GUWAHATI: Pitching for opposition unity to take on the BJP, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram targeted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, saying the seriousness of a political entity in combating the saffron party should be called into question if it is reluctant about coming under one umbrella.
The former Union minister was responding to questions at a press conference where he was asked about Banerjee unleashing a relentless assault on the Congress while questioning its ability to fight the BJP.
"I don't respond to leaders of other political parties. All that I would like to reiterate and emphasise is that if you wish to defeat the BJP, either in a state election or in a national election, the non-BJP parties must come together."
"If someone is not willing to join the non-BJP front, one should question the seriousness of that party in opposing the BJP. If you are serious about opposing the BJP, you must come under one umbrella," he said.
Responding to a question about a common face that the opposition would want to project against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, he said, people will make the choice in due course of time.
Chidambaram deplored the lack of ideological commitment of political leaders in the Northeast who take a position depending on the outcome of elections.
He said though the Congress does not rule any of the states in the region anymore, many of the current chief ministers are his former colleagues who might return to the grand old party if it comes to power at the Centre.
"There was a time when none of the states were under any other party except the Congress. The problem in the Northeast is there are no lasting ideological commitments. Regional parties tend to change their positions very frequently, which is unfortunate."
"If the Northeast must progress faster, their political parties must hold steadfast to certain ideologies. Whether you win an election or lose an election, you must remain with your political ideology," he said without taking names.
The veteran politician refused to acknowledge completely that it was the result of the Congress' failure to retain its leaders.
"No, it is a failure of political parties in Northeast who are not willing to stay on the path of an ideological commitment. It's also the failure of the Congress. But the principal failure is you must stay over an ideology you have committed to."
"I can name a number of people who have been Congressmen for many many years and switched their ideologies overnight. They are chief ministers today," he added.
Asked about the reasons for Congress' repeated electoral losses, Chidambaram evaded a direct reply.
"We are not analysing the structural weaknesses of the Congress party in a press conference. I admit that we have lost elections. But you will also admit that we have won elections. During this period, we have won elections as a single party, we won elections in coalition," he said.
He cited the examples of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Goa, Manipur, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, where the party had won elections either alone or in coalition.
Despite emerging as the single largest party, the Congress failed to form its governments in Manipur and Goa.
The former Union home minister said militant activities have increased in Jammu and Kashmir because of the the BJP's approach to the problem.
"By 2014 (when BJP under Narendra Modi came to power), militancy had been, by and large, contained in J&K. All that has been reversed by the authoritarian, unilateral approach of the BJP government. The worst damage they could have done to J&K was to reduce the status of a state to Union Territory," he said.
He also said Prime Minister Narendra Modi fears only one thing -- "losing elections" -- and doesn't care for anything else, including his party colleagues.
Addressing a three-day training camp for Assam Congress workers here, the former Union minister said the country is "sliding down" fast and it will be in "grave peril" if the present government continues in office.
He said, those having determination, will power and willingness to work hard to defeat the BJP are the new "freedom fighters" of India.
"This is a disastrous government. To cover up its monumental failures, this government has taken up cudgels of religion. Another reason to take side with religion is to divide the country on religious lines to win elections on emotions," he added.
The senior Congress leader said, "Modi has no fear of anything -- his party, MPs, CMs, ministers, the president, the vice president, judges, God or anyone else.
"He fears only one thing -- losing an election. Under no circumstances he wants to lose an election. I'm glad that he fears at least something. The only way to control this completely incompetent government is to defeat them in every election possible. I am not saying we will succeed, but we must make a determined effort."
Chidambaram said those who have determination, will power and willingness to work hard, toil, gather people and convince them, are the new "swatantrata sainiks -- freedom fighters -- of India".
The Congress veteran said more dangers lay ahead for the country with China occupying Indian territory and building villages at the border, youth in Kashmir turning back to militancy, minorities fearful about their status and the economy collapsing.
"There are dangerous curves ahead. The last seven-and-half years have been a very bumpy ride, in which many people lost their lives, many people have suffered. I pray and hope that we can negotiate these dangerous curves."
"If being a politician requires a driving licence. The driving licence will be reviewed periodically about your ability to drive, his (Modi's) driving licence would be cancelled by now. He has brought India to this pass," he added.
Chidambaram alleged the world today looks down upon India, questioning its human rights and democratic rights record, while the country has slipped down in the indexes of freedom, hunger, poverty and press freedom.
Referring to the resurgence of former prime minister Indira Gandhi after the massive electoral defeat in 1977, the former Union home and finance minister asked Congress workers to be confident about winning once again.
"We also lost in 1996, 1998, 1999. In 1999, we lost to a charismatic leader, good orator and lifelong swayamsevak Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But we again won back from him in 2004 due to the hard work of Sonia Gandhi and state Congress units."
"So, I want to tell you that the last seven-and-half years should not lead to a conclusion that Narendra Modi is invincible or unbeatable. We must believe that our idea (of politics) is right and his (Modi's) wrong. If you can convince yourself, only then you will be able to convince others," he noted.
Chidambaram alleged that "every step" that the government under Modi has taken since 2014 has turned out to be wrong, from demonetisation to the three farm laws that were repealed recently.
He accused the government of "hiding death figures" from COVID-19, and alleged it has no money for the poor but has written off loans worth lakhs of crore of rupees of top few corporates.
"We have not crossed the pre-corona level, yet the government is celebrating that we are recovering. Who has recovered, I want to know? Whose wealth has increased by several hundred billion dollars? Only two people's wealth has increased. I don't have to tell you the names. Everybody knows the names.
"Once upon a time, every child you asked who were the richest people, they would say Tata and Birla. Now, Tata and Birla are nowhere in the picture, because Tata and Birla are no longer cronies of Narendra Modi. You have to be a crony of Narendra Modi to be rich in this country," the former finance minister said, attacking the government over the state of the country's economy.
The Congress-led UPA had lifted 27 crore people above the poverty line, but several crore of them again slipped below the poverty line post COVID-19 pandemic due to faulty management of the economy by Modi, he alleged.
Speaking about job loss across many sectors, Chidambaram said, the country has seen a rise in the number of agricultural workers for the first time in many years.
"This is a sign of regression. The demand for MGNREGA works is highest now. The government has asked for an additional Rs 22,000 crore for these jobs. And I can't ask these questions in Parliament," he said.