds all these years.
Will you withdraw from the contest, if Kesri appeals to you?
My decision is final. No Congress leader including Kesri can stop me
now from contesting the polls.
But will Kesri's supporters really vote for you?
If they are guided by their conscience and if they care for the
future of the Congress party, then they have to vote for me. Otherwise,
they may just manipulate the polls and get Kesriji re-elected.
Isn't your decision to fight against Kesri largely inspired by the
support of former Congress president P V Narasimha Rao?
Not at all. I am one Congress leader who stand by myself. I don't
want to be branded as belonging to the pro-Kesri or pro-Rao groups. Remember
that I was the only Congressman who has questioned the leaderships of
Rao as well as Kesri. Now, I do not think Rao has much support in the party.
Do you think Sonia Gandhi's entry into the Congress will help revive the
The Gandhi family has contributed to the party and the nation. I have great respect for the Gandhi family. I do not want to comment beyond that.
Will it make any qualitative change in the party if Sonia is made the
No assurance can be given on that now. It is up to her to decide to
become an active member of the Congress. Her help may contribute to the
revival of the party.
Is Sharad Pawar going to contest the polls?
I have not heard from Pawar for long. As any other
Congress leader, Pawar is also welcome to contest.