There is a new optimism in the Congress party and one of the main reasons is that the party's top brass believes their numbers will definitely go up in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Results are expected on 23 May. In an interview with Rashme Sehgal, Rajasthan Congress president and deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, who has been travelling across the state, expressed confidence that his party will do well at the hustings. Here are the edited excerpt from the interview.
Q: The Lok Sabha election has seen the level of discourse touch a new low. The kind of exchanges being made by the Congress and the BJP leaders are unprecedented.
A: The levels to which political discourse has fallen is a matter of great concern. The narrative being used by the prime minister and others in high positions is unexceptionable. Leaders have to be mindful of the legacy they are leaving behind. The younger generation deserves a political landscape they can be proud of. What Narendra Modi said about Rajiv Gandhi was in very poor taste. Not just the Congress, but leaders across all political parties have condemned his statement.
Q: What are your views on Priyanka Gandhi’s statement that the Congress fielded weak candidates in some constituencies in Uttar Pradesh to cut into the votes of the BJP thereby helping the SP-BSP gathbandhan?
A: Priyanka Gandhi’s statement has been taken out of context. The Opposition, whether it be the Congress or the gatbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, is fighting to make sure that the NDA does not come back to power.
Q: There is a perception that after Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot airstrikes, the BJP has successfully used the issue of national security as a poll plank?
A: I think this is a very misplaced perception because I am convinced that this is 'bread-and-butter' issue election. People want an end to this endless cycle of farmers suicides. They want gainful employment. The BJP is propagating this (national security issue) because it has just lost the Assembly elections. Don’t forget it had 165 out of 200 legislators. It was reduced to 70, which means it lost 95 legislators. We only had 21 legislators five years ago, and we have increased our numbers five times over and brought it to 101. We formed the government just three months ago and people are free to judge us from what we have done in the last three months.
I also believe, and this is borne out of statistics, that the incumbent party usually gets the windfall of the Lok Sabha seats. There is a wave in favour of the Congress and we are going to accomplish our target of ''Mission 25'' in Rajasthan (winning all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state) and the numbers have been very encouraging, not just in Rajasthan, but also in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. In all three states, we will witness a complete reversal of 2014 mandate.
Q: What are the key issues you have been highlighting in your campaign?
A: Election campaigns run on issues of governance and economic well being. What does the Modi sarkar have to show for Rajasthan in the last five years? We have had no new airports, no improvement in railways, or infrastructure of any kind and nothing has changed on the ground. The fact is that Vasundhara ji (former chief minister Vasundhara Raje ) and Modi never got along. The rift is so strong that the chief minister has not attended a single rally of the prime minister during this year's campaign. Under these circumstances, what kind of development could you expect in the state?
Q: But Congress has been criticised for its alleged promise of waiving farmer's loans and not fulfilling it even after being in power for three months...
A: That is not correct. We have already waived farm loans worth Rs 18,000 crore taken from grameen banks and co-operative banks. Regarding loans taken from commercial banks, we have to wait till the elections are over. Negotiations are on with the Ministry of Finance but their officers point out that till such time as the model code of conduct is in play, the waiver will have to wait. We are working on it. We are also giving an unemployment allowance of Rs 3,500 a month to educated women and Rs 3,000 per month for men.
Q: During my travels through Rajasthan during the Assembly elections, issues related to water remained a crucial problem with both farmers and people living in cities. How are you planning to address this problem?
A. Water is very important in a desert state like ours. But we need to work on a long term resolution to the water problem and this is something we are working to address.
Q: Going back to the issue of national security, Modi, recently in Barmer, claimed that the party will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons. What is your take?
A: The BJP’s attempt has been to divert people's attention from real issues of livelihood. They are focusing on religion, mandir-masjid or making comments like 'ali and bajrang bali’. These are not going to work. It will not get them any political dividends because young Indians are more concerned about agrarian distress, unemployment and the economic slowdown. Today, unemployment is at a 45-year high, a gas cylinder costs Rs 1,000, farmers are committing suicides, the economy is in shambles and demonetisation has crippled the rural economy.
Q: You talk about differences between Raje and Modi but differences between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and you is well-known too.
A: These differences have been highly exaggerated. Gehlot ji is the head of the government while I am head of the party organisation. Both of us have worked in tandem to fight these elections and we are confident of winning. The selection of all the candidates across the state has been a unanimous choice between the chief minister and me.
Q: We have had minister of state Rajyavardhan Rathore claim that whichever part of India one may go to, there is an undercurrent in favour of the Modi government. What do you have to say about it?
A: The situation in 2019 is completely different from 2014 when people were willing to give a chance to the BJP. Five years ago, Modi's claims were untested and unverified. But today, the BJP has fulfilled zero promises whether it be regarding black money, education or doubling farm income. I would also like to emphasise that in a parliamentary democracy, the representative selected in every constituency plays an extremely important role because he/she is the face of the party in that area. Today, how many BJP supporters know who their representative? Very few. This is because their performance and calibre leave much to be desired but this is not the way a democracy works.
Q: How many rallies have you address in the last month?
A: I have addressed 140 rallies in all. In each of these rallies, I have focused on the resolution of the agrarian crisis and on issues of unemployment. Modi has promised to give Rs 6,000 per year to the farming community. But we in the Congress party are promising Rs 6,000 every month to the 20 percent poorest families of the country. When we launched MGNREGA, the BJP scorned at this program. Even the current government used to make fun of the scheme but did not have the political will to end that programme. As Minister of Panchayati Raj in Rajasthan, I must tell you that in December ( prior to state elections) we had nine lakh people working in MGNREGA but the number has increased to 32 lakh in the span of two months.
Q: There are doubts that Congress may not even cross 100 seats?
A: I am confident that UPA-III will be a reality. On May 23, you will have a new government and a new Prime Minister.
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Updated Date: May 08, 2019 13:10:56 IST