Congress National President Rahul Gandhi gives his first interview to any Marathi media group
The Lok Sabha poll campaign has reached its peak. Congress President Rahul Gandhi is holding rallies all over the country and severely criticising the National Democratic Alliance government’s style of functioning.spoke openly and freely in detail about Congress Party’s manifesto, GST, Kashmir issue, issues of nationalism, Hindutva and many other issues during his flight from Diu to Nanded with Sakal Media Group Managing Director Abhijit Pawar. While speaking about Congress Party’s plans and policies, Rahul Gandhi said that only the Congress will give ‘Nyay’ to the poor. Excerpts from the interview.
You have been travelling across the country. Tell us about your manifesto and how it was drafted?
A: When we started the process. I told the team, I’m not interested in hearing what the Congress Party intellectuals, experts and professionals want. I know what they want.
I’m interested in hearing what every single stakeholder of this country wants. So, it will have Congress manifesto written on it, but actually, we want it to be India’s manifesto. I don’t want it to be just a couple of people. We did an experiment in Chhattisgarh, where we spoke to thousands of people, systematically. I said to the team, I want you to draw out a list of stakeholders, and I want you to speak to thousands of people. I don’t care if you get a crazy idea, I want it on the table. If the farmers say something completely absurd, I want it on the table. I want to see what it is. After that we’ll decide. Once we put all these ideas on the table, we’ll decide which ones make sense. So that was the process. It is not how a manifesto is traditionally created.
Q: Is this the first time ever that an exercise like this has taken place?
A: The first time on such a big scale anywhere in the world. What my worry was, that in the process, we’ll get a lot of poor quality ideas. But the surprising thing was, we actually got very sensible ideas. Amongst these were: The Ministry of Fisheries! Sensible idea. A Farmers’ Budget! Sensible idea. ‘Nyay!’ Sensible idea. Many many great ideas that emerged through the process of consultation with the people, would never have emerged if the Congress manifesto was drafted in a closed room by a handful of people.
Q: So ‘Nyay’ came from that process?
A: Of course! The core idea behind ‘Nyay’, is that you help the poorest of the poor with a transparent injection of capital. But there is also another big idea behind ‘Nyay’. Money has been sucked out of the Indian economy by the twin blows of ‘Notebandi’ and poorly executed GST that have destroyed small and medium businesses. The economy is not firing up because it has no fuel. So you’ve got an economic engine which has no fuel and you can’t fire it up using the banking system. So, how do we fire it up? The answer is ‘Nyay’ and by putting money directly in the hands of the poor, who will spend that money on a wide range of things. We have experience with NREGA. If you look at the growth in 2004-2009, NREGA was key, because it injected money into the rural economy. Our attempt is to inject money into the economy and to create a positive economic cycle. We’ve done the maths on it. We’ve double checked it. The Congress Party people came to me with the maths. I said no, please go to the global experts and vet this thing, because I’m not going to launch it without checking it. We then checked, double checked and triple checked the numbers. Mr Modi has been saying that the money for ‘Nyay’ will come from the middle class. No it will not! Income tax rates will not be raised. There is enough money in the system and this injection will result in a positive economic cycle.
Q: What are the other key issues? What about jobs? farmers’ issues?
A: Look, India is facing three very profound crisis; job crisis, farm crisis, and economic crisis, all of which are interlinked. You have to view the Indian system as a connected system; you cannot build policies for startups and not include the agriculture sector. Where are you going to get these jobs from? They are going to come from the agriculture sector. They’re going to come from the construction sector. You have to look at it holistically. The problem with Mr Modi is that he refuses to look at it holistically. He sees things episodically. He focuses on one thing, and then another thing and then another. This is extremely problematic. Demonetisation is an example. Kashmir policy is another example. GST is a third example. We need to be able to think strategically and have a holistic view on how all the different policies - the different pieces on the jigsaw puzzle called the Indian economy, how do they sit together. What is it we’re trying to achieve and in what time frame? Only then can you solve the jobs crisis and the crisis our farmers are facing. Also, you cannot create successful policies without consulting the people whom those policies will impact. The Congress Party is a firm believer in the wisdom of the Indian people. We are yours, we work for you. We listen to you. We learn from you. That’s what sets us apart from the BJP and Mr Modi.
Q: So how will you continue this process? So will you create a policy where you keep getting this feedback? It shouldn’t be that it happens once, and then after 10 years….
A: It’s a living document. We will continuously go back and consult the people. We will get feedback and improve. Sure. It’s a continuous ongoing conversation with different stakeholders. It’s a conversation with farmers for example. I’m not of the view that there is a magic bullet to resolve the agriculture crisis, but I do feel that if farmers feel that their government is responsive to them, and is listening to them, and when they’re in pain, the government says, ‘what’s going on?’ that builds their confidence in their government. I think building that confidence, in the Indian people is a very powerful thing. I’m convinced that there’s no challenge that India can’t face as long as we the people are working together, we are not divided and that stakeholders like farmers, women, small businessmen feel that they are not alone.
