Raghu Sharma, the Congress general secretary from Rajasthan, is a trusted lieutenant of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and played a key role in managing the pandemic in the state.
It was at Gehlot's insistence that the Congress leadership appointed Sharma the party's anchorperson for this winter's assembly election in Gujarat.
Sharma will take his cues from Gehlot who was appointed senior observer for the Gujarat election on July 12. Gehlot ran the Congress campaign for the 2017 assembly election in Gujarat where the party won 77 seats to the Bharatiya Janata Party's 99 seats, its best showing in years.
Senior Chhattisgarh minister T S Singh Deo and Milind Deora, the former Congress MP from Mumbai, have been appointed observers for the Gujarat polls.
"I have spent much time keeping my flock together. The BJP is threatening them with various cases," Raghu Sharma tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Prakash Bhandari in the first of a multi-part interview:
You were a successful health minister in the Gehlot government and won accolades for your handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why did you quit your job as minister to join the party organisation?
I have been in both the assembly and in the Lok Sabha. I started my career as a Youth Congress worker.
I have been an organisation man. The Congress after the recent reverses is in revival mode and I thought it best to be a contributor to reviving the century-old party.
Ours is a family that witnesses ups and downs. The Congress is regarded as the most trusted Opposition with its policy of secularism.
The BJP is thriving on spreading hatred and Hindutva. We have suffered jolts, but never deviated from our principles and vision.
The Congress in 2017 gave a fright to the ruling BJP in Gujarat and won as many as 77 seats. But after that, a number of your legislators either resigned or joined the BJP.
How do you expect the Congress to give the BJP the same fight that it did in 2017?
I have spent much time keeping my flock together. The BJP is threatening them with various cases.
They keep an eye on each Congress worker and at the slightest opportunity try and use the arm-twisting policy with the help of the police, income tax, or Enforcement Department.
Those who left us and joined the BJP were weak and docile persons with no political commitment.
Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah have been frequently visiting Gujarat and addressing rallies
Is there any fear in their minds that the Congress could turn the tables in Gujarat?
Prime Minister Modi, immediately after the BJP's massive victory in Uttar Pradesh and the three other states where elections were held, visited Gujarat to give a message that the BJP is going to win all the states.
He participated in more than 20 programmes and never missed an opportunity to attend a Patidar function. He even inaugurated a Patidar hospital and went to inaugurate the Patidar's community business conclave.
Recently, he inaugurated Rs 21,000 crore (Rs 210 billion) projects and also a massive mega railway project.
Modi is so sensitive about Gujarat that he is imposing himself as the face of Gujarat to send a message that the people should not forget that a Gujarati is the prime minister. It plays with people's emotions.
How are you focusing your strategies?
In 2017, aggrieved communities and people fed up with the BJP's autocratic rule who wanted a change of guard chose us.
It was with their support that we were able to give the BJP a fright.
Mind you, in 2017 it was Narendra Modi who was the prime minister and we could make a dent in the BJP on his home turf.
The BJP had all the resources, we lacked it, but we won the people's faith and won 77 seats.
The BJP is beatable; with this idea in mind, I have been campaigning in Gujarat.
But the Patels remain a factor with an effective presence of 15 million voters. The BJP has a Patel as chief minister.
The Patels are a very intelligent class. They would never be satisfied with lollipops.
They want a share -- and that too a larger share -- in power. I would not be surprised if the BJP is ditched by the Patidars.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com