Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot , 40, is upbeat over the party’s prospects after its victories in by-elections (to two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly seat) in the state and says the tide is turning in favour of the Congress across India. Pilot’s optimism is understandable – his party broke a four-decade long tradition of no opposition party winning by-polls in the state. In an interview to Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Pilot said the people of Rajasthan have given a befitting reply to divisive forces and that a rainbow coalition with the Congress as a pivot is feasible and will certainly defeat the BJP-led NDA in the next Lok Sabha elections.
Q: The recent victory in by-elections has given a big boost to the Congress in Rajasthan. What are the factors that went against the ruling BJP?
Two things are clear. One is that there has been complete rejection of the Vasundhara Raje government and the BJP in Rajasthan. These elections were held in three geographically different parts of the state – Alwar is in National Capital Region and part of eastern Rajasthan, Ajmer is central part and Bhilwara is in southern side and we won in all the three regions and 17 assembly segments. The BJP used money power and state machinery but despite that our workers held their own. It is also the acceptance of the principled stand taken by the Congress on various issues such as unemployment, agrarian distress and corruption. The BJP blatantly tried to polarise and communalise the by-elections.
Q: The assembly elections are some months away and there is also speculation that the Lok Sabha polls could be advanced. Would you be able to sustain the momentum till the next elections?
We should remember that after Vasundharaji became chief minister, there were by-elections to four assembly seats and Congress won three of them. We have done exceedingly well in local bodies’ elections, panchayat and zila parishad polls in the past four years. We don’t win elections in the last two weeks of campaign. It is a sustained effort and (takes) months and years of hard work. The recent by-elections have shown that the tide, sentiments and undercurrent are in favour of Congress. People across regions and communities are supporting the Congress. As far as the organisation is concerned, we have been in election mode from day one. It does not matter when the elections take place. We are ready and the people of Rajasthan are ready and we are definitely going to form the next government in Rajasthan. We will work with double the humility and twice the strength and try to reach out to the people with mass contact programmes that we are launching very soon.
Q. We saw a partial revival of Congress in Gujarat but one of the reasons identified for the grand old party’s inability to dent the BJP’s support base was the lack of a credible face as its leader in the state. In Rajasthan, that doesn’t seem to be a case. Should the Congress announce its chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polls to clear any confusion on the leadership issue?
Traditionally, the Congress party has not announced the names of chief ministerial candidates in any state barring few exceptions. We believe in fighting the elections as a joint team. People are endorsing the Congress party’s stand on different issues. But this question is more pertinent to BJP which has not announced Vasundharaji as its CM candidate in Rajasthan in contrast to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka where they have already (announced chief ministerial candidates) .
Q. But to ensure its victory in upcoming elections, the Congress needs to set its house in order in the state. The by-polls saw the party fighting as one unit. Have you been able to address the issue of infighting to some extent?
The so-called talk of infighting in Congress is a propaganda spread by the BJP. The Congress is strong and united, was united and will always remain united. If we were not working as a team, the party would not have performed so well in (the state) the past four years.
Q: The Congress has been unable to stem the electoral slide that set in just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the most popular leader in the country. Is Rahul Gandhi an alternative to Modi and can he be a face of the united opposition in next Lok Sabha elections?
Congress is the only party that can challenge the BJP nationally. There are other parties which have competing interests with Congress in certain states. The aggressive stand taken by Mr Gandhi by challenging the motives and actions of the ruling BJP, holding them accountable and taking them on fearlessly has galvanised not only the Congress party but the opposition as well. In the last few months, Mr Gandhi’s aggression, his questions to the government on various issues be it jobs, corruption, defence deals, agrarian crisis, etc, has strengthened the opposition camp. In the time to come, you will see a rainbow coalition with Congress as the pivot. We have to think of the national interest and everyone has to sit down together to form that rainbow coalition for the next Lok Sabha elections.
Q: Do you think that is possible given that in the past, the opposition parties have never come together on one platform?
All the political parties that are against the policies of the BJP government have to come together at the national level….we and they all have to unite. Third fronts and fourth fronts that you talk about have not worked but as long as the Congress remains the pivot and other parties come on that platform I think that sort of a coalition is certainly feasible. But the question is of the NDA. The BJP has parted ways with Shiv Sena; the TDP is on the verge of walking out and even other allies (are not happy). Despite being in government, the BJP has been unable to hang on to its own allies.
Q: What are the issues on which the Congress will go to the people in next general elections?
The BJP government came to power in 2014 promising the moon and have now , belatedly, in their last full budget come up with something that is allegedly pro-farmer. Had they been sympathetic to the farmers, this government would have come up with something in its first budget itself. They had given a lot of slogans whether getting back black money, job creation, increasing farmers’ incomes, improving economy and investments but on the ground the execution is almost zero. Congress party will go to the people of India with a blueprint of what the BJP had failed to do and what we stand for. This government is not the one that has made the common people stakeholders, or lived up to its promises. The people are looking for a government that actually delivers as opposed to giving assurances and promises. Speeches and stage management is not what the people of this country want.