'Congress is yet to declare its chief ministerial candidate'

This time, it’s going to be Congress in Rajasthan: Pilot

With Rajasthan Assembly polls three months away, the opposition Congress, which suffered a humiliating defeat in 2013, is trying to wrest power from the BJP. Ahead of its Sankalp Rally, Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot spoke to DH’s Tabeenah Anjum and exuded confidence that he would lead his party to victory.

You have been state Congress chief for over four years. How have you fared?

It has been an interesting journey. When I took charge, Congress had been reduced to just 21 seats in Rajasthan in the 2013 polls, the lowest tally since Independence. We focussed on small elections such as Krishi Mandi elections, Panchayat Raj elections, municipal elections, etc., and performed well. They became the backdrop for assembly and parliamentary elections. In the 2014 by-polls to assembly seats, we won three out of four seats, followed by two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly seat in the 2018 by-polls. So, we are ready to give the BJP a formidable challenge in the coming elections. 

Polls are just three months away, but there’s no Congress activity on the ground, while BJP is already out on their Gaurav Yatra.

Congress will reach out to the public through ‘Sankalp’ rallies starting August 24 from Chittorgarh district. There will be big rallies in all seven divisions. Major leaders such as Avinash Pandey, CP Joshi, Ashok Gehlot will take part. We will also continue our mass connect programme in which leaders will go to villages and “walk and talk” with shopkeepers, farmers, and other sections.

Rajasthan now ranks No. 3 in India in crimes against SC/ST. Even with a woman CM in office, the dignity of women is under threat in Rajasthan.

Is Sankalp rally a counter to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s 40-day Gaurav Yatra?

Not at all. Firstly, her Gaurav Yatra is just a desperate bid. She did not meet people in the last four years. Now, people don’t want to meet her.  

What are the points Congress will highlight during your rallies?

First thing, the farmers’ issue. Around 150 farmer suicides have taken place during BJP’s tenure. Second, the focus will be on the lack of jobs. BJP had promised 15 lakh jobs, they have failed to deliver. The third issue is the atrocities against SC/ST. Rajasthan now ranks No. 3 in India in crimes against SC/ST. Even with a woman CM in office, the dignity of women is under threat in Rajasthan. Another major issue is the incidents of mob lynching: killing people on suspicion of cow smuggling has never happened before. And BJP MLAs like Gyan Dev Ahuja are supporting such elements.

People say all is not well in your party. Is it Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot?

There is no chance of infighting. Gehlot ji and I are on the same frequency. Senior leaders CP Joshi, Girija Ji , Gehlot Ji have been given responsibilities in Delhi. Party has given me so much and now it’s my turn to give back to the party.

At 26, I became the youngest MP. Five years later in 2009, I became the youngest union minister, and now, I have been Rajasthan Congress president for four-and-a-half years. Rather, there is infighting in the BJP, which is not highlighted — Amit Shah and Raje could not agree on who should be their Rajasthan unit chief for 74 days.

Recently, Rahul Gandhi made you and Gehlot hug each other publicly in Jaipur. Was that needed?

After the rally got over, everyone was congratulating everyone else for the overwhelming response to Mr Gandhi. There is nothing wrong in greeting people you like. A hug is a gesture. 

Congress is yet to declare its chief ministerial candidate, while BJP has retained Raje as its CM face.

We are fighting elections collectively. It has been Congress strategy not to declare its CM face. And by making Raje the CM candidate, BJP is undoing its own chances. People have given up on her.

Sachin Pilot (DH Photo by Anchit Natha)

Are assembly polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh semi-finals before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?

Yes, the results in these three states will set the tone for Lok Sabha 2019 polls. 

Congress is working on a grand alliance for 2019. When will it materialise?

At present, Congress is working on UPA-plus-plus formula. We are now moving forward with like-minded parties to take on the BJP. The final contours of the grand alliance will come out in the coming weeks.

The opinion polls are in our favour, but I am not getting complacent, because it is a tough election.

But there has been a question mark on this alliance after Congress lost the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election.

The Rajya Sabha election has a lot of other influences, but national government formation is different. In the grand alliance, the regional parties, too, will be important, but Congress is the only party that has the bandwidth to take on BJP nationally.

We are not fighting against BJP and NDA just to get to power. We are fighting against an Emