‘This election is a fight for the soul of India’
Congress president Rahul Gandhi firmly believes there is an “upsurge” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that there is no way he can retain power after May 2019. He is disappointed at the collapse of Opposition unity in big states like Uttar Pradesh and Bengal but does not want to attack either the SP-BSP or the Left. Rahul clears several misconceptions, particularly about his perceived anti-corporate stance, in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph. Excerpts:
Q: Am I talking to the same Rahul Gandhi, the reluctant politician who said at the Jaipur Congress conclave that “power is poison”? Or have you undergone a radical change and now believe that power is also the best instrument to serve the masses?
A: There has been no change in my attitude to power. I believe that power is poison if it is wielded as a weapon over those that are less powerful; or if it is leveraged to gain personal wealth. I have always believed that individuals in politics must use their power to empower the masses and to draw attention to their voices and concerns. Especially those whose voices have been suppressed and have not found expression.
Q: There was, in this process of evolution, another experience of dealing with nasty campaigns — of you being called “Pappu”, calls for a Congress-mukt Bharat and attempts to get your family embroiled in cases. How did you deal with these?
A: The abuses hurled at me come from a place of anger, hate and frustration. But I don’t believe in responding in the same coin. You cannot combat anger with anger. In fact, I’m grateful to the PM for his constant abuse and taunts. They have taught me a lot, particularly patience. How can you hate anyone who teaches you something? The PM may hate me, but in my heart I have only love for him, because I know his anger towards me is only an expression of his own insecurity and fear.
Q: Before coming to the dominant interest of the day, the parliamentary elections, tell us honestly if there was any serious generational tension in the party as you took over. If yes, could you handle it with maturity and gradually learnt to deal with it as your understanding of political realities deepened?
A: Absolutely not! The Congress has managed to successfully blend experience with youth, helping us build a strong team. Our seniors are helping groom a new generation of leaders who will lead the party in the future. New talent has been infused into every single department, frontal organisation and committee of the party, both at the national and the state levels. There is more than enough space within the party for good talent, irrespective of their age.
Q: Let’s come to the elections: do you also believe this is the most important battle for post-Independent India?
A: This election is not a fight for power, but for the soul of India itself. Apart from the pathetic state of the economy, the agrarian distress and the massive job crisis we are facing, our most cherished values — secularism, diversity and pluralism — are under attack.
There is a systemic assault on our constitutional institutions like the Supreme Court, RBI and the CBI. Officers who don’t toe the RSS line, or are honest, are sacked — like the CBI chief was removed in the middle of the night. We’ve seen the dramatic press conference held by four judges, a first ever, drawing the attention of the Indian public to how court processes and judgments were being manipulated.
Even reputable institutions that collect data and measure the performances of the various government schemes are being suppressed and dismantled. The content of textbooks our children read is being rewritten to impose the RSS’s view of India on them. These are only a few examples of the dangerous path the RSS/BJP is taking us down, which will result in anarchy and chaos if they are voted back to power.
Q: Two big states where Opposition unity is in tatters are Uttar Pradesh and Bengal. You had publicly articulated your commitment to be part of a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh. What happened?
A: Bengal is complex. The logistics were difficult to overcome. In Uttar Pradesh, we were hopeful. But the SP-BSP felt they should go alone. Let’s see what happens now. If there were an alliance of SP-BSP-Congress, the consequences would have been devastating for the BJP. Either way, both these states will have secular parties winning.
Q: Why did Mayawati adopt a hostile anti-Congress stance? Is she working under some extraneous pressures?
A: I don’t know. I am unable to answer that question.
Q: In Bengal, the state Congress was closely working with the Left for two-three years. Both sides wanted an alliance. You too have a perfect understanding with CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury. How did the talks collapse?
A: I have good relations with Mamata Banerjee also. I have good personal relations with most Opposition leaders. But as I told you, our state unit decided that it was in the interests of the party unit to fight alone.
Q: You obviously don’t believe Narendra Modi is invincible; you have been saying he will be defeated.
A: The people of India will defeat Modi, not me.
Q: What gives you so much confidence and what are the plus points of Modi and what makes him vulnerable?
A: Three crore youngsters lost jobs in India… notebandi destroyed the economy. It proved to be an economic disaster and the PM does not want to accept there is a crisis.
