Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 | Last Update : 03:59 PM IST
It is a battle of secularist versus pseudo-secularists.
The Congress has pulled out all the stops in the run-up to the Gujarat poll, but with its numbers already decimated by the expulsion of Shankarsinh Vaghela and seven Congress legislators that was preceded by as many as 13 Congress MLAs switching to the BJP, can the Congress breach the BJP bastion. In an interview with Sreeparna Chakrabarty, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala pointed to the anti BJP tirade in the social media as an indicator of the shift in the mood in Gujarat. Excerpts:
Q: How confident is the Congress of the upcoming polls in Gujarat?
A: We are 100 percent confident of coming to power in Gujarat. We are ready to build Gujarat afresh. If you transpose the results of Panchayati Raj institutions and Zilla Parishad elections, the Congress was victorius in 108 Assembly segments in the state and that is a clear victory. And post that, demonetisation and GST happened, which has unnerved the common shopkeeper, farmer and trader.
Q: Does the Congress have the strength to transform this disenchantment with BJP into votes?
A: I think the Congress has the wherewithal and the strength and support of people of Gujarat. Our cadre is optimistic. They are working on the ground and can sense the pain of the people, be it on GST or demonetisation. These include merchants and handloom weavers, who have all been sidelined and subjugated by the government.
First and foremost this election is a fight between 6.5 crore Gujaratis and the BJP. It is not a bipartisan political fight. The devastation and damage, which has been caused to Gujarat’s development in 22 years of BJP rule is vast.
The mirage of false promises that the BJP built. The scam-tainted and corruption ridden Gujarat government has already been rejected in the minds and soul of the people of Gujarat. This is unnerving the BJP.
That is why for the first time, you will see the ordinary Gujarati is coining slogans like "Vikas gando thayo che' or “Vikas has gone crazy”, which is unnerving the BJP. That is why Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are saying do not trust social media, which is sacrilege for them. Because they had come to power on that basis and now it has come back to bite them.
Q: There was a powerful social media campaign before Uttar Pradesh also but it failed to transform into votes.
A: The most important issue in any election is finally the will of the people. Whether it is social media or other modes of election campaign, they can only send a message. But Gujarat, the social media campaign is not run by Congress at all but the people. They are the ones who are asking questions, who are seeking accountability and asking the government to reply.
Q: Won't wooing the Patidars spoil the traditional caste and social base of the Congress?
A: In Gujarat, the traditional supporters of Congress have always been the Backward Classes, the Scheduled Tribes and the farmers. Even during the freedom movement, both Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel led the party through a movement of peasants and downtrodden tribals.
In between, we had lost our sectional base, due to lack of connect. But if you see today, the agrarian communities, be it Patidars or others like Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes, they are all siding with Congress party and there is great connect by all these sections with Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who is day in and day out not only criticising the BJP, but saying that this is the way out for Gujarat.
Q: While Congress is managing the social engineering, will the BJP walk away with votes on the nationalism plank?
A: It is a battle of secularist versus pseudo-secularists. The BJP is a party which had invited ISI to investigate Pathakote attacks.