Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot is currently the in-charge of the Congress party’s election preparedness in Gujarat. He tells Archis Mohan that the Congress is in the process of building a broad alliance with like minded leaders and parties in Gujarat against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
What is your assessment of the Gujarat assembly poll?
There has been no Congress government in Gujarat for the last 22 years. It is a long span of time. But this time the mood of the public is different, and a change looks possible.
The BJP has ruled the state by exploiting Hindu-Muslim sentiments. It has failed to address price rise, farmer suicides and joblessness. Education is being increasingly privatised in Gujarat and has become expensive. There is disillusionment.
But the BJP has persisted with ‘vikas’, or development, as its campaign plank.
It had initially identified issues of Narmada waters, OBC empowerment and ‘garib kalyan’, or welfare of the poor. But the party soon gauged the mood of the public. The three issues were either withdrawn or failed to strike a chord. The BJP got rattled with the campaign that ‘vikas (development) has gone crazy’. Their leaders started asking the youth not to trust what they read in the social media. They have now recast their strategy, but people have not responded.
Are demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) evocative issues in Gujarat?
The atmosphere in the entire country is that of fear and mistrust. This is bad not just for democracy, but not a good sign for any government. It means the top leaders are living in their cocoon. Correct feedback from the ground isn’t reaching them. It won’t be a surprise if 2019 Lok Sabha elections throw up unexpected results.
BJP leadership has upped the ante against Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
It is nothing new for the BJP-RSS to spread misinformation. They tried to do this with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and even Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins and every time they have had to bite the dust.
A time isn’t far when Rahul Gandhi
would leave them tongue-tied, and the people would give a befitting answer to his critics.
The party gave him everything. He was a union minister and also the party state unit chief. He has made excuses and left. The truth is Vaghela has been blackmailed by the BJP. He is scared at the prospect of central agencies investigating against him. But I have maintained he would still find the Congress standing by his side if he were to be ‘fixed’ by the central investigating agencies.
Is the Congress trying to build an alliance with Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and dissident Janata Dal (United) leader Chhotubhai Vasava?
We want to take everyone along. I say this with confidence that the situation that prevails currently in Gujarat, and rest of the country, would make us fight unitedly. I believe all of these people want to end the misrule in the state.
Unlike BJP, Congress does not have a chief ministerial face in Gujarat?
If there ‘face’ had any credibility there wouldn’t have been such distrust against them. Corruption has reached extreme proportions. The government is being run on propaganda and marketing. In 2012 elections, Congress won 61 (of the 182 seats). Of the 64 seats in urban areas, Congress won a mere four. This means that the BJP government does not represent the rural areas where real India lives. Their urban vote bank, particularly traders, is slipping away.
What would be the impact of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contesting the election?
I believe AAP
should not contest. They have already withdrawn (from the state after 2014). There is no reason why they should return.
I sincerely hope that in such an atmosphere when this is an election that could prove to be a turning point for the country’s future, the AAP
would practice what it preaches. If there is no difference in the words and actions of Arvind Kejriwal, then I think AAP
shouldn’t do anything that might divide the votes of the Congress. This is in the country’s interest.
What has been the feedback from Rahul Gandhi’s Gujarat visits?
His interactions have been good with a cross section of the public. Our opponents were pained when Rahulji visited temples. It is as if they are the thekedar of Hinduism, and we in the Congress are not Hindus, or Rahulji is not Hindu.
(Narendra) Modiji is visiting Gujarat often. These weekly visits are leading to traffic jams. People are inconvenienced. It reminds me of the time when HD Deve Gowda was the prime minister but visited Bengaluru frequently and people had started complaining that he was the prime minister of the entire country, not just one state.