‘Voters considering change as absolute power corrupts absolutely’ — Kharge on Modi’s ‘400 paar’

‘Voters considering change as absolute power corrupts absolutely’ — Kharge on Modi’s ‘400 paar’

Modi has maintained that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will come to power with over 400 seats in the upcoming elections. Responding to the PM’s “abki baar 40 paar” slogan, Kharge said no “sensible person” would make such claims.

“It means he has got some magic or he may be using electronic voting machines fully… Otherwise, a sensible man will… say ‘I will leave it to the people, I have done so much work’… So, when he is giving some numbers, there is mischief,” the Congress chief said.

The Congress is pushing to “expose” the Modi government and is certain that the electorate is rethinking throwing its weight behind the BJP as “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The 81-year-old Congress president is helming the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), with key opposition parties banding together to take on the NDA.

In an exclusive conversation with ThePrint, Kharge speaks about the Opposition alliance, the Congress’s election strategy and the party’s long-term solutions for its revival. Here are edited excerpts of the interview.

Also Read: How Congress is trying to break BJP’s grip on India’s IT capital Bengaluru 

How is the campaign going for the Lok Sabha elections?

The campaign is going well; we have fielded a lower number of candidates. As of today, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are moving throughout the country and campaigning. Even I am campaigning. All leaders – from the booth, state and national levels – are on the field. The response from the people is also very good for us. People are realising this about giving 100% mandate to the BJP – if you give absolute power to (Modi), he will become absolutely corrupt.

‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’. People are thinking of change. We are also putting our own views before the people to convince them about how necessary it is to protect the democracy. Unless the Constitution, democracy and country are protected, we are not going to survive.

What do you make of the ‘400 paar’ slogan given by the Prime Minister?

I think Modi must have kept all the (EVM) machines ready and has claimed they will win more than 400 seats. It is okay when an ordinary worker makes such claims but when Modi himself is talking about this for the last 3-4 months, it means he has got some magic or he may be using EVMs fully. Otherwise, a sensible man will not talk like this. Instead, he will tell the people about the work that has been done and leave it to the people. So, when he is giving some numbers, there is some mischief. But people are not going to tolerate it this time and Modi’s numbers will be reduced and the INDIA bloc will defeat him.

Are you saying that there is no level playing field in the upcoming elections?

There is no level playing field. You can see how they are harassing people, how they are coming up with Enforcement Directorate (ED) cases. Hemant Soren (former Jharkhand Chief Minister) had no case against him earlier but just before the elections, the Centre filed an FIR and put him behind bars. They could have done this earlier or after the elections and not after the election nominations started. What was the necessity and what was the apprehension? The Election Commission could have taken action. Soren is the only CM from a Scheduled Tribe. The same thing was done to (Delhi CM) Arvind Kejriwal. This shows that there is some nervousness in Modi. He (Modi) took 4-5 sitting MPs, Rajya Sabha members and some former CMs. When we privately enquired about those who left, they spoke about threats from the BJP and the fear of being imprisoned.

Modi is using methods such as suppressing, oppressing, disregarding, using all methods, squeezing, arm-twisting… But after people from other parties join them, all of them become good and clean. Amit Shah is using a ‘washing machine’ to clean them and everybody believes that.

What is the poll plank of the Congress in these elections?

We have already delivered certain programmes. Our main aim is to protect the Constitution and the democracy… it is to keep the country united. We have other welfare measures such NYAY, UPA-era programmes such as MNREGS, food security, RTI and rural health missions that were brought without demands from the people. These programmes were brought in the interest of the people and country, and implemented.  Modi can’t remove these programmes even if he wanted to. What are his guarantees? Two crore jobs… where is this? Unemployment and inflation are increasing. People are suffering because of the Goods and Service Tax and other things. Farmers and poor people are also suffering. So, our NYAY schemes for the ‘Yuva, Mahila, Kisan, Shramik and Hissedari’ will benefit poor people whom we are concerned about.

