'Adivasi seats will sound the bugle of the end of the BJP regime in Gujarat.'
Raghu Sharma, the Congress general secretary, 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 the 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.
"The Gujaratis are special people with gifted knowledge and great common sense. They understand not only politics, they also understand the economics of politics," Raghu Sharma tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Prakash Bhandari in the concluding segment of a two-part interview.
- Part 1: 'BJP is beatable in Gujarat'
The Congress got nearly 41.4% votes in the 2017 assembly elections, an elevation from the 39% it won in 2012. There are almost 70 seats where Patel votes matter a lot and can give an edge to any political force.
It is for this reason seven ministers from the Patel community were inducted.
It's an adjustment of the political leaders and not the community.
You would see a very large number of Patidar ministers, who thrived under the new BJP strategy, lose elections.
The Patidars are clever, they are very quick to identify the black sheep in the herds of white.
Apart from the Patidar issues, what are the other issues in Gujarat?
Unemployment is foremost. The Gujarati youth have no jobs. The tribals opposed the Par-Tapi Narmada link project in south Gujarat as land belonging to the tribals was being acquired for the project.
This project was canceled because of Adivasi anger.
Unemployment and education remain the problem of Gujarat and the BJP with 27 years of rule has failed to create jobs for Gujarati youth.
What are the special strategies the Congress is working on?
The Gujaratis are special people with gifted knowledge and great commonsense. They understand not only politics, they also understand the economics of politics.
I would not disclose our strategies for the poll, time would guide us.
How do you think caste factors would matter to the eventual results?
The OBCs are 48 percent, the Adivasis 14.75 percent, Patidars (Patels) 11 percent, Kshtriyas 11 percent, Muslims nine percent, Dalits seven percent, and others 5.5 percent.
We as a secular party would seek the support of all.
The Adivasis with an almost 15 percentage presence could be a very important factor. The Bharatiya Tribal Party is emerging as a force to reckon with. How are you dealing with the BTP?
We are on best terms with the BTP because we have a common objective of throwing the BJP out of power. The BJP will have to bite the dust in all the Adivasi reserved seats.
It's the Adivasi seats that will sound the bugle of the end of the BJP regime in Gujarat with both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as mute witnesses.
How is your relationship with PCC president Jagdish Thakor and how are you working together?
I have a very good relationship with Jagdishbhai. He is a respected leader and has good qualities as a leader.
Both of us are aiming to see the Congress back in power after 27 years.
You are being blamed for failing to stop the exodus from the Congress. Apart from Hardik Patel, many other leaders have left the Congress and joined the BJP.
Hardik Patel would be a liability for the BJP. He has lost all credibility and the Patidars don't trust him anymore.
Every time the prime minister visits the state, the BJP people lure active Congress leaders under pressure and force them to resign from the Congress.
But such people do not command respect among the electorate and most of them will get defeated.
The BJP has set its eyes on 158 seats and are concentrating on these 158 seats. What about you?
Yes, to be very focused, we are aiming at 122 out of 182 and we are sure to get it. I tell people the BJP is beatable and the Congress would prove it.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com