Former Union minister and PCC chief Sachin Pilot infused life into a comatose party that suffered the worst-ever defeat in its electoral history five years ago.
In an interview to Sanjay Bohra, Mr Pilot says the BJP can deploy any trick but won’t be able to erase five years of agony that the people have suffered. Excerpts from the interview:
How do you compare your Sankalp Yatra with chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra?
“Gaurav” means pride, but there is no “gaurav” in her yatra. It is a totally desperate initiative to pat her back using taxpayers’ money. She is forcing the administration and police to ferry people at taxpayers’ expense to listen to her but the people have disregarded her. They are angry, upset and disappointed for betraying their mandate. On the other hand, we are doing “Sankalp Yatra”. We are taking a resolve that farmers will not commit suicide, youngsters will actually get jobs and the resolve that this corrupt and autocratic government has to be thrown out of Rajasthan. People are giving overwhelming support; lakhs of them are coming at their own expense.
What is your interpretation of the high court judgment on the Gaurav Yatra?
The high court has done the right thing by not allowing Vasundharaji to claim political dividends with taxpayers’ money. Crores have been spent in the garb of “Gaurav Yatra”. This is a blatant misuse of public trust and money. She should not only deposit the money back into the government coffers whatever has been spent so far, but she must also apologise for this open loot.
But the Congress also undertook a Sandesh Yatra when Ashok Gehlot was chief minister in 2013?
Yes he did, but not a single rupee of government funds was spent on it. It was apolitical, which we did not try to camouflage and spent government money on it. The government machinery was not misused. Vasundharaji issued written orders to officials for arrangements even after the high court issued notices. So the high court very rightly delineated the two. It was a slap in the face of the BJP government.
Will you be able to sustain the momentum after getting off to an early start?
People don’t get impressed by last-minute campaigning anymore. A sustained effort over the years really develops the goodwill of the party in the hearts and minds of the people. So we have kept the government on its toes from 2014 onwards. We must have reached the people multiple times covering every Assembly segment at least three times through Kisan Nyay Yatra, Mera Booth Mera Gaurav and now Sankalp Yatra. We wouldn’t have won 20 out of 22 Assembly seats in byelections in four years but for a sustained campaign.
But the Congress has a history of faltering at the last moment. Gujarat, Karnataka and in Rajasthan too Mr Gehlot cautioned about 1993, when the party belied expectations?
We can always go back and look at 10, 15 and 20 years, but we have to look ahead. Times change and things evolve. Today Congress workers feel connected and motivated at the grassroots level. The BJP targeted 150 in Gujarat but got stuck at 99. It was okay for them to go as Opposition and campaign against the state government in Karnataka to try and get anti-incumbency vote, but here they have to pay for the follies of Vasundharaji. They cannot get away for all the misgovernance, corruption and malpractices she has overseen. They can deploy any trick but will not be able to get away from the responsibility of running the state and the damage she has done.
Senior Congress leaders have blamed inability to ineffective publicity of the UPA government’s achievements for the 2014 debacle. Doesn’t that problem still persist? Who is to be blamed for poor leadership, communication skills or weak organisation?
The world has changed. Technology, mobile and social media, it is now self-pervasive. If petrol is selling for `80 per litre, it needs no communication; 150 farmers committed suicide in Rajasthan and the whole world knows it. Bina paise diye kaam nahi hota. Rajasthan ke log jaante hain isko. Daily eight to 10 rapes take place despite there being a woman CM. So our good things could not be communicated but the negative aspects of Vasundharaji are very well communicated. But I am not looking at her negatives only to win this election. I am also looking at the positive aspects. We in the Congress are evolving a blueprint for the future in various sectors — investment, education, job creation, sanitation and healthcare. And we said that we will give good quality education and good jobs to everybody or easy credit on easy terms to youngsters and third is monthly allowance of up to Rs 3,500 to deserving families.
But the general perception is that the Congress has been unable to evoke and tap the public anger on inflation, rising fuel prices, job loss and agrarian distress, etc.
We are a party that believes in law and order. Whatever protests we did, we never took a route to create anarchy in the state. The point is that we must criticise in a responsible way; we must demonstrate keeping the civility in mind and pressure the government without creating problems for the common man. People are very smart these days whether we have been able to tap public anger or not you will know when voting will take place. It is not right to say we are not effective. Despite only 44 MPs, we failed Modiji’s attempt to dilute the Land Acquisition Act eight times. Vasundharaji was forced to withdraw the “gag order” and power tariff hike.
What will be your chances if the BJP once again makes it a personal contest between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi?
People want issue-based politics. One can give speeches and jumlas, but the economy is hurt, job loss and farmers distress are rampant. The BJP will have to pay for the ills; the false promises they made. That will be paid back. People vote on ideology, agenda, programmes and policies and that is exactly what is going to happen in these three states. They can try and make it personality-based and event-based, but you can’t erase the five years of agony that people have suffered. I am very confident no matter what spin they put on this they can’t stop the Congress from coming to power.
What about ticket distribution? Is it not going to be a headache to pacify so many aspirants?
I am glad and heartened that so many people want to contest because they feel that the Congress is going to win. This is a healthy sign for the party. We have clearly said one need not run around and lobby to leaders. The best person will get the ticket based on feedback and consultation. It is our endeavour to give tickets to fresh, young, clean and educated people and those who have toiled hard in adverse conditions in the last four years.
Vasundharaji has called you a novice in politics? How do you react to that?
I do not want to make any personal comments, as she is much older than me. She said the same thing about me in the byelection in Ajmer and got a befitting reply from the people. And even now the young people of Rajasthan will pay back with interest for making personal comments. I have always done politics of principles. We must maintain a level of debate and dignity of discourse as people are watching us. Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao said something about Rahulji which was unbecoming of a man occupying a CM’s post. Opponents should be answered in a political lingo but by calling names you are only showing what stuff you are made of. Vasundharaji has done the same thing.
The BJP has set a target of 180 seats. Have you set a target for yourself or would like to predict the number of seats?
The BJP’s target of 180 seats includes Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram, but they won’t get that much seats collectively. I do not want to give a target. I do not take people’s mandate for granted but I know that the last four years of our hard work will see us get a majority that we perhaps haven’t got thus far.