How do you think the campaign has been going?
Extremely well. I had actually started travelling all over the country in January. That was part of a programme that had been planned out when we thought the election was in October or so. When elections were called early, I continued that programme which became part of the election campaign.
Right from January, wherever I went I was surprised by the affection I received. In such situations, political workers of course come out. But there were large numbers of ordinary people who were waving out, or stopping me. And the thing which struck me was how well women were responding to the campaign. Wherever I went, there would be women waiting on the roadside, wanting to say something.
So, I’m very happy with the response.
Were you dispirited by the assembly election defeats in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh?
Yes. Certainly. Perhaps not dispirited but definitely disappointed.
In Rajasthan, for instance, I thought we would make it, so I was disappointed by the result. In Madhya Pradesh, even though there were problems and we faced anti-incumbency after two terms, I thought our Chief Minister had done a great deal of work in social infrastructure. But obviously that wasn’t enough to meet the aspirations of the people.
Well, the BJP called the General Election early because morale in the Congress was at an all-time low.
I wasn’t demoralised. But yes, I was disappointed. And in the states where we lost there was a certain amount of demoralisation. So that’s probably why they chose that time.
Has morale improved as the campaign has gone on?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the response we are getting. If you look at our morale when the campaign began and morale now, you'll see how much it has improved.
But no matter how much morale improves, you are still stuck for numbers because of the situation in UP and Bihar. Is that a fair assessment?
It is a fair assessment to say that we are not at the top in those states. But in Uttar Pradesh, we are not as badly off as some people seem to think. I can base this on the welcome I received when I travelled through Uttar Pradesh.
But do crowds for Sonia Gandhi translate into seats for the Congress? That's the big challenge for our party machinery and our workers. We have to translate that goodwill into votes.
Were you surprised when Laloo offered you only four seats?
Yes. We were surprised.
So why align with him? Why not fight on your own?
We are in an alliance with him. And sometimes, keeping in mind the larger picture, we have to make certain adjustments no matter how disappointed we may feel.
But if you were willing to take just four seats from Laloo in the interests of a secular alliance then why did you hold out for more with Mulayam? Amar Singh is on record as saying that they offered you anywhere from 18 to 20 seats and you turned them down.
First of all, if that had been the offer, I would never have turned them down as you say I did. There was never any such offer. In fact, there was never any sort of discussion on numbers with either Mulayam Singhji or Amar Singhji.
So what were your meetings with them about, then?
We had general discussions on the importance of working together, of secular parties coming together.
They say that you made it clear to them that your preference was for an alliance with the BSP.
No, I never said anything like this to them. Never.
Was it ever your preference to go with the BSP over the SP?
Well, when you look for an alliance, you talk to all possible allies. You don’t exclude anyone. You can’t shut your door to one party and talk only to the other if there are two possible allies in a state.
Yes, but was the BSP your own preference?
No. Not at all. In any such situation there will be members of the party who will prefer one alliance and others who will prefer another. But these are all just inputs which come in when you are in politics.
You tell me: would it make any sense for me to focus on any one potential ally and to exclude another?
No, the argument is that Mayawati would not have aligned with Mulayam and vice-versa so you had to choose one. And that you went with Mayawati.
No. That is not correct. Not at all.
What went wrong with Mayawati?
Well, they obviously thought it was a better option for them to fight the election on their own.