All Modi is doing is making jokes about the Gandhi family and Rahul Gandhi. That is his agenda. Is Rahul Gandhi the PM or the former PM? Was he (Rahul Gandhi) or anybody in the Gandhi family in power for these 30 years? Modi was around 40 years old when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. Rajiv Gandhi and his mother Indira Gandhi sacrificed their lives for the country. Tell me if anyone from the BJP or Modi’s camp died (for the country). They can criticise people in power and can do so for the 10 years we ruled. They can criticise our schemes. Earlier, there was so much noise about corruption (during the United Progressive Alliance).

There is conflict within the INDIA bloc. The Congress and AAP are fighting separately in Punjab. The Congress has no alliance with the Left in Kerala. There are mixed signals coming from the alliance. Your comments?

During the UPA government’s rule, the Left supported us at the Centre but fought us in Kerala. This is not new. In Punjab, we are fighting separately because we (Congress) are the main Opposition and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in power. Can the Opposition merge with the ruling party? We tried our best to come together in West Bengal but somehow our alliance failed. So, like in Punjab, let them (apparent reference to TMC) go their own way in West Bengal. Let us see after the elections how to come together. But all 26 parties in the alliance are with INDIA. People are talking about Nitish Kumar leaving. But he is in the list of ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’. We have tried to accommodate everyone. The CPM and JMM in Jharkand, RJD in Bihar, NC in Jammu and Kashmir… Where have we failed?

Modi has created a narrative that there is no unity in INDIA and we don’t have any understanding. The same situation was there in 2004, the ‘India Shining’ campaign, in which Vajpayee was expected to return to power. Today, Modi says the same thing 100 times a day. Modi’s fate will be the same as Vajpayee’s. But Vajpayee was a mature man and he never commented unnecessarily. But Modi criticises Congress from ‘gully to Delhi’.

Mamata Bannerjee proposed your name as the PM candidate of the INDIA bloc. But the Congress did not pursue this and lost out on an opportunity for possibly the first Dalit PM and the support that sort of a campaign would bring in. Was this another historic blunder by the Congress?

It is mischievous thinking.   Is only being a Dalit required to become PM? Why can you not select on merit or count service in the party? Simply proposing a name in a meeting won’t work. I have got a responsibility. My party, the people who elected me as the party president decide what role I play. Our leader Sonia Gandhi is there. But first, we have to get a majority and only then does the question of the PM post arise. Simply proposing does not make you PM.

I am interested in safeguarding democracy, the Constitution… If these two things are saved, then I am saved. I am not interested in becoming the PM or CM… otherwise, I could have become (CM) three times or at least twice in Karnataka. We have to tolerate all this in politics to achieve larger interests and targets. This is the only party which protects the interest of the people – Dalits, minorities, poor farmers. And it gives a level playing ground to everybody. In the Congress, it is merit-based opportunities. Whereas in the BJP or for Modi, they go on a selective basis. Whether they believe in the RSS ideology; who is with him (Modi) and who is against Congress.

There is still suspense about Rae Bareli and Amethi. Will Priyanka Gandhi contest here and will Rahul Gandhi have a second seat? 

Let us see, because that is the last phase of voting. And our central election committee will decide.

The Congress is confined to the south and has lost footing in UP, Bihar and the north. Your comments?

We are not concentrating only in the south. We are in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh as an opposition party and strong in Odisha and Maharashtra. Except UP, where we have alliance with the SP, and Bihar, where we are with the RJD, and Jharkhand, we are equal partners. People are creating an atmosphere like there is nothing (for the Congress). Is there anything in Tamil Nadu for Modi? Anything in Kerala? Andhra Pradesh? But they (BJP) create such a hype.

The Congress continues to stick to its caste survey strategy. Would you like to comment on that? 

Finding out the truth about who is really poor and needs help from the country’s welfare measures — this is not just election-related talk. How many educated people are there in the country? For example, in this country, we call ourselves Hindus, but again, we ask ‘what is your caste’. First, you ask Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, then you ask which caste you belong to? Then you ask sub–caste. So, we are involved in caste, sub-caste, class… Therefore, we should understand which community needs more help. Education in which communities is more. Even in Muslims, the upper caste Muslims have good education and businesses… If you come lower down (in the financial spectrum), there are mechanics, small vendors, etc. Even education is poor compared to other sections of Dalits and others. So, to understand the reality, economic and educational positions and land-holding… these are things we want to verify and plan accordingly. Not to divide the society.

