BJP doesn’t respect democracy or Constitution, people will teach it a lesson: Mallikarjun Kharge

Precedence suggests that on issues of national importance, PM should address Parliament and on law and order issues, Home Minister should speak, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha said

Mallikarjun Kharge
Mallikarjun Kharge

Ashlin Mathew

The Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, who is leading co-ordination between Opposition parties in Parliament, says they are fighting an important battle to raise issues before the government which are of importance to the country even as the BJP is ignoring them, going against laid down rules and precedence.

He speaks about the deadlock in Parliament, BJP’s attempt to ‘kill democracy’ and the ruling party’s indifference to the issues raised by Opposition parties.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

The Opposition has been protesting in both the Houses of Parliament for a discussion on the Pegasus row. Rajnath Singh rang you to solve the crisis. But, the impasse continues…

Rajnath Singh did not ring me up to solve the issue but to give the impression that the government contacted the Leader of the Opposition. When he had called me before he went on his foreign trip to Tajikistan, I had informed him that he should call an all-party meeting, where the issue can be discussed as I, alone, cannot take the decision. It is my duty to convey to him what everyone in the Opposition wants and I did that. I asked him to write a letter requesting everyone’s presence at the meeting, which he said he would do as soon as he was back. He returned on Thursday, but didn’t call any one. On Monday late evening, he called to ask if the issue has been solved. I wondered how he could ask that question as his party had to solve the issue; instead he was asking me about it. I told him that as soon as the issues were discussed, the matter would be resolved.

BJP is supposed to run Parliament and my role as the Opposition is to co-operate. If I have given a notice under Rules for discussion, it should be taken up. I learnt that he has no authority to take any decision.

We can’t say how long the protests will continue. All of us in the Opposition are discussing the issues.

US President Richard Nixon, Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughe and former Karnataka CM Ramakrishna Hegde had resigned on allegations of snooping and phone-tapping. Here, we are only asking for a discussion and they are not able to facilitate us. This is a public cause and we will fight unitedly.

The Pegasus snooping scandal has affected media persons, Army personnel, police, judges, Opposition leaders. Today, Editor’s Guild has stated they are going to court on the issue. Two other journalists – N Ram and Shashi Kumar – have approached the Supreme Court in the matter.

There are other issues such as farmers' protest, price rise, mismanagement of Covid-19, fuel price hike plaguing the country. The government doesn’t seem to be bothered. Will the Opposition highlight these issues?

Rahul Ji is keen that all the Opposition should be united on the farmers protest, inflation, fuel price hike and other issues of national importance. He proposed that the Opposition should set aside their regional political differences here, and everyone agreed. It means that Congress is ready is ready to accommodate everybody to raise these issues.

Our duty is to agitate and agitation is not a new thing. We are following a democratic process and if they do not listen to us, we will have to go to the public. If not today, then tomorrow people will teach them a listen.

The government is giving us wrong answers in Parliament. I will be filing a privilege motion. Two other MPs will also be filing privilege motions because they have given misinformation to the House.

They have informed the House that no scavengers have died, which is a lie. They have given varied Covaxin production numbers to multiple questions in Parliament. They are answering questions without applying their mind. They continue to lie and then criticise the Opposition. We will bring everything to the notice of the public.

The Government has been passing Bills without the House being in order. Parliamentary democracy has been made into a joke. Do you think the current government is not interested in discussions?

This government does not care for democracy. The House is running for two weeks, but has the Prime Minister or the Home Minister come to the House to resolve the issue? So, they don’t want resolution. They don’t respect democracy and neither do they respect the Constitution. They do not even care for the Business Transaction Rules which they have adopted. The PM is ignoring everybody. They do not make any statements and they ask juniors to make statements. Parliament precedence suggests that on issues of national importance, the Prime Minister should address Parliament and on the law and order issues, the Home Minister should speak. Two states are fighting, yet there has been no statement made in Parliament. They do not take democratic principles seriously.

They are autocratic and undemocratic people and they want to suppress the voice of the people. They just want to show that they have ignored our voice. Democracy is about give and take. The ruling party should respect the Opposition and the Opposition will also respect them. Only through discussion, issues can be resolved.

This government has passed seven Bills amidst din. The United Progressive Alliance government yielded for discussing inflation in 2010, in 2012 on FDI retail and in 2013 farmer suicides. Even during their term BJP allowed discussion on Article 370, demonetization and destruction of secular fabric of the nation. But, why are they not willing to discuss this issue? They definitely want to suppress the truth and want to hide certain details. They are worried they will be exposed and that is why BJP is not ready for discussion. They even control what is shown on Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha TV.

Even when the Constitution was being enacted, views of different political parties were listened to even if they were in minority. Views of Jan Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mookherjee were considered. Even during the 1961 war on China, Jawaharlal Nehru agreed for an open discussion on the matter. Such democratic precedents are there and here they don’t even want to enter Parliament to discuss any issue. They want to kill democracy slowly and they are killing it.

There were two all-party meets – one chaired by you and the other by Rahul Gandhi. Only fourteen Opposition parties were present. What is the way forward for the Opposition alliance?

The outcome is that we have been able to bring several Opposition parties together on the floor of the House. We have to keep making efforts to continue Opposition unity. This is what democracy is about. Election is another matter. Almost 14/15 parties came for the meeting. The wise have come.

