This election is all about Modi vs the People: Mallikarjun Kharge

The 81-year-old Congress president believes Narendra Modi’s days as prime minister are numbered

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge in his New Delhi office (photo: Vipin/National Herald)
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge in his New Delhi office (photo: Vipin/National Herald)

Ashlin Mathew

President of the Indian National Congress and a key leader of the INDIA bloc, Mallikarjun Kharge took time off after the fifth phase of polling to share his assessment of the situation on the ground, the likely result and the role of the Election Commission.

The 81-year-old politician, who has campaigned extensively across the country, exuded confidence that the INDIA alliance will have the numbers to form the government.

People have been fighting this election against the lies of the Prime Minister and have had enough of hate speeches and communal polarisation — this election is about the people vs Modi, he told National Herald in New Delhi.

The message that there is a threat to the Constitution and democracy has percolated to the people, he believes, and they are now taking the prime minister’s speeches with a liberal dose of salt. Kharge also takes heart from the fact that the Congress manifesto has touched a chord with the people.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Polling for 429 Lok Sabha seats is over after the fifth phase. How confident are you about the INDIA bloc’s prospects?

The INDIA bloc is going to win. The election is being fought on the ground by the people. It is the people vs BJP and the people vs Modi.

At the core of the Congress ideology and those of its alliance partners is secularism. People are tired of divisive politics and of Modi’s policies. They want peace and do not approve of BJP leaders dividing people on communal or religious lines. People are clearly fed up.

Modi’s lies are catching up with him.

He is talking of Pakistan, Hindu properties to be distributed among Muslims, accusing the opposition of planning to end reservation for Dalit and SC/ST citizens and giving them all to Muslims. We have never said that. It is BJP leaders who have spoken of the urgency to secure 400 seats so that they can change the Constitution and end reservation. Our fight is to save the Constitution and democracy.

The Prime Minister is destroying all Constitutional agencies and democratic institutions like the Enforcement Directorate, CBI and income tax and vigilance departments. He is blatantly misusing his office and authority. No previous prime minister has usurped and concentrated so much power in one person. If he continues, he will destroy the economy of the country and imprison people who believe in democracy and the Constitution.

Congress is said to have performed well in the southern states; what about the North?

In the South, we will do well in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. We are improving in the North too and will gain seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. We will get at least 5-6 seats in Madhya Pradesh. We are certain to do well in Haryana and confident that we will keep our eight seats intact in Punjab. In Delhi also we will gain.So, where is the question of Modi winning?

With the election still going on, it is premature to talk of numbers, but judging by reports and seeing the response on the ground, I can say with confidence that the INDIA bloc will stop the BJP from returning to power.

Are people really persuaded of the threat to the Constitution?

It is not just the Congress that has raised this issue; all INDIA bloc partners have drawn people’s attention to it.

Our understanding is that people have understood the threat and the message has percolated down to the villages.

Several senior BJP have said on record that if they get the numbers, they would change the Constitution. How can the prime minister deny it?

What has been the Congress’ role in the INDIA bloc?

All important decisions were taken in consultation with other parties.

We had meetings in Patna, Mumbai, Chennai and UP.

In Maharashtra, there are three parties in the alliance. In Tamil Nadu also, you have seen what we have done. In UP, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh (Yadav, of the Samajwadi Party) have been doing joint rallies.

Wherever INC had to adjust, we did—even if that meant we could get fewer seats. We were clear that all parties in the alliance needed to be given space. If there are still differences, our five-member team will work to sort them out to everyone’s satisfaction.

The Election Commission and judiciary have failed to rein in the prime minister’s speeches. Has he been successful in polarising the electorate?

Narendra Modi has always been a polarising figure. He did it in 2014, 2019 and he is repeating it again.

He has gone to the extent of saying that if Congress comes to power, the party will snatch everyone’s properties and distribute it among Muslims. He is saying that more property will go to those who have ‘more children’ and who are ‘infiltrators’ (ghuspaithia), insinuating Muslims. He also said in Gujarat that if you have two buffaloes, one would be given to Muslims.

It is astonishing that the prime minister of the country is saying such things. He is clearly not a statesman or even a responsible political leader. He is behaving like an RSS pracharak.

I believe this is no longer having the desired impact among people, who are seeing through his bluster and hate speech.

How did the Congress steer clear of the hate speech trap?

The Congress has focused on its manifesto and what it will do for the people, with the five promises (Panch Nyay) among others. People on the ground are fighting this election against Modi.

The prime minister has said the Congress will be wiped out in Uttar Pradesh. Thoughts?

What is new? He always says Congress will be wiped out and that he will destroy the Congress and the Opposition. Despite his ugly speeches, Congress won elections and came to power in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana. We won in Madhya Pradesh too, but he destroyed it.

Wherever people supported the Congress and we came to power, he tried to break not just the party but the state and the people — like Maharashtra.

In Modi’s scheme of politics, everything is fair; he does not stop at anything. Is this what should happen in a democracy?

Several instances of electoral malpractices (voter intimidation, vote suppression, underage voting) have surfaced. Comments?

Conducting a free and fair election is the duty of the Election Commission, which has the mandate to monitor, supervise and take necessary steps. We do not want to comment or interfere in what the returning officers are required to do.

The BJP and RSS have, however, mastered the art of putting bogus names in the voter list and trying to rig the elections in interior locations.

Because they have power and because they have the money and the machinery, because they have officers working in their favour, they often get away with it.

The prime minister is often threatening some people or the other. Recently, he has threatened the media also. Earlier he used to praise them. Now, he has started saying that the media is opposed to him, the print media in particular.

Several political parties and you yourself have raised the matter of the Election Commission not releasing the total number of voters in each constituency…

Our views were heard by the Commission and dismissed.

The Supreme Court has now sought a response from the ECI by 24 May and asked what the difficulties are in releasing such data on the day after polling.

Without the absolute numbers, the Commission surely cannot arrive at percentages. Since they are releasing the polling percentage, what prevents them from releasing the full data?

They have to compile the data from just 543 constituencies and with the number of constituencies being much lower in every phase, just 49 constituencies in the fifth phase of polling, why are they still not able to do it?

We are waiting to hear what they finally tell the Supreme Court of India.

Will the Congress go to court in this matter?

I raised the question of voter numbers. Our Alliance partners have also asked the Election Commission what difficulty there was in releasing this data. They are also saying they have suspicions.

Therefore, I don’t want to say anything now. There are two more phases...

The Election Commission is not doing whatever they are required to do, so...

Several independent candidates have also complained to the Supreme Court that they were not given the Form C (the data on voters and polled votes) in every booth. Did all Congress candidates receive Form C?

These are not matters that I look after. The organisational general secretary will monitor it. The general secretaries in charge of states and the election observers will look into it. We have educated them about the requirements.

We certainly want transparency and all data to be put out in the public domain. The alliance partners have also raised their suspicion and have questioned the Election Commission.

What do you think will happen if the BJP does not get the required majority? Do you foresee any trouble?

I don’t know what the prime minister will do, but naturally, the elected parties will take a call.

One man can’t decide the fate of Indian democracy.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines