HT interview: United Opposition will form a stable govt for 10 years, says Kharge | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

HT interview: United Opposition will form a stable govt for 10 years, says Kharge

May 24, 2024 05:33 AM IST

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge is optimistic about his party's campaign, INDIA's prospects, and hints at a regime change after the election results.

As the seven-phase general elections enter the final two rounds, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge spoke to Sunetra Choudhury and Saubhadra Chatterji about his party’s campaign, the prospects of the INDIA alliance, and suggested that there were signs that there would be a change in regime when the results are announced. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge. (HT)
Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge. (HT)

The Opposition seems optimistic about its chances. What are the signs that you’re seeing?

We visited several states and several constituencies. We got positive feedback that the Congress will come back with greater numbers and the INDIA alliance will definitely win this election. The response from the public and women particularly is a new phenomenon. This was not the situation in 2019, but wherever you go, whether it is an adivasi area, the city, middle-class and lower middle-class areas, their response is very good.

If we talk a little bit about Maharashtra, both your alliance partners have suffered a split. Has it weakened the INDIA alliance in the state and is there confusion about which faction will get the vote?

All three alliance partners are very good and are cooperating. Today, a grassroots-level worker told me the MVA alliance will be ahead and we’ll get more seats than the BJP. For the people, there is no confusion. Even in an area such as Nanded, they said this time even Ashok Chavan (former Congress, now BJP leader) was not allowed to enter villages. You can find out from your own sources. And apart from that, they say this is a national election and we don’t have these differences that other political parties have at the local level. That is nothing to do with the Parliament elections that we are fighting with Sharad Pawar and (Uddhav) Thackeray. We did nearly 34 meetings, Rahul (Gandhi) also attended them and Priyanka (Gandhi Vadra) also did one or two. I did not find any difficulty in winning more than 50% seats in Maharashtra.

Uttar Pradesh, in terms of rallies of Rahul Gandhi or Akhilesh Yadav, has seen larger crowds. How confident are you there?

Last time we had only one seat. From that, we are moving to more than double digits. Whatever we are gaining, the BJP’s seats will get reduced. Our ally SP is doing fine and moving everywhere. You can see the crowds and the response given to Rahul and also Akhilesh. Apart from that, this time people themselves are fighting against Modi. It is not our election. But automatically, people are coming forward and they want to defeat Modi, because of high prices, because of unemployment, because of whatever he said in the last 10 years — everything is a lie. If I say black money -- he said I will bring and distribute it within 100 days. Has he? Then people expected that he’s a first-time Prime Minister so he may deliver sometime later. Then again, one more promise of two crore jobs. Has he given? Then third thing he said was to double farmer incomes. Has he done so? So, whatever he promised, he could not fulfil it. He did demonetisation unnecessarily. And he said give me 100 days, I will improve everything. Has it improved? If it has improved, how was there so much black money to send in tempos and trucks? This is what Modi ji himself has said — the money is coming from Adani and Ambani [to the Congress] in trucks and in the jeeps. If black money has been stopped, where is it coming from? People are fed up and disagreeing with whatever he’s said.

Why do you think Prime Minister Modi talked about Adani-Ambani? Were you surprised?

No. In his enthusiasm for talking and criticising the Opposition, he said this. And now he himself is stuck in his own words. If there is such money, then send ED, send IT, send your CBI to inquire into it. Why are you hesitating? All of those you have named are part of your circle.

A survey that was done recently said that people are unhappy about unemployment and inflation. But it also said when they asked the same people, who will you vote for, they said we will vote for Modi. Is that something that is worrying you?

In surveys, people are fed up with high prices and high unemployment. They agreed; it means whoever may have been asked the question, they may be sympathisers of the BJP. I agree with that much. But when we go to the ground-level, you will find nobody is voting for him (the PM). Lower middle-class, minorities, Dalits and people who earn minimum wages are not happy. Hundred people can say 100 things, but it is true that this time Modi is on the back foot. See how many meetings he has done. Has he done so many earlier? How many states he covered with roadshows — has any Prime Minister done so many? It means he is worried. When a person is anxious, he starts doing and saying strange things. The Congress is doing a survey to assess how much you have, how much gold, how much livestock, mangalsutra — does any Prime Minister speak like this? Mutton, chicken — what is this? You speak on your policy, you speak on your development, you speak about your achievements, and whether people accept it or not. Whether the Opposition will expose you or not, that is a different thing. But being a Prime Minister, you are instigating people. That’s why people have understood him, and that’s why he will definitely have to hand the reins of the government to the INDIA alliance.

