'They may malign the Congress, but I don't think the BJP will ever form the government on its own.'
Ahmed Patel, the most powerful man in the Congress party after the Gandhis, speaks to Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt in the final part of a rare and exclusive interview.
The interview was conducted during the Gujarat assembly election campaign.
of this exclusive interview...
'Every day, the BJP thinks of new ways to defame the government'
After 2009, your government's credibility has diminished. Your government is found to be arrogant.
This is absolutely baseless. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance government) was arrogant, so they were voted out of power.
We have never been arrogant. The NDA may have expected that they would be consulted on decisions. That's okay. Consultation is a different thing.
But if they impose their views, if they constantly think in terms of maligning the government, dislodge it from power, then what do we do?
I won't use the word irresponsible, but we can see their mindset clearly. They have not been able to digest the fact that they are no longer in power. So every day, they think of new ways to defame the government.
It is true that we have challenges of not having a majority in the Rajya Sabha. But it doesn't mean that one should not find ways through debate and consultations.
At the same time, it does not mean that you can blackmail the ruling party, or impose your opinion by arm-twisting and pressure tactics.
No ruling party would ever accept such tactics.
Do you think that the issue of price-rise is the biggest problematic issue today?
Yes, both corruption and price-rise are important issues. But people will eventually understand (the allegations of) corruption.
All corruption issues -- 2G or coal scam -- you know all these -- these are matters before the court so I would not like to comment on these, but the talk of Rs 174,000 crore or Rs 186,000 lakh -- who knows how much truth there is in these figures?
The truth of these matters will emerge ultimately. We have gone for an auction and you know how much we got. After all, this is a welfare State.
When policy decisions are taken one does not consider only profit and loss. Why is there subsidy? It is there, so that the common man can get relief.
In many cases, a potential loss is endured for the advantage of the common man. If this is viewed as corruption, if this is the definition of corruption, then it is wrong and it is unfortunate.
What about price-rise?
Of course, it is a problem. It is because of the way petroleum prices have risen over a period of time. We import it. From $40 when the NDA was in power, it is now $120, $140 a barrel and it is inevitable that there will be an economic impact.
And because of massive subsidies and so many welfare programmes of the government we need money.
We also need a certain level of foreign exchange for so many other purchases that includes oil and raw materials. The balancing act of all these factors becomes difficult. And in such circumstances, the pressure comes onto the people.
But I must say people understand the government's difficulty. Take, for instance, railway fares. We have had to increase them; people understand why.
The government subsidises so many things, people know about it. Many countries have been in the doldrums due to economic problems; in comparison, we are far better.
We were fine during UPA 1. In UPA 2 the prices have risen due to many external factors. We know the burden falls on the people.
But to tell falsehood to people, that prices are rising due to corruption, that is really unfortunate.
of this exclusive interview...
'Mulayam, Mayawati are not leaders who will be influenced by me'
What will the Congress party do now? Is it so weak in these circumstances?
No, no, that is not true. We have lost in some places, but we have won in other places. Winning and losing in elections is not the only barometer to judge a political party.
Often there is a vast difference between the state elections and general elections. The voting patterns are also different. In states like Uttar Pradesh it is more so.
In the states people sometimes prefer regional parties and in the general elections they vote for the mainstream parties.
In Gujarat, for instance, we lost the state assembly election in 2007, but got around 50 per cent of the seats in the Lok Sabha election of 2009.
Put aside the voting pattern. Ultimately, people think in totality. Who has given more programmes for the poor and common man? And who has implemented these programmes successfully?
We have achieved much, it is not that nothing has been accomplished in these last 9 or 10 years. We have done some good jobs, surely.
I am optimistic. The current phase of our party is a temporary one and we will come out of this.
There is another comment made frequently about you and it is serious.
Many people -- journalists who report from Parliament and those who report on politics in Delhi and this is the charge leveled by the BJP also -- feel you use the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The charge is that while managing the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party you use the CBI.
This is an absolutely baseless charge. There cannot be a more serious charge than this. This is a charge without any truth whatsoever.
I don't even know who is being appointed to the CBI or IB (Intelligence Bureau). In my routine way, I never interfere in these matters.
As far as the SP and BSP are concerned, they support the Congress, they support the UPA, and they do this on the basis of some ideology. They cannot support the BJP; it is true that they have sometimes opposed us also.
But to say that the BSP and the SP give support because of the CBI or other agency, and that I play a significant role in this, is news to me. Mulayam Singhji and Mayawatiji are not leaders who will be influenced by what someone like me says.
We have never misused such agencies, we have not used arm-twisting or tried to intimidate anyone or used agencies to get their support in Parliament.
Whenever they have given their support, it has been issue based and based on the conviction that the government should be supported on the issue.
If they feel it is not to their advantage to support us on a specific issue, they will not be influenced by anyone.
These are seasoned and senior leaders, unlikely to be coerced by anyone.
How is it possible that a party (the BSP) walks out of the Lok Sabha and then, on the same issue, votes in support of the UPA in the Rajya Sabha? How is that possible?
The party has tried to justify why they voted with the Congress, why they are with the UPA government. They have justified it on the floor of the House and then they voted accordingly.
They must have thought that it is appropriate to walk out of the Lok Sabha because things were said against them. But in the larger interest they reconsidered the decision in the Rajya Sabha.
They have done enough to explain it. Let me tell you Mayawatiji and Mulayamji have been in politics for decades. They are not the ones who can be sweet-talked. Their decisions are taken after long-drawn discussions and serious debates with their party colleagues.
of this fascinating interview...
