Lok Sabha elections 2019: ‘In a direct contest, Congress can defeat BJP,’ says Sachin Pilot
Rajasthan Congress president and deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot spoke to Aurangzeb Naqshbandi about the party’s chances in the state, a possible United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 3 government at the Centre this May, the difference between real and emotive issues, and the impact of the Congress’s Nyay scheme. Edited excerpts:
Rajasthan is a state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says it is confident of a clean sweep again. What is your assessment?
I think it is a very misplaced theory that the BJP is propagating because it has just lost the assembly elections. Don’t forget it had 165 out of 200 legislators. It was reduced to 70, which means it lost 95 legislators. We only had 21 legislators five years ago, and we have increased our tally five times. We are now 101. History will tell you that the incumbent party usually gets the windfall of the Lok Sabha seats.
So, we are working towards our Mission 25 and I am absolutely confident that the Congress party will do as well as the people expected us to do.
The BJP in Rajasthan is leaderless. Vasundhara ji [former CM Vasundhara Raje] has been moved to the Centre. I don’t think there is anyone that commands acceptability within the state. They have dropped one minister, which shows nervousness in that camp. In 2008, we were a minority government and still we got 20 out of the 25 seats. There is no reason why today, with a full majority government, we can’t do better than that.
You talked about leaderless BJP but is your own house in order after the tussle we saw over chief ministership after the assembly elections?
It is all a media creation. There was absolutely no tussle. All of us, after winning the elections, authorised Congress president to decide who leads the legislature party and when the decision was made I was a part of that. There is no confusion or any pulls and pressures. We are working seamlessly. The party and the government are working together to deliver the best results for the people of Rajasthan.
In the last three months, we have executed all the promises that we made in our manifesto - farm loan waivers, pension for aged people, unemployment allowances. We have actually delivered on the ground. People have received that very well. We have worked very hard and right from the booth level the Congress party’s structure is fully entrenched to take on the BJP. We have 51,000 booths and we have used IT platform to create a network for a two-way correspondence between the leaders and workers. We have 17 or 18 new ministers. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm at the top level. We are working tirelessly to ensure that we win maximum seats.
Do you think the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot air strike will have some impact on these elections since Rajasthan is a border state?
Whenever there is a challenge to our national security or our borders, it could be any government, any party or any Prime Minister, a same befitting reply will be given to anyone who looks at India with a crooked eye. The valour and sacrifice of our armed forces is something we all deeply respect. The men in uniform are a symbol of our faith and honour that we have for our country and they belong to every single person. But is it right to hide behind the sacrifice and valour of our armed personnel and hide the incompetencies of your government in the last five years? Five years ago, the phrases mob lynching and cow vigilantes were not in our dictionary. It is because of the BJP’s politics that we are hearing such things. They have created certain divisions that our society had never experienced.
If the Supreme Court is forced to say that don’t use religion and the army in the political discourse, it tells you that there are certain shortcomings in the governance structures of the current government. To rely on emotive issues such as Ram Mandir, Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim, and the action on borders, shows they have failed to disclose what they haven’t been able to do. Today, unemployment is at a 45-year high, a gas cylinder costs ~1,000, there are farmers’ suicides, agrarian distress, the economy is in shambles and demonetisation has crippled the rural economy.
I think the elections will be fought in the farm lands of our country, villages and towns, and there it will be bread and butter issues what will matter and not the kind of narrative that the BJP wants to set.
But BJP says only a strong government led by Narendra Modi could give that befitting reply?
Don’t forget that we took one lakh Pakistani soldiers as prisoners and we were instrumental in creating Bangladesh when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. So far, our armed forces have remained de-politicised and that’s really a good thing. In the entire subcontinent, it is only in India where the armed forces are segregated from the political leadership. We are proud of our armed forces and there is absolutely no debate over that. Questioning that is really mocking our history of 70 years.
The questions to be asked are has black money come back from overseas, are ~15 lakh in everybody’s bank accounts, have two crore jobs been created every year, how has economy gained by demonetization.
They [BJP] are not answering those questions and not talking about the real bread-and-butter issues.
When it comes to bread-and-butter issues, do you think your party has done enough after taking over in Rajasthan?
It has only been three months, but we have set our house in order. We first have tried to salvage and save the farming community from the critical crisis they were facing. We have announced a farm loan waiver of ~18,000 crore and that was needed to stop this heinous cycle of farmers’ suicides. We have given unemployment allowances of ~3,500 a month to educated girls and ~3,000 for men. You can see the intent and working of the government in the first impressions. There we have done a very good job of setting the agenda. We have made our manifesto a government document. In the first three months of our government, we have done what Vasundhara ji could not do in her entire tenure of five years.
Do you think the Nyay scheme will have an impact?
It’s a game-changer. Here is Mr [PM Narendra] Modi who has promised to give Rs 6,000 per year to the farming community. Here is the Congress party promising Rs 6,000 every month to the 20% poorest families of the country. When we launched MGNREGA [rural employee guarantee scheme], people in the BJP mocked us. Even the current government used to make fun of the scheme but did not have the political will to end that programme. It is a superbly successful poverty alleviation programme.
Similarly, Nyay is a game-changer and it took one year for us to figure out how much and how to do it. We have the technology, platform, and bank accounts, and it is easy to execute and we would ensure that the money comes to the woman of the house. The BJP has no answer to it.
You spoke of real issues and emotive issues. What do you think people are eventually going to vote for?
People vote for jobs, for their security and well-being so that they can progress as a family and as individuals. Every time there are elections, BJP talks about the temple issue and forgets it for five years. Why should a UP chief minister, instead of talking about his government’s performance in last two years, say I believe in Bajrangbali and they believe in Ali. It suits the BJP to have that kind of discourse. But it is unbecoming of people who hold high offices to say such things. It is a desperate and deliberate attempt by the BJP to clutch on at straws.
When you won your election in Rajasthan what are the things that worked for you?
We won the assembly elections because we started work on the ground for years before that. It was sustained and consistent hard work. We also focussed on small elections - municipal polls, dairy elections and if you do well in those grassroots elections you can do well in assembly elections.
So, you are convinced those factors will work for you in national elections?
Vasundhara ji and Modi ji - both are BJP. You can’t segregate the two. It is not possible. They have been voted out and now it is the BJP government at the Centre that is seeking re-election but that is not possible because in three bipolar and Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where they felt they were strong and we won all of them. In a bipolar contest, the Congress can defeat the BJP and defeat it comprehensively despite all the misuse of money, power and bureaucracy. And we will defeat them again in the parliamentary elections.
Do you see Congress crossing 100 seats in these elections?
I won’t give the numbers but I can tell you that UPA 3 is a reality. On May 23, you will have a new government and a new Prime Minister.