And there has been blatant corruption. Rs 30,000 crore is stolen and given to Anil Ambani. Imagine, the brother (Mukesh Ambani) bailed him out from going to jail. A defence contract is given to a person who has to be kept out of jail. This speaks for his business skills.
The French President says Modi told him to give the contract to Anil Ambani, the aircraft worth Rs 526 crore is bought for Rs 1,600 crore…. The CBI chief is removed at 1 in the night. The Supreme Court says, “Reinstate him” and he is removed again. Defence officials say in writing the PMO was running parallel negotiations. Manohar Parrikar said he was not aware of the new deal. So much documentary evidence is available in the public domain. It is pretty clear Modi is corrupt.
Q: There is also a perception in people’s mind, and the BJP has used it effectively as a stick to beat the Congress with, that the Congress is corrupt.
A: I don’t think that perception exists now. Rafale is a clear-cut, open-and-shut case of corruption. The Indian negotiating team in the Rafale deal said the Prime Minister himself…. That’s criminal. The media is scared of picking it up.
Q: You say Modi didn’t deliver on promises. Are you suggesting the promises were not meant to be fulfilled? In your opinion, did Modi fail to deliver because of incompetence or lack of intention?
A: I think the promises were never meant to be implemented. They were meant to bring him to power. Modi is an instrument for a set of crony capitalists, and for them he is a very successful Prime Minister. As far as they are concerned, Modi waived Rs 3.5 lakh crore of the debt they owed to the country. But he didn’t help the farmers. For his friends, he did a great job. But he didn’t create jobs for the youth.
Q: You talk against corporate loot….
A: It’s not corporate loot. There are many corporates that are absolutely honest and do a great service for this country. It’s crony capitalism. So Anil Ambani got (Rs) 30,000 crore, but he has no ability to deliver on that contract, everybody knows it. So that’s just a handout. You can’t call that “corporate”, that’s an insult to the word “corporate”, that’s theft. But there are corporates in this country that we should be proud of, who do tremendous work for the country and historically have done so.
Q: Rahul Gandhi always speaks for the poor, for the deprived. Is that a tactic in the fight against Modi or a commitment? Will your politics be the same when you come to power?
A: Look at my record. Modi wasn’t anywhere on the scene when we were in government. At that time, I pushed NREGA. I was in Niyamgiri fighting for tribal land; we were in government when I was in Bhatta Parsaul, defending the farmers. I have helped with the Rs 70,000-crore farm loan waiver.
I’m just arguing for fairness. I’m not pro-poor or pro-rich or pro-farmer; I’m just arguing for fairness. If you’re going to be unfair to the farmers, then I will help the farmers. And by the way, if you’re unfair to the corporates, I will help the corporates. Because what I react to is unfairness, when someone is being treated wrongly.
Q: What are the issues you believe this election will be fought on?
A: Across India, people are frustrated and angry. Mr Modi is attempting to use hyper-nationalism to divert the attention of the people. But the people of India are not foolish. They can see through this game.
There are many reasons for the anger the people are feeling. It starts with the big promises Mr Modi made to win the elections in 2014: Rs 15 lakh in each bank account; the creation of two crore jobs a year; the doubling of farmer incomes; 150 smart cities, etc.
These key promises remain unfulfilled, while the government manipulates data and spends thousands of crores in advertising to convince India that all is well and that every Indian should be happy!
This, while the youth is struggling with unemployment; farmers are committing suicide in their thousands; the rural economy has been devastated; atrocities are being committed against women, Dalits and Adivasis and the very idea of India as a pluralistic, secular and democratic nation is being threatened.
Q: How will your government deal with agrarian distress?
A: I believe agriculture is a strategic asset and the core strength of India, a belief that the BJP doesn’t share. They made this evident when they announced their direct cash transfer to farmers of Rs 3.50 per person a day, which will do next to nothing in alleviating the financial concerns faced.
Our proposed loan waivers to farmers are confidence builders. But to solve their problems, we need to connect the Indian farmers to technology, and the global market.
Q: Can you explain why you believe unemployment is a key election issue this time?
A: After interacting with lakhs of young people, their problems have become very clear to me. Unemployment is at a 45-year high. While China creates 50,000 new jobs a day, the latest data is showing that we are losing 27,000 jobs every day! In 2017-18 alone, according to CMIE, we lost one crore jobs. That is a crisis, which should be categorised as a national emergency and tackled accordingly. The PM on the other hand lives in denial. If he refuses to even accept that there is a problem, how can he get down to solving it?
