'Rahul is not a chest-thumping, self-proclaimed hero'
Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot, represents the Ajmer parliamentary constituency in Rajasthan. He is well-entrenched in the Delhi establishment. He is a son-in-law of Farooq Abdullah and is considered close to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Pilot, who has been witnessing upward curve in his life and political career, since last many years, is media savvy and articulate.
He is well-versed with Hindi and English, both which matters in New Delhi. These days all the Rahul’s buddies, if one can say so, are quite aggressive when asked questions related to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress’s planned strategy is to attack Modi publicly at every step and to claim that they are not afraid of him because after all he is a regional satrap.In this interview to Sheela Bhatt, Pilot tries hard to defend his party, government and his leader Rahul Gandhi while talking about Modi.
Two interesting pre-poll surveys have come and it shows the rout of the Congress. Can you explain how the party is taking these two surveys?
No I don’t want to predict the accuracy of these polls, and it is fine. It’s their job to do these surveys and take opinion polls, but the fact remains that 10-11 months before the election date, how can anybody decide the actual contours of what the outcome will be because the alliances haven’t been stitched up.
The candidates haven’t been declared. There are four major states going to polls. There are some changes going on in certain states in terms of their physical constituencies. We’ve been in government for nine years, while I don’t think it’s fair for me to say that we’ve done everything we could have done, but certainly I think India, in terms of its economic strength, in terms of its position as a global power, is much more strengthened today than it has been before.
There is a lot of debate about poverty line and how many people have actually fallen or risen above the poverty line, but the fact is that there are certain laws that we made, certain amount of money pumped into the economy, and people today by and large feel that economically there is much more dispensability in terms of money and earnings than before. But certainly a lot more work needs to be done still.
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Image: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi
'Putting Advani as PM's face didn't work'
But do you know what the problem is with the Congress? Due to scams like 2G it has somehow lost credibility.
I think credibility comes from being swift in taking action. Now all these issues you talked about, scandal or scam, all of them have been uncovered while we have been in government, the investigating agencies, the prosecuting agencies are all doing work.
People have been charge-sheeted, prosecuted, jailed, punished and it is still going on. It is not that government here is to protect anybody. If at all anything has gone wrong, the courts and the people in our agencies are going with full freedom to investigate it and get to the bottom of it.
Credibility comes when you decide you are not going to be biased. When we leave some and pick some for prosecuting that’s a fall of credibility.
If you think so then what has gone wrong with the Congress?
I don’t think anything’s gone wrong with the Congress party at all. But being nine years in government there are certain expectation levels.
And in India today expectations are very high. We’ve tried our best to deliver, we still have 9 or 10 months, we’ll try and meet those expectations and I am confident that when elections do happen on time, UPA 3 is certainly going to be a big possibility.
Do you think the battle-ground will be concentrated on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar?
There are 543 constituencies. And this whole hype about the Bharatiya Janata Party almost declaring Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate etc. It’s the decision of the BJP to decide who they want to make the PM.
They put L K Advani’s face the last time, it didn’t work very well. This time they’ve almost, in my view, decided Modi will be the PM face. And your question about UP and Bihar is because the BJP perhaps doesn’t exist beyond that.
In the eastern and southern part of India, the BJP hasn’t even opened its account in many states. So for the BJP, they will want to maximise their presence and get elected representatives from UP and Bihar. But the country is much larger than UP and Bihar. So there are political forces, there are political alignments, there are circumstances that will be dictated by people and party outside the BJP.
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Image: Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot
'Let the people decide who will be the next PM'
You hate him or admire him or avoid him, but Modi is the idea of leadership for many people in urban India. But there is no leadership presence in the Congress. Rahul Gandhi never speaks out, Sonia never speaks out and PM is absolutely silent. So in such circumstances, don’t you think leadership….
I don’t think our leaders are as media hungry as some of the BJP leaders are. And certainly, well Modi is an elected chief minister of Gujarat. Now there is no dispute on that. In a democracy you must respect people’s mandate.
If the people of Gujarat have elected him then he must get the credit for becoming the chief minister for the third time. But then so must Sheila Dikshit. She has been elected three times. Tarun Gogoi has been elected three times in Assam.
But Modi’s leadership is there to see. Where is Rahul Gandhi’s leadership jisko netaji kehte hain aap…?
If you keep seeing someone’s face on television for five hours a day, everyday, is that leadership? I don’t deny the fact that he is an elected chief minister, the BJP wants to put him in the front, good for them. But let the people of India decide, not you and me…
But what is the reason behind Rahul’s silence?
What silence? Rahul Gandhi is leading from the front, and make no mistake about it. Rahul Gandhi will lead the Congress party to the polls from the front. He and all of us will work together to make sure the Congress comes back to power in the 2014 elections. Now you want to match…
On what kind of agenda?
The kinds of laws we’ve made in this country. The kind of empowerment we’ve given to the people of India. Work rights, education right, food security bill we’re getting, land acquisition bill etc. We’ve created the entitlements of the people of this country which no other government has done since Independence.
Sachin, the problem with you is that people see a design in what Congress is doing. Like Telangana is being created for electoral purposes, food security bill for election purposes, how will you…
Now if your only job is to find the critics who will find fault in something we do good, it is not going to stop me and my government. We will still try and do our best. We will still try and give 82 crore people of this country a full healthy meal. That’s what the food security bills says. Now whether you say it is political, well everything we do is political. Every party, every government, you say is populist.
