Senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily explains why the Congress ‘doesn’t need to get disillusioned or disappointed’, admits there was no churning within the party after its loss in 2014 and says the Congress should work out an alternative to the BJP, ‘not imitate them’.
RAVISH TIWARI: The Congress ended up with its second worst performance ever this Lok Sabha election. Did you not see this coming?
On merit, we thought the Congress would come to power. That is because the NDA could not live up to many of its promises — on GDP, employment, agriculture, etc. Even with reference to the 2014 manifesto of the BJP, we cannot give him (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) 10 out of 100. On these parameters, they should have lost and we should have won. Of course, not single-handedly, but the Opposition should have formed the government under the leadership of the Congress… It is thanks to the skilful storytelling of Narendra Modi that they got 100% marks (even after getting) zero on performance.
RAVISH TIWARI: The Congress forced PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to sweat it out for Gujarat (2017). After that, the party stopped the BJP from forming a government in Karnataka and, more recently, formed governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Why didn’t the party stick to that narrative when it sought votes this time?
Nationalism and Hindutva — and Modi’s articulation of these two factors — must have clicked (with the voters). There is no other reason at all. Any government will be judged by their performance… We had to speak on the non-performance of the government. It may look negative as against the positive story of the NDA… It did not click. We spoke on corruption, employment… I was chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance in Parliament, where majority of the members were from the BJP… All the reports unanimously spoke out against the government’s performance.
RAVISH TIWARI: What are you telling people who voted for the Congress?
We have to rework our strategies very skilfully. The Congress doesn’t need to get disillusioned or disappointed because this is the first time the BJP has scored more than 300 seats, whereas the Congress has scored more than 300 seats six times… The BJP and Congress are national parties, the rest of the parties are regional outfits. The Congress has to survive for many more years to sustain democracy… So we have to work, not by imitating the BJP’s philosophy — communalism, casteism, parochialism… We have to revisit our roots — the philosophy of the Congress, the philosophy of our country, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, inclusiveness etc.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Do you think the categorisation of Congress as a national party and others as regional parties ended up costing the Congress potential allies, and eventually the polls?
If you build a coalition, it should not be only for the sake of elections. It has to be done methodologically and strategically. If the coalition ethos is not spread across the rank and file of the parties, it doesn’t work. In Karnataka, we all became a victim of the coalition. You allot seats on the eve of the elections and want the coalition to work… How will it work? The coalition that is practised in Kerala is ideal. As general secretary, I was also in charge of Kerala. There the coalition works right from the mandal level to the block level, Assembly level, right up to the Lok Sabha level. This is the coalition that is needed. The Congress has to take up this leadership and that was not done… I must tell you that all of us lost because of the coalition.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Why is Rahul Gandhi not being allowed to step down and can the Congress work without a Gandhi at the top?
Rahul Gandhi took over as president of the Congress only in 2017. He hardly got two years. He led the party to success in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. This election he failed. I don’t think it (the failure) can be straightaway attributed to only one leader. It has to be shared by everybody. Some investigation or research work has to be done. But that has to be done on merit, otherwise we will end up taking an abrupt decision. Of course, we should appreciate his gesture of offering to step down after taking moral responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that he has to suddenly or abruptly give up. We have two-three Assembly elections coming up and the party has to gear up. Even if he were to step down, it should not be at this stage, but only after taking steps to reorganise and resurrect the party.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Many state PCC chiefs resigned owning moral responsibility after the defeat. What makes Rahul Gandhi’s case different from theirs?
Rahul Gandhi is a national leader. The rest of them (state-level leaders) sent their resignations, but they have not yet been accepted. I think we have to take a wholesome view of the political scenario.
RAVISH TIWARI: A big political setback should have generated a churn within any party. But voters saw no such churn within the Congress post 2014.
I agree that there should be a churning process and that has not happened after 2014. It has to happen this time at least. Only after the churning can we answer questions such as who should be accountable for what, who should resign and who should be replaced. So there is always a scope for the Congress to rejuvenate… The Congress has a future and it is going to stay. Whether they are CWC members or state unit leaders, everyone has to take responsibility, including myself. This is everybody’s defeat, not only of Rahul Gandhi. In the process of introspection, there should be some casualty. And the sooner it is done, the better for the party.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: In some time, a few states will be heading to polls. Do you think there should be a timeline for this churn?
The churning has to take place right now. In two to three months, the party has to be rejuvenated….
P V VAIDYANATHAN IYER: You attributed the BJP’s victory to Hindutva and nationalism. Don’t you think that welfare schemes such as Ujjwala mattered to common people?
During UPA-II, a (cooking gas) cylinder cost between Rs 250 and Rs 300. Now it costs around Rs 1,000. No one got cylinders for free under the scheme (Ujjwala). So I don’t think it helped (voters). GST ended up creating more confusion than resolving it… Demonetisation failed — it put all migrant labour out of jobs, led to unemployment. Take electricity — according to latest statistics, not even 50% of the capacity is being utilised… Bank scams have been the highest…. NPAs are the highest at 15%… Every sector has suffered.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: The results show that people did not buy any of the Congress’ arguments. Going forward, what will be your new narrative?
