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EXCLUSIVE: 'Rahul wants to grow the Congress, did Modi build the BJP?'

November 29, 2013 14:35 IST

EXCLUSIVE: 'Rahul wants to grow the Congress, did Modi build the BJP?'

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Sheela Bhatt

'Today political parties are not in a position to judge easily which castes, communities and groups are on their side due to the fluid situation where every caste wants empowerment. That makes this Rajasthan assembly election interesting,' says Congress leader C P Joshi in a rare and exclusive interview to Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt.

C P Joshi, an important strategist of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi's team, a member of the Congress Working Committee and party general secretary, speaks on various issues including the Rajasthan election (he is spearheading the campaign in the state), on the transition of power within the party, on where the Congress stands on various issues and how the Congress is moving confidently under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi with the long-term goal of rebuilding the party.

Read: C P Joshi -- The man who has Rahul Gandhi's ear

What are your expectations from the election and why?

We are depending on our government's real performance in the state and at the Centre. How many people know of our work in the social sectors?

In Rajasthan, 49 lakh (4.9 million) people have benefited from our pension scheme. Roughly 12 crore (120 million people) people have benefited by our free medicine scheme. In our state around two lakh (200,000) people get free medicines every day.

We have contributed hugely in the infrastructure sector. Jaipur has got funds for a Metro, roads have improved all over the state and Rajasthan will be getting royalty from a refinery now.

Can you overcome (Bharatiya Janata Party leader) Vasundhara Raje Scindia's charisma?

See, Vasundhara was chief minister when we snatched power from her. What does it tell you? I don't understand it when people talk of her charisma. Where was it when she was chief minister and we got to power defeating her?

She attracts huge crowds.

In an electoral democracy, every political party's leader attracts a large crowd. At election time people come to listen. She happens to be the former CM, so people may listen to her.

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Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi listens to her son party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'A churning process has started among castes supporting Congress and BJP'

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Sheela Bhatt

You have said the social sector achievements are working well for you in Rajasthan. What will be the main reason that can fail you?

In electoral politics micro-management is important.

In each constituency there are roughly 200 polling booths. In each booth you need at least 5 to 10 dedicated workers across party lines from different sections of society. Meaning, some 1,000 plus party workers are needed for booth management.

If you have the team ready to take care of booths then you can win elections.

Even if the political environment for your party is good and the rest of the things are going good, if you don't have a dedicated team to convert the good environment into votes then you can't win the election.

Do you have it?

We have number of competent candidates who are fighting the election. They are managing it well.

Is there any kind of churning process in the caste balance in the state?

Rajasthan's political scenario could be understood from another point of view too. The Congress and BJP had strong bases in different sections. Traditionally, the Congress was supported by the Jat-Kisan, SC (scheduled caste), ST (scheduled tribe) and minorities. This was a formidable combination.

The BJP had Rajput support, partly Meenas support as well. Kota and Udaipur had an RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) presence and ideologically they had a stronghold there.

In the last ten years, the churning processes have started among the castes supporting both sides. The situation has turned very fluid. Ashok Gehlot has become CM (chief minister) twice. The OBCs (Other Backward Classes) have been empowered too, lately. (Gehlot belongs to the OBC Mali community).

During Vasundhara Raje's rule, the Gujjar agitation started. It was a violent agitation under the leadership of Kirori Singh Bainsla. Historically, in Rajasthan, the Meenas and the Gujjars lived close by in the villages.

The Gujjars want to be included as a Schedule Tribe. They feel strongly that due to reservation, the Meenas have progressed well and moved ahead in the socio-economic ladder and they have been left behind. They are agitating because they want ST status to get the benefit of reservations.

Bainsla fought the 2009 Lok Sabha election from Sawai Madhopur, Tonk on a BJP ticket. Now he is supporting the Congress party. The Gujjars are on our side and it has started the churning process. We will have to see the impact of this churning.

As it happens in Indian elections, each constituency has three to four dominant castes. It so happens that in bipolar politics the Congress and the BJP will be able to push and uplift two castes only in each constituency.

Seeing their empowerment, the remaining castes also want political empowerment by getting their own space in political parties. That makes for an interesting situation.

Today political parties are not in position to judge easily which castes, communities and groups are on their side due to the fluid situation where every caste wants empowerment to move ahead in life.

That makes this Rajasthan election interesting.

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Image: Congress party supporters await Sonia Gandhi's arrival at a rally in Dungarpur town, Rajasthan.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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'In electoral politics there are compulsions and we have to accommodate it'

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Sheela Bhatt

Don't you find the Congress's central political plank of 'Pro-Poor, Pro-Welfare scheme oriented governance' is on test in Rajasthan?

Definitely. It is on test. Ashok Gehlot's government has done consolidation of its policies. He has targeted vulnerable sections. He fixed pension schemes for 49 lakh (4.9 million) people. He got huge funds to pay higher wages under MNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act).

