Former Union minister and Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken says that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi will be facing each other in the 2019 parliamentary polls, regional parties should strengthen the Congress to take on the BJP at the national level. Mr Maken, however, ruled out the possibility of any alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. In an interview with Sanjay Kaw and Vandita Vashishth, he says the Congress’ significance as a national party will diminsh if any such tie-up takes place.
After joining hands with a regional outfit in Karnataka, there are talks in political circles that the Congress will join hands with other regional parties to take on the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections. What do you have to say about this?
There will be two scenarios for us in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. One will be at the state level and the other at the national level. The Congress and the BJP will take on each other at the national level. Since people are going to vote for the prime ministerial candidates, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will face each other at the national level. There is a change of perception in the mind of the people about these two leaders. This change will determine the outcome of the 2019 elections. The BJP contested the 2014 elections on the Gujarat model of governance. And the Anna Hazare movement falsely discredited the Congress, which contributed to the victory of the saffron party. Also, 10 year anti-incumbency and false propaganda unleashed by Mr Modi helped the BJP win these elections. Further, Mr Gandhi’s image was wrongly put up before the voters by thousands of paid persons behind the computers. But truth shall prevail in 2019.
People of this country have seen the works of both these leaders. People have a lot of hope on Mr Gandhi. His persistent fight across the country for poor and downtrodden has made people realise that he is the one who can take the country forward. On the other hand, Mr Modi is seen as someone who is protecting crony capitalists, some of who are his old friends. The narrative of the 2019 elections will be what Mr Gandhi stands for and so-called “model” of Mr Modi.
Are you going to join hands with AAP in Delhi to take on Mr Modi in 2019?
We faced the Assembly elections in 2013 and 2015 in Delhi and the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. In these three elections, Anna movement played a very important role in making Mr Modi the Prime Minister of this country. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was the main organiser of this movement. He, along with Puducherry governor Kiran Bedi, yoga guru Ramdev, the RSS and the BJP, created an atmosphere against the Congress. Since the movement was in Delhi, its maximum impact was also felt here.
Since 1981, the BJP has won only one Assembly election in Delhi. For 37 years, the Congress has kept the BJP at bay in all the polls. And the leaders who kept the BJP at bay are still in active politics in Delhi. Our party has a stronghold in Delhi. We do not need any other party to take on the BJP. What we need is an alliance and understanding within our party to take on the BJP. Union minister Dr Harsh Vardhan is the only BJP leader who has won more than one election in Delhi. Other BJP leaders are one-time wonders. The BJP is already toying with the idea of changing all its seven MPs in Delhi in 2019.
On the other hand, AAP has no Lok Sabha MP in Delhi. I myself have won five elections. We have leaders who have been ministers for 10-15 years. AAP is spreading rumours that we are going to have a tie-up with them. Both Congress general secretary in-charge of Delhi P.C. Chacko and myself have no clue about any such alliance. All I can say is that none of the leaders and party workers is in favour of any such alliance in Delhi. Also, Delhi is the national capital. The significance of the Congress as a national party will cease if we go in for any such tie-up with AAP. We have to be a viable national party and an effective alternative to the RSS-backed BJP. Any alliance with AAP will diminish the role of our party at the national level.
But Mr Gandhi has said that he is open to regional alliances to take on the BJP…
The most important thing is that the Congress has to be strong at the national level. Smaller parties coming together can beat the BJP once. If the Congress is weak, there is no way we can defeat the communal forces. Regional parties should think for the welfare of the entire country. They should strengthen the Congress to take on the BJP. People voted for Mr Modi in 2014 who, in turn, overshadowed his party. Earlier, people voted for former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. If you need a strong PM candidate, you have to strengthen the national party.
Except for the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, all other regional outfits have at one time or another supported the BJP...
During the Anna movement, AAP had the full support of the RSS. All other parties have now realised the dangers the BJP has posed to the basic democratic values and freedom in our country. Four years of Mr Modi has shown us the glimpse of what the RSS is capable of doing once it assumes power. They have created a very scary scenario in the country. There is an atmosphere of fear, hatred, mistrust and distrust all over. It is only because of these reasons that the country’s economy has been hit. After all, core democratic values of freedom and secularism are all interlinked.
You have been in politics since your college days. What is your take on the next general elections?
These elections will be the most politically relevant and direct the future course for the entire nation.
You will be facing Assembly polls in Delhi in 2020…
The AAP got votes of all parties in 2015. That is the reason they got 67 of the 70 seats. After these polls, we fought four more elections. In May 2016, the byelections in 13 municipal wards saw AAP and Congress bagging five each seats while BJP won three wards. The voteshare of the Congress went up from 9.5 per cent to 24 per cent, but that of AAP decreased from 56 per cent to 29 per cent. The BJP just got 33 per cent votes. Then, in Rajouri Garden Assembly bypoll, AAP could not retain the seat; it just got 13 per cent votes while the Congress got 33 per cent votes. Again in the municipal elections, the Congress got 21.6 per cent votes while AAP’s voteshare went down to 25.6 per cent. In Bawana, AAP secured 1.9 lakh votes in 2015 but in the byelections it got just 55,000 votes while our party’s share went up from 14,000 to 33,000. AAP lost both the Assembly byelections.
What are the key issues likely to dominate the 2019 polls?
There will be different issues in different states. The narrative of parties will differ from one state to another. But common issues will be Mr Modi’s failed economy, agriculture, unemployment, and fear and mistrust looming large across the country.
Before 2019, there are state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Will you tie-up with regional parties in these states?
Talks are already on with regional outfits in these states. The outcome of state elections will have a direct impact on the Lok Sabha elections.
What role will social media play in the future elections?
Social media is a new tool in our democratic set-up. The Congress, as a grand old party, was perhaps a bit late in adopting the new technology and social media. But our organic strength at the ground level is stronger than other parties. In the last four years, we have caught up with the gap in social media.
Mr Gandhi, who is now at the helm of affairs, has created a data management department at the AICC and state units to micro manage the organisation at the booth level. These technological advancements are been given due importance and are now being incorporated in our political strategy. He has infused new energy in our workers. He is incorporating new technology in our political strategy. He is expanding base among marginalised sections and a section of professionals who had never participated actively in the party affairs. He has created professional Congress which is headed by Shashi Tharoor. Our unorganised party workers are headed by Arvind Singh. Once all the sections are integrated, you will see the wonders it will create in 2019.