Exclusive | ‘Will investigate Rafale deal if Congress comes to power’, says Rahul Gandhi
“Congress will get positive results because the country is disappointed with the BJP and wants change,” says Rahul Gandhi.Updated: Apr 21, 2019 10:10 IST
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is confident that the grand old party will do much better in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections than estimated by media surveys. In an interview with Shashi Shekhar, editor of Hindustan, a sister publication of the Hindustan Times, Gandhi said the mood of the people clearly favoured change and listed the major failures of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, including rising unemployment, rural distress and alleged corruption in the Rafale deal. The coalition Congress has formed in Tamil Nadu will “wipe out everybody,” Gandhi said, and the alliance in Bihar will “bring great results.” He also said Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, would give a “huge majority” to the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls. Edited excerpts:
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 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 one.
A. 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.
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 [Nyuntam Aay Yojana mentioned in the manifeso], will play a big role in this.
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.
What do you consider the three failures of Narendra Modi?
Unemployment, the destruction of Indian economy, demonetisation and Gabbar Singh Tax.
You have tried to change the political narrative through Nyay. The government faces fund constraints today, how will you implement it?
A. We have always kept our promise. We spoke of a 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 governments in these states, we waived the loans of farmers. Now they say from where will get the annual ₹72,000 for five crore families? 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.
Do you remember what Mr Modi said 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, ₹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 ₹72,000 every year in the bank accounts of the poorest of the poor. That’s ₹ 3.6 lakh 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?
Let’s see. Let there be some suspense for now!
You have been regularly been 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.
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 (of it) but (that it’s) 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.