In the last one year people have benefited hugely. There is consolidation in our favour. It should reflect in this election.

Don't you have any regrets giving tickets to Leela Maderna, the wife of Mahipal Maderna who is in jail in the Bhanwari Devi case?

In Luni, you gave the ticket to 75-plus-year-old Amri Devi, mother of Malkhan Singh, who is in jail for the same case.

For the Dudu seat you gave a ticket to Hazarilal Nagar, brother of Babulal Nagar, who is in jail too.

You are indirectly supporting criminals in politics.

I am a practical, pragmatic, politician. In electoral politics, there are compulsions and we have to accommodate it.

Does accommodation mean giving ticket to a 75-plus-year-old?

How does it make a difference? In electoral politics there are compulsions. In that constituency there are number of old people.

It is true that our country is young. In urban constituencies what you are saying is correct. In rural constituencies there are large numbers of old people too. You have to accept it that in this country, even today, people don't appreciate injustice done to elders in the family.

Do you understand the feeling of the old widow whose husband served the Congress for 30 years? Her child committed a crime and he is in jail? Why didn't you think if the Congress neglects that family, then what kind of opinion people will form of the party?

There is need to understand that in this country such emotions exist. We have not given a ticket to the person who has committed the crime. He is in jail and he will be punished. But the party has to stand by the family, which has contributed to the party.

It is necessary for the party to take care of such families.

There is a perception you want to become chief minister if the Congress wins this time.

This is the projection of the media. I have said I enjoy Ashok Gehlot's confidence. I have worked with him for the last 30 years.

There is a difference in our approach to issues. After I became PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) chief, when I became general secretary in New Delhi, the way I do my political analyses and arrive at conclusions is different from his way, but our goal is common. Both of us want to see a stronger Congress in the state.

Our leadership has trusted us, equally. We have no differences whatsoever. It is people's perception that since our approach differs we must be having conflicts. This is a wrongly perceived idea.

I come from an ordinary family. I could become a minister in the Government of India. I became the party's general secretary. I was made a member of the Congress Working Committee. There can't be any bigger ambition than this for any leader.

My only ambition left is what I can do for my party now. How can I satisfy the expectations of my leaders?

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Image: Voters wait to cast their ballot in Shravasti town, Uttar Pradesh.
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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'There are many Indian leaders whose ratio of success is much better than Modi'

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Sheela Bhatt

Is Narendra Modi's popularity affecting your election plans?

I don't think so. Modi is a creation of the media.

Modi seems to be a known entity now all over India. In Rajasthan and in the Hindi-speaking area he is recognised, even in the interiors.

So long as you project him on television, he will be relevant.

There are number of personalities in India who are not on the television screen. Does anyone bother about them? Atal Bihari Vajpayee is there. Is anyone concerned about him?

There are many other regional leaders. You don't project them at all.

When the Ramayan serial was on, people started worshipping the actors. They were projected on television week after week.

Once the serial was off screen people forgot those actors whom they worshipped once. Now, they won't even be recognised by the same viewers.

In this country it is possible if anyone wants to do drama and keep appearing on television. In our democratic set-up the party's ideology should be more important. The media is busy creating images so naturally you will project someone or other.

You are not known as a typical politician. You have a rich educational background as well. Can you help us analyse the Modi phenomenon from an academician's point of view?

Let me put it very frankly. I was chairperson of the selection committee for the Gujarat assembly election in 2012. I will give you figures. Are you aware that we have snatched 35 MLA seats from the BJP? Do you know that we defeated the BJP president in Gujarat?

Are you aware of this? Our (Gujarat Congress) weakness is that there are some 50 urban seats in Surat, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Rajkot where, before Modi's entry, we were losing for the last few consecutive elections.

We are getting only four or five seats in that cluster. If the Modi phenomenon is so strong, then why are we winning in some of those areas in the Lok Sabha election?

Why do we always get 10 plus seats in the Lok Sabha? Why is the Congress in Gujarat able to retain around 40 percent of the vote share? That proves that Modi is totally a creation of the media.

Why are you not saying again and again that Sheila Dikshit is a third time CM?

Why are you (the media) not projecting Tarun Gogoi as a successful CM who has fought insurgency?

hy have you not highlighted in a similar fashion that Naveen Patnaik is also a third time CM? Why are you only talking about Modi?

(Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Dr) Raman Singh has defeated the Congress twice. Why don't you project it? Why don't you say that out of 11 Lok Sabha seats, Raman Singh is winning 10 seats?

There are many Indian leaders whose ratio of success is much better than Modi. It is all a media creation.

Why does the media do it? What could be the reason behind it?

All the big industries are in Gujarat due to its location. All the industrialists will have to go to Gujarat. That is all! It is marketing! See, electoral success is the yardstick of the political leader.

