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'Only Priyanka can rescue Congress now'
Aditi Phadnis
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December 13, 2007

Capping two-and-half years of strained ties since he was ignored by the Congress high command for chief ministership in Haryana, the party's veteran leader Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi quit the party and floated a new outfit, Haryana Janhit Congress.

In an interview with Business Standard, Bishnoi explained the reasons that led them to quit the party and their criticism of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi [Images].

Here's the transcript:

So, finally, as expected, your father has floated a new political party. What was the immediate provocation?

There is a background to it. I have been working in the field for more than two years, getting people's feedback. My father (Bhajan Lal) has been a Congressman all his life. He was one of Indira Gandhi's [Images] closest lieutenants. But Sonia Gandhi never took him seriously. She, in fact, has treated several other veterans in this way. She feels threatened by people like my father. For this reason, she has chosen to clip the wings of all senior people (in the party). Not everyone can take it lying down. People have self-respect and they will, and have, rebelled against her. This is the background to the launch of our party.

Yet another party; do you think it will work?

My rally at Rohtak where the party was launched broke all records. It was the biggest-ever rally in Haryana. The earlier record-breaking rally was held on 53 acres. Mine was held on 84 acres. According to our estimates, one acre can accommodate between 10,000 and 12,000 people. That takes the attendance in my rally to nearly one million.

Is there an ideological content to your party or are we to take it as a reaction from the Bhajan Lal clan to avenge the hurt ego of its patriarch?

No, a lot of thought has gone into this. We discovered that the situation in Haryana was getting worse on all fronts: Law and order, water, power supply. Take, for example, the issue of special economic zones (SEZs). There is virtual loot in the name of SEZs in Haryana. The culprits are all those in power (names a few politicians). Corruption has touched a new high. Hence we realised the people must have an alternative to the Congress and floated the party.

But your brother continues to be the deputy chief minister in the Hooda cabinet? It seems to me your family wants to keep its finger in every pie. 

I have fallen out with my brother on politics. We have different wave-lengths. Earlier, while I was campaigning against SEZs and the Congress misrule in Haryana, he could see no wrong in the Hooda government. Mind you, otherwise, we have absolutely normal relations. There are a lot of families which are split on politics. Let ours be one more on that list.

Your father and you have been attacking Sonia Gandhi. Is it only because she does not give importance to Bhajan Lal?

We are also angry with Sonia Gandhi's politics. Take, for example, the SEZ issue. At the Nainital conclave of the party, she said no agricultural or fertile land would be used to build SEZs. I was very happy. But I later realised she had elections in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab in mind. After the elections were over, she declared that compromises would have to be made for the sake of development. It was a volte-face and she was fooling the people. So what is so great about her?

Take another issue -- the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. We though the prime minister had done a great job by sticking to his guns and not bowing to pressure from the Left parties. But when Sonia Gandhi realised the Congress may lose power, she made the government bend backwards on every diktat of the Left. This has undermined India's credibility in the eyes of the world. Who will trust India now on its international commitments? She has slighted the signature of the Indian prime minister.

But wasn't Sonia Gandhi hailed as a leader who chose not to become prime minister?

That was the smartest trick she could have played on the people of India. The fact is that Sonia Gandhi did not have the courage and confidence to lead the country because she cannot empathise with the people of this country. You feel sad when you see her reading her speeches prepared by Congress veterans like Moti Lal Vohra and Digvijay Singh. She apparently has no personal feelings for the country and its people.

How did you find Sonia Gandhi during your interaction?

After the strike in the Honda plant in Gurgoan last year, I asked her to visit the place. After all, people look up to the Congress. She dismissed my request. She said when a Congress government was in power in Haryana, it was improper for her to visit the state over a law and order situation. Does that mean she will ignore the wrongdoings of the Congress governments in the future as well?

What was the breaking point between you and the Congress?

My father worked tirelessly for the Assembly elections after Sonia Gandhi approached him. He has ruled Haryana for more years than any other chief minister and held positions at the Centre. But when the Congress won because of my father, Sonia Gandhi made Bhupinder Singh Hooda the chief minister. My father was shocked. Then, Hooda started ill-treating our workers. My father felt betrayed and even suffered a brain stroke in between. Now he is fine and I am conserving his energy for the next elections.

As a young MP, how do you rate Rahul Gandhi [Images]?

I am not too sure about Rahul Gandhi's capabilities, but I believe the Congress can be revived only if Priyanka Gandhi [Images] becomes its leader. She is bright and has the spark of her grandmother and the charm of her father.

Should not people like your father be satisfied with their careers and leave the space for youngsters like you? Why do you think people like him do not opt to retire gracefully?

This could only happen if politics was treated as sports. In politics, only people can make you retire. Age does not matter. If Atal Bihari Vajpayee is elected again and again, there is no way he can retire.

How do caste combinations in Haryana work in you favour?

Let me make it clear that I do not believe in caste politics. However, even for academic reasons, if I take caste statistics into consideration, I am in a win-win situation. Though Jats are a politically dominant factor in Haryana and I am not a Jat, I can work on consolidating the non-Jat vote, which is 78.5 per cent. Jats are only 21.5 per cent of the population.

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