Why Ghulam Nabi Azad: As leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, where the government lacks numbers, Ghulam Nabi Azad often leads the attack on the treasury benches. On March 9, after the Opposition passed an amendment to the President’s address, an elated Azad, who moved the motion, said the Congress had to give a “wake-up call to the government”. The Congress veteran has been AICC general secretary for long and is perhaps the only party leader who has been in charge of all the states. He has been a minister in every Congress government since Indira Gandhi’.
GHULAM NABI AZAD: When the present Prime Minister was a candidate, he promised parivartan, vikas and good governance. What has happened to these things? Now, there is a governance vacuum… Just see the inflammatory statements, objectionable remarks by the (NDA) ministers, MPs and for the first time in the history of the country, even by the governors. Under this government, universities and educational institutions are being targeted and the autonomy of these centres is being eroded. Dissent and difference of opinion are being suppressed. The debate over ‘nationalism’ and ‘anti-nationalism’ has divided the country vertically. This never happened in the country’s history. One political party is passing judgment.
Even during 1947-48, nobody would peep into the kitchens of the members of a particular community. But it happened in the Dadri case (September 2015). These incidents are happening to deflect the attention of the country from the failures of the government.
There have been massive U-turns by the government and the one on Pakistan is the biggest. They (the BJP) said that talks and terror cannot go together. But see what has happened now. There have been major terror attacks, but this government has been talking about comprehensive dialogue…
The agrarian sector is in distress, but no increase in MSP, no debt waiver… They had promised 10 crore jobs, now there are not even 20 lakh jobs in two years…
‘Smart cities’ is the biggest joke of the century. They promised 100 cities. Then after two years they realised 100 cities is not possible, so we will do only 20 cities. To my great surprise, in this Budget, for 20 cities, Rs 500 crore were set aside for five years. What are we talking about? Making toilets or cities? This is a joke.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: What have you achieved by stalling Parliament in the previous sessions?
Tomorrow we will be questioned that such a huge (mining) scam took place in Rajasthan, in Madhya Pradesh (Vyapam), why didn’t your party, as the Opposition, take up the issue? The only option for us was to raise these issues in Parliament, under different provisions. But there was no reply (from the government). This has never happened that the House is not functioning and despite that, the government takes no action, and the Prime Minister won’t even say that ‘I will look into it’. This is undemocratic.
UNNI RAJEN SHANKER: You had said when the UPA government talked to Pakistan, the BJP raised questions. But now you are doing the same thing.
See, we are not coming in the government’s way. We have not stalled or disrupted the House on this issue. We are not saying don’t do it. We are just reminding them this is what we wanted to do too (to hold talks with Pakistan). But they (the BJP) didn’t allow us, they even dubbed us pro-Pakistan. Now this government is doing the same thing (holding talks with Pakistan) and achieving nothing.
MANOJ CG: The Lok Sabha has passed the Aadhaar Bill as a money Bill. Do you think it is time this constitutional provision of the Lok Sabha, the Speaker certifying a particular Bill as a money Bill, is revisited?
It came to my notice that this (Aadhaar) Bill is being recommended by the government (as a money Bill). So at midnight, I wrote to the finance minister, saying we have grave objection because the House is functioning now and we are not rejecting any Bill… I was told that the Bill would come to my House (Rajya Sabha). Since this session has started, we have been clearing at least one Bill a day. But it went to the other House (Lok Sabha) and was declared a money Bill. When we raised this in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Arun Jaitley said that in your time too Bills were passed as money Bills. We went through the records — in 60 years, there has been a money Bill only thrice. Last year, in the Budget itself, this government declared five Bills as money Bills, and now this (Aadhaar) is the sixth one. This is just to undermine the position of the Rajya Sabha.
AYUSHMAN BASU: The issue of Rohith Vemula’s death was debated endlessly in Parliament. But most of the discussion was limited to rhetoric, there was no discussion on constructive steps that can be taken to eradicate such discrimination on caste lines.