Let me know what is Modi's contribution is in terms of electoral success in Gujarat? Why do we still have our more than 40 percent votes in Gujarat intact? Why do we get more than a dozen Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat?

We are not at all wiped off in Gujarat. Why has Modi not been able to wipe out our core constituency in Gujarat?

Why has he not been able to increase dramatically the BJP's vote share after he became CM? I don't know why the media is not saying all these things? Why is the media disproportionately highlighting that Modi is the only important leader?

Is it the charisma factor?

What charisma factor? Forget it! Why was (the late) Pramod Mahajan important for the BJP? He had lost the Lok Sabha election. He was brought to the Rajya Sabha. Why was he given important portfolios in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government? For same reasons Modi is given importance in the BJP.

Sometimes Mahajan arrives, sometimes Modi comes.

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Image: A supporter blows a conch shell during celebrations before Narendra Modi was crowned as the prime ministerial candidate for India's Bharatiya Janata Party outside the party headquarters in New Delhi.
Photographs: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

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'Anti-incumbency is a subjective issue'

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Sheela Bhatt

Do you think if you lose elections in states like Delhi and Rajasthan it will reflect badly on the prospects of the 2014 general election?

I will say my leader (Rahul Gandhi) is working for just one thing. In a parliamentary democracy you can't deliver unless and until you have a vibrant and effective organisation. We are addressing it now. For us elections are part of it. We are working for a long-term goal.

Do you agree that anti-incumbency against the UPA-II is also the factor working against the Rajasthan government in the election?

You may say partly. But, at the same time you have to appreciate the strengths of UPA-I and UPA-II. Why is there a huge fund for the MNREGA scheme in Rajasthan? Why is there a huge investment in Rajasthan in infrastructure projects? Anti-incumbency is a subjective issue.

The Rajasthan government has benefited by UPA-II. Why do we have a Rs 37,000 crore (Rs 37 billion) refinery in Barmer now? Is it not the contribution of UPA-II?

Why do we have a railway coach factory in Bhilwara? It is due to the efforts of UPA-II. Why have we identified the Kisanganj airport?

Why should we think about the anti-incumbency of UPA-II? Why should we not talk about positive contribution of UPA-II in Rajasthan?

Do you agree there is anti-incumbency at the Centre?

I am not saying this. But tell me, in UPA-I in 2009 we won a large number of urban seats? Why?

Because of Manmohan Singh's economic agenda.

Fine, fine. It was because hope was generated. The global economy was on an upswing. Today, the global economy is not fine. What is the GDP growth of the US? Roughly three percent. What is the GDP growth of Europe? It is down and won't improve in the coming decade.

In spite of a coalition government and all sort of other problems India's GDP growth under the UPA-II is roughly around 5.5 percent.

Is it not the contribution of the Congress party? Nobody is saying it.

In a global downturn we are surviving in a democratic set-up, having a coalition government, amidst the media hype over Modi.

Is it not because of Manmohan Singh's contribution that we continue to have 5.5 per cent plus growth?

The price rise and various scams have affected your party's image.

What is the scam?

We could not educate the people of the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General in a parliamentary democracy. Every year the CAG reports to Parliament. Tell me how did the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) distribute 1G spectrum? Nobody knows. Then nobody knew the importance of spectrum.

What about 2G? We tried to rationalise it. In 3G, it is due to the Manmohan Singh government that we could get Rs 35,000 crore (Rs 35 billion).

If you change the goal post, then there is no scam. The CAG has said there are only pre-emptive losses there. We could not educate people what the CAG's role was. It is not a scam. There was no scam at all.

Even if I accept your argument for a moment, how do you explain the general mood that prevails against the UPA-II?

Not true. The mood is not against the UPA. To help the poor people of India, the UPA linked the old minimum wage act under MNREGA. A poor labourer was migrating to Punjab for work. He was getting only Rs 30 daily. In Maharashtra, on sugarcane farms, he was getting only Rs 40.

Now, due to MNREGA intervention, that poor Indian is getting up to Rs 200.

The UPA has linked the MNREGA wages with the consumer price index. Now, even if you offer him daily Rs 200 he is not readily available. So, rich farmers are finding it difficult to get farm labours even for Rs 250. They only say 'The Congress is not good.' The industrialists are not getting poor people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for daily wages of Rs 40. They say, 'The Congress is awful.'

These people are creating an artificial environment in which they paint us negatively. We talk about inclusive growth and helping vulnerable sections of Indian society.

They (rich farmers and industrialists) have fears that if the Congress comes back to power they will have to pay the poor much more. We are suffering because of these rich people.

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Image: 2G scam: 'The CAG has said there are only pre-emptive losses there. It is not a scam. There was no scam at all,' says C P Joshi.


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'Is Modi not doing netagiri on Vajpayee and Advani's hard work?'