Q: You have announced the minimum income guarantee scheme. What are the other key schemes or policy changes in your manifesto?
A: There are many innovative and path-breaking ideas in our manifesto. Of these the minimum income guarantee is the biggest. This has the potential to transform India by uprooting poverty. It’s an idea on an unimaginable scale that has never been implemented anywhere in the world before.
The idea is that no Indian should live below a certain income level. Once we decide on what this level is, the government will directly transfer money to those living below that level, so that every citizen has a minimum income.
In addition, we will be passing the women’s reservation bill, reserving 33 per cent of government jobs for women, increasing the expenditure on education to 6 per cent of the GDP.
Q: What do you think of the BJP’s campaign slogan “Main bhi chowkidar?”
A: Firstly, only the rich can afford chowkidars. So the slogan is an expression of the fact that Mr Modi and the BJP are here to protect the rich. The slogan is also acceptance that our popular slogan “Chowkidar chor hai” has resonated among the people and the BJP felt it needed to be countered.
However, their attempt to capture the moral high ground is utterly foolish and poorly thought out. It has fallen flat and seems very forced and hypocritical given the number of scams their so-called “chowkidars” have been involved in.
From Modi to Piyush Goyal, Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah and his son Jay Shah, the list of those who stand accused of looting the nation, either directly or through their friends and family, but now pose as “chowkidars” is very long. People will not be fooled, because in their hearts every Indian knows that “Desh ka chowkidar chor hai”.
Q: One issue you’ve spoken about a lot is the Rafale deal. Do you believe it forced people to think about Modi’s image, and is the issue still relevant?
A: In going about the Rafale deal the way he did, the PM risked the security of the nation to help his friend Anil Ambani steal Rs 30,000 crore (Anil Ambani’s Reliance group has consistently denied the charge).
Written documents prove that the PM was carrying out parallel negotiations. The dissenting notes of the negotiating committee have been made public and clearly show that the negotiating committee itself was arm-twisted into agreeing to a deal they had serious misgivings about. How much more proof is needed?
Anywhere else in the world, the PM would have had to resign and a full-scale inquiry would have been under way. Instead, in India there is a full-scale cover-up under way to protect the PM, in which large sections of the media are also complicit.
Q: Can you see a new phenomenon emerging in the Modi era, which is extremely positive for you — that anti-Congressism is on the wane? People who didn’t like the Congress, particularly the communists, were forced to support Rahul Gandhi. Many from the intelligentsia ignore even valid questions about your party because of the Modi-Shah duopoly.
A: This anti-Congressism and clamour for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” was started solely by the PM and the BJP. The reason it is on the wane is that the people have realised what a spectacular failure the Modi government is.
No matter how much false propaganda is spread, there is no taking away that under the Congress-led UPA, the economy was much stronger, there was less fear and insecurity and that farmers, youth and women were better off.
Once this realisation sets in, there is no basis for any “anti-Congressism”. Certainly, at the national level and in every state, there are competing political parties who would love to see a weaker Congress or that are threatened by a resurgent Congress. That is the reality of politics.
Q: The BJP can blow into the scene out of nowhere and win states like Tripura and Haryana. It can dream up a coup in Bengal. Why can’t the Congress develop such killer instinct, such passion and energy?
A: You are absolutely right when you refer to them as possessing of a “killer instinct”. They do not care about democratic processes or the voice of the people, only about forming governments and grabbing power, no matter how dishonestly they acquire it.
The Congress has both passion and energy, but believes in listening to the voice of the people, unlike the BJP, which has wrested power in states like Goa in a completely unethical manner.
Q: You once said you will act as a judge and not anybody’s advocate within the party. Have you been able to create a just, merit-based system within the party?
A: That’s the direction we are moving in. Lots of things have been done but we have a long way to go.
Q: Finally, what will be India’s future and Rahul’s politics if Narendra Modi wins again in this election?
A: He is not going to win. He won’t.
Q: In case he wins?
A: He won’t. You should understand Modi is an expression of hatred; so what he does is, if there is anger in society he crystallises that anger.
From whatever I know about India, anger is not our attribute. It can happen temporarily but the foundation of India is built on love and compassion. Please look at any of our religions or philosophy, and you’ll see that our nature is not angry.
And anger won’t give you a solution. Ever.