Once the Congress announced that its Rajasthan state unit president Sachin Pilot will contest the Vidhan Sabha election from Tonk, the BJP fielded its lone Muslim candidate, Yunus Khan, a cabinet minister in Vasundhara Raje’s government, against him. Pilot sees these elections as a BJP versus Congress contest, giving little weight to regional parties that have come together as a 'third front' in the state.
Confident that his party will trump the incumbent BJP in the upcoming elections, Pilot reveals why he shifted from his usual constituency of Ajmer, how his party plans to govern the state if the anti-incumbency wave translates into victory, and why he holds Raje responsible for the current development paralysis in the state.
Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
The farmer crisis and unemployment have been constant issues in previous elections as well. How is the Congress campaign different this time?
The situation in Rajasthan has never been so grim as during the five years of the Raje government, with 165 MLAs, and a clear majority at the Centre. Sadly, she took the mandate for granted. The people's core development issues were completely ignored. She made 611 promises, but hardly any of them have been fulfilled. These issues are quite repetitive, but the current agrarian crisis is something the state has never seen before. For the first time in Rajasthan's history, 150 farmers have committed suicide. Joblessness is acute.
It is a very young state, we have lot of energy and talent. But four young people killing themselves because of a lack of jobs, is shattering. Raje has betrayed the mandate of Rajasthan. The state is yearning for change. On the other hand, the Congress narrative is positive. We are not just unmasking the faults of the BJP or those who are accountable, but also laying down a five-year plan for Rajasthan to break out of the shackles of debt it is currently facing.
What is the party’s five-year plan?
The agrarian crisis and financial situation of farmers will be resolved. It is not just credit and loans; it is also access to the market, availability of finances and resources. For example, there is an acute urea shortage in Rajasthan. The farming community, as a whole, collapsed, so the ecosystem needs to be revamped. The second issue is young people looking for jobs. When you have the holder of a PhD or a Master’s degree applying for a Category 4 government employee job, it means you are underemployed.
Both underemployment and unemployment are problematic issues that we will address. Our manifesto will address many other things too. What we are looking at is not allowing the state to give up all its assets, like Raje has done. She is advertising schools and hospitals under the PPP (public-private partnership) model. If a government cannot provide education and healthcare, it doesn’t deserve to be in power.
You recently said that funds allotted for education should be considered an investment, instead of an expense. How does Congress plan to invest in education if it comes to power?
Education is an investment because when you write a cheque for education, you are investing in the future. The returns are much larger than expected because the coming generations get knowledge, wisdom, opportunities and self-confidence. Education decimates social ills. So you are not only investing in young children so they can get jobs, but are also investing in making them better citizens. We are certainly going to restructure what Raje has destroyed, and the emphasis is on education.
Why should a government school not be as good as a private school? Why can’t every school be of a Navodaya Vidyalaya or of Kendriya Vidyalaya standard? It is possible but needs some effort. I know history is against us but if the resolve is of steel, and conviction and belief are strong, there is no reason why we can’t have an education system better than anywhere else in the country.
The BJP has introduced several schemes, including internet-based schemes. What does Congress intend to do with regard to these schemes?
The schemes themselves are not wrong, but look at the Bhamashah project. The yojana is actually a failure because it has been taken over by a cartel of corrupt individuals. There are groups formed between hospitals, brokers and individuals. Insurance companies have backed out of the scheme. The programme sounds grand but its implementation is far from satisfactory. BJP is very good at announcing things, changing names and renaming programmes, but implementation is almost zero. There is no delivery.
What is your take on contesting from Tonk, instead of your traditional Ajmer seat? Who would be your suggestion for chief ministerial candidate if Rahul Gandhi asks you, in the capacity of Rajasthan Congress president?
Rahul asked me to contest the elections and I left the decision to the party. I am contesting from wherever the Congress felt my candidature provides the greatest benefit. I have gladly accepted the decision. Once we get a majority, the MLAs and Congress will decide who will get charge of which duties. This is the norm. We don't declare chief ministerial faces, we fight elections, get a majority and MLAs elect their leader. This naming of chief ministers and prime ministers is something the Congress doesn't do.
You say you built the party in the state in the past few years, which resulted in the recent bypoll victory. How did you do it, and how will this strategy work now?
It has been five years of sustained effort by the party. All our leaders have contributed to it. We have been campaigning for five years. Prakash Javadekar, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have all discovered Rajasthan recently. They never knew the land existed when there were floods, riots, rapes, murders and mob lynchings. Where were all these senior leaders in these five years? Now that the elections are here, they are all coming to ask for votes.
What I have done as party president is to campaign from Day One. I did not want to wait for anti-incumbency to kick in because that's not an asset, it is people's liability. I cannot base my election campaign and narrative on that negativity. To create space in people's hearts and minds takes more than six months, it takes sacrifice. We were arrested, lathi-charged, we held dharnas, rallies, padyatras and everything else we could do to keep the farmers and youth movement going, and we took on the force of the BJP. Despite the BJP having a majority, it couldn't do as it wished.
Do you think Hanuman Beniwal and Ghanshyam Tiwari’s 'Third Front' will have any effect on the overall vote share of the Congress?
Rajasthan is a bipolar state. In every election, there are one or two parties and Independents, but largely it is an election between the Congress and BJP. I don't see this election as any different. There are smaller parties and they have their own space. It's a BJP versus Congress contest, and I don’t see any third, fourth or fifth front coming into the picture and having any lasting impact on the results.
They may make headlines and grab news time with catchy statements, but people of the state know it’s the Congress that will win. Voters of Rajasthan are smart, they won't waste their votes for religion or community or any front. These smaller parties have suddenly mushroomed a month before the election; there is no agenda, history or future.
The author is a Jaipur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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Updated Date: Nov 26, 2018 19:21:21 IST