I say it’s pro-people. If we are giving help, subsidies, pension, education, health-care, transport facilities to people of India, if you want to call it populist that’s your choice, but it is my responsibility as government of India, as member of the government, that we must
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Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi
"The BJP never thought the Congress will come back in 2004'
So give me an idea of the Congress strategy to win the next elections?
We don’t have to strategise. We have done our work. We’ll go to the people with what we’ve done. What our performance has been. Ultimately the judges are people of India. Not journalists, not politicians.
Don’t you see the mood where there is some kind of ground being created for Modi.
Yes certainly on the Internet, on some of the English television channels, a lot more debate is happening about Modi than ever before. That is happening for various reasons, I won’t get into it. But we will go with what we’ve done.
I do think we also need to get more people into our ideological framework. The Congress party will certainly reach out to many more people, many more voters.
We have not been that strong in Bihar and UP for example, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal… those states we need to work much harder. But don’t forget even today in this country, the furtherest hamlet, the smallest hut in a village, you’ll still have somebody who will take the Congress flag high and support the party, a claim which not any other Indian political party can claim except the Congress.
But don’t you think all this is the past and the future is bleak?
If you think today is the past. Today we have 206 MPs and we are in government and nobody thought we’ll come back, at least the BJP never thought the Congress will come back in 2004. We came back then, we came back in 2009, and let 2014 election happen.
Despite all the engineered propaganda that is happening on the cyberspace or television channels or print media, people of India understand the reality and the kinds of statements that are coming out from Modi, by the way, are unbecoming of a person who aspires to be a leader of this country. You’ve got to be much more humble. You’ve got to be much more accepting. You’ve got to be careful about the sensitivities of all strata of our society and not think with a limited view.
Don’t you think right now your party is just banking on en masse Muslim…
There is no question of Hindu or Muslim votes. 85 percent of India is Hindu. If every Indian who is a Hindu thought on the lines of the BJP and was communal minded, the BJP would rule for 1,000 years.
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"Rahul has reorganised the AICC'
I can say with all the authority at my command that the average Indian is secular. The average Hindu is secular. People who try to make emotive issues about Ram temple and Ayodhya and Hindu vs Muslim, they are very few in this country.
They may be very talkative, they may get media attention, but by and large India is a secular country. Both Hindus and Muslims are secular. If all the Hindus were to vote for the BJP they would get all 500 seats. That is not happening and that proves my point.
Are you banking on the Muslim vote?
I am banking on the people of India to vote for the Congress party. And India has Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and all communities. And Congress is the only party that gives equal respect and dignity to all communities and all religions.
Is it true Priyanka Gandhi will be fighting election from UP? May be, Rae Bareli?
I don’t have any information on that. She is certainly helping in Rae Bareli and Amethi. Both Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are being helped by her. And she is very actively working to make sure that those constituencies and other areas remain with the Congress, which they will.
But does the party want her to stand for election?
There is no official word on what the party is saying or what she might do. Right now she is helping in those two districts and that she’s been doing for years together. It is nothing new.
What is the change in the party after Rahul Gandhi became vice-president?
We all feel more responsible. And he has reorganised the AICC. He has given so many people chance to become secretary of the AICC who come from far flung areas, who are not from known political fiefdom areas.
He has changed the structure and functioning of the Congress committees, he gets regular feedback, every week he meets different states leaders and they are directly reporting to him about the ground realities so that effective and immediate changes can happen because polls are coming in four large states.
Elections are in 9-10 months time. So he is actively engaged in revamping the election machinery of the Congress party and that is what takes any political party to victory.
Don’t you think Rahul Gandhi is too mild or less focused than Modi?
Well, he is not a chest thumping self proclaimed hero where he doesn’t say I went to that tragedy and saved those many thousand lives and I did this and that … this self propaganda, self marketing is not what Gandhi believes in doing. In fact there are a lot of things that should be credited to him but he does not do that credit seeking exercise. He does not manage the media.
Does not hire multiple PR agencies to put his face in newspapers and television channels and he does not, unlike Modi, seek the projection that Modi is aspiring to.
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Image: Rahul interacts with his supporters
'The Congress party is not limited to one religion'
Do you really think that, as many people observe, the coming election will begin with communal polarisation in the country?
I do hope in states like UP and Bihar and in some other states, not just the BJP, but its affiliates like the Sangh Parivaar and Bajrang Dal, don’t do something, indirectly or directly, that might lead to this polarisation in the hope that it might help them politically. That will be the most unfortunate thing to have happened. But I am sure that better sense will prevail. People are mature, they know all these tactics.
In the late 1980s, early 1990s all this happened and there are many people now who look to cash-in on these fissures in our social fabric but the Congress party remains committed to making sure that none of this will be acceptable.
We must always live in harmony and the Congress party is not limited to one religion, region or caste, we are a party of 128 years old traditions and we carry the responsibility very firmly on our shoulders.
But won’t communal polarisation help you? It is said that it will help mainstream parties.
It is not going to happen. India is far deeper, profound and mature and our electorate understand the façade of what is being projected and what really happens, what people want to be.
Modi now wants to be a national leader, who could carry all people together. But look at the statements he makes. Even though he may not have meant to do it deliberately, it would have taken him very little to say that well I think I may have hurt someone’s sentiments and I apologise for it.
It takes a very large hearted man to say I’m sorry and you have to be a little bit more flexible and humble in your approach if you are aspiring to lead a country of a billion people. There is a way in which people expect the leaders to behave and this bravado and machoism is okay for a short term where you want to project yourself as the saviour of this nation.