What is your prediction about the INDIA bloc’s tally in these Lok Sabha elections?

I don’t think I am able to predict numbers, but I will definitely say we will cross 300. We can stop Modi from coming to power. That itself shows that we are crossing 273. Therefore I said we will cross 300.

The Prime Minister is talking about his connection with the Muslim community and how he would celebrate Eid with his neighbours by exchanging snacks. Do you see it as a serious effort to woo Muslim voters?

This is one more lie. Earlier, he said the Muslims will take away [resources], that Muslims eat beef. Was he going to eat chicken, mutton in their house, or vegetarian? See, these [statements] are just to get votes. He is diverting the attention of Muslims and misleading others. If you indeed believed in that (unity), why do you talk every day about “Hindu-Musalman Hindu-Musalman”. I don’t know why he has become like that.

The Prime Minister, who is known to be a good orator, has said in some rallies that if INDIA alliance comes to power, there will be chaos, there will be five Prime Ministers. How are you countering it?

I want to remind you that in 2004, all parties were together. All parties promised something before the election. And there was only one leader, AB Vajpayee, and the India Shining campaign. And there was no majority in any party. The Congress party got hardly 140 seats, and from other parties, they formed the group UPA. When Sonia Gandhi said -- I am thankful to her, grateful to her, she saved the nation at that time -- she was asked to lead the country as the Prime Minister, she refused and she said I will bring a good man to this post. A great economist and a man who can run the country economically better. Then Manmohan Singh ji came and was there for five years. Was there disturbance? Modi says every year there will be a new PM. If you want to be the only PM, as a dictator, if you want to rule... but here, in a democracy, with all other partners, they ran the government for 10 years. And they brought very good policies, not like demonetisation. He improved the economy. When Manmohan Singh used to speak, the entire world used to listen, as [Barack] Obama said.

Why should we lie? Just posing as a big man is not going to help. He (Modi) speaks about himself — I will bring the bullet train, I will do this — it is not going to help. A united Opposition will give you a stable government that will rule for 10 years. You will see afterwards what I said is correct. We have the example of 2004 to 2014.

Has the conversation begun? About who the PM should be or the potential PM candidate is?

The alliance partners will decide this. Even if I say, like Modi, I have got this, I have got that, we don’t say that because when alliance partners are there, the alliance partners will sit after the election if they get proper numbers.

There are some people who feel that it would be great to get the first Dalit Prime Minister.

I believe in the party’s ideology, rather than asking for any position as a Dalit, I have not asked in 53 years. I became a first-timer as an education minister. Second, I became revenue and rural development minister. Third, I again became rural development minister. I never asked for portfolios, I never asked in the name of Dalits, though there were five Dalit ministers from my community alone. But I got a chance to serve. It depends on your commitment to the party’s programme and policy. Yes, our leader is there, Rahul Gandhi is there, and the alliance partners will decide. Ifs and buts will not work in politics, only the decision of what our alliance partners say is important. There is a saying — it may be your interest to be our masters but how can it be ours to be your slaves? You should not ask based on the community. A person like me, who has devoted 53 years to this, I am fighting for the cause. When you fight for the cause, naturally you have to lose something. And if my people are happy, if the Constitution is retained, if democracy is retained, I’m more happy, because this is more beneficial  than becoming the prime minister.

If INDIA comes to power, what will the formula for electing the PM? Will it be based on the number of MPs a party has?

Let us win the election first. Once we do, we will decide how the PM will be elected. A child has not been born yet, how can we discuss what its size will be?

The Election Commission case comes up today. This is about 17C and also publishing all the voter data. What are you hoping to hear and what kind of intervention would you like from the Supreme Court?

What we are simply asking is why they refused to give the poll data immediately. Many times what happens, we calculate immediately during an election and give the total polling data. They say the average polling percentage is 55. But then after 10-11 days, you say it has become 60%. How can you do it? You collect data from each DM, the returning officers, and your election officers then on the same day you can have data collected and declared.

Some Opposition leaders have expressed doubts over the voter turnout figures. If you don’t get a result of your liking on June 4, what do you plan to do?

I don’t doubt the Election Commission or any autonomous bodies under the Constitution. We respect everybody, whether it is the judiciary or the EC. The only thing is, whatever mistakes are made, why can’t they be accepted? Otherwise I don’t have any problem with anybody. I respect them.

Many BJP leaders are saying in their campaign that Congress was absent during the inauguration of the Ram Temple.

I have replied to this issue many times. I don’t want to speak again on this. We have not stopped anyone from going to the Ram Temple. People are free to follow their own faith.

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