Parliament is a place to flag issues. If people fail to find solutions to issues at the lower levels, then their elected representatives in Parliament seek redressal or flag issues. It is then for the government of the day to decide how it will find a solution to the problem. Here there are three cases, first there is Rohith, then Delhi (JNU) and then Allahabad. Ever since this government has come to power, the ABVP thinks that they are the government. The ABVP has always been there but now they think they have been empowered to rule universities. In Rohith’s case, the complaint was made initially by the ABVP and ultimately it led to his suicide. The five students who were expelled are all SCs. SCs are being targeted, because they are followers of Ambedkar. So (the idea is that) Ambedkar followers should not grow, only the ABVP should grow.
In Delhi, the elected students’ union president (Kanhaiya Kumar) is not from the ABVP or Congress, but from the Left. Slogans have been picked from somewhere and put into his mouth. He has been declared deshdrohi. This too started on the complaint of the ABVP.
For the first time in Allahabad University, a girl became students’ union president, but she is not from the ABVP, so the ABVP has gone after her too.
This is similar to what the BJP is doing in the country. They will not tolerate dissent in universities. They are trying to silence the voices of all parties, other than the ABVP’s.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You said a lot of things are happening that have not happened in the past 60 years. You have been in public life for 30 to 40 years. What is your worry?
Whether we are talking of education, infrastructure, growth or Make in India and all that… one of the most important things is the atmosphere of trust among ourselves, faith in each other. I was born two years after Independence, but we hear from our elders the type of atmosphere created (then). I think the atmosphere today is no different… And the elder of the family (the PM) is silent on these issues…. In these one-and-a-half years, have you ever taken action against any governor, any minister, any MP or any office-bearer? On all other issues, he tweets for 24 hours. I bow before majority Hindus who are fighting this type of communal divide and communalism. If the country is united today, it is because the minorities, the downtrodden have faith in this majority community. There is no dearth of secular majority people in the country. But the government is not doing its bit.The head of the family has failed to instil confidence among the poor, the minorities.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: So you say the present situation is similar to post-1947?
Not exactly that, but it is heading there if there is no action. When no action is taken, people may continue to speak anything, they may do anything, they may abuse anything… The government shows arrogance, arrogance of power. ‘You may cry, but we will have our own way’. A government should not be arrogant.
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: Can you name two specific mistakes of the 2014 general election that the Congress has internally identified, not to be repeated again?
There are a number of contributory factors when you lose an election. But I have been a minister with all the Congress governments (since Indira Gandhi’s). I’ve been party general secretary. I don’t think we have done so much good work ever before, in every area (as during UPA-I and II). We started schools in every village—that’s 6.5 lakh villages. And this was done in two years. I was the health minister and we decided that in each village, there would be a woman health worker paid by the government of India. All the medicines would be provided for by the government… Then there is food security and other things. It was a multi-pronged strategy to empower villages, educational institutions, health institutions. But unfortunately, we could not publicise this, and their publicity was a thousand times more than ours. The other thing was that religious sentiments were exploited. So much untruth was said and now there are U-turns because they could not do all (that they promised).
MUZAMIL JALEEL: The way people perceive this is that the BJP has a clear ideology while the Congress has lost its ideology. There was the NRHM and there was free market. The PM said something, Sonia Gandhi said something else.
Whatever may be the policy of the BJP or the RSS, that is their policy. My problem is that in a democracy, the government should have no religion. That was the theory of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. You may pursue any thought, you may pursue any religion, you may pursue any policy, but once you are the government, you are for India. You are for every religion. You are the protector of every caste, every religion, every creed. That is not happening now. It happened under Mr Vajpayee. So it’s not that everybody is like that in the BJP. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a much bigger leader but he would have immediately taken action had these (incidents) happened under him. He was there for six years, we didn’t have such complaints. He didn’t create this atmosphere. None of the religious or ethnic minority groups had any problem during his period. Yes, we may have differed with him on his philosophy, but as a PM, he was everybody’s prime minister. Number two: Some organisations are very aggressive. We, as an organisation, are very passive. Somehow, we have not come out of the sober way our forefathers led us.
