Congress President Rahul Gandhi banishing the description of the Mahagathbandhan (the Grand Alliance) versus the BJP as chaos versus Modi said that while oppositions are united, it is not the alliance but the BJP which is amidst chaos withy senior party leaders. Rahul, in an interview, said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who was recently appointed as the party in charge for Uttar Pradesh (east), would also play a national role as well. “As general secretary, she has, by definition, a national role… I give a job, and then I give another job based on the success of the job,” Gandhi said.
As Congress president, Gandhi said he was keen on strengthening the party and indicated that would drive his approach towards alliances. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, where the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have left the Congress out of their grouping to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he said that while the Congress would “work with the SP and the BSP because we have ideological agreement on a number of issues with them… we are not going to give up our right to push our ideology in Uttar Pradesh either”.
The demand for a Ram temple is a hot button issue in Uttar Pradesh but Gandhi declined to commit himself one way or the other. “It would not be fair for me to opine as the highest court in the country is deliberating on it,” he said. “I would say that what the Supreme Court decides is what the Congress and everyone will accept.”
Gandhi targeted Modi in the interview, and said in his “15 years of political career”, he has not seen “the type of Opposition unity” that exists today. “If I [were to] speak to Mr [Nitin] Gadkari, Ms [Sushma] Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, their [the BJP’s] entire leadership, I wouldn’t be surprised to find absolute rejection of Mr Narendra Modi’s style of functioning. So, the division is actually in the BJP and what is keeping that division publicly out of sight is fear… So, what Mr Modi has not understood is that Mr Modi is only Mr Modi’s leader.”
Gandhi elaborated that the opposition parties were absolutely united on three things. One, the need to address the job crisis; two, the challenges posed by agrarian distress; and three, that “we are not going to let Mr Modi and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] destroy India’s institutions”. Every institution in India, Gandhi added, “is facing Mr Modi’s autocratic backlash. Mr Modi believes that he is the Lord of India, just like the British believed.”
Gandhi also said he believes the anti-corruption image that Modi fought the 2014 elections has been completely eroded by the Rafale controversy. “Mr Modi’s credibility is gone,” he said, adding that when he is driving around Delhi, he hears people say “chowkidar chor hai” (the watchman is a thief) to him. The slogan, coined by the Congress, was used during the assembly elections late last year and is a riff on Modi’s comment in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that he was a watchman who wouldn’t allow any corruption on his watch. “I know that there is something wrong” about the Rafale deal, he said, adding that if his party came to power, it would ask experts on military aircraft, and defence purchases, to look into the deal and that “if they feel something needs to be done, it’ll be done”. But “my understanding is that the Rafale is a good aircraft,” Gandhi added.
Gandhi said that he and the Congress would fight for the rights of anyone to whom injustice was being done, including big businesses. “If somebody is unfair to the biggest industrialists in the country, I will be the first person to try and make it fair… where I draw the line is when somebody in India is violent against somebody else. That’s my main issue with the RSS – you are spreading hatred and violence… I will fight you for it.”
An aggressive Gandhi targeted the BJP for being soft on businessmen who run companies loaded with debt and ignoring the plight of farmers. “How many farmers can walk into Mr Arun Jaitley’s office or to a resolution professional and seek a 60%-75% haircut? That’s the crux of it,” he said. Crony capitalism was one of the biggest charges against the Congress-led UPA that ruled India between 2004 and 2014, and Gandhi has now taken a similar tack to attack the government.
In the hour-long interview, Gandhi also laid out his party’s strategy to take on the agrarian crisis and create jobs. “Agriculture has no magic wand. It needs a comprehensive and composite policy and strategic intervention.” First generation Green Revolution policies don’t work anymore, especially because of globalisation, he explained. On jobs, he said, “you are not going to get jobs from the 15-20 biggest industrialists in the country. You will generate jobs from unleashing the huge potential of micro, small and medium businesses”. His idea involves tapping local skills and abilities (Gandhi listed Moradabad, Kanpur, Sriperumbudur, Surat and Ludhiana as instances of districts that have expertise in metal working, leather manufacturing, mechanical work, textiles and gems, and hosiery). “Give them access to banks, give them support, protect them and see what happens.”