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Thursday, Oct 24, 2019

Full text of Rahul Gandhi’s exclusive interview

The performance of the Congress is going to be much better than what media surveys are showing. This is not fully visible in newspapers and TV channels because we know that the BJP government puts pressure on media through its various agencies.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 21, 2019 10:17 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi, President, Indian National Congress during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit at Taj Palace in New Delhi, India
Rahul Gandhi, President, Indian National Congress during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit at Taj Palace in New Delhi, India(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT FILE PHOTO)

Congress president Rahul Gandhi talks about a range of issues including unemployment, rural distress, alleged corruption in the Rafale aircraft deal and major failures of the BJP government.

You are on election tours across the country. How do you feel about it? What kind of results will the Congress get?

Positive results will come because the country is disappointed with the BJP and wants change.

If you talk about numbers?

Instead of numbers, look at the mood of the public. The atmosphere of change is clearly visible. There are three reasons. First, unemployment is at its peak, the youth are restless, but Narendra Modi is not even talking about employment. For the Congress, the youth and employment are a priority. Second, agriculture and farmers are in trouble but Mr Modi seems oblivious to this problem. You are aware of our record when it comes to protecting the interests of our farmers. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Karnataka, we gave loan waivers in 72 hours. The third issue is corruption which is all around us, especially corruption in the Rafale deal where the trail of corruption leads directly to Mr Modi’s doorstep.

After the Gujarat elections, the Congress has gained some ground… do you think the expectations of good results from the Congress have increased?

The performance of the Congress is going to be much better than what media surveys are showing. This is not fully visible in newspapers and TV channels because we know that the BJP government puts pressure on media through its various agencies and uses the government’s advertising funds to control the narrative.

You have not been in power for a long time in the country’s largest states such as UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu etc. It has had an impact on the organisation. Will it be difficult to get better results there?

The success of our coalition in Tamil Nadu will wipe out everybody. I believe that the Congress will win all the seats there. The alliance in Bihar will also bring great results. In Uttar Pradesh, we are fighting separately but the Congress will win seats. That’s why we have sent Priyanka ji and Scindia ji to UP. In Bihar, our state incharge, Shakti Singh Gohil, has done some good work.

You did not form a coalition in Uttar Pradesh. People thought you would form a coalition.

In Uttar Pradesh, the SP-BSP decided not to form a coalition. However, we wanted all of us to fight together. I respect their decision. We respect Mayawati ji and Akhilesh ji. We are fighting alone but I’m certain we will get good results.

In Delhi, too, talks of coalition continued for a long time. What happened after that?

We said clearly that in Delhi we are ready to form an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party to defeat the BJP. There was also a consensus on the four-three formula. But I do not know why they changed their mind. Now they talk about Haryana, talk about Punjab, talk about Goa, too. It is their decision to not form an alliance in Delhi. We have offered them four seats in Delhi because we want to defeat the BJP.

The election is an issue, and the organisation is the other issue. As the Congress president, you have been very successful in electoral politics. Will you take some specific steps for the organisation after this election?

Why after this election? Our recent successes in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, even in Karnataka and numerous by-polls around the country, have been achieved due to the organisation’s strengths. Our technology platform, “Shakti”, is ready. It allows us to stay connected with every Congress worker around India and communicate directly with them. We get regular inputs from our workers in each polling booth. This is just the beginning. We are trying to make the Congress party technically advanced and democratic. In contrast, our opposition can never be democratic. There, they have a ‘top-to-down’ system. One man decides. Everyone else follows!

On the one hand you, are strengthening the organisation but on the other hand, several people are leaving your organisation during the election. For example, more than six MLAs in Gujarat have left the party, Priyanka Chaturvedi also left. Those who are young, like Jignesh Mewani, appear to be more close to the Left. Why so?

When Alpesh ji, Jignesh Ji, Hardik ji joined together it attracted a lot of media attention. But there were many others who have also joined us. Why aren’t you asking about them? You are talking only about those who have left. Let me tell you the truth, it has benefited the Congress. You have to think, what kind of people are they, who have left? What is their mentality? Their contribution? Their capacity? Our fight is ideological. Those who fight for ideology will never leave us. Those who are opportunists, they leave us. I’m not perturbed when such people leave. There are more than enough good people in the Congress party who are extremely capable, with the right ideology, a strong sense of service and sacrifice. They have faith in the Congress party and we will make sure that their voice is heard and that they are given opportunities within the party to grow.

Caste politics is a reality. The Congress used to have a vote bank in this country, especially in northern India — ‘sawarn’ (the upper castes), ‘Dalits’ (the lower caste) and the Muslims. Are these ‘vote banks’ still there?