Q: I remember you saying, when you had lost the election in 2014, that AAP had done something right and you will have to introspect and reach out to the people and go out to them. So is this something you learnt from that? Is this something you, Rahul Gandhi have learnt since 2014? Is this one of the major changes? Telling the cadre to reach out and get that feedback, rather than a few experts telling you?
A: From a learning perspective, I think 2014 was a good thing for me. It was a very powerful thing for me and made me think about a lot of things and made me reach out to people. Mr Narendra Modi came with a huge mandate and if you remember, everybody was saying that Mr Modi would be the PM for a very long time. We’ve dismantled Mr Modi. The Narendra Modi that came in 2014, is gone. He doesn’t exist. Two crore jobs? Failure. Agriculture? Failure. Corruption? Failure. We’ve dismantled him and you can see it on his face. In this election, he really doesn’t have much to say. The PM of India should be standing on a stage and saying how many jobs he’s got for Indians. The PM of India should be saying, look this is what I’ve done for the farmers. He can’t be saying nothing. Look at his manifesto, its silent on jobs, the single biggest issue in India today. The PM is silent! He still hasn’t explained to the people, why he did notebandi. The PM has still not said to the people that GST is a disaster and there’s a problem with it and we need to fix it.
Q: So if you come to power, will you change all that?
A: GST will be changed for sure. I think the current GST is debilitating for India. We need one tax, minimum tax and a simple tax. It should be easy to report. Any citizen should be able to file their taxes without needing an expert to do it for them. By the way, we’ve done our homework. I’m not just saying GST needs to change. We’ve studied the process of changing the GST. We’ve done the maths. We’ve actually tested the idea that India can have one GST.
Q: So I think the fundamental change you’re talking about, is that you have a new way of functioning in the Congress Party. Do you want to reach out to the people?
A: Whenever India has done anything big, India has done it. You look at the green revolution. Whoever may have facilitated it, it was done by India. When you talk about the IT revolution, India has done it. When you talk about the white revolution, India has done it. I have no confusion in my mind. I do not think that one man does these things. I would never insult the people of India by saying “sattar saal se haathi so raha tha. Haathi kabhi nahi sotha. In fact, haathi kabhi so nahi sakta! And frankly, Hindustan haathi nahi hai, sher hai!” It is a completely different approach. I see myself as an enabler, someone who is a listener, someone who is open to criticism, someone who is ready to go in and speak to people, have a conversation. Mr Narendra Modi is of the view that he is the centre of this country. No. Nobody is the centre of this country. This country is too big, too wise, too powerful to have any one man at the centre.
Q: Mr Modi talks about dynasty politics…. If I were to ask you, when you talk of dynasty and meritocracy, in the Congress Party, what is your opinion?
A: Firstly, I am an elected representative of the people. I’ve won three Lok Sabha elections.
It’s the people who decide whether or not I’m good enough to represent them or not. Next, judge me on my merit. Judge me on the political fight that I’ve fought. Have I not fought Mr Narendra Modi these past 5 years without fear of repercussions? Is it not a fact that because of my taking him on politically as the leader of the Congress Party, that he is in trouble today? The Congress Party has dismantled Mr Modi. Across India, there is one slogan that’s resonating: Chowkidar Chor Hai! That’s the slogan on the streets. He may not like it, but that’s the truth. So, judge me on merit; judge me on how I fight; what I stand for; judge me on supporting farmers; the youths; women; small businesses; and what I’ve done for them. Judge me on those things. There is a certain amount of legacy in the Congress Party of sons of leaders. This isn’t unique to the Congress Party alone. It’s across political parties. But, many of these young men and women are extremely capable. So we can’t have a blanket ban on the sons and daughters of politicians. We can certainly make sure that our doors are open for all talented people to join us and to grow with us.
Q : What is your message for those who in 2014 were not BJP voters but voted for the Modi sarkar? How will you bring them back to your party?
A : Mr Modi’s already revived them, he’s done the job for us. Frankly, Mr Modi had a tremendous opportunity. Look again, there are three critical issues facing India today, there is a farm crisis, a job crisis and an economic crisis. Those three are linked. And any PM who spends five years dilly-dallying, and not delivering on this things, has got to think about why that happened. And has at least got to explain to the people of this country, why it is that we have the highest unemployment rate in 45 years? Why small and medium businesses imploded? Why is it that the country is so polarised against each other? Why is it that so many people are dying in Jammu and Kashmir?
Q: What do you think of the Kashmir issue and the recent terror attacks?
