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|February 21, 1998|
The Rediff Election Interview/Rajesh Pilot
'The Sonia factor is there, but mainly it is the failure of the UF and BJP that is helping us'
When the whole party swears by Sonia, here is a man who boldly ventures to say that the Congress's life-force Sonia Gandhi is just another factor that has brightened the party's chances. In spite of the electrifying presence of Sonia at a rally in his constituency Dausa, former Union minister Rajesh Pilot is not ready to give her all the credit for the resurgence in Congress or the renewed appeal of his party to the Muslims.
Swerving the vehicle off the road to avoid a cow, the former pilot speeds on. But for speaking himself hoarse, Pilot was at his bubbly best. At the wheel of his Maruti Gypsy, he told R R Nair that he is confident that he will have a safe touchdown in the next Parliament. The three-time winner from Dausa in Rajasthan has positioned himself as a national leader and is seeking a vote for "having people with character in positions of power".
Do you think there is a Sonia wave in the country?
Yes, there is a positive impact of her visit. Suddenly her visits are helping the Congress to improve its position.
Will the Congress get back the Muslim votes this time?
Muslim voters are slightly soft towards Congress this time. And maybe they appreciated that our intentions were not to harm their feelings. They have said that the Congress was late in making them realise our position. But anyway, better late than never. They are definitely soft towards the Congress in comparison to the 1996 election.
What is the reason for this?
They have taken note of the BJP's activities more seriously. And they feel that even though there was some fault with the Congress at some stage, it has now realised its failure and so they are ready to co-operate in strengthening secularism in the country.
Or is Sonia's entry the reason? Muslims say they have always felt confident with the Nehru-Gandhi family.
That could also be a factor. But the main factor is the Congress has realised that it has not been able to remove the apprehension of Muslims. Now they find we have realised our mistakes.
Whose apology has been instrumental in removing the Muslims's apprehension, Kesri's or Sonia's?
I don't think it is a question of any apology by anyone. It is a question of a whole party realising its mistake. In every forum it has been voiced; from the workers to the leader. So I think that the feeling is very much with the minorities.
What is the overall poll scenario in Rajasthan?
In Rajasthan we will certainly improve by a good margin, a good number of seats. Let us see. We are trying our best.
My hope is that the BJP will be an utter failure in this election. They'll lose badly.
Where in the country do you think you will improve your tally?
I have been to Punjab, the situation is improving there. I have been to Haryana, there also I find improvement. I was in some parts of UP on the way, there also there is improvement. I will be able to give a clearer picture after I visit the other parts of the country.
It means that apart from Sonia you are the only other leader going across the country...
I can't say so. Other colleagues must also be travelling. The AICC has asked me to go to Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and, of course, Gujarat.
The Samajwadi Party wants to have a post-poll understanding with the Congress. Do you think such overtures on the election eve imply a transfer of votes wherever one of these parties is weak?
I think it depends on where the contest is. The minorities would certainly look for a secular path and the candidate of a secular party would get the priority. I am only worried about Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Our position in these states would depend on how much we can cut into the minority votes.
What is you assessment of the post-poll scenario?
We will form the government. As of today that is the indication. And the situation is improving day by day.
But isn't that too ambitious a prognosis?
From 140 seats, when you talk about a majority it is ambitious. I agree. But some of the changes have occurred so fast and the people have responded so nicely that we feel we will form the government.
Are all these changes you talk about because of Sonia?
That factor is there. But mainly it is the failure of other parties: the United Front and the BJP. The BJP's race for power has exposed the party. The BJP has been talking in two voices, one on value-based politics and on the other hand it has destroyed the value-based political path in the democracy. People have realised it now. Their failure and Sonia Gandhi's initiative both combined have been helping us.
Is it as if the Nehru-Gandhi era in politics has returned? In Dausa Sonia's posters were most visible. Have we gone back five or six years in time?
