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'Who will spend so much money when we know the end result?'

Last updated on: March 07, 2024 09:14 IST
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'The Congress is in no position to spend as much as the BJP under Modi will spend to fight the Lok Sabha election.'

'BJP has lot of money. Even a rich person like me is scared of taking on the financial muscle of the BJP.'
'What is the point of throwing money?'
'Result toh aane wala nahi hai.'

IMAGE: Narendra Modi during the Bharatiya Janata Party central election committee meeting, at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, February 29, 2024, flanked by BJP national President J P Nadda, right, and former BJP president Amit Shah. Photograph: Shrikant Singh/ANI Photo

Naran Rathwa -- a six time Congress MP -- quit the party on February 27, the day of the elections to the Rajya Sabha where the four seats in Gujarat were won by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rathwa -- who won the Chhota Udepur Lok Sabha seat five times since 1989 and in 2018 was elected as a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, hails from the tribal district of Chhota Udepur, a reserved scheduled tribe seat -- along with son Sangramsinh and several hundred followers joined a long list of Congress leaders who have joined the BJP ever since the Congress' massive defeat in the 2022 assembly election in Gujarat.

Rathwa, who was considered a confidante of the late Congress troubleshooter-in-chief Ahmed Patel, is brutally honest when he reveals to Prasanna D Zore/ his reasons for quitting the Congress.

The first of a two-part must-read interview:

Why did you quit the Congress and join the BJP?

The local situation is quite different in Gujarat. In Chhota Udepur, from where I hail, Dhirubhai Bhil, a former Congress MLA. had quit three years ago (Bhil was a four-term MLA who joined the BJP in 2023 after he was defeated by the BJP's Abhesinhh Tadvi in the 2022 assembly election).

Before him another Congress MLA Mohansinh Rathwa (11-term Congress MLA from Chhota Udepur) had joined the BJP in 2022. Almost 60 per cent of Congress leaders at the local level (gram panchayat, district panchayat, taluka level workers, etc) along with their supporters and vote banks have joined the BJP.

Leaders like me keep holding the party flag, but the problem is given the lack of resources -- organisational strength, electoral strength, manpower and money -- we are unable to hold on to our voters and workers.

I asked myself: 'With almost 60 per cent of our voters having deserted us can people like me keep fighting?'

The other problem is (while being in the Opposition Congress for more than three decades now) we are unable to fulfill the needs and aspirations of our workers and voters at the ground level.

All the (development) committees set up by the government at the district level, local level, are dominated by the guardian ministers and people like us don't get much (funds) for the development of our areas.

Our workers and supporters don't get anything and then they tell us that there is no point in being with us (supporting the Congress) if their needs and aspirations are not being met.

The prabhari mantris (the BJP guardian ministers) don't allow us to get funds for any of our schemes. So I told myself: 'Why keep fighting them? It is better to join them and help our workers and voters fulfill their needs.'

I keep writing letters to district officials, but they (the BJP guardian ministers) put so much pressure (that we are unable to get our work done) whereas their supporters get what they want through their prabhari mantris.

We do have a vote bank but (laughs heartily) hamare haath se sab nikal jata hai (our vote banks have been slipping out of our hands for quite some time).

Who puts the pressure on district officials?

The officials -- the DC (district collector), DBO (Development Block Officers) get orders from the top and they follow it.

Who puts the pressure on district officials?

Yeh toh sarkar hi banata hai (the government of Gujarat puts the pressure on district officials). The prabhari mantris from the BJP (puts pressure on district officials).

IMAGE: Congress Rajya Sabha MP Naran Rathwa, who joined the BJP on February 27, with state BJP president C R Paatil. Rathwa's term as MP ends in April 2024.

You were considered a confidante of Ahmed Patel...

(Interrupts) bilkul maanta hu unko aur Congress party ko (I respect Ahmed Patel and the Congress a lot) but what is the point in staying (with the Congress) when all your supporters and workers are deserting you (for the BJP)?

