'Everyone is living in fear today'

Modi dragging dead weight called BSY: P Chidambaram

Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram minces no words while spelling out the importance of the May 12 polls for the Congress. The Harvard alumnus also tells Bharath Joshi of DH how the Congress’ narrative is taking shape ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Excerpts:

Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan go to polls later this year. But why has the Karnataka elections become a high-stakes battle for the Congress?

Karnataka is the first major state going to polls this year, and is a precursor to the next three major states going to elections where the fight is straight between the BJP and the Congress. In Karnataka, there is a third player. Karnataka is the first state south of the Vindhyas where BJP is reckoned a challenge. The Congress is fighting to retain power in the state. The BJP is trying to breach the Vindhya barrier.

What was the need to antagonise Deve Gowda by calling JD(S) the ‘B’ team of the BJP? Hasn’t this closed a window of opportunity in the event of a hung Assembly?

Whether the window was ever open or whether it was forever closed, I can’t say. In a three-cornered election, every party has to oppose the other two parties. From what I gather, the BJP is not even putting up a token fight against the JD(S) in about 40 constituencies in the Mandya-Mysuru region. What the Congress has done is perfectly natural.

In your view, is Modi making an impact on Karnataka with his present campaign?

He tried it in Gujarat and was able to drag the BJP past the finishing line by a whisker. The PM, party president came from that state. Both spoke in Gujarati and obviously had a connect with the people. Those factors are absent in Karnataka. What he’s dragging is dead weight called B S Yeddyurappa. While his rallies will still appeal to the faithful, I don’t think conversion in large numbers will happen to give the BJP a victory.

The PM says the Centre has promoted infrastructure and assets creation, which has in turn led to job creation. How do you respond?

There’s no evidence that jobs have been created. That public goods — roads, bridges and railway lines — have triggered economic activity that has created jobs is a matter of evidence, measurement and proof. Such evidence and proof has not been forthcoming from this government.

What about the Mudra loan scheme that has 9 crore beneficiaries?

The average Mudra loan amount is Rs 43,000. How do you create a job with an average loan of Rs 43,000? You can may be improve work environment, you can put a ceiling fan if you don’t have one or buy some new tools. Of course, one can be self-employed, but that doesn’t create a job. It’s like frying pakodas that Modi said is a job. We’re talking about formal jobs - regular, certain and with a reasonable degree of security.

There are many issues the Congress is attacking the BJP with, but what’s the party’s central narrative?

There will be two main central narratives. One will be on the gross economic mismanagement, and the second on the breakdown or collapse of social fabric. On economic management, I think our narrative is coming together. More and more people are willing to buy it. On the social side, everyone knows and feels it in the bones. Everyone is living in fear today.

Do you share the concern that electronic voting machines can be tampered with?

After talking to a number of people, I’m inclined to believe that not all EVMs in an election can be tampered with. Some EVMs in some booths can be tampered with.

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