The last man is at the centre of Rahul Gandhi’s politics: Ashok Gehlot

In an exclusive interview with National Herald, former Rajasthan Chief Minister and the Congress’ Gujarat election in-charge, Ashok Gehlot, speaks about the Congress’ plans for revival

NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna
NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna
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Vishwadeepak

Congress has done well in the Gujarat election with 100 per cent increase in seats and more than two per cent increase in vote share. Congress’s vote share has gone up 41. 5 per cent in this election. What is your reading of the verdict? How are these results going to affect the country’s politics?

The whole country says the BJP has won the election, but the Congress party has won the moral fight. The relevance of this moral win has more importance because Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And BJP could not cross 100 seats. Amit Shah claimed again and again that BJP will gain more than 150 seats in this election but people of Gujarat punctured his balloon of pride. The public rejected both the boasting Prime Minister’s ego and the BJP’s claims. The importance of this moral victory lies in the fact that Congress engaged in positive campaigning throughout under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi while the BJP resorted to mostly negative issues. We questioned the BJP on every issue - on the issue of development, on the issue of rising unemployment. They did not have any answer.

But victory is victory. Whether by a vote or by a million votes. BJP formed the government for the sixth time in Gujarat. Despite putting up a close fight, why did the Congress lose?

I agree that victory is victory. The BJP finally managed to win the election because they raised emotional issues. Modi himself raised the issue of Gujarati Asmita (identity) in high tone. He used Mani Shankar Aiyar’s statement to provoke the Gujarati people. They knew that they could not win the election until they raised such issues. That is why Modi raised the issue of Pakistan, Islamophobia and terrorism. In the last few days during the campaigning, Modi gave inflammatory speeches. Secondly, the BJP misused the government machinery. Being in power in both the state and the Centre, BJP could easily do it. By using money power, muscle power and by intimidating the business community, the BJP won the election but they lost the faith and goodwill. It is also important to note that in 20 to 22 seats, the Congress was defeated by a very small margin.

Being in-charge of Gujarat, you worked closely with Congress President Rahul Gandhi.You were his chief strategist in the election.What is his vision for the country?

I have been saying this for long, much before the Gujarat elections that Rahul Gandhi is such a leader who thinks of the poor. People standing on the last step of the society is at the centre of his thoughts. He believes in Gandhi’s philosophy that any policy should be made with keeping in mind the last person/section of the society. He thinks of the tribals, Dalits, backward communities, Muslims and other marginalised communities of the country. He wants to change the political discourse of the country. Rahul Gandhi is a leader who believes that the politics of hatred in the country should be put an end to. Instead, a new brand of politics based on brotherhood, harmony and nonviolence should prevail. Nurturing hatred for political opponents - as the RSS and BJP do – is not his political style. You must have noticed how easily he meets people, hugs them and mingles with the crowd. He is very sensitive not just as a politician but also as a human being. By spending crores and crores, the RSS-BJP combine has orchestrated a social media campaign to malign his image. But, after the Gujarat election, all the falsities spread about him started evaporating. He is the same Rahul Gandhi as he used to be a decade ago. Only people’s perception has changed after the Gujarat election.

You have worked with Indiraji, Rajivji and Sonia Gandhi in the past. You are playing a key role in shaping Rahul’s political fortunes. How is Rahul’s style different from his grandmother, father or mother?

During the Gujarat elections, the kind of response Rahul got was akin to that Indiraji used to get in the 70’s. I have seen the rallies addressed by both. People thronged his rallies. The zeal, mood of the crowd reminded me of Indiraji’s days. There are more similarities than dissimilarities between them. I was young when I joined politics in the 70’s. Indiraji, along with my other contemporaries, promoted me in politics. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, V Hariprasad and Digvijay Singh, we all were promoted by Indiraji. Later, Rajivji also carried forward his mother’s policy. He promoted youths in the party. Sonia Gandhi also followed the principles laid down by her mother-in-law and husband. Like his grandmother, mother and father, Rahul Gandhi’s credibility in the eyes of the people remained intact. People from every region, state, caste and religion have faith in his leadership. People believe that Rahul Gandhi will speak for them in the time of need. When they will fight for justice, Rahulji will be their voice.

Congress is most often blamed for promoting dynastic politics in India. Rahul is accused of being a product of dynastic politics?

It is one of the most misconstrued facts about the Congress party. People’s love for and faith in the Gandhi family is dubbed as a symbol of dynastic politics by the RSS and BJP, but it is not true. In dynastic politics, power is transferred when someone is in power while the truth is that nobody from the Gandhi family has been in power for the last 28 years. How can Rahul be called a product of dynastic politics? I think Gandhis are the political assets of the Congress party. Despite being out of power for the last 28 years, people have reposed their faith on the Gandhis time and again.

Whenever Congress party elects its new president, it calls for a plenary session. To endorse Rahul’s presidency, when will you call the plenary session?

It has to be decided by the Congress Working Committee. It would not make sense to say anything at this stage. All I can say is that the date has not been finalised yet.

Big states such as MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Karnataka will go to polls this year. What is going to be your strategy in these elections?

Rahulji has just taken over charge. Assembly elections in these states are on the top of our priority. Given the different nature of politics, we would draft different strategies for different states. To increase organisational strength, to boost morale of the Congress party worker and to create possible unity among all opposition forces would be our priorities. We would follow the Gujarat model of campaigning. We would go to the polls with issue-based positive agenda.

In today’s political scenario, the Opposition seems fragile. Does Congress party have any plan to forge unity among Opposition forces before the 2019 general election?

Let me clarify. The Opposition is not weak but divided. If you see the 2014 election for a reference, the BJP got 31 per cent of total vote share while the Opposition bagged 69 per cent of the total votes. It means that the number of people who did not vote for Modi is much higher than those who voted for him. The BJP-RSS combine knows it very well that its support base in the society has shrunk drastically. That is why they are resorting to communal tactics. Polarisation on the line of religion is their last resort in the elections. Instead of talking about the work done in the last three years, BJP leaders take credit for the projects started by the UPA. Ironically, they make plans for 2024. People gave them mandate till 2019 only but they tend to plan for 2024 (laughs).

In the coming years, what role will you play in politics? Will you go back to state politics or will you be active in national politics?

I have asked for ticket only once when I was fighting the 1977 Assembly election. It was my first election. After that, I have never asked for anything from the party. The Party has made me a minister in Indiraji and Rajivji’s cabinets. I was Union minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government as well. I was the Chief Minister of Rajasthan for 10 years. The party high command has thrice made me president of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee. My party has given me so much without asking for anything. Why would I ask for anything? Whatever the party high command decides, I will follow it.

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Published: 10 Jan 2018, 3:47 PM