We spend so much money to keep our support base intact, and our leaders happy by organising their public meetings; we spend so much on transportation of our supporters for these meetings, pay for petrol and diesel bills to transporters, and despite all this if we are not getting (elected), then what other option do people like me have (than join the BJP)?

We (many state and central Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi raise issues) talk about unemployment, rural stress, inflation, health distress, education problems, but none of our supporters vote for us on these issues.

People should understand the issues you are raising and vote for you, but despite our mightiest of efforts we are still unable to convert those who attend our public meetings into our voters.

Not just Ahmed Patel I have been very close even to Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge. I was a former minister of state for railways. Khargeji is my good friend. But one also has to sense the mood on the ground.

We have been spending money from our own pockets to strengthen the party in Gujarat. But it is just not happening. We have been losing even taluka panchayats, district panchayats and other local body elections. Toh aapke paas bacha ky hai? (what political capital and grassroots organisational strength do you have in Gujarat if you are losing local body elections as well?)

Aren't you being too frank with these admissions?

But that is the truth. What is there to be scared about by stating facts? Main apne dil ki baat bata raha hu (I am speaking straight from the heart).

Recently, we had a meeting in Delhi where I met the (AICC) Committee member Rajnitai Patil.

I asked her, 'Madam, what is that a probable candidate can expect to get from the party (to fight the Lok Sabha elections)? Kya kharcha milega? Ek andaz toh lagao (How much money will the party tentatively spend on each candidate)?' I didn't get any answer from her.

Each Lok Sabha constituency has as many as seven assembly constituencies and it is a known fact that for each assembly segment the rough amount one (a party candidate) spends is Rs 50 lakh. That takes the election expense of one Lok Sabha constituency to Rs 3.5 crore and if you were to add other miscellaneous expenses then the cost further rises to Rs 5 crore.

This election, the expenses will be far higher.

IMAGE: Modi being felicitated by Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and others at the inauguration of various projects in Dwarka, February 25, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Modi ke saamne toh Congress candidate itna kharch nahi kar payegi (The Congress is in no position to spend as much as the BJP under Modi will spend).

The BJP has lot of money. Mere jaisa paise wala aadmi bhi dar jata hai (even a rich person is scared of taking on the financial muscle of the BJP). What is the point of throwing money (and fight election as a Congress candidate)? Result toh aane wala nahi hai (The Congress cannot form the next government at the Centre).

Despite spending a large amount in the last assembly election my son lost by 15,000 votes (from the Chhota Udepur ST reserved constituency). It is not even a year since his defeat and now how can one spend as much as Rs 3 crore to Rs 4 crore (to fight the Lok Sabha election)?

Abhi tum log dobara khada kar denge (Now, you will once again give us a ticket to contest elections from Gujarat). Toh party ke paas itna kharche ka intezam hai kya, yeh sab sochna padta hai na (Then people like me have to think about how much the party is capable of spending on elections).

Hum ladai ladte hai Rahulji aur party ke liye. Lekin ladai ladne ke baad result nahi aata hai toh paisa toh ghar ka jata hai na (We fight for the Congress ideology and Rahul Gandhi, but the results don't favour us and to top it all we lose our own money). Toh itna kharcha kaun karega? (who will knowingly spend so much money when we all know the end result?)

This is the biggest problem for us all. It is not that we are not happy in the Congress or have some complaint against anybody.

I will only ask Khargeji and Rahulji to strengthen the party. SC, ST, OBC, minorities were once the four strong pillars on which party would rise to power. The chairpersons of various committees that look after these sections in Congress should rebuild the party bottoms-up by visiting villages, talukas and districts of all states across India. But that is not happening today.

All the prominent leaders from these sections in our tribal belt have also jumped over to join the BJP. The SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities always supported the Congress.

I fought Lok Sabha elections five times and this vote bank wholeheartedly supported us. Now all of them have deserted us. Now, there is nobody to support us.

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