Congress general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot, tells his party will defeat the BJP in the state and Rahul Gandhi may become Congress president before the year ends. excerpts from the interview:
Q. Rahul Gandhi’s Navsarjan Yatra has created quite a buzz in Gujarat and elsewhere. Has it managed to rejuvenate the Congress workers?
Party workers are fully energized, active and motivated. Rahul’s visit has recharged them. Their response in meetings and rallies reflects their enthusiasm.
Q . What does this hype translate into on the ground?
Gujarat elections will be the turning point for the country. The people are living in fear; they feel the BJP and (PM Narendra) Modi have ditched them with false promises. Farmers are dying, young people are jobless, SCs and STs see no future, small businessmen and traders are hit by GST. Everybody is disillusioned with the government. The Gujarat polls will be a setback for Modi, and that would be in the national interest. Gujarat’s voters will usher in the change the country needs.
Q. The Congress, once the ruling party in the state, has been out of power for several years. Is there any real chance of staging a comeback?
We are confident of winning. The mood is in our favour and the voters have made up their mind. The BJP will surely be defeated. Speak to anyone in the streets and you will find they are fed up with the BJP.
Q.The Congress vote-share in the state has been hovering around 40 per cent, but it has failed to increase its seats in the assembly. Why?
The difference in vote-shares of the Congress and the BJP is only around 7-8 per cent and we lost many seats by less than 10,000 votes. It’s a small margin. (As CM) Modi was more into marketing than governance. He and his party created illusions and that has discredited them now in the public mind. They will get exposed this time. Besides, they have polarised society between Hindu and Muslim, and created an anti-Congress atmosphere by projecting it as a party that favours Muslims. On the contrary, ours is a party that believes in inclusiveness and taking everyone along. This time, we are not giving them any chance to polarise the voters. Moreover, (BJP chief) Amit Shah always used to talk about three issues—Narmada dam, OBCs and Garib Kalyan (welfare of the poor). They have totally failed on all three counts, hence the BJP doesn’t raise those issues anymore.
Q. What has changed for things to be working well with Rahul Gandhi this time? Is it the slowdown in the economy, the fear of job losses and the disappointment with the Modi government?
Rahul is totally dedicated to the country. When he was once asked about his religion, he said the tricolour is his religion. He is always thinking about what is good for the country and the party, but the BJP tried to tarnish his image using social media to influence the voter’s mind. The BJP, however, stands exposed now.
Q. Could this be described as the 2011 moment for Modi and the BJP—the year when the public mood started to turn away from Manmohan Singh and the Congress, sparking off the decline?
Q. Will he take over as Congress president when the AICC session is held in November-December?
Yes, I think so.
Q. Modi is a brilliant communicator, while Rahul’s weakness has been his inability to connect with the masses. How will he overcome this?
I have been seeing this since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s time that Indians have robust common sense; they understand what the leader is trying to communicate. Therefore, just oratory does not help. Truthfulness always wins. The BJP managed to win the 2014 general elections by influencing the minds of the people, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
Q. Do you see Rahul as the PM of this country in 2019?
If Rahul Gandhi wished, he could have become PM during UPA II. But he didn’t. What’s clear is that the Modi sarkar will be out and the Congress will return to power. It is for Rahul to decide who will become the prime minister.
(Mr. Abdul hafiz lakhani is a senior journalist based at AHMEDABAD.)