Rajasthan assembly election 2018: No fight with Sachin Pilot, we are contesting together, says Congress’ Ashok Gehlot

Rajasthan assembly election 2018: Congress leader Ashok Gehlot said, “when the high command has to decide everything after the elections, there is no issue for any fight with Sachin Pilot.”

rajasthan elections Updated: Nov 29, 2018 07:59 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ashok Gehlot,Sachin Pilot,Rajasthan Election 2018
Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot at AICC headquarters in New Delhi on September 6.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot is among the tallest leaders of the party in poll-bound Rajasthan. The two-time chief minister spoke to Chetan Chauhan about the key issues ahead of the polls, chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s development record, perceived differences between him and state party president Sachin Pilot, and the formation of a grand alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Edited excerpts:

Several Congress rebels are still in the fray in Rajasthan. Will that dampen your party’s prospects?

In some seats, they can harm the party. We tried some damage control and asked them to withdraw. Some did, but many are still there. Our efforts to persuade them are still on and I am hopeful that many of them will retire from the contest.

The Congress has not announced any chief ministerial candidate in Rajasthan and other states. Why so?

The Congress has never declared a CM candidate since Independence in Rajasthan. Nationally also, we don’t normally declare chief ministerial candidates. Sadly, for the first time the opposition is making it a political issue. In democracy, people elect MLAs, and after consulting them, the chief ministerial candidate is announced. In Rajasthan, there is infighting within the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) as they took 75 days to announce a state president.

It is being said that there are differences between you and state Congress president Sachin Pilot.

I don’t agree. I have been doing politics for a long time, and there are no issues for us to fight over. When the high command has to decide everything after the elections, there is no issue for any fight with Sachin Pilot.

Read| ‘Third front’ fails to take off in Rajasthan; it’s still Congress vs BJP

The BJP has been saying that Gehlot and Pilot don’t see eye to eye and the Congress is a divided house.

Ours is a disciplined party and we go with what the high command says. I contested my first election in 1977; I have been a Member of Parliament five times; I’ve been a Union minister and a state party president three times; I have been chief minister and AICC (All India Congress Committee) general secretary twice; and I was state party president at the age of 34. I never asked for anything, and have accepted whatever the high command has decided. That should be the feeling in everyone. In the Congress, I have seen that projection of oneself does not help. Nobody should do it.

Aren’t the people thinking that the Congress does not have a clear CM choice?

We are contesting together. Rahul Gandhi’s visit is having a good impact in Rajasthan. The Bharatiya Janata Party has not been able to give a response to his (Rahul Gandhi’s) charges on the Rafale aircraft deal, demonetisation, and the shoddy introduction of GST (Goods and Services Tax). Freedom of expression is not there, hatred is being spread, mobiles phones even of bureaucrats are being tapped, and the police is raiding CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) in the middle of the night. What is happening, and why is the BJP not replying to these questions?

Some Congress leaders have commented on the family of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has become a poll issue. What do you have to say about this?

For the first time, I am seeing that the PM has taken public discourse to such a low level. Have you heard how he decries Jawaharlal Nehru and others? I would like to remind him that Nehruji was in jail for 10 years and he introduced India to white (milk) and green (agriculture) revolution. Modi compared the falling value of the rupee with Dr Manmohan Singh’s age. I am not protecting anyone, but want to say that leaders should speak on policies and programmes. Rahul Gandhi has told party leaders not to make personal attacks. The BJP is distorting statements of our party leaders by removing the context as they have nothing to say about their work in the last four-and-a-half years. Modi and the RSS (Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh) have made the worst kind of personal attacks on Rahul and Sonia Gandhi.

Read| Congress calls BJP manifesto for Rajasthan assembly election ‘deceptive document’

What is the difference between 2013 and 2018 elections in Rajasthan?

Last time, Modi was able to fool people, but not now. In March 2013 Modi was made the BJP campaign committee chairman, and in September 2013 he was declared the PM candidate. The BJP, the RSS, Baba Ramdev, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal held a protest against us on corruption charges, which created a wrong notion about the Congress. I want to ask, where are all these scams now? Former telecom minister A Raja (accused in the 2G spectrum case) has been acquitted, and the Lokpal, for which agitation happened, is nowhere to be seen. People have realised that the BJP and RSS lie, and will teach them a lesson.

What is the future of the much-talked-about grand alliance?

We have laid the foundation of the 2019 grand alliance in Rajasthan. The Congress has given tickets to candidates of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal and the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) in Rajasthan. Work has started to have an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. On December 10, the contours of the grand alliance will be discussed in Delhi by all opposition leaders.

What will be the impact of 2018 state elections on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?

Big impact. The tables will turn in 2019. Rahul Gandhi is fighting against Modi, who is not able to reply to any of his questions. The opposition is coming together.

Do you think there is an effort to polarise voters before the elections?

The (Ram) mandir issue has been brought up to polarise voters. But Hindus have realised that they (the BJP) are bringing the Ram temple issue only for votes and have no respect for Ram. They are not serious about the temple.

You are promising farm loan waivers in every state but economists say it is not a good decision. What do you have to say?

We waived loans worth Rs 72,000 crore (in 2008). The Centre should now waive loans of farmers who are in deep distress. On what economists are saying, I want to ask that if the Centre can waive loans of industrialists worth R3.5 lakh crore, then why not of farmers?

In Gujarat, we saw that the Congress did well in first phase and BJP came back in the second. What is your plan to prevent a late surge by the BJP in Rajasthan?

The election here is in one phase and we are well prepared. The Congress will form the government. We are confident of winning all five states. People are not speaking because of fear, but the picture will be clear on December 11.

This is a focus state for the BJP, with both PM Modi and national president Amit Shah visiting Rajasthan several times.

Let them campaign. The people are angry with them and they are anti the BJP. (Chief minister) Vasundhara Rajeji did not respect the mandate of 163 seats in 2013. She failed to do any development works, such as expansion of the Metro in Jaipur, oil refinery in Barmer, and the construction of a dam in Hadoti. In five years, she has stayed in big palaces and five-star hotels and has remained inaccessible. Her Gaurav (pride) Yatra is her Vidai (farewell) Yatra.

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First Published: Nov 29, 2018 07:14 IST