A : When we left government in 2014, J&K for all practical purposes, was peaceful. We worked on it for nine years. We worked on building a relationship with the people of J&K. I took businesses there, we built women’s self help groups, we helped youngsters get jobs, we conducted panchayat elections, and for all practical purposes, in 2014, the back of terrorism was broken. They were 15 flights a day to Srinagar! Tourism was booming and the local economy booming. Mr Narendra Modi comes in, opportunistically makes a political alliance with the PDP and creates the single biggest strategic problem for India. He practically opened the doors for terrorists in Kashmir. He’s got to answer for that. After all, those young CRPF boys who died. I understand that Pakistan is going to do what it does, but it’s the duty of Mr Narendra Modi to protect them. But that discussion of course, he doesn’t get into. And anyone who asks these questions is branded anti-national. I’d also like to remind you, that when the Mumbai attack was taking place, when people were dying inside the building, Mr Narendra Modi was doing a publicity event for himself outside. He was standing there and taking full advantage of the violence that was going on inside that hotel, he was addressing the press. Everyone remembers it. So there’s also the political use of terror attacks. I was very clear when Pulwama happened, I said listen, the Congress Party isn’t going to say a word on this. Finish. Full stop. The end. But Mr Narendra Modi has used that attack politically every single day since the attack. I’m against the political usage of our soldiers. When they take any action, it is to their credit. Not to the credit of politicians and political parties. The Armed Forces do it, they are proud people, they are capable people, it’s their credit and it’s richly deserved. Politicians should never ever claim credit for actions taken by the Armed Forces.
Q: Modi is focusing on nationalism. How you look at it?
A: What’s a bigger nationalist that someone who brings jobs to their country? The most nationalistic thing you can do is protect our farmers. Bring youngsters jobs. What’s he done on that? It’s his government where unemployment is at a 45 year high. It’s his government that says farmers are committing suicide at a rate never seen before. Everybody knows. So as far as I am concerned, the single biggest problems India is facing is agriculture, the economy, jobs. And any nationalist, should be doing everything he can to solve those problems. And if he can’t do it, he needs to explain to the people of this country, why he failed. If India does not give its youngsters jobs, today we are losing 27,000 jobs a day, China is producing 50,000 a day. If India does not solve this problem, India is going to have a catastrophe on its hands. There is no bigger job for nationalists that employment for India today. This is where Mr Modi, has absolutely failed, disastrously failed, humiliatingly failed. He can’t then be called a nationalist.
Q: Narendra Modi has an ideology. The Congress Party is carrying forward Indira Gandhi’s ideology. There is great influence of your grandmother’s (Indira Gandhi) ideology on you. How do you look at these ideologies?
A: It is not a question of Rahul Gandhi’s ideology or Indira Gandhi’s ideology. The ideology of Congress is ideology of India.
Q : Do you want to emphasise that Congress Party’s ideology and India’s ideology is same?
A: I’m saying a person is just a reflection of the voice of the people. In India, please look historically, humility, respect, love and affection, this is the bedrock of this country. I mean, I’ve read the Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas, not all of them but a significant amount and nowhere have I read that you should kill the weak, or humiliate your guru or be obnoxious and rude to people. Hinduism is about respect. It’s about listening to other ideas. It’s about being open to other ideas even if you don’t agree with them. It’s not Indira Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. Please, we are nothing. It’s thousands and thousands of years of Indian history and evolution and energy, that has shaped this idea of India. India by nature is humble. Look at all our successful leaders and you can go back thousands of years, you can look at Emperor Ashoka; you can look at Mahatma Gandhi. The single biggest, most powerful thing an Indian leader can have is the ability to be humble and listen to people. That is what leadership in India is. It’s not about Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi or any other individual leader. It’s about the people of India.
Q: You’re physically fit and you’re a black belt holder. Modiji does Yoga. Do you do Yoga?
A: I have a black belt in Aikido, which is a Japanese martial art. When I was younger, I used to do a bit of Yoga, but not anymore.
Q: These days you’re travelling quite a lot and completely engrossed in your work. How do you manage your time?
A: These days I’m not able to get as much time as I would like for my fitness regime. But generally, my rule is at least one hour a day of physical exercise. It needs a lot of discipline and some days I have to force myself. But it’s really important for me.
Q: When you say you are a Shiva Bhakta, what does that mean?
A: Now we’ll need two hours for me to explain that to you! Shiva is everything. So be as humble as you can possibly be and more. And that is also not enough. It is removing all sense of ‘ahankar’ from yourself. It’s a journey, as you live your life and as you go further and further, you are more and more insignificant. So the sentiment that arises is one of humility, of listening to others, of respecting another person’s point of view. I keep saying it, Mr Modi may be as nasty as he wants to me, but I do not have hatred for Mr Modi. He’s an expression of a person. And as an expression of a person, I respect him, even if I completely disagree with what he says because I think it’s dangerous for this country. And I think it comes from a place of weakness, and I don’t want my country to ever be led from a place of weakness, I will fight it, but I don’t hate it.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has alleged that we will recover the money required for the ‘Nyay’ scheme from the middle class. However, we will not do any such thing at all. We will not increase the Income Tax. The money is there in the system. After its distribution through the ‘Nyay’ scheme, it would benefit the entire economy.”
“I made my stand very clear when the Pulwama attack took place. I said, ‘The Congress won’t comment on it.’ I am against politicising the forces. When they conduct an operation, its credit should go to them and not to politicians or parties.”
“We have prepared our manifesto with the participation of the people. It has not been made in a traditional manner.”
“Hindutva means respect for all. To listen to ideas of other people; and if you do not agree with them, you should have an open mind about them, that is Hindutva.”
“Though the Congress is publishing its manifesto, it should be the manifesto of the country. It should not be prepared by a handful of people.”
“Judge me on my merit. Evaluate me in this political battle that I am fighting.