Karnataka election is a fight against hate-monger RSS-BJP, says Rahul

I don't want a BJP-Mukt Bharat, says Rahul Gandhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is on a whirlwind tour of Karnataka where his party is fighting an electoral battle. He knows retaining Karnataka would be a big morale booster ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and what a defeat could do. In his maiden interview after taking over as Congress president in December, Gandhi talks to DH's Sagar Kulkarni about his vision of fighting the "divisive" RSS-BJP, the role Karnataka can play in it and how he plans to turn the tide in his party's favour. Excerpts:

Nationalism is the buzzword currently and it seems to appeal to the youth. How do you look at this narrative?

RG: India is a very diverse country. Different states, languages and ideas  bring strength to our country. So I am very keen that in any national discussion the voice of all other states is heard. My problem with the so called nationalism of Narendra Modi and the BJP is that it includes nobody else's view except their own. So, if anybody has a slightly different view than them, they are not seen with the correct lens. They are crushed. That is not how I view India.

How confident are you of countering this nationalism?

RG: There is a huge reaction against the imposition of a narrowly defined and, frankly, a Nagpur-RSS idea of nationalism. During my entire tour in Karnataka, that is what people were telling to me. There is something called Karnataka's voice. And this election is frankly about Karnataka's voice versus the RSS viewpoint versus Narendra Modi's very rigid concept of what it means to be an Indian.

There is a natural reaction that is coming, we saw it in Gujarat, it is there in Karnataka, it is all over the country. This country is not going to tolerate Mr Narendra Modi or anybody else for that matter, telling this country what they think this country needs to do.

There is also this pitch of Congress Mukt Bharat?

RG: You might have noticed Mr Modi talks very disparagingly about me, about other Congress leaders. I will always respect the post of the Prime Minister. You will not see me using the same type of language.

I am even saying that the BJP view is a fact in India, and I don't want a BJP-mukt Bharat. I will fight them, I will defeat them, but it is an expression and I accept that all voices must be heard. Where I draw the line is violence. Where I draw the line is hatred. My main concern with the RSS view and the BJP view is violence, hatred, animosity.

How crucial are Karnataka elections in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls?

RG: Mr Narendra Modi came to power in India on some planks. Number one was jobs, number two corruption, number three farmers. He has failed in addressing all three. Gujarat is the first demonstration that he has failed in them, Karnataka will be the next, and after that you will see Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. And then in 2019, India is clearly going to state to Mr Narendra Modi – Mr Modi you promised us three things and all you have given us is a lot of talk. But nothing has really happened.

The reason why Bengaluru is known as the Silicon Valley is because of its cosmopolitan nature, because everybody realises that we are only going to succeed this way.

Congress is accused of playing soft Hindutva card. Where do people of other religions find space in the Congress narrative?

RG: My view on this is that anybody who invites me, regardless of which religion he is from, minority or Hindu, anybody who invites me to show me or introduce me to something he respects, I will go there. Because I respect his view. I visited mosques, temples in Karnataka, I visited gurudwaras in Gujarat.

Many leaders such as S M Krishna, V Srinivasa Prasad, H Vishwanath have left Congress. Were there any efforts to stop them?

RG: We are fighting an ideological fight. Certain people, opportunistically, left the party. Some of them are already having second thoughts. Lot of the people who left us, frankly they don't stand for some of the ideas the Congress represents. So I am actually happy they are not part of the way forward.

The combination of Hindutva and development worked for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Do you think it will appeal to the people of Karnataka?

RG: No. The BJP won the elections in Uttar Pradesh by polarising the society and by creating hatred and anger. Even the people of UP have realised what happened and there is tremendous anger in UP against the BJP.

The people of Karnataka have an old tradition of respect, carrying everyone together. Basavanna was somebody who showed Karnataka this direction. This is in the DNA of Karnataka – respecting each other – which is why Karnataka is successful. The reason why Bengaluru is known as the Silicon Valley is because of its cosmopolitan nature, because everybody realises that we are only going to succeed this way. To me, that is also very important and something Karnataka can show the rest of the world.

Youth voted in huge numbers for Modi in 2014; do you see them coming back? Did you get these vibes in Karnataka?

RG: Two crore youngsters were promised by Mr Narendra Modi that they will get jobs every year. Mr Modi's record on jobs is the worst in the last eight years. That is his own government's statistics. And those youngsters are clear about one thing - that Mr Narendra Modi, after four years, has not delivered.

We have shown in Karnataka, much better than Mr Modi has shown in the whole of India, that we can deliver jobs. And Mr Modi himself has agreed ... his own people have stated that Karnataka is number one in job creation in the country.

What do you think of the JD (S) and its leader H D Deve Gowda. You have been attacking him publicly?

RG: I have not attacked Deve Gowda. In fact, Mr Deve Gowda has been the prime minister of the country. I have nothing personal against Mr Deve Gowda and I am not attacking him personally. I am making a very simple statement. The central fight in Karnataka is between the BJP ideology and the Congress ideology. And Mr Deve Gowda has to be clear. He has to tell the people of Karnataka, is he on this side, or on that side. That is the extent of my question to Mr Deve Gowda. I think Mr Deve Gowda owes it to the people of Karnataka upfront to say that he is either on this side or that side.

Congress is now limited to a very few states, why?

RG: Well, first of all we do have 20% of the national vote, which is a huge figure. We were in power for 10 years. Ten years is a very long time at the national level. We made our mistakes, we had a very bad economic environment, we had a perfect storm that developed at that time, and we lost the election. Now, we have done a lot of introspection. We are working on developing new leadership, bringing in more and more voices in the Congress party. We are very confident that the Congress party is going to expand very dramatically.

As you re-structure the organisation, your focus is on youth and you are also taking the seniors along. But, it is the seniors who are delivering - Capt Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Siddaramaiah in Karnataka?

RG: Dividing seniors and juniors is an over simplification. The Congress party is an idea, a view of India. Basically, it says, all Indian voices are to be heard. India's energy is to be used constructively and people are supposed to be respected. Everybody is supposed to be carried together.

Whoever spreads that ideology, I support. There is tremendous value in experience, there is also tremendous value and energy in youth. My view is to bring these two together. Youngsters and people who have experience, but also start to clearly demonstrate what the Congress party stands for and what the Congress party will defend. You would have seen over the last three four months that we are drawing some of those lines. For example, we ourselves will not tolerate a particular type of language being used against our opponents. So, those are the type of things I am working on.

How do you plan to strengthen the Congress?

RG: Congress is a very distinct ideology. Fight for that ideology, defend that ideology, protect people who are being attacked and assaulted by the ideology of the RSS and the BJP, give voice to people in this country. Don't allow the voice of Karnataka to be crushed by the RSS. Don't allow Karnataka or any other state for that matter to be controlled by the RSS. Because that is what this election is all about. The election is about Nagpur and RSS trying to control the voice of Karnataka. And make sure that those elements in the society are fought.

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