Voters did not buy it, because there was no time. Pulwama came first, then Balakot… Ultimately, the real story will come out one day. That is another issue. But with Hinduism and this aggressive campaign on nationalism, people did not look at any other issue. Just because they won the election doesn’t mean you can draw any inference that their performance was par excellence… At the same time, I don’t think Hindutva or communalism are things we can adopt in the Congress. If that happens, the existence of Congress itself will be in question. We should have our narrative which is updated, modernised and one which responds to the challenges of the youth and others.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: But you’re already toeing the soft Hindutva line. Visiting temples, talking about the caste of your president and so on.
Ultimately it was only nationalism and Hindutva that people cared for, even though they were suffering — agriculture was at its lowest, there was an atmosphere of distress everywhere, but nothing mattered. Nothing of what (Modi) said in the 2014 election campaign figured this election. He did not think it appropriate to refer to those promises — ‘achhe din’, Rs 15 lakh to be deposited in every citizen’s account… all these things disappeared.
RAVISH TIWARI: Are you suggesting that over 22 crore people (who voted for the BJP) were fooled?
I won’t say fooled, they were swayed. Otherwise, in a democracy like India, or take the demographic history of any country, at no point of time have the majority community spoken about being victimised, aggrieved. Here it is happening. Whether they were fooled or not, it is a fact that such a campaign was done. Even now, 99% of the wealth of this country is being handled by 1% of corporates. That shows how deep the suffering is.
RAVISH TIWARI: You identified two issues that the BJP is going to cling to election after election — nationalism and Hinduism. What will the Congress’ response be?
I think we need to work out an alternative, not merely follow or imitate them. We need to revisit the ideology of the Congress… Even where economic theories, ideologies are concerned, we need to revisit those and that doesn’t mean giving up. We need to make people understand who stands for whom.
RAVISH TIWARI: Senior Congress leader A K Antony was charged with the responsibility of understanding what happened in 2014. Why has the report not made public?
I’m sorry to say that I have also not seen that report.
RAVISH TIWARI: Don’t you think it should be made public?
If there is a report, they should make it public.
RAJ KAMAL JHA: But did you not ask for the report?
I’m only in the Central Election Committee, I was not in the Congress Working Committee. That’s why I didn’t have to ask for it… What is the point seeing the report now? All that has passed. It has to be done afresh. (The new report) should include why we failed in 2014 also.
KAUNAIN SHERIFF M: What is the future of the JD(S)-Congress alliance in Karnataka?
If the coalition has to work, it has to work properly. If it cannot work, there is no point working in a coalition. Just to stay in power, you’ll have to sacrifice the entire party. That is what is happening. If we had to contest independently, we would’ve won.
KAUNAIN SHERIFF M: During the previous CJI’s term, Congress MPs were at the forefront of moving an impeachment motion against him (CJI Dipak Misra). Do you think that was a hasty decision?
I did not agree with our leaders when they moved the impeachment motion. Because unless there are concrete doubts, you cannot move that. I raised my voice against it….
KAUNAIN SHERIFF M: Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that his office will not act as a “post office”. As a former law minister, how do you define the role of the executive in clearing judicial appointments?
The proposal (for appointment) comes from the Supreme Court collegium. They consider it on merit. Only if it is alright, do we forward it to the Prime Minister. Then it goes to the President. Before that, we examine all aspects — character, background of all candidates who have been recommended. There are cases we send back and discuss. During my tenure, I have personally gone to the Chief Justice of India and stated reasons (for reconsidering a particular name) without creating any friction. The law ministry need not be a post office… I think that he (Ravi Shankar Prasad) has not understood his responsibility. We never kept files for months and cleared them immediately.
RAVISH TIWARI: The Congress won polls in 2004, 2009 and many Assembly elections with EVMs. But now the party wants to go back to ballot papers.
In 2009, the BJP raised questions. As law Minister, I constituted a committee with technology experts from Germany, Britain and the US. They gave a report that everything is okay. But one should understand that these are computer systems and they can be hacked… Earlier, I had found that there was nothing. But that doesn’t mean that my opinion holds true even today. Almost all Opposition parties have raised doubts about the EVMs.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: How important is the Gandhi family to the Congress?
The Congress has worked even without the Gandhi family. And the family has always been reluctant to join (the party). Rajiv Gandhi was reluctant, but ultimately, the rank and file of the party wanted him. Sonia Gandhi was reluctant. Even Rahul Gandhi was reluctant for a number of years. He was asked to join the Manmohan Singh Cabinet and he refused. They are not greedy for power or position… The Gandhi parivaar is a part of the Congress parivaar. They are not above the Congress.
P V VAIDYANATHAN IYER: The Congress is often accused of being a dynastic party. Why does the party still keep conferring upon the members of the Gandhi family the leadership mantle?
That charge has been there since the time of (Jawaharlal) Nehru. But to say that the charge will permanently stick to the Congress is not correct at all. Whenever there has been another leader who is relevant, the party has not said no. Manmohan Singh was prime minister twice. Sonia Gandhi could have become PM if dynasty rule had to be perpetrated.
RAVISH TIWARI: While the BJP has already appointed a working president, there is no clarity in the Congress’ strategy.
Why should Amit Shah continue as president of the BJP? He has a lot of work as home minister… he is holding all the internal committees and departments. He will have no time to work in the party, but still he would like to have a hold on the party. That is why he has put his own man as working president. The concentration of power in the present NDA regime is with two people — the PM and Amit Shah. The other point is… the principal secretary to the PM gets a Cabinet rank, the additional principal secretary gets a Cabinet rank… This is like building one’s own empire. In this process, minimum government, maximum governance is the biggest casualty.