Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot, who has been instrumental in turning the fortunes of the party around in the poll-bound state, speaks to Ashhar Khan about his party’s performance in Gujarat and in the future. Excerpts from the interview:
The recently-concluded local body elections have given a boost to the Congress. How do you see the party’s chances in Rajasthan?
I would like to answer your question in plain and simple statistics. When I started out, in the Lok Sabha elections, the difference between the BJP and us as far as voteshare is concerned was 26 per cent. Now, after the local body elections, we have narrowed the gap to just one per cent. We are 46 per cent and the BJP is 47 per cent. The Congress has beaten the ruling BJP in the local body elections in Rajasthan; we have won all four zila parishads in the state. Out of 27 panchayat samitis, the Congress won 16. It is there for all to see that the BJP government led by chief minister Vasundhara Raje is rapidly losing popularity and we in the Congress are ready with a credible alternative.
There has been farmers’ unrest in Rajasthan. You have been at the forefront of agitations led by the Congress. What are your demands?
There is a lot of stress in the farming community. This includes farmers, landless farmers, farm workers and labourers. Also, the ancillary industries associated with farming. This has been aggravated by the hasty rollout of GST, or “Gabbar Singh Tax”, and demonetisation. Already, the farming community was facing hardships, and this has come as a rude shock to them. I have been touring the state intensively. There is no district or town that I have not visited. The situation is the same for framers all along. The BJP in its manifesto had promised minimum support price plus 50 per cent. Now where is the MSP and where is the 50 per cent? The farmer is not getting the fair price for his yield, so how does he pay for his expenses? The problem is not limited to the state alone. You can see spontaneous agitations breaking out in several states. We want the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee implemented. Also, the BJP government, both at the Centre and states, should address farmers’ issues at the earliest.
Apart from farmers’ issues, Rajasthan has become a hotbed of violence in the name of gau raksha and hate crimes. What’s your take?
Unfortunately, certain incidents have taken place that have raised a lot of questions on the state of law and order prevailing under the present BJP government in Rajasthan. This is nothing but a complete failure of the state government for not reining in fringe elements. In fact, it seems Ms Raje is not able to control these elements, or they have a tacit understanding with these groups, who are loosely attached to the ruling dispensation. In both cases, the state government has much to answer as these incidents are reported internationally and it brings a negative effect to our tourism industry and business sentiments.
The Congress has a new president at the helm. How do you see the change in the party?
Sonia Gandhi has been the longest serving president of the party. She had steered the Congress to victory in very testing and trying times. Mrs Gandhi is the only person who willingly decided not to become Prime Minister of this country in 2004. The party owes a lot to her. But since the 2013 Jaipur session, a change has been in the offing, and now Rahul Gandhi has taken over. We are a 133-year-old party and every president has his or her own ideas and plans to take the party and organisation forward. We have seen how Mr Gandhi is taking the party forward. It is a mix of wisdom of the experience and energy of the youth.
In Gujarat, the Congress put up a brave fight and restricted the BJP in its bastion to double digits. How will this have an impact on the Rajasthan elections in 2018?
The Modi wave is waning. The state leaders of the BJP stand exposed. The downfall of the BJP started in Gujarat during the Rajya Sabha elections in August this year, when our senior leader Ahmed Patel won. The BJP used all the means at its disposal to defeat the Congress, but the truth prevailed. Similarly, the campaign by our new president in Gujarat paid dividends for the party. Gujarat has been a bastion of the BJP and now the Congress is in a commendable position in the state. Our tally in the Gujarat Assembly is the best after 1985. This is because of the faulty policies of the BJP and its hollow model of governance that was exposed by Mr Gandhi.
There are byelections to be held in your parliamentary constituency of Ajmer and other constituency of Alwar in Rajasthan. Will you be contesting them?
As they say, first things first. There are three parliamentary byelections that will be held at the end of January. Let me categorically assure you that the Congress is going to win all three. The Congress has been winning byelections wherever they are taking place — be it Gurdaspur, Amritsar or Jhabua-Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. I have been extensively touring Rajasthan, meeting people at the grassroots level, and interacting with party cadres at the booth level. Now. whatever the high command wants me to do, I will abide by it as a humble soldier of the party.
You were a minister in the UPA government. Do you feel the recent 2G spectrum ruling has removed the corruption taint against your government?
Well, the BJP went to town against the Congress and our government, shouting corruption. A lot of astronomical figures were being thrown around, and the BJP, which was in Opposition, latched on to it. A vicious campaign was launched against us. But now the court judgment has categorically stated that there was no criminality. The entire 2G trial has been directly monitored by the Supreme Court, with reports of its progress submitted to it on a monthly basis. Thus, the 2G investigation was referred by the Supreme Court to the CBI, the trial was given to a special CBI judge by the Supreme Court. The public prosecutor was appointed by the Supreme Court, the trial was directly monitored by the Supreme Court. The trial court was directed by the Supreme Court to decide the matter bereft of preliminary observations, in absence of a full trial, of the Supreme Court. In the end, we all know the judgment of the trial court.
How do you see the NDA government at the Centre?
We can talk about all areas at length. This government is basically about publicity, amplification and propaganda. There are no concrete steps, measures or agenda that this government has. Look at the economic situation of the country. Hasty implementation of GST and demonetisation has dealt a severe blow to the small and medium trader. The BJP promised two crore jobs per annum, and now look at the unemployment figures. The people are witnessing all this and they will give an appropriate answer when the elections are held.