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'Congress Won't Ever Come To Power'

April 10, 2024 14:00 IST
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'For the last two elections, the Congress manifesto has been thrown into the dustbin. This manifesto will also be thrown into the dustbin by the people of India.'

'They are just shouting 'nyay, nyay, nyay, nyay'. If you cannot give nyay to your loyal workers, your leaders, how can you give nyay to the people of this country?'

IMAGE: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, along with Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram and K C Venugopal, releases the party manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in New Delhi, April 5, 2024. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo

Sanjay Nirupam, who was recently expelled by the Congress for six years, reveals for the first time that he was offered a Rajya Sabha seat by the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2016 and tells Prasanna D Zore/ why he regrets refusing the offer.

You won the 2009 Lok Sabha election from the Mumbai North seat as a Congress candidate but lost the same seat to the BJP's Gopal Shetty in 2014. You again lost to the undivided Shiv Sena's Gajanan Kirtikar from Mumbai North West seat in 2019. You have seen the steady decline of the party since 2009.
What are the most important reasons for the decline of the party?

The Congress won the 2004 Lok Sabha elections by fluke. There was not a huge difference between the seats won by the BJP and Congress, but because the other regional parties were closer to the Congress than the BJP, they allied with the Congress.

From 2004 to 2009, Dr Manmohan Singh and the Congress gave fairly good governance. They did a very good job.

Lot of rights-based programmes and laws were enacted. But from 2009 somehow I felt that the UPA II government and Congress were derailed. There was no control of the Congress party over the UPA II government.

Somehow not even Soniaji or Rahul Gandhi were able to check how the regional parties took governance for granted. By 2011, the India Against Corruption movement led by (Kisan Baburao) 'Anna' Hazare started and since then Congress went into a massive tailspin.

Then Narendra Modi arrived on the scene in 2014 and he led an aggressive, successful, election campaign riding on the IAC movement. The Supreme Court too had ordered lot of investigations (into the alleged coal and 2G spectrum allocation scams) and that led to a huge perception that the Congress supported corruption.

When we were contesting the 2014 election, we all knew there was something wrong in the party. We knew it would not be very easy to win that time. And we lost. Everybody lost.

A huge Modi wave swept across India from and Mumbai to Amritsar, from Gujarat to Assam and since then the Congress has seen a dramatic drop in its Lok Sabha tally.

Despite the 2014 setback we all started working hard to revive the Congress. In 2015, I was made the MRCC (Mumbai Regional Congress Committee) president. I started working very hard and led all the movements from the front.

Every day I was on the street and leading various agitations (against the Modi government). More than 60 (police) cases were filed against me because of those movements.

Before the 2019 election happened, one more thing had happened. I am saying this for the first time.

In 2016, I got a call from a top BJP leader. I'm not naming him. The BJP offered a Rajya Sabha seat to me and requested me to join them. But I was so much involved with the Congress party that I only thanked them for considering my name.

I flatly refused to join the BJP. I told this leader that I had sworn myself to revive the Congress.

He told me the Congress was beyond redemption and that I was wasting my talent in the Congress.

Was this a central BJP leader or a BJP leader from Maharashtra who invited you to join?

Let's not get there. I am not naming names.

I was very obliged and humbled by that offer. But I very humbly refused to join the BJP. I was more interested in reviving the Congress then. Today I have realised that it was a mistake. I took a wrong decision at that time. I should have joined (the BJP) at that time only.

Let me remind you that in 2016 (when I did not quit the Congress) and even today (when I finally quit the party) I was not under any ED or CBI pressure.

Then 2019 Lok Sabha election happened and we all fought aggressively and everybody lost.

Even Rahul Gandhi lost from Amethi. But he had the luxury of fighting another seat and he won that seat (Kerala's Wayanad from where he is again contesting in 2024). Which is fine but then shouldn't others also get such opportunities?

