Randeep Singh Surjewala, communications chief of the Congress, speaks to Ashhar Khan on taking a stand against the Election Commission, exit polls and Rahul Gandhi becoming president of the party.
We all have seen the exit polls for the Assembly elections of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Do you think itâs a lost cause for the Congress?
The BJP fought an issueless election in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. In Gujarat, they released their vision document on December 8, just a day before polling for the first phase took place. The BJP provided no roadmap for the people of Gujarat and did not spell out how they will deal with the growing unemployment and joblessness in the state. It looked like a superficial exercise.
The Congress fought both the elections as a united force, under difficult circumstances. Let us wait for a day for the final outcome. We are expecting a good result.
The Congress and specially you have taken a very strong stand against the Election Commission of India. Do you think it was a right thing to do?
Flagrant violation of the Constitution, Code of Conduct and complete abdication of authority by the honourable EC forced us to take this strong stand. The entire nationâs conscience was deeply anguished and hurt by the denigration of every constitutional norm, law and Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while he held a road show with BJP flags after casting his vote. Not only was the law of restriction on number of people near polling booth breached with impunity but with active complicity of the administration/police machinery/SPG, a road show was also held with BJP flags in utter disregard of poll code and the law.
Tragically, naked prejudice of the EC and failure to act against the Prime Minister and BJP leaders was writ large. Never has the Constitution, the law and Code of Conduct been trampled in this fashion by a Prime Minister and the ruling party in complete knowledge and with tacit complicity of the EC.
We asked for an appointment from the EC to submit our complaint on December 13 afternoon, but the EC only granted us an appointment at 10.15 pm. The next day, the EC granted hearing to several BJP ministers, including the law minister, under whose portfolio the EC comes, but not to us. Instead they told us that they will only be able to reply to our comments by 5 pm, after the polling gets over. What sort of jurisdiction is this? Why did the Delhi police detain our Youth and Mahila Congress leaders and prevent us from going to the EC office? Isnât it murder of democracy?
Donât you think such statements by the Congress against a constitutional body should have been avoided?
The Congress did not use any personal accusations or insults; we just raised a valid point. On the day of second phase of polling a desperate Prime Minister negated all norms of Constitution and Code of Conduct by holding a road show with BJP flags. The EC and its entire machinery shamelessly abdicated its constitutional responsibility. The ECâs conspiratorial silence and absolute inaction reflects how one more independent institution in our polity has become a puppet of the whims and fancy of the BJP. It should have come out at the appropriate time and taken action. I am afraid it was found wanting.
How do you see the Gujarat election campaign, specially by your party?
We had an agenda, a programme in mind for the future of Gujarat and its people. After our interactions with people from all sections in the state we had prepared our manifesto. It had plans, policies and future roadmaps for all sections of people. Be it farmers, fishermen, students, youth and women. It is a well-rounded document. On the other hand, the BJPâs campaign was nothing but a jumla. Within the first few days of the campaign they had given up on vikas and moved to other issues. The people wanted to know about future plans that the BJP has for the state. Instead the BJP was harping about Ro-Ro ferries that are already operational in other parts of the country and also seaplanes.
What about the temple trips of Congress president Rahul Gandhi? The BJP says that all these visits only take place during elections.
Well what about the temple trips? Mr Gandhi has been visiting temples earlier also. He trekked to Kedarnath temple after the deluge in Uttarakhand. He also visited the Banke Bihari temple in Mathura as well as the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, earlier. Faith is a very personal thing. He is a practicing Hindu so there is nothing more to add from this. The BJP is a master in creating controversies and spinning stories, this is exactly what it is doing. Letâs talk on facts. Mr Gandhi asked 14 questions to the Prime Minister, it was one question a day so that the honourable Prime Minister can take out time and answer the questions. But there was no reply. Stunned silence is all that we got. We raised the issue of Amit Shahâs sonâs wealth as well as the Rafale deal. As a responsible Opposition we also raised the power discoms scam, bus transport scam as well as the GSPC scam under Mr Modi, but the BJP did not have any answers.
Do you feel that the standard of campaigning has gone down in this election?
When the 22-year-old ruling party has nothing to show for its 22-year rule, what else can you expect? Mr Modi insinuated that former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, former vice-president of India and former Army Chief were colluding with a foreign nation to influence the course of Gujarat elections. How low can one stoop? He insulted the chair of the Prime Minister as well as the Army Chief. Dr Singh has demanded an apology from the Prime Minister for making such baseless insinuations. Instead we would have been happy if the Prime Minister would have cared to answer some of our questions like on the meteoric rise of the company of Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, or the foreign partners of Shaurya Doval, the son of national security adviser.
Mr Modi has said that he and his government are busy clearing up the wrong decisions and policies of the previous Congress governments?
Once again I will have to reiterate that the BJP has precious little to show for its work of last 42 months at the Centre and 22 years in Gujarat, hence they are resorting to all this misinformation. In one of his address, the Prime Minister as usual was pinning blame on the United Progressive Alliance government regarding the non-performing assets (NPAs). As per the Reserve Bank of India, gross NPA of public sector banks in 2013-14 was Rs 2,27,264 crores.
As per Press Information Bureau press release dated October 24, 2017 this has increased in June 2017 to Rs 7,33,137 crores. There is a clear increase of Rs 5,05,873 crores in 42 months of the Modi government. So the Prime Minister should tell us that why there has been a sharp rise in the NPAs in the last 42 months? The data is being given by the RBI and PIB and not the Congress.
Finally Rahul Gandhi has taken over. Whatâs the change and how do you see the controversy regarding his take over?
Yes, Mr Gandhi has become the president of the party, as vice-president also he was involved in the functioning of the party. Crores of Congress workers have deep appreciation of Mr Gandhi. The entire controversy has been stoked up to take political mileage by the BJP. There was a prescribed internal election in the party. Dates were announced and notices were put in the AICC. It was only Mr Gandhi who filed the nomination and was elected unopposed. We waited till the prescribed time so that if anybody wants to file another notification, s/he can.
There have been past precedents, where Jitendra Prasada fought against Sonia Gandhi and when Netaji fought against Mahatma Gandhiâs nominee. So what is the controversy? I would like to ask the BJP before casting aspersions on the Congress please tell us how many elections have taken place for their national president?