Predictions about the election results may be swinging back and forth between a wild range of 150 seats, but in the middle of it all, Congress President Rahul Gandhi is exuding a quiet confidence. He resolutely parried off, like any seasoned politician, queries on any specifics on how he would move in the various scenarios - but in an exclusive interview with The New Indian Express, he offered both subtle and broad hints about how he is oriented to the tasks that may lie ahead of May 23. Perhaps, that he may already have initiated, or responded to, dialogue with potential partners.
In terms of overt words about post-poll possibilities, he offered a perfect defence — a wall that could not be breached. “You are asking the sixth time. I will answer the same way,” he said. And that steadfastly non-committal stance was woven around the logic that it’s “not his place” to second-guess the jurisdiction of the voters. “The people of India are the masters. I will wait for the voice of the people first and only then...” talk about post-poll scenarios.
But between his words, a perfect script seems to be in place too — and an open script, not a bound one. His confidence rests, firstly, on the conviction that “Mr Modi is going to be defeated.” To sceptics, including from the BJP, he has this counter: “Do you think the 1.4 billion people of India can’t defeat Mr Modi?”
READ FULL INTERVIEW HERE | After Rajiv Gandhi, Modi was the first PM to get a blank cheque; he blew it away: Rahul Gandhi
Secondly, he does not think government formation will be a long-drawn process — “I think it will be very quick.” Read along with his remark that the “entire Opposition” is united in the objective of seeing the back of the present dispensation, this is an indication that backchannel negotiations may be already underway.
A major point of curiosity in the public mind is the Congress’ capacity or willingness to work with big regional blocs that may be in a position to control the narrative post-May 23. Parties like Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti of K Chandrashekar Rao, besides other regional parties who are part of neither the UPA or the NDA, could form a sizeable chunk of the next Lok Sabha.
Their individual relations with the Congress have often been fraught and frosty, while they still retain a formal distance from the BJP too.
The Congress too has often been alleged to be isolationist, imperious and often ill-adjusted to the demands of coalition politics. Rahul’s words are, therefore, significant in terms of symbolically opening up the space for negotiations.
The way he opened it up was oblique, via a reverse critique of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA regime. Building his decision to contest from Wayanad into the narrative, he said he had got the sense that “South India felt the country was being run from Nagpur.... Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh are screaming. I was shocked by the expression of the Tamil people....”
On a specific question about his willingness to work with Jagan Mohan Reddy, he took the discussion to the promise of Special Category Status for Andhra Pradesh and the way it was dishonoured by the Modi government.
“The PM of India had made a commitment on Special Category Status to Andhra. Dr Manmohan Singhji had made that commitment on the floor of Parliament. That’s like a commitment from the people of India. You can’t tell the people of Andhra that isn’t worth anything.”
The reason he cites for why Modi ignored this long-pending demand is what he calls his incapacity “to listen”. Calling him a man filled with anger, he says, his “I, me, myself and nobody else” approach was a “tragedy” for India.
After Rajiv Gandhi, it was only Modi who had got a “blank cheque” to govern India, he says. And while Rajiv had kickstarted the telecom revolution, computerisation and a vision for the 21st century, Modi bungled on an excellent opportunity to reshape India, he feels.
But “anger blinded Mr Modi” and brought about a lack of sensitivity to the needs of others - and, “tragically” for India - kept him on a path of governance that was begun under Rajiv, perfected under Narasimha Rao and Dr Singh, but one that had stopped working from 2012.
“We are not going to be arrogant. We are going to listen to the people, we’re even going to listen to the Opposition,” said Rahul. As explicit an answer as he has ever given on whether he is willing to accept the post of prime minister — of course, if the “masters” so decide on May 23.