How do you read the conflicting findings of the CSDS survey that shows that people believe inflation and unemployment have gone up but they believe ‘acche din’ is here?

Unemployment and underemployment are there and everybody agrees. Employment is there but not assured… daily wages, contract basis, gig workers – can these be called employment? These people, they don’t get full rights. That’s why we have ‘Shramik NYAY’. We propose to bring laws to protect them. Whatever laws we brought earlier, half of them have been scrapped by this government. You protect one side of labour and on the other side, the industry also. We don’t want to kill industries. For every industry, the government gives the money as industries take electricity, water, everything from the government. But it is also their duty to support labour – their children’s health and education. Industries create wealth for them and we say they have created wealth for the country. That’s why our guarantees are popular. Modi is now taking our word ‘guarantee’. But whatever he has promised earlier, he didn’t fulfil, so people will not believe it. And the guarantees we implemented in Karnataka, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh… people are recognising them.

Why do people still vote for Modi then? 

In the prohibition area, we try to control. But there are black marketeers and other ways and they come in. Like that, here, Modi is always using his media, or his government’s machinery, programmes for election purposes. You might have seen this in earlier elections. He stands with a green flag to flag off trains. In barely a year of being railways minister, I started many new lines. We never took credit or publicised things. This is how he plays. He is a master in propaganda. That propaganda, that (Joseph) Goebbels propaganda. 

Has the 60 years of Congress rule become a burden for the party?

What was there before 1947 in this country? Even one pin we didn’t manufacture. All public undertakings — whose period was it started in? Lakhs of jobs were given by establishing good infrastructure — BHEL, BEL, AIIMS, medical, science, regional colleges, etc. Dams, power projects. You can’t see these things. Or (do you feel) all this started after Modi came to power; that India got independence only after 2014? Modi should realise that a great man like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru brought everything required in education, science and technology, industrial revolution. Indira Gandhi ji along with Lal Bahadur Shastri planned the Green Revolution, White Revolution. Are all Modi’s? Modi comes from Gujarat, he should realise Amul is not his foundation. For that, of course, (Verghese) Kurian was responsible… But who supported it and during whose period did it come up? During Indira Gandhi’s time, we won the Pakistan war and nearly 99,000 people were imprisoned.  Modi says ‘Saath saal (60 years) mein kuchh nahi hua’. Earlier, he used to say ‘Sattar Saal (70 years)’ and count the rule of Morarji Desai, Vajpayee and Deve Gowda in our account. 

What was the level of education 60 years ago? How many schools and colleges, how many were literate before Independence? If he (Modi) reads, realises, only then can he tell the truth. He goes by hearsay. It’s not good.

How many seats will the Congress win this time in Karnataka? 

I cannot say 2,3,4,5, but our performance will be better and we will get more seats than JDS and BJP.

For the first time in over 50 years, you are not contesting an election. Is there a twist in this tale and will you throw in a surprise? 

I felt a little upset the first time (I lost). I got a shock as I had done good work; there were no corruption charges against me. I have never been called a weak minister in the state or centre. Even when I went to the Centre… irrespective of areas, I worked in labour department, healthcare, brought the central university to Gulbarga. I took these initiatives not because someone asked me for them but I realised the need for the region (Kalyana-Karnataka).

The biggest achievement was meeting leaders in Delhi, fighting along with others to bring Article 371(J). An amendment in the Constitution is permanent and will remain as long as the Constitution is there. Tell me which MLA or which minister did all these things in their respective areas. Some people realise the work I did and tell me that they made a mistake (in 2019 by not supporting me). 

I have made a decision (not to contest)… Whatever is done, is done. Suppose if I had not been defeated, I could not have become the opposition leader in Rajya Sabha and then the AICC president. This is part of life. But I am not going to retire from politics. Because politics is not a job of retirement. People who say that they are tired of working, but I am not tired. I am working for a cause and that is to protect the Constitution and the democracy. I will work with all political parties, with all leaders, irrespective of ideologies as the country is important. For this, I will definitely work whether I am in power or not… whether I will be an MP or not. But my fight will continue. And I want to serve the nation until my death. 

Also Read: Congress fields Kharge’s son-in-law from Kalaburagi, gives tickets to children of Karnataka ministers 


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