ALOK SINGH: What do you think of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to JNU?
For us and Rahul Gandhi, there were two different things. One is the February 9 incident. There were boys with masks who raised (the contested) slogans. Then, there was February 11, when Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested. He had not raised those slogans. The students’ and teachers’ unions extended an invitation to all parties, the Left and also Rahul Gandhi. They didn’t attend the function of February 9. The government is still to find out who the sloganeers that day were, insiders or outsiders… There could be two reasons (for the government trying to link the incidents). First of all, the home minister faltered. On the first day, (he connected) it with that Pakistan chap (Hafiz Saeed). They then began to concoct a story to prove they are right. If you try to prove a wrong thing as right, you go wrong in everything.
ALOK SINGH: Should the sedition law be amended?
It should be for actually waging a war. What war has Kanhaiya Kumar waged if he says he wants azadi from poverty, even azadi from the BJP, azadi from the RSS? Even from dominance of a particular community? That is normally said by SCs and minorities, that they want azadi from this dominance. Why is the government not able to identify those people (who actually shouted the slogans)?
KAUNAIN SHERIFF M: Your government in Maharashtra had slapped sedition charges against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.
If we had done something wrong, it doesn’t give this government the licence to do another wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Like we had the experience of Lalit Modi who left the country. Now, despite making an all-out effort, we are not able to bring him here. So by now, you could have arrested Vijay Mallya… If in our time, somebody went, that does not give you the licence to allow somebody else to go. If we have done some wrong, this government should correct the mistake.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: The slogans that were raised in JNU were ‘Hum kya chahein? Azadi (We want freedom)’. Do you think those slogans were seditious?
I have grown up in Kashmir hearing these slogans. Since my college days, these slogans have been raised, Pakistan flags have been waved. But those were student days and when those boys grew up, they went on to occupy many high positions. So once they got out of university, got responsibilities, they forgot those things. They understood the truth.
Kanhaiya Kumar did not raise those slogans. I am not saying that those who raised the slogans on February 9 (event at JNU) should go scot-free, there should be some action. Sedition is a debatable charge. It is about waging war. But raising slogans… It is for the judges to decide. But those who raised slogans, there should be action against them.
But because the government has failed to apprehend the people who raised the slogans on February 9, you can’t make a scapegoat of Kanhaiya Kumar. Simply because he is not from the ABVP.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: What is the status of government formation in J&K? Is it time for fresh elections?
Ultimately, the BJP and the PDP have to decide. We, the Congress and National Conference, have decided that we don’t want to be part of the government. We are ready to wait for the next five years. But now the people of the state are suffering. Elections have been held, there is no situation of suspended animation, yet there is no government.
This is the time for either of the two political parties to call it a day. Both the parties are playing hide and seek and it is hurting the people of the state. There is a governor, a good administrator, there are two good advisors, but ultimately, in a democracy, there is nothing like an elected government. So one of the two parties has to blink.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: After Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death, were you in touch with Mehbooba Mufti to form an alliance?
Before the BJP-PDP alliance took place, both the Congress and NC made it clear that we are ready to support the PDP from outside. But the PDP rejected the offer. So now why should we go with them?
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You must have seen that there are now large-scale funeral processions of militants in J&K. What do you make of the situation? Are we going back to the 1990s?
It is a very dangerous trend. It is almost after a decade and a half that we are seeing such an atmosphere in J&K, when the funeral of a militant is being attended by 40,000-50,000 people. I had said in Parliament, a few days before the BJP-PDP government was formed, that one of the greatest blunders that this government is doing is getting into two very sensitive —politically, religiously and geographically sensitive—areas, that is, J&K and the Northeast. By hook or by crook, they want to form governments in these regions. I had said, please rule the entire country but keep away from J&K and the Northeast. He (Narendra Modi) may be the Prime Minister of India, but he still doesn’t understand the pulse of every region in this country.