I was promised that I will be named as the Congress's Lok Sabha candidate from Mumbai North West but that went to the Shiv Sena (UBT).

IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi files his nomination for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections from Wayanad, April 3, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

You've gone public with your statement that the Congress is being arm-twisted by Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray). Why is the Congress allowing it? What are the electoral compulsions before India's grand old party?

I'm as much perplexed because the Congress is the main Opposition party in the Vidhan Sabha (in Maharashtra), bigger than the SS (UBT) or NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar).

We have our own vote bank which is safe and protected while the SS (UBT)'s vote bank is completely, vertically, split. Nobody knows how much vote at this point of time will the SS (UBT) is controlling. But our vote is very much clear.

Given this ground situation, the Congress should have not come under the pressure from Uddhav Thackeray and allowed him to arm-twist the Congress.

I can only blame the people from the state Congress unit for surrendering the interests of the party in Mumbai.

You are now also blaming the state Congress leadership...

Please record my statement. These people should be blamed for that. These people should be held responsible for the Congress's demise.

Who are these people from the Maharashtra Congress?

We can discuss that some other time.

What is your prediction? How will the Congress fare in the 2024 general elections?

The Congress is going to lose very badly. I don't think they will be able to cross the tally of 2019 (the Congress won 52 Lok Sabha seats then).

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Shiv Sena (UBT) President Uddhav Thackeray at the Bharat Jodo Nyay Manzil-INDIA Rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. Photograph: ANI Photo

Were you upset with the party because the Mumbai North West seat went to the SS-UBT? Is that the main reason why you quit the Congress?

Every seat is important for us. Everybody has a political ambition. There is nothing wrong if someone desires to contest an election, win it and represent the Congress in Parliament or assembly or wherever.

As far as Mumbai is concerned, the whole country knows that one of the top leaders of the Congress has abandoned the party's interests. Why should I not care for my seat?

Every politician has a right to be ambitious and further his personal interest and that of the party he represents.

Your political journey began as a Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP in 1996 which was cut short during your second term in 2005. In 2024 today you are again heading back to your parent party.

Not necessary. I can't say at this point in time. Right now I'm feeling very relieved after leaving the Congress.

I will let you know later what is going to be my next course of action.

Is the BJP's 2016 offer still available to you?

I don't think. I don't think so. I've just shared this information with you.

What will be your message to Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi?

Ideologically, the Congress has become completely bankrupt. They have their outdated ideas and their ideologies. Their approach has become outdated because the people who are outdated are heading the party.

The people who don't have the grassroots connection are controlling the party. The people who don't have any connect with grassroots workers are the leaders who are controlling important positions. They are controlling the party.

Some people who are very close to the party high command are very politically naive. They don't have any experience. Nobody knows them. But they have become the high command's eyes and ears.

Are you pointing towards Jairam Ramesh?

Ramesh is not the only responsible person. He is only an ideologue, he cannot run the party. The Congress must have mass leaders at the helm and occupy all the important positions in the top policy-making units in the party.

You must have got a chance to look at the Congress manifesto.
Do you think it has the potential to attract people to vote for their programmes?

For the last two elections (in 2014 and 2019), the Congress manifesto has been thrown into the dustbin. This manifesto will also be thrown into the dustbin by the people of India because they don't have any faith in the party.

They (the Congress) are just shouting 'nyay (justice), nyay, nyay, nyay.'

If you cannot give nyay to your loyal workers, your leaders, how can you give nyay to the people of this country? The whole idea is outdated, unappealing and will be thrown into the dustbin soon.

Will you regret your decision to quit the Congress if the INDIA alliance forms the next government in Delhi just like you are regretting your decision to not join the BJP in 2016?

I don't think so. I don't think so.

I don't think this party (the INDIA alliance) will come to power. I don't think this party will come to power ever. I'm not talking about 2024.

They will not come to power because they're not ready to improve themselves. They are not able to amend their working.

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