At the Express Adda held in Mumbai, Congress leader and Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot spoke to Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and Vandita Mishra, National Opinion Editor, on national security as an election issue, speaking to the young voter and the alliance against the BJP.
On if there is a break in the Congress’s momentum
I think the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan have certainly set the tone for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and I also think that it’s a sign for things to come.
To your question on the Pulwama attack having a bearing on the Congress’ prospects, when there is a terror attack on this country, it is not an attack on the state or the government or on individuals, it’s an attack on our nation. To that extent, whatever response the government at the Centre chooses to make, the entire country stands behind that. I remember very well when the Indian Parliament was attacked, Mrs Sonia Gandhi told Mr Vajpayee that this is an attack on our republic, it’s an attack on our temple of democracy, whatever you choose to do as Prime Minister, I will stand behind you and I know that Mr Vajpayee had said something on the same lines when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister when the Bangladesh war happened. So that’s been the tremendous legacy in our country. When this incident happened, I was at Harvard University in Boston and was asked this question and I said I am on foreign soil, I have my differences with colleagues in different political parties… we’ll have differences but when it comes to issues like this, there is no difference of opinion. So the attack happened, and the response by the armed forces… it was true display of valour by the Air Force. I have a long association with the armed forces, especially the Air Force, so I feel particularly proud but the great tradition in India is that you do not involve the armed forces, the men in uniform, to do domestic political point making. That’s something we’ve avoided all this while. But when I hear Mr Yeddyurappa saying because of the incident BJP will get that many seats, it’s a naked admission of what he’s thinking.
On the Opposition’s dilemma over questioning the government
If you question the BJP today, you’re labelled anti-national. If you question the policies of the government, you’re anti- India. That’s the kind of negative narrative that we’ve seen in the last few years. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that our Air Force, our Army, our armed forces, are our property as Indians, not of the Janata Dal or the BJP or the Congress. Sadly for this government, nothing is sacrosanct, whether it’s the RBI, ED or the CBI. We’re a great republic and a great democracy, not because of the politicians we’ve produced, but because we’ve nurtured institutions that are held beyond parties and governments. If we try and systematically dismantle those institutions, then we’re harming ourselves to a point that there is no coming back. If there are people who are trying to politicise the issue because elections are around the corner, I think people of India are wise enough to know and understand that the elections will be fought on bread and butter issues. Elections will be fought on matters that make a difference to people’s lives and will be fought in the farmlands, they will be fought in homes, they will be fought in villages, in the towns of India and not in the temples or the border.
On whether this will be India’s first national security election
National security is an important issue and there should be no two ways to look at it. But I don’t think you can make that issue into a political one. It should be sacrosanct. Ruling dispensations can’t masquerade its non performances behind the valour of the armed forces. That’s not acceptable because the man who is fighting on the border, people who’ve taken bullets, who are martyrs today, are not doing it for a party, or a religion or a state. They’re doing it for the nation, for this country. People who try and use it as a political dividend will not succeed, that’s my own understanding.
On coming from a political dynasty
Where I take birth is not in my hands. But once you are of a reasonable age, you are accountable for what you say, what you do, and your actions. So, I’m very proud to be the son of my father, who died much before I entered politics, but I take great pride in belonging to this family and what I have chosen to do after his demise was my choice, it was not forced upon me. But if being born to a family is not a qualification, then it should not be a disqualification either.
On what it is to be young in politics
I think it’s fair to say that people from a different generation have a different way of looking at things. My sons and my nieces or nephews look at things differently than I do. The idea is to assimilate what is best that they have to offer. Not everybody has all the best ideas, the important thing is to collate all of that, and as a party, as a policy, what is the most robust, most fulfilling, most appropriate way to move forward. That’s how good parties, good organisations function and survive, and I can say that for the Congress party. I was made an MP when I was 26 and it seems like a long long time ago. But it’s been a good run. I know people out there who are perhaps more talented, more articulate, more hard working than I am and I am very fortunate for the chance that I have got and not for a day will I let myself forget that because very few people get the opportunity.
On the young voter and what he wants
For example, when we go to rural parts of India, especially Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, (we find) the older generation perhaps doesn’t care so much about let’s say privacy or online snooping. But when I go to a college or university, I see the young voter really cares about that. They want their individual privacy safe and secure. They don’t want the government looking at what you are doing, who you’re chatting with, who you’re messaging. If you don’t engage meaningfully and you’re just talking at them, then you lose their interest in the first five minutes. Young people expect to hear different things, they expect you to do different things and it’s not inappropriate for younger people to want different things from their leaders as opposed to middle or older people.