Out of power in Madhya Pradesh for 14 long years, the Congress is pulling out all stops to regain its foothold. After a spate of electoral disasters courtesy of factionalism and an anaemic organisation, the party is bracing for a new fight: The Assembly elections scheduled for later this year.
Leading this charge is Deepak Babaria, Congress general secretary and the party's Madhya Pradesh in-charge. Babaria, a chemical engineer who rose up the Congress ladder after joining the Nav Nirman Andolan in 1974 rather than attending Stanford University, is confident of a thumping victory.
In a freewheeling interview with Firstpost, Babaria, a confidante of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and part of his core team, talks about the Congress' prospects and touches upon a host of other issues. Edited excerpts follow:
In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is fragmented. As party in-charge of the state, what is your prescription to ending factionalism?
First of all, that's simply not true. Consider the by-election that took place on 24 February. All top Congress leaders belonging to Madhya Pradesh: From Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kantilal Bhuria to Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh and state president Arun Yadav campaigned together.
BJP wants to create this perception that there’s factionalism within the Congress, so that apathy grows among the people. Last year, the party won two bypolls in Ater and Khajuraho, and also won seats in civic body polls. You’ll see the united strength of Congress party during the upcoming Assembly election.
The party appears to have lost grassroots connectivity. How do you plan to revive it?
We’re taking various steps to strengthen the party at organisational level. In order to strengthen our grassroots connectivity, we’ve created a pyramid structure to reduce the huge gap that exists between the blocks and also between the block-level and state leadership.
The Pradesh Congress has taken up three tasks as part of revival strategy. One: Reaching out to various sections of the society, establishing connectivity up to the booth-level and voters’ penetration, and explain to people the failures of BJP government. Second: Create a favourable environment for the Congress. Three: Focus on identifying right candidates for polls and dedicated party workers.
We’re selecting candidates from various fields for our organisational work, with specific responsibilities: From booth management to media handling. The party’s thrust is on new and fresh faces with winnability factor. Besides strengthening our social media campaign, the Congress will undertake agitation programme at various levels to expose the misgovernance and corruption in the 14-year Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
On 12 March, Congress will hold a demonstration at the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha and kick off a major protest across the state. We're also focussing on activating the Seva Dal, our frontal organisation, and giving it clear cut responsibilities.
What are the major issues in Madhya Pradesh?
There is an overall discontent across all sections of the society. The economic condition of farmers is a matter of great concern. The chief minister had promised agriculture would be a profitable venture, instead it has turned into a loss-making one. Farmers are getting prices much below the minimum support price (MSP), which resulted in a major unrest in June 2017, and Mandsaur district turned into an epicentre of major agitation.
The unemployment rate in the past two years has gone up by 53 percent. Where are the jobs promised by Chouhan? There was an advertisement for the post of Class 4 employee for which 58,000 applications were received. Out of it, 8000 were having PhD, BE, Masters and even MBBS degrees! The contract system of employment in the state has created havoc. People are paid Rs 100 per day. There is rampant corruption. The Vyapam scam is just one example of many rackets.
Let me give an example: The state government has contracted a Dubai-based company to collect garbage from localities and markets. This company is taking a huge sum, but the actual work is being done by the sanitation workers of Valmiki community for a meagre amount. The BJP leaders behind this contract are operating under the garb of a foreign company and making money. Out of 12,000 odd announcements made by the chief minister, 11,900 remained on paper. The rest are incomplete or funds have not been allocated.
What is your opinion about state government’s Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna – the scheme meant to pay farmers the difference between the MSP and market price?
It's nothing but a deception of farmers. For farmers, it hardly makes a difference. Moreover, only those farmers who registered online (6.4 percent) are eligible for the scheme.
How do you see the Congress' prospects in the Kolaras and Mungaoli bypolls?
The Congress will sweep both and get a thumping majority. The people of Madhya Pradesh have got fed up with the jumlebaazi (false promises) of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Now, people have lost confidence and the chief minister's credibility has reached its nadir.
Who will be the Congress' chief ministerial candidate?
No doubt, that's one of the party's most important decisions. It's part of our decision-making process, but it's not something that can be discussed in the media. The decision will be revealed at the appropriate time.
What's the Congress' message to voters?
Under Rahul, the Congress has a new, young leadership. Rahul is leading from the front. We've seen the result in Gujarat. Our message to the voters is this: For development and economic prosperity, throw out the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government and vote for Congress.
Updated Date: Feb 26, 2018 20:54 PM