'Yes, there have been differences with Pawarji, but we were able to resolve them'
What is the secret lever you use to keep the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Nationalist Congress Party with you?
Firstly, there is no secret art. Second, all the credit should not be given to me. It is teamwork and everyone works together. I have a very insignificant role. Ultimately it's the leadership.
The Congress president, the prime minister, they are the ones who decide, I merely implement the decisions.
Credit should be given to the top leaders. The Congress president has good relations with everyone. Everybody respects her and the prime minister as well.
There is one question you evade repeatedly, that it is believed you 'manage' the SP, BSP, NCP and DMK and keep the machine running?
It is not like that. No one individual is working wonders. This is teamwork.
Well, what is your role in the team?
I am part of the team. My work is like that of a postman or postmaster. Whatever work I am assigned, I try to do it honestly and efficiently.
Another charge against your party is about the way you conduct politics. There is very little respect given to the Congress party's allies in the UPA. For instance, the objections that NCP chief Sharad Pawar made recently.
One feels the Congress party has a 'Big Brother' attitude.
The Congress is the largest party and we have always treated our allies well. Barring the Left, and with Mamataji (West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) we had few problems with other allies. With the Left parties we had issue-based differences.
But it is never the case that we have been unjust or tried to cut someone down to size. Our government is functioning and they are all with us -- the DMK, the NCP and others.
It is also known that how during the NDA's time, they had to go to Chennai, they were rushing to receive their allies at the airport and always, senior ministers were rushed to the airport.
Our situation is not like that. We consult, we respect, and we talk. There is coordination.
The Congress president treats everyone with respect, talks on the phone with them. Coordination committee meetings are called for discussions. So it is completely wrong to say we do not treat our allies respectfully.
Yes, there have been differences with Pawarji, but ultimately we were able to resolve them through discussions.
It is democracy, there is a UPA government, it is a coalition government, there are alliances, so naturally, there will be differences of opinions and pushes and pulls.
Take the FDI issue -- there were differences, but finally everybody supported the government. I salute them for this, I appreciate it.
Another issue which is being discussed at the national level is that the Congress prefers a two-party system and the two national parties are unjust towards regional parties.
I don't want to criticise regional parties. Regional parties are effective and this is a good thing.
But, ultimately, national issues are larger than region, society and individuals and many national issues have to be deliberated upon looking at the national welfare, when regional interests have to be set aside.
Many times, the Congress has preferred to lose in the regions, like in Punjab and Assam. Because keeping the nation united and undivided, regionalism has to be set aside.
That is not to say that regional issues must not be attended to, they too need to be given adequate attention. But at the national level, regional interests have to be balanced. Inclusive growth is essential.
of this exclusive interview...
'Never believed the Congress or government was ever in crisis'
Now the most important question -- how do you see the future politics in the country?
Of course, the country's future is very bright. I say this repeatedly. If you look at the global situation, tomorrow belongs to India.
Earlier, buzz was about the West. Whatever competition we will face, it will come from the East, whether it is China or Japan.
Indiraji and Rajivji (then prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi) started the preparations for this, keeping the 21st century in view.
The competition will not come from small, insignificant, countries like Pakistan. And to prepare ourselves for this many steps have to be taken today.
No other party has taken steps in this direction the way the Congress has. We have to nurture the capability, the potential, the talent that we have and only then can we lead the world.
I was referring to politics. It may well be that instead of 2014, a general election may take place in 2013.
I believe that elections will take place at their scheduled time. We are ready for any eventuality, whenever they take place.
Can we say a general election may take place after the Budget is presented to Parliament?
I cannot say that. But we are ready.
Do you feel the Congress will emerge from the crisis of credibility that it now faces?
There is no question of emerging, we are out of it. By the way, we have never believed that there was ever a crisis. We have never believed that the Congress or our government was ever in a crisis; we never believed that.
of this exclusive interview...
'Once we followed Gandhiji's idea of service. That emotion is dead now'
Do you feel the BJP is strong now?
I don't think the BJP was ever strong. It is true that owing to certain circumstances, like the Ayodhya incident, they came to power.
Other than that, I don't think they were strong ever nor do I think the BJP has a future.
They may malign the Congress, but I don't think the BJP will ever be able to form the government on its own.
Who is the Congress's strong competitor?
Nobody is the Congress's strong competitor.
The BJP has, always, remained below 200 seats. People of India still think, in comparison to other parties, that only the Congress will do things for poor people and bring about change.
If you don't get a majority in 2014, who do you see forming the government?
That is a hypothetical question, why should I answer it?
We are 100 per cent sure that we will form the government again.
We feel that Nitish Kumar and the Congress...
No. no. It is too early to say now. We have an alliance committee and it will take decisions.
Did you feel bad when you were referred to as Ahmedmian by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi?
No, not at all. These are not my values. If someone uses bitter words for me, my values do not allow me to retaliate. Not in the least.
People are free to say what they wish, but at no point have I responded in kind. I have commented on the problems of Gujarat, the issues of Gujarat.
Don't you think the Congress worker's commitment is missing?
I agree. There is erosion. It is commercialised. Commitment is missing. We came to public life with some commitment. We started from below. But now for some it is a profession.
They enter politics, get tickets from the political party. They become MLAs and MPs. Then they push themselves to become ministers.
Even the newly-joined political leader wants independent charge or a post in the Cabinet. It is very unfortunate. Once we followed Gandhiji's idea of service. That emotion is dead now.
We worked in villages, day and night, before we fought our first election.