I don’t agree. This is your view that these are vote banks. The Congress is the party of all Indians and it helps everyone. When demonetisation and GST (Goods and Services Tax) hit small businessmen, it was the Congress party that stood up to fight. When the farmer is in trouble, it is the Congress that is the first to come and stand by them. Wherever there is pain in India, it is the nature of the Congress to resolve it. This is our thinking. This is the vote bank of the Congress. Everything else is a creation of the media, not reality.

The Congress will stand with the country, work for the country, embrace the people of the country. For us, every Hindustani is the mirror of the Congress ideology.

Today, I was in Surat for five hours. I stopped the car at one place and many daily-wagers came to us in search of work. Likewise, traders are very disappointed with GST. When I asked “who are you voting for”, they remembered ‘Gujarati pride’. Will you be able to encash this discontent in the Lok Sabha elections?

Remember one thing. Gujarat was considered the BJP-RSS stronghold but in the assembly elections in Gujarat, BJP almost collapsed. This was despite the fact that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had used all their strength there. Do you know what kind of pressure was exerted in Surat? How the income tax department and government agencies were misused? Gujarat’s results will be a surprise. Gujarat is going to give a huge majority to the Congress party in this Lok Sabha election. Demonetisation, the Gabbar Singh Tax, and Narendra Modi’s policies benefited people like Anil Ambani, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, but this emphasis on benefitting crony capitalist friends of Mr Modi, has jammed the engine of Hindustan’s economy. That’s why you met with a lot of unemployed workers in Surat. The truth is that, in a way, the Modi government destroyed the purchasing power of the people. If we do not give impetus to that purchasing power, and do not restart the economy of India, how will the country move forward? We have spent the last many months on planning how we will re-start the Indian economy. Our flagship NYAY scheme will play a big role in this.

You spoke of Income Tax society. Now there is an allegation that all institutions have broken down in a way. When one talks to those from the BJP, they start giving old examples. As a leader of the new century, what will you do for the restoration of impartiality and prestige of these institutions?

India’s strength is its institutions that make the government accountable and strengthen democracy. Our institutions have a special place, they are respected. Narendra Modi has tried to weaken democracy by weakening the various institutions of our country. On the contrary, the Congress’s nature is to strengthen the institutions and through them our democracy. You ask the RBI chief, the Planning Commission chief, or the stakeholder of any institution running the country. RBI, Planning Commission, Supreme Court — Mr Modi has insulted them all. In fact, for the first time in the history of the country, Supreme Court judges were forced to seek justice from the people of the country. Today the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has spoken out against the pressure being exerted on the judicial system. Our institutions are critical to the survival of our democracy.

In the past, there used to be a political etiquette. People used to treat each other well. Has it come to an end?

Even today Sushma ji, Rajnath Singh ji, Manmohan Singh ji, Gadkari ji interact with respect with political leaders from different parties. This means mutual respect is present in the political system. However, the manner and behaviour of Narendra Modi has had negative effect on the politics of the country. In Hindu dharma, the status of the guru is the highest. Advaniji is Mr Modi’s guru. But he denied him a ticket and instead, insulted and marginalised him. This is Mr Modi’s way.

The NDA is contesting the election on nationalism and has given Pragya Thakur the ticket from Bhopal. When it comes to nationalism, a segment feels that the Congress is not fighting the battle in a proper manner. What is your opinion?

The Congress has its own record on nationalism and making sacrifices for the country. Please look at it and examine it. If you want to talk about nationalism, then naturally you want to strengthen the country. To strengthen the country, the most important thing is jobs for the youth. If there is unemployment all across India, then how will the country become strong? If our farmers are compelled to commit suicide each day, won’t it weaken our country? Those talking of nationalism, why don’t they answer these serious questions? In the last five years, what has the Modi government done for the youth, farmers, poor labourers?

On one hand Mr Modi talks about nationalism On the other, he allows a Rafale fighter aircraft that’s worth Rs 526 crore to be bought for Rs 1,600 crore and changes the contract to make sure that it will not even be manufactured in the country and so will not generate jobs for our youth. Is this how a true nationalist behaves?

What do you consider the three failures of Narendra Modi?

A: Unemployment, the destruction of Indian economy, Demonetisation and Gabbar Singh Tax. Mr Modi has demonetised the economy. We will remonetise it and that is why we have brought the NYAY scheme. Another one of his failings is that he has no knowledge of the country’s agriculture problems. Narendra Modi does not realise that India’s biggest strength is agriculture and you cannot ignore it. Another failure is the battle against black money.

You have tried to change the political narrative through NYAY. The government faces fund constraints today, then how will you implement it?