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Sheela Bhatt

That's an interesting explanation! And what about the urban middle class? They don't know the issues of both these classes.

The Indian urban middle class is the by-product of Congress policies. What was it in 1947? You and me belong to the urban middle class and have benefited from the Congress's policies. These are the policies that (Jawaharlal) Nehruji started.

If my son complains that petrol prices are too high and so the Congress is awful, then I have failed to educate my son. I want to tell him that you have this scooter, you have petrol and money for it because of the Congress's policy.

It is happening because your father benefited from the growth of the urban middle class. I have to educate my son if he has a wrong notion of the Congress.

Don't you think there is a personality cult spreading in the country before the election where Rahul Gandhi is emerging as the leader who is not-so-decisive...

(Intervenes before the question could be completed) What is the contribution of Modi in growing the RSS and the BJP in the country?

You must appreciate that Rahul Gandhi has said that 'It is my first and foremost duty to strengthen the Congress party.' You must differentiate between the two.

Who is the pampered child? Kya Modi ne BJP banayi hai Hindustan main? (Has Modi built the BJP in India?)

Did Vajpayee not build the BJP? Did L K Advani not build the BJP?

Is he (Modi) not doing netagiri (leadership) on their hard work?

Rahul Gandhi is starting from the point from where the party has to be revived. Modi is stepping on the party in whose foundation someone else's hard work has gone.

Rahul Gandhi is earning his position by working hard. You have to understand the difference in their approach.

When did you meet Rahul Gandhi for the first time? How did you get close to him?

When I was Rajasthan PCC chief, I had gone to meet Sonia Gandhi. I went with statistics. I talked about the seats of two senior Congress leaders, Kesri Singh Rathore and Gulabchandji. They used to contest election right from 1956, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1977, 1980, 1985 etc. In 1957 they got around 30,000 votes out of 90,000. After some elections, the electorate got doubled, but their vote percentages were not increasing.

I told Soniaji that if we are unable to address this issue and give tickets to them we are bound to lose. As voters are increasing we have to change them because they are unable to provide the leadership to Congressmen.

I said that if we keep giving tickets to these veterans the probability is high of losing from these seats. Suddenly, Ma'am said even Rahul is forwarding similar arguments. I told her that I have never met Rahul Gandhi. Can you get me an appointment?

Immediately she telephoned and that was my first appointment with Rahul Gandhi.

Is he difficult to work with?

People say he has his own views and way of doing things.

He has firm views. His ideas are very clear. He is pro-poor. He wants to develop a number of leaders. He wants collective leadership. He wants to empower them. He wants them to take decisions. He thinks the party is not the function of an individual.

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Image: BJP patriarch L K Advani with Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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'A generational change transition is taking place smoothly in the Congress'

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Sheela Bhatt

Joshiji, Rahul Gandhi gave you a free hand in last year's Gujarat assembly election. In spite of (political secretary to Sonia Gandhi) Ahmed Patel being from Gujarat he didn't come in your way.

Whatever you wanted, you did. Still, the Congress lost.

They won. I had said if we don't win 50 urban seats, then the Congress government is not possible. I had professed it. I was struggling with PCC chiefs.

Getting good candidates is the function of the local organisation and not of the chairman of the screening committee. I can only identify the problems.

I was chairman of the Chhattisgarh screening committee (for the current assembly election). I identified 12 such seats where we were losing a lot in the last two elections. We were getting two seats out of those 12 seats. We concentrated on it.

I can confidently say we will form the government in Chhattisgarh. I am sure.

What will be the impact of the state assembly elections on the 2014 general election?

Our government in the states are fighting elections on state issues. When the national election comes, we will debate national issues.

Every election compels parties to rethink on where they stand and how they exist on the ground.

Is it a semi-final?

This is not a semi-final. Our country is so large, how can you say that? How many parliamentary constituencies are here?

Surely, when you win, it gives you a morale boost and strength to move forward. But in democracies you have to be prepared to lose, too. We have to live with it.

In Jaipur, Rahul Gandhi became vice-president at the Congress conclave. You, Madhusudan Mistry and others have emerged as a part of Rahul Gandhi's team.

There is transfer of power taking place in the Congress. There is what is called the 'Old Guard' in the Congress. How do you look at this transfer of power from the Old Guard to Rahul Gandhi's team at election time?

Honestly, yes, a transition is taking place. A generational change is part of every political party. So we are going through the same process. It is going smoothly.,/p>

All the important decisions are taken by Soniaji and Rahulji. We are taking decisions collectively. A generational change is taking place smoothly in the Congress.

Eventually, will you be Rahul Gandhi's Ahmed Patel?

Don't drag me in all these things. I am a simple Congress worker. I am performing the task they have given me in the best possible capacity.


Image: Then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton greets Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, July 2009, as Sonia Gandhi looks on.
Photographs: Reuters

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