Rajasthan will vote on December 7 and its results will be announced just four days later. But amid the hustle and bustle of all the campaigning, Rajasthan Pradesh State Congress Committee (RPCC) President Sachin Pilot remains steadfast and assured of victory. His body language suggests that the Congress, along with the voters of Rajasthan, have already ousted incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje of the BJP; announcing the results are just a mere formality now.
But is this exuberant confidence a sign of complacency, or does it stem from a strong pro-Congress political undercurrent in Rajasthan? Even though opinion polls had initially suggested a revival of the Congress party during this assembly election, it is believed that the BJP has made a surging return in the past fortnight—with help from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah.
However, Pilot seems to disagree with the latter.
He himself is contesting from Tonk—a constituency in which the Congress has been fielding Muslim candidates, and the BJP, Hindu candidates, for the longest time. It is also considered to be one of the most backward constituencies of the state. Considering the sizeable Muslim population in the constituency, the BJP has this time fielded its only Muslim candidate and CM Vasundhara Raje’s close aide Yunus Khan from here.
But Pilot seems assured of victory from this seat as well. While campaigning for Congress candidates in different assembly seats, he continues to make regular visits and holds small meetings in gram panchayats too, where women are attending them in large numbers. On Friday evening, when he returned to hold a similar series of such meetings in the rural belts of Tonk, Newslaundry managed to catch up with him during his commute between two meetings, and speak to him about whether his party could meet the state youth’s passion and demand for government jobs, what if they [Congress] failed to deliver on the promises made to the youth in their manifesto—and also pose the million dollar question: who would the party choose as Chief Minister if they did indeed sweep the state?
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Opinion polls showed that Congress party had an edge [in Rajasthan]. But as the polls come nearer, the BJP is claiming that they are surging towards victory. Your response?
Why should we expect the BJP to say anything different? Any contesting party would say they are winning. But facts are different, feedback is different, and history is different. For the last five years, there has been not a single by-election that the BJP has won. The mood is against the incumbent government. Today, Prime Minister Modi or Amit Shah are rallying; how can they change the mood? This has been a consistent fight for five years and not just one for the past few months. For five years, we have been the voice of the people. We have been able to create a space in the heart and minds of voters.
Pilot’s public meeting in the Meena-dominated Chauki village of tonk
There is some buzz in the media that the RPCC has two factions: one listens to Mr Sachin Pilot, and the other, to Mr [Ashok ]Gehlot. Is this factionalism going to hurt your prospects?
If factions exist, they are in the BJP. Mr Amit Shah and Vasundhara ji hadn’t appointed the president of the party’s state unit in Rajasthan for 75 days. The world knows that they have not been able to function together.
In our party, there has been not a single incident or statement that point towards any signs of factionalism. In fact, had the Congress party been divided into groups, we wouldn’t have emerged this strong. Had Congress been a divided house, as you claimed some people say, we wouldn’t have been able to defeat the BJP in every challenge, whether it be local elections, panchayat elections, Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha by polls. We are strong because we are united. And the BJP hasn’t been able to digest this. That’s why they keep on planting stories. As party president, it’s been my proud privilege to get every single leader with a lot of experience. I have got the support of every leader in the party.
Sorry to interrupt. Hypothetically, if you win the elections, who is going to become the Chief Minister? Sachin Pilot or Gehlot?
First of all, there is no “hypothetical” about this. With full humility, I am saying that we are winning the elections. Who will lead the government—that decision is for the party to take once we have won the majority. And I don’t understand this fuss about naming the Chief Minister. We have not done that barring in Punjab and UP. The standard procedure of the Congress party has been winning the election as a team. Who will lead it [the government] is a decision that the MLAs and the party will take.
Even in Delhi, till the time Sheila Dikshit was leading the party, the name of the CM candidate was declared.
An incumbent Chief Minister leads the party into the election. But today, we are in the opposition, and this has been the Congress’ policy. We are happy with it, so why is everybody grieving?
In its manifesto, the Congress has made very elaborate points. Don’t you think this could turn out to be a double-edged sword, considering that the present government is facing the anger of the youth for failing to deliver on its concrete promises [made in the last election]? What if you fail to deliver?
Amit, don’t judge us by what BJP has done. They are the ones that have consistently lied to the people. Depositing Rs 15 lakh in every person’s bank account was promised. It’s now been five years and they have not been able to bring a single penny back. In fact, people have looted the country and fled. They [BJP] have promised things such as Swacch India, Skill India, Make India, Digital India and failed to deliver on them.
We are a party committed to our manifesto. Our job will be to deliver on all the promises made in it. We are not one of those who resorts to Jumlas.
The youth in Rajasthan appears to be very passionate about government jobs. No party in power has been able to successfully address such a demand for government jobs. But that anger, which is possibly working in your favour right now, might work against the Congress if you come to the power.
It’s a very vague question. There are thousands of government posts that are vacant. It is the negligence of the government that they have not filled up these vacancies. If the government has the willpower it can certainly provide jobs. But you are right—it’s not just the government sector. The private sector, too, plays a crucial role. How many times Rajasthan has sought for investments! But the number of attacks on Dalits, tribals, and women create an environment in which people don’t want to invest. Incidents like cow vigilante groups or mob lynching scare away the investors. That’s the reason why Vasundharaji, despite all her rhetoric, has not been able to bring in any money through investments and create new jobs.
You spoke about caste atrocities. In fact, PM Modi has been constantly attacking the Congress party, alleging that you [the party] have used the caste card in Gujarat and now are using it here in Rajasthan.
It is not us but the BJP leaders who are coming to Rajasthan and talking about what community/caste Lord Hanuman belongs to. How low can a debate get?
There are farmers’ issues, unemployment, education, healthcare inflation, but the BJP doesn’t want to talk about any of these issues. They want to talk about caste, mandir, masjid, ghar wapasi, Love Jihad and similar things. The 21st century India needs a much better and healthier narrative than what the BJP is known for.
What’s the strategy or policy behind keeping two leaderships—that of Mr Gehlot and you?
Kitni bar bolunga main. The policy is clear. We are a team and are working together. Us working together really upsets the BJP and some section(s) of the media. We are a united team. Our leaders are united.
Are there any particular pockets or areas in Rajasthan from where your hopes are high?
It’s across the state. Rajasthan is the largest state when it comes to size. I have been fortunate enough to visit every constituency multiple times. And the feedback is that across the community, there is a huge surge for the Congress. It is not based on some news reports or opinion polls, but rather on me talking from my five years of experience—I have sweated and bled with the people here. I have done dharnas, padayatras and gheroes. People value our work. At bad times, when farmers were committing suicide, we were here with them.
People are acknowledging that we are going to form the government. I don’t want to wish away; I am not an immodest or pompous person, but across communities, the support that we are getting is unprecedented.
One last question. BJP’s Yunus Khan is fighting against you from Tonk. How confident are you about this seat?
I am confident about how people are turning up. Here, you will see the Congress party winning by a historic margin.