A: We have always kept our promise. We spoke of farm loan waiver in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Karnataka. Mr Modi said there is no money for loan waivers. Within 48 hours of the formation of Congress government in these states, we waived the loans of farmers. Now they say from where will we get the annual Rs 72,000 for five crore farmers? I tell you, we will get it out of the pockets of the handful of industrialist friends of Mr Modi. Neither will we burden the middle class nor will we take money from them and we will not raise income tax. The NYAY scheme will remonetise the Indian economy. The way petrol is provided to an engine, the NYAY scheme will ‘jump-start’ the entire economy. With this, the poor will get money, demand will increase, manufacturing will increase and the youth will get employment.

You are also contesting from Wayanad. But Smriti Irani says you have gone looking for a safe seat.

Amethi is my ‘karmabhoomi’. I contest from Amethi, and will continue to do so. I want to send a clear message to my brothers and sisters in south India. When you go to south India, whether it is Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Goa, Karnataka, Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, everywhere one strong feeling is prevalent that their voice is not being heard. This is not right for India’s unity. To eliminate this feeling and to tell every Indian in the south that your voice will be heard and you are also an important part of this country, you are also India, that is why I am contesting from Wayanad, in the south of India.

If you have to take the oath for the post of Prime Minister, what will be the first three things that you will do.

Firstly, the decision on the post of the Prime Minister depends on the people of India. The public will decide. But, my priorities are – to put the Indian economy back on track, end the pain of farmers and workers, employment for the youth and pave the way to the future. Today, the future does not seem bright to the youth of India. We have to create a new path for our youth. A new vision.

Why is it that Pakistan comes up as a political issue in every Indian election? Sometimes, it is said that former PM Manmohan Singh met Pakistani ambassador. Sometimes you are accused.

A: Do you remember what Mr Modi did in the 2014 election? He made four major promises. One, that he will deposit Rs 15 lakh in every bank account. Two, he will give jobs to two crore youth every year. Three, farmers will get 50% profit over their cost of production. Four, Rs 80 lakh crore worth of black money would be brought back to India within 100 days. He failed to deliver on these four promises and that’s the reason why he is trying to divert issues. On the other hand, we have promised to deposit Rs 72,000 every year in the bank accounts of the poorest of the poor. That’s Rs 3,60,000 over 5 years. Secondly, we will fill up all government jobs to create new employment opportunities for youth. We will have a separate budget for our farmers. Thirdly, we will empower the people of India to fight against corruption. It will begin with the Rafale probe. Narendra Modi has nothing left to say about his poll promises so he is trying to divert attention.

Will Priyanka Gandhi contest in the Lok Sabha election?

A: Let’s see. Let there be some suspense for now!

You have been regularly seen performing puja or going to religious places. Do you perform puja in your private life?

My work is my biggest worship. The work I do and the path of my life are also an important form of worship for me. That’s also a part of our Indian culture. If a person or a community invites me to their place of worship or house, I would definitely like to go. I respect and understand their religious sentiments. This is the path of India.

Three people in your home are involved in politics. Do you discuss politics even while spending family time?

We talk about both family and political issues.

In many families brothers and sisters sometimes banter with each other. For example, my sister is over 55 years old and she still argues a lot with me. Do you have disagreements with Priyanka over any political issues?

Let me tell you, it never happens and it will never happen because we have seen the sacrifices made by our grandmother and father. We both have seen how families and family ties are the most important things in life. We respect each other a lot and also work together in tandem. If at all there is a difference of views we discuss them and either she agrees with me or I agree with her. But hardly ever do we have major disagreements.

The Congress had reduced strength in Parliament but from the beginning, it was vocal against the government. Now, it looks like it is increasingly becoming a personal battle between Narendra Modi and you. Do you agree?

I had hugged him in front of everyone in Parliament. You go through all my speeches and see, I never make any personal attacks. I speak with affection. I don’t talk about his family. I never say anything about his father or mother or his wife. I respect the Prime Minister, but he should speak the truth. He claims to be a chowkidar, but on the other hand gives, Rs 30,000 crore to Anil Ambani in the Rafale deal, what else can be said but theft? It’s not my personal battle. I am only carrying out my responsibilities for the country.

[The government and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group have denied allegations of any wrongdoing in the Rafale deal]

You had hugged Narendra Modi once but did you ever see any such feeling for you in him?

No. It looks like he has personal animosity against me. But I don’t have any personal animosity or hate towards him. My fight is on ideological grounds. I am fighting against his ideology. I neither have any anger nor any vengeance against Modi. But he has anger and the need for revenge. When he meets me in public, he often looks away. That’s his style.

First Published: Apr 21, 2019 10:17 IST

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