We are all together on issues of national importance. We can fight elections against anybody in the respective states, but here we are 60%. The Opposition represents at least 60% of the population and this is a majority. When we represent the majority, is not the duty of the government to respond to the issues raised by us?

Several Opposition parties did not come. Aam Aadmi Party came only for the first meeting and YSR Congress was not there…

YSR Congress is with the BJP government. In case of AAP, there is an election in Punjab (next year), so they do not want to come. But, they came to the first meeting. People who have raised issues of the citizens have come to the meetings.

We are not ignoring anybody and want to include everybody in our fold to fight these issues. We want to highlight the grievances of the people of the country.

How will you build pressure on the government?

Congress leaders in several parts of the country have been protesting. Youth congress leaders have raised the issues of inflation and fuel price hike. Rahulji drove a tractor to Parliament to highlight the farmers and then after the breakfast meet, Rahulji and other Opposition leaders cycled to Parliament to call attention to the rising fuel prices.

Youth Congress has been helping people during the pandemic even when the government was not concerned. They helped people with oxygen and ration.

The Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also said there must be a discussion on Pegasus, though I do not know with what intention he said it. So, the pressure is building against the government

Ultimately people will teach them a lesson, and preparations are going on in different states for elections. Our priority is to save democracy and the Constitution.

What would have been different if Congress was in power?

When our government was in power, several issues were sorted such as the mid-day meal scheme, health mission was started, and Food Security Act was passed. All of this was to improve the health of the people. They ridiculed all our programmes and the prime minister went to the extent of stating that the NREGA scheme was a living monument of the failures of Congress. The same MGNREGA has saved the lives of unemployed people and migrant workers during Covid. The food security Act is why several people have gotten grains and ration. Congress takes an interest in the poor citizens.

They don’t have any noteworthy programme. Whatever new programme they have announced, no money has been allocated. Several such as PM-Kisan, Ujjwala scheme have faltered. This PM is not interested in reviewing policies which have failed or he doesn’t want to check the issues at the grassroots. Modi is only interested in talking virtually. Their own ministers are not able to meet the Prime Minister to discuss issues.

What do you think are the prospects of Congress in the Assembly elections due next year?

I can’t predict anything. Currently, we are preparing strategies and plans will be made known to everyone. In democracy, we will fight elections. We are trying our best. Even last time we won Goa, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh. In Uttarkhand also, we are in majority.

Where ever we won, BJP purchased MLAs. These are not legal governments. I can say, the governments are illegal as people have not voted for a BJP government. They voted for Congress.

Unfortunately, their harassment, threats, muscle power on a few MLAs worked. BJP builds so much pressure on MLAs, Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate are all sent to intimidate. In West Bengal they purchased so many TMC members by threatening them with ED and CBI cases.

Last time in Gujarat, we put up a good fight. We lost by a few seats and they won only after Modi came to campaign at the last moment. Though it was a state election, he asked for votes in his name. It can’t work every time. People won’t tolerate harassment all the time. You can’t fool people all the time.

The Karnataka Chief Minister has been changed again. Does BJP want a greater say in state affairs. Or was it caste equations?

It is good for the Congress that BJP is changing CMs regularly as it proves only Congress can run a stable government. They did it the last time they were in power. During BS Yeddyurappa’s last term, he had to resign in 2011 after corruption allegations and had to go to jail. Then BJP changed CMs twice - DV Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar. BJP rule in Karnataka has not seen a single chief minister completing their term. This time too they have done it. I know that Yeddyurappa will not keep quiet and neither will his group members. Jagadish Shettar cannot be written off yet though he declined to join the current Cabinet.

What we are concerned about is that they are not giving full attention to solving grievances of the people. There have been floods and drought in the state. People are yet to get relief from that.

Though Basavaraj Bommai, who has been made CM, is a Lingayat, he belongs to a different sect from that of Yeddyurappa. His father was the follower of the revolutionary MN Roy and was a rationalist. Now, his son has joined BJP and RSS. So, caste equations alone will not help.

We have to see if the present CM will act as per the instruction of RSS High Command especially because the RSS organisation secretary is from Karnataka. We have to watch and see.

You were earlier the leader of the Congress Party in Lok Sabha and now you are the leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. How has the switch been for you?

I don’t feel much difference in both House as it hasn’t affected my working. I have always been putting my views across. In the Lower House, the advantage was that Madam (Sonia ji) used to sit close by and Rahul ji was also there, so if any spot decision had to be taken, it could be done quickly.

In Lok Sabha, you get to hear a lot more about local problems in different constituencies. When I was the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, there were some apprehensions because I was a south Indian. Several wondered whether a ‘madrasi’ would be accepted by the north Indians. After a few of my speeches, things eased. We were able to raise several issues including lynching, atrocities on Dalits, unemployment, demonetization and GST. BJP began to target me, including the Prime Minister and the current Home Minister. The present defence minister was in charge of my constituency during election. They wanted to defeat me and RSS was also roped in.

Now, I have been in Rajya Sabha for two months. Issues take a different turn here as there are only 245 MPs, so leaders get a lot more time to speak. Currently, the government is not allowing the Upper House to function properly. Earlier during UPA rule, issues would get discussed, but now the government doesn’t want to discuss anything.

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