Lok Sabha elections 2019: ‘Modi talking about nationalism to divert attention’, says Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot
Chief minister Ashok Gehlot spoke to Vinod Sharma about the Jodhpur constituency where his son Vaibhav is a candidate, the Congress’s poll plank in Rajasthan, and the Nuclear button, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
If Vaibhav does not win the electoral battle in Jodhpur, it could have grave implications for your chief ministership. How do you react to this perception?
My mission is to keep the Congress’s flag aloft in my country, my state, and my district. I am not working for personal interest, I’m working in the interest of the party. I have spent most of my life doing that. I’ll spend the rest of my life doing it. That’s my goal, that’s the essence of our Mission 25 in Rajasthan.
Is the fight in Jodhpur between Vaibhav and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Gajendra Singh, or is it between Ashok Gehlot and Narendra Modi?
I’ve been asking [Prime Minister] Modi and the BJP to fight on issues that affect people. That’s the democratic way. They must tell what their achievements are and what they want to do in future. But they aren’t discussing that. They’re raking up nationalism, the Ram temple and our army’s actions against Pakistan. Their game is to win through a polarised vote. I’m confident their plan won’t work this time in Rajasthan and across India.
What is the Congress’s poll plank here?
‘Vikas’ (development). Even my critics agree that I have brought development since I first became an MP from Jodhpur in the 1980s. Besides bringing water from the Indira Gandhi canal, I’ve set up broad-gauge rail lines, AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences], IIT [Indian Institute of Technology], NIFT [National Institute of Fashion Technology] and universities of law, ayurveda and agriculture.
But people tend to vote on social identities. I’ve heard that the Rajputs here are with Gajendra. Your appeal among them is limited.
It is an unfortunate reality that after seven decades of Independence, we’ve such rampant casteism. But there’s also a percentage of voters across communities whose decisions aren’t driven by caste and other allegiances.
The BJP says the Congress is soft on terrorism and, in the past, it did not allow the army to go after Pakistan. What’s your counter to these charges?
I only laugh at their thinking; the manner in which they debate issues. They first imagine and then answer their baseless questions in a comical manner. For example their claim of India being scared of Pakistan’s atomic button under the Congress rule. No prime minister has ever used or should use the kind of language Modi has used. No responsible world nuclear power has talked in this manner. Modi’s comments show his lack of experience in such sensitive matters.
India’s nuclear testing site, Pokhran, is in the Jodhpur Lok Sabha constituency. Tests were conducted during Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time. From the popular standpoint, how do you perceive Modi’s warning to Pakistan that the nuclear button isn’t for Diwali fireworks?
My 40 years’ experience in politics is twice that of Modi’s. He should have remembered that a 69% vote [share] was against him when he became PM, with a 31 % vote [share]. Had he been wiser, he would have taken others along, be it Ashok Gehlot, Sonia Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Ghulam Nabi Azad or Mayawati. That way, he’d have benefitted from the experience of others, including his seniors. But he was carried away by his bloated self-image, his 56-inch chest.
But what about Pokhran?
Modi and I are almost the same age. When I was four years old, in 1954, Pandit [Jawaharlal] Nehru laid the foundations of our nuclear capability. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre was set up in 1967. In 1974, Indira Gandhi got the country’s first nuclear test done at Pokhran, known as Pokhran 1. In 1998, Vajpayee ordered Pokhran 2 which was followed by Pakistan’s N-tests. What is Modi being arrogant about?
We are talking about nuclear bombs, not any harmless firecracker. Till date, nobody supports the American action of dropping nuclear bombs in Japan [in 1945]. Modi wants to mislead public opinion by resorting to rhetoric rather than speaking responsibly about India’s nuclear power status. The PM’s job is to educate the people, not lead them astray.
The big question is how well will the Congress do in states where it’s in direct contest with the BJP? How many seats will you win in Rajasthan, where the BJP won all 25 LS seats in 2014?
In 2014, the people were misled by Modi’s ‘achche din’ [good days] promise and the assurance of bringing home the black money stashed abroad. Not a penny has been brought in the past five years. His promise of two crore jobs for the youth has also been a pipe dream. Fuel prices have risen... the pink revolution [meat export] he claimed to contain has risen. He hasn’t delivered on any of his promises. That’s why he’s hiding behind nationalism. He’s seeking to replicate the history of rise of dictatorships amid such ruin, by whipping up war hysteria. The people, especially the youth, must understand that this doesn’t bode well for their own and India’s future.
But what kind of results are you expecting?
People have always voted fairly, be it in the times of Indira, Rajiv Gandhi or Vajpayee. Indira was defeated [after the Emergency], but was returned to power. Vajpayee’s ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good’ planks failed. Our people are silently wise, even if they’re not adequately literate. I have faith in the electorate’s common sense. I’m optimistic about a wave in our favour.
How many seats will you win?
As of today, I think we can cross the figure of 15 [out of 25].
What’s in your favour?
The BJP’s non-performance, their jumle baazi [tall talk]. Moreover, Rahul Gandhi’s rallies here have got good response.
Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have targeted you in their campaigns here, especially on the Pakistan question.
They attacked me even when I was in-charge of the Gujarat assembly elections. They alleged that as chief minister of Rajasthan earlier, I had denied Gujarat its share of water. I ask them what they have to say about it while asking for votes in my state? As CM, I defended the interests of my state. They came to Jodhpur out of revenge — to settle scores with me.
And they’ve spoken of Pakistan...
If Modi is PM, I’m also an elected CM. The language he used for me is an insult to the seven crore people of Rajasthan. By accusing me of speaking on behalf of Pakistan, he brought down the majesty of the office he holds.