Congress will emerge stronger: Kumari Selja
Haryana Congress president Kumari Selja has dismissed charges that the state unit is directionless and faces a rout in the October 21 Assembly polls, arguing the ground reality is hostile to the ruling BJP. Excerpts from an interview the former Union minister has given The Telegraph:
Q: The general perception is that the Congress lacks the ability to block the Narendra Modi juggernaut, and that in Haryana the party is divided and depleted.
Selja: Every party faces internal issues and, in difficult times, the problems get projected as insurmountable. There could be differences of opinion among leaders but right now we are fighting with a unity of purpose.
The Congress is too big a party to be depleted; it has survived so long on the people’s support and the strength of its ideology. Rest assured, the Congress will sail through any crisis and emerge stronger.
Q: Your former state president, Ashok Tanwar, quit in the middle of the electoral process, levelling grave charges against the state and central leaderships. He even suggested there was an internal plot to weaken Rahul Gandhi.
Selja: Anybody can make any allegation. I don’t want to comment on what he has said at this stage. We should realise that the organisation is bigger than any individual. The entire party is with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, and there is no leadership crisis now. You will see both Soniaji and Rahulji campaign in Haryana.
Q: But the campaign is dominated by Kashmir, not Haryana. The BJP is relying on Article 370 to win the people’s support.
Selja: That’s the trick the BJP deploys in every election: invent issues, create diversionary ploys so that the real issues are not discussed. The BJP is a strange party, they see no value in the principle of accountability.
They talk about so many issues for five years and then mislead the voters on a new emotive issue in the election. That’s what Modiji did with Balakot in the parliamentary election. But there is a limit to deception: how many times will they fool the voters?
Q: But Article 370 and Kashmir are dominating the discourse. Have you got a plan to counter that narrative?
Selja: The ground reality is so different that Article 370 is not creating any resonance among the voters. The rebuff is already being felt by the BJP and their leaders are now in a dilemma about what the focus of their campaign should be.
Amit Shah may be forcing them to talk Kashmir but the BJP candidates are unable to make up their mind. Look at the mental bankruptcy of the local leadership: chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar explained (the amendment of) Article 370 to the people here as an opportunity to (marry and) bring (in) Kashmiri girls.
Do they think the voters will allow such a farce to override their real concerns? The youth here should be able to buy land in Haryana first before they can dream of owning land in Kashmir. They are worried about education and jobs; Kashmir is not their primary concern.
Q: But your leader, former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, got so carried away that he ended up supporting Article 370.
Selja: That is a thing of the past. That phase is over.
Q: So the Congress is convinced that the diversionary tactics are not working and that the people will vote keeping in mind the real issues that affect Haryana?
Selja: No, the diversionary tactics are so powerful that they will manage to influence a section of voters. The BJP, purely on the basis of their performance, should be routed. They shouldn’t win a single seat.
Their failures are overwhelming in every field. They promised to double the farmers’ income. What happened? The farmers are in deep distress. They talked of “beti bachao (save the girl child)” —they think women’s security is a hollow slogan. Crime against women is nowhere as bad as in Haryana. Rape, violence, all kinds of criminality… and the BJP is only interested in protecting the culprits.
Q: The Prime Minister said on Navami that people should learn to respect the girl child.
Selja: Pehle khud seekh len (Let him learn it first). Should I recall what he has said about women? And what has he done for women’s empowerment? Has he spoken a word on (rape accused and former BJP Union minister) Chinmayanand?
A former minister of state so brazenly exploits a girl and what is the BJP doing? When was Kuldeep Sengar (MLA from the BJP, accused of gang rape and murder) removed from the party? You have to lead by example. What else has our chief minister, Khattar, said about women: how he failed to curb heinous crimes against the girls of Haryana?
Q: What are the other issues in Haryana?
Selja: Haryana is a classic case of an overall failure on the government’s part. By every parameter, Haryana has slipped. The worst, of course, is unemployment.
How many industrial units in Haryana have been affected by the economic slowdown? Drugs have become major problem in the state after the Congress government’s crackdown in Punjab. Illegal mining is a huge issue. Crime is a major concern.
They promised to implement the old pension scheme but didn’t. They promised salaries on the pattern of Punjab, (but) didn’t. Why do they want a campaign around Article 370? Because, they have nothing to show in terms of achievements except hollow slogans.