The unemployment crisis and the "reign of fear" are two major planks the Congress is banking on in the Lok Sabha polls to dethrone the Narendra Modi government and defeat the BJP-RSS bid to replace the Indian Constitution with "Hindutva", says senior Congress leader and former Union Minister P. Chidambaram.
He also defends the decision of not naming party President Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial face and insists that the Congress' primary agenda was to go for state-wise coalitions with like-minded parties and defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The leadership question, he says, will be decided after the polls.
"Jobs, jobs and jobs...the elections will be fought on jobs," Chidambaram told IANS in an interview.
He said issues of rural and agrarian crisis, adverse effects of demonetisation and the negative impact of the implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) were live and had not gone away after the recent Assembly elections.
The issues were still alive and the Congress would go to the people projecting them in the coming elections, said Chidambaram, who is also Chairman of the Manifesto Committee of the Congress party.
The Congress has been scathing in its indictment of the BJP government over the unemployment crisis and has repeatedly lambasted Modi, accusing him of failure to honour his promise of creating two crore employment opportunities annually while destroying "millions" of jobs through demonetisation.
According to a leaked report by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the unemployment rate in the year ending June, 2018 stood at 6.1 per cent, the highest since 1972-73.
Claiming that there was a clear and present danger of the BJP-RSS replacing the Indian Constitution with a "Hindutva" inspired document, to impose its ideology on the people, he also said the fight was for freedom as opposed to the "fear" that has gripped India under the Modi regime.
"The other issue is fear... people are living in fear today. Dalits, minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, women for their security, tribals because their land is being taken away, students for being branded as anti-nationals, everybody is living in fear today," he said.
"Industrialists are living in fear," claimed Chidambaram pointing to India being the largest market for Whatsapp "as people were afraid of talking over the telephone".
"Imagine people don't want to talk on the telephone. Why are people talking and messaging on WhatsApp? If we are living in a free country then why are people worried about their messages being read and misinterpreted?
"The point is 200 million (users) in a developing country, the largest Whatsapp market in India, what does that tell you? It tells that people are living in fear," he said.
Pointing to RSS's philosophy of one culture, one language, one civil code, one food code, one dress code, one code of morality, he said that such uniformity cannot be imposed under the present constitution.
"It can only be imposed, if they replace this constitution with a constitution that mirrors the RSS' philosophy of Hindutva.
"That threat is real. If they get the numbers (in Parliament) they will do it," he said on the "danger" of the Constitution being replaced.
Notwithstanding their Prime Ministerial aspirations, Chidambaram counselled the "like-minded" parties to join hands with the Congress to form an anti-BJP government.
"Our immediate goal is to form state-wise coalitions to fight the BJP where the fight is not directly between the Congress and the BJP. The next goal is to win the elections and finally to form a government and at that time chose a Prime Minister. That's the order of priority, which has been clearly stated by Gandhi," he said.
Chidambaram opined that having many aspirants for Prime Minister's post was perfectly logical and understandable in a multi-party system.
"Our plea is, that, without prejudice to your aspirations to be the Prime Minister, come together to defeat the common antagonist, that is, achieve the common goal of installing a free, liberal, secular and progressive government at the centre and then we would sit and decide who should be the Prime Minister," he said.
Justifying the decision to not announce its Prime Ministerial face, Chidambaram said "there is no written rule that unless you project one leader, you cannot win the elections". "In 2004, the BJP had projected Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They had "India Shining" campaign. Yet they lost."
Asked if the Rafale deal was an issue for the elections, he replied in the affirmative.
The former Home Minister asserted that if the Congress came to power it will not scrap the deal which the party alleges to be the "biggest defence scam".
"Rafale is a good aircraft, we do not want to scrap the deal. We want 126 aircraft, the Indian Air Force wants at least 7 squadrons.
"If the Congress comes to power we will certainly open the deal to find out why did we buy only 36 aircraft, what was the real price per aircraft, why was the transfer of technology with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) scrapped and how should the offset programme be implemented.
"These are the matters we will look into, but we will buy the Rafale aircraft. We will get Rafale and find a way to get 126 aircraft," he said.
Asked whether Rafale was an electoral issue, Chidambaram said it was not a major issue as were unemployment, fear and the agrarian distress.
"While corruption is an issue, the more important issues are jobs and freedom as opposed to fear and agrarian distress," Chidambaram added.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, Vishav at email@example.com)
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