I won't say that. This family has certainly sacrificed and contributed so much for the party and the country. By Sonia's entry in politics the party has certainly got galvanised and in turn the people have responded very nicely.
The results, let us hope, will prove us right.
What do you feel about the BJP's projecting Vajpayee as its prime ministerial candidate?
It is their party matter and I won't like to comment on it. But I am sure the BJP will not be able to gather support to form the government.
Do you have the moral right to seek votes on the stability plank, after pulling down two successive governments?
Stability is not the only plank on which we are asking for votes. Stability does not mean that we divert or deviate from our principles. If we have withdrawn support we have done that based on issues. It is not that we intend to bring in instability. If we were not keen on stability, why should we lend them support in the first place? We could have formed a government with 140 members. But we supported parties with 14 members for stability. But somehow there was a clash of issues and we had to withdraw support.
You say stability is not the only issue. What then are the major issues in this election?
The failure of these two successive governments. The way they have handled the nation. Even national security is in danger in their hands. How can you have such parties in power?
Do you think the BJP's attempt to make Bofors an election issue will work in its favour?
As far as Bofors is concerned we have been saying for the last nine years, please bring out a white paper on Bofors. We have been saying that since 1989. It was these parties who combined together and said that if we come to power we would punish the guilty within a week. That is what V P Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee said. Now nine years have passed and they have all been in government; VP has been in the government, Atal has been in the government and so was Deve Gowda and Gujral.
Will Bofors and Sonia's Italian origins affect the Congress's poll prospects?
I think it was not a right path for the BJP to take by calling her a foreigner. She was married to Rajiv Gandhi, she has been in the family for 30 years and anyway she has very clearly said that she is not seeking any post. She is only helping the party. Why should anyone take the line when she has not even decided to take any post? She has been very firm that, 'I will not hold any post. I will serve the party and the nation'. If even to serve without any post would hurt the BJP, what can you do?
It seems Chandra Swami was omnipresent in your constituency.
The candidate here says he was Chandra Swami's disciple, he calls himself a balsakha of Chandra Swami. He and Chandra Swami are very close. He admits it openly. He says, 'Chandra Swami's blessings are with me'.
The man who wanted to take the country to the 21st century is no more. Hopefully this will be the last general election this century. What kind of a government will take India to the next century?
I have been saying it and I have been saying it within my party also. That you need a dynamic, collective leadership in this country. This we intend to have in the Congress too. That is why I contested against Kesriji on these issues, because I feel it is the need of the nation and the Congress should fulfil that. I am happy that every Congressman is speaking in that language today, what I talked about six months ago. The Congress will give a young dynamic collective leadership to the nation.
The fight against Kesri was also described as a manifestation of your over-reaching ambition.
I contested on principles. I wanted inner-party democracy to be strengthened. I wanted to have elections to be held in the party. And I insisted on my issues. I knew very well that elections are manipulated that way, which is not very proper. Somehow I wanted to insist on issues and I did that. I fought elections on principles and I succeeded. The party which did not have elections for many years had elections. And, right or wrong, there was an election for the post of president.
It is being said it will be a tough time for you in Dausa this election. People say the dominant Meena caste will not vote for you and that the BJP's Brahmin candidate would get all the Brahmin and Vaishya votes. What is your assessment?
I want to condemn all these calculations. These politicians who fight elections on caste calculations are damaging democracy. Here is a friend of mine who is a Meena ( local MLA Prasadi Lal Meena accompanies Pilot in his campaign). This is a Meena dominated constituency. It is a Meena belt through which we are travelling. You see for yourself. The manipulators calculate: so many castes, so many votes, so many figures. No. You should serve society and society will vote for you without caste or creed considerations.
That is the society which we want to usher in. And I think that is what we are working for. I have the support of all the communities in this constituency.
Suppose the Congress does not get a simple majority, will you form a government with the support of those parties whom you pulled down from power?
I am very confident that we will get a majority.
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