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Rahul Gandhi has taken the lead to stop BJP, says Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge

Mallikarjun Kharge is the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and a key member of the new Congress Working Committee. He speaks about the Congress strategy for 2019, and the functioning of Parliament

india Updated: Jul 23, 2018 08:36 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Prashant Jha
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Mallikarjun Kharge,Parliament
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge addressing the media at AICC headquarters in New Delhi.(PTI File Photo)

A veteran Karnataka politician from the Dalit community, Mallikarjun Kharge is the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and a key member of the new Congress Working Committee (CWC). He spoke to Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Prashant Jha about Friday’s no-confidence debate in the House, Rahul Gandhi’s speech, Sunday’s CWC meet, the Congress strategy for 2019, and the functioning of Parliament. Edited excerpts:

The government decisively defeated the no-confidence motion on Friday. What did your party achieve?

This is not a question of gaining or losing. We have won the hearts of the people. It was a question of the people of Andhra Pradesh, nearly five crore people. We pleaded on their behalf. We stood with them. That is our biggest achievement. On the numbers, everyone knew they had so many numbers and we had so many. We also expected that some of the parties against the policies of the Modi government, which is supported by RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), to vote for the motion. Their own ally, Shiv Sena, boycotted. Some other parties, TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi), BJD (Biju Janata Dal), boycotted and were silent. From this only, you can count how much dissatisfaction is there among MPs. They represent different states. Various states are unhappy with this government. Third, we also wanted to expose this government’s misdeeds. Rahul Gandhi exposed their failures on Rafale, bank fraud, farmer distress, Dalit problems, and jobs. The citizens of the country feel their grievances are discussed in Parliament.

You mentioned the boycott of parties. Shiv Sena’s boycott weakened the government. But other parties boycotting weakened the Opposition and exposed claims of Opposition unity.

This is an ideological battle, not just of numbers. We believe in secularism, welfare of the poor and youth, safeguarding women’s rights, and preventing atrocities on Dalits. At the same time, what the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is following is the path of RSS, which is dangerous. They want to take us back 5,000 years. The country has progressed on secular principles for 70 years. All previous governments, including the Vajpayee government, behaved democratically. They may have had their own agenda. But it was never like this -- suppressing everything. They are pushing their agenda in autonomous institutions and universities. Modi represents this.

What prompted the AIADMK to support the government?

They have their own internal issues. There is a division there. So they have compulsions.

Did you expect Rahul Gandhi to be so aggressive?

He is aggressive nowadays. He is preparing himself. He is taking up the cause of the people. He is travelling from village to village, wherever problems arise. He has become aggressive because there is anger. These people are trying to destroy democratic principles. He is very agitated. He is the Congress president and will not tolerate injustice. There is enthusiasm to build the party and destroy the philosophy of RSS-BJP.

What did you think of his hug?

He taught them. RSS people try to teach people hate. As a Hindu, I can say that it teaches compassion.

But he came back and winked.

This has been played up by the media. That is nothing.

The BJP is suggesting that Rahul’s actions show his immaturity.

They don’t have any arguments. After his speech, they are flat. So they have nothing to say. After criticising so much, going and wishing the PM is a good thing. We are proud of Rahul-ji.

The PM, in his response, spoke about how the Congress had been unfair to its own leaders.

What is the relevance of this? The no-confidence motion was brought on a specific issue – special category status (for Andhra Pradesh). Did he talk about that? He has betrayed the people of Andhra Pradesh. Do people not know the Congress’s history? People do not need lessons from him. What has he done? He has betrayed his own mentor, (LK) Advani-ji. He betrayed senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi and others who built the party. I am not pleading on their behalf, but can you take the words of a man who betrays his own guardian seriously?

He also spoke about how the Congress has treated its allies. You withdrew support from Charan Singh, Chandrashekhar, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral. In the run up to 2019, as you are talking of an alliance, the PM was telling regional parties that the Congress is unreliable.

That is his version. Circumstances differ from time to time. You have to reply to what we raised. Why have you not created jobs? Why have you not brought back money? Why did you not increase MSP (minimum support price) as promised? He spent the first 50 minutes with drama, acting and mimicry. I have been in politics for 50 years. I have worked with many PMs, known them personally. Have you seen any PM behaving like this and mimicking people? He is calling Rahul childish. But he was the one who behaved childishly.

Rahul Gandhi also spoke of Rafale. The French issued a clarification. Do you think he should have been more careful on an issue of national security?

It has nothing to do with secrecy. He has disclosed a fact. We have decided to tell the people of the country what misdeed has been done… how a friend of the PM with no experience and a high debt was given a contract. Is this a skill development programme for a friend?

In the CWC on Sunday, there was a decision to go ahead with alliances. Will Congress be the fulcrum and will Rahul be the face of this alliance?

I am not an astrologer and can’t say what will happen. But we can say that Rahul Gandhi has taken the lead to ensure that the BJP, supported by RSS, must not come to power again because if they come, they will destroy democracy. That is why he is willing to compromise with regional parties. Each state has its specific situation. For instance, we (the Left and the Congress) are fighting in Kerala, but here we fight against Modi. To form such alliances, he is making an effort. The full CWC has authorised him to deal with opposition parties. We are fighting and Rahul is our leader. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, West Bengal to Gujarat, the national party is only Congress and its face is Rahul Gandhi.

But are you willing to give space to the regional parties and take a back seat then?

All details will be decided by Rahul Gandhi and his team. Without knowing the details, it would not be right for me to speak. He will make everyone comfortable.

There is a feeling that while alliances will help you in the short term, it weakens you organisationally in the long term. This has happened in UP and Bihar. Are you worried about that?

Sometimes this happens in one or two places. But we have to take into account larger interests of the country and its weaker sections. Naturally, our effort will be to give and take. Everyone knows their strengths and weaknesses.

You lead the Congress in Parliament. What we have seen is a breakdown of communication between the government and Opposition. There has been frequent disruption. How do you see it?

They are not reaching out. It is their responsibility to run the House smoothly. They should take our cooperation. We should also cooperate. But the ruling party itself is asking its allies to agitate. In the last session, they just adjourned the House within a few seconds. People sat, and it got adjourned…Whenever they want, they ask some of their friends to take up an issue and disrupt the house, and then they blame the Congress for it. Unfortunately, the media then says the Opposition is responsible.

Do you think the Monsoon session will work smoothly?

Many bills have got passed. In the past also, we have helped. The problem arises if any leader acts with vengeance. Did Nehru or Vajpayee behave like this?

Are you saying the PM is acting with vengeance?

Definitely. If you speak against him, he acts with vengeance. He is harassing states where his party is not in power. There are a number of examples. The country will not develop like this. He should have generosity and aim to develop the country.

A final question. In the CWC, concerns were raised about EVMs. Are you planning a campaign against it in the run up to 2019?

Many people are raising the EVM issue. My view is that it should be thoroughly examined. Many have doubts. Even in booths and areas where Opposition candidates and parties are very strong, votes have gone to the BJP. They are sweeping there too. This needs examination.

First Published: Jul 23, 2018 08:06 IST