Rajasthan’s Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president Sachin Pilot is confident that the Congress will be judged positively on the basis of its performance in the state in the last six months and do far better in the Lok Sabha elections than in the Assembly polls. He also feels that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalism narrative will have no impact before the economic hardships people face. Excerpts from his interview with Rajesh Asnani:
There has been record voting in the first phase in Rajasthan and the BJP believes it’s to their advantage.
That’s a misconception. Three months ago, the Congress was voted in and our government’s performance since then will be judged. I am quite confident that we will win a majority of the seats which voted in the first phase.
Do you think the Congress will fare better in the parliamentary elections than in the Assembly polls and what is the basis for it?
Traditionally, whichever party gets to form the government in the state does well in the Lok Sabha polls. In 2008, the Congress had formed the government in Rajasthan and swept the general elections in 2009. In 2014, the BJP won all the seats as they were in government in the state. Now we are in government and people have seen our work and read our manifesto. I am confident that not just in Rajasthan, in all the three states where we won the Vidhan Sabha elections, including Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, we will do very well.
Modi and the BJP have created a narrative of nationalism. Do you feel it will make a difference?
This is an election to secure the future of young people who need jobs. This is an election for bread and butter throughout India. The agrarian crisis and the slowdown of the economy are major issues. The BJP can sidestep these important issues and go on appealing on emotional issues, but I do not think young people will fall into that trap.
Union Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore has said the Congress can do no ‘Nyay’ after ‘anyaya’ over 60 years…
Nyay (minimum wage guarantee scheme) will be a gamechanger for the rural economy. Anyaya has done been on Dalits, farmers and poor people who have suffered because of demonetisation and mob lynchings instigated by the BJP. ‘Nyay’ will give the poorest families in India financial help of `72,000 annually and it will boost our economy.
You had a say in chief minister’s son Vaibhav Gehlot getting Congress ticket from Jodhpur. How do you see his prospects?
The entire party has been working hard to win all the seats. As party president, I and our Chief Minister, Ashok Ghelot ji campaigned hard for Vaibhav and we are confident t we will do well in Jodhpur and all the other seats too.
There is a feeling that there was wrong distribution of tickets by the Congress on some seats, which may not help its cause.
The BJP had to drop some of their sitting MPs despite winning all 25 seats since last time. They dropped a Central minister and four other MPs. It is they who feel threatened by our candidates. Gehlot ji and I sat together and made sure that good, winnable candidates get tickets on all seats.
Within the Congress, some people also say that if prominent leaders who are ministers in state government had been given tickets, it would have been better. What are the reasons they were not chosen?
It’s the party that decides who contests and there was a consensus on all the seats. We have given tickets to who we thought were winnable candidates. Chief Minister, I and all the party leaders had unanimity when we gave ticket to the candidates on all 25 seats.
Some betting markets and media reports say the Congress will not win more than 8-10 seats. Do you feel this assessment is correct?
It’s all BJP’s propaganda and the betting markets are no indicators. The mood of the people is with us. We will be judged by our six-month performance and we will win the bulk of the seats in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh.
The Congress had promised to waive off farmers’ loans in just 10 days but it did not happen. Now the farmers are angry. Why do you think that is so?
e have done it. We waived off farmer loans worth Rs 18,000 crore of the Cooperative Banks. Before we could address loans from commercial banks, the Model Code of Conduct was imposed and we had to negotiate with the controller of the Finance Ministry. We are now in the process of negotiating with the commercial banks, too. As soon as MCC period is off, we will waive off rest of the farmers’ loans as well.
Rahul Gandhi has high expectations from Rajasthan and CM Gehlot had made a statement saying it was his, PCC chief that’s you and party general secretary Avinash Pandey’s responsibility to make sure the Congress wins big. How do you react to this?
That is true. Rahul Gandhiji expects all three state governments to deliver. Whether it is Kamal Nathji or Bhupesh Bhagel or Ashok Gehlot — they are all heads of government, but we are all working together to deliver the best possible results.
Why has Priyanka Gandhi not campaigned in Rajasthan? Political analysts believe if she had come, the Congress prospects would have improved.
We wanted her to campaign but she had to campaign in UP, Assam and other places. Timing was a big problem. So she couldn’t make it to Rajasthan. Rahul Gandhi, though, has made several trips to the state.
A slogan was coined in the Assembly elections, ‘Modi tujhse bair nahi, Vasundhara teri khair nahi’. Because of this, many believe that people now would want to vote for Modi.
Vasundhara and Modi are two sides of the same coin. You can’t detach the responsibilities that previous State Government did not discharge and think of the Government of India as separate. The BJP governments at the Centre and the state both are under scrutiny. They have been rejected in Rajasthan. I want to ask, how much infrastructure have they created that they seek votes? Modiji comes once in five years to seek votes. The BJP creates propaganda of development but the people of Rajasthan have felt let down by the Government of India.
Your final assessment about Congress: how many seats can the party win this time, given the fact that in 2014 it was wiped off completely with a 25-0 loss?
It will be a complete reversal and we are working towards ‘Mission 25’. We are hoping to achieve our mission.
If a Congress or opposition alliance government is formed at the Centre, what will be your preference between Rajasthan and Delhi?
I have been party president for the last five-and-a-half years. I have also been made Deputy CM. I am very content and honoured to be able to discharge my responsibilities. I am going to be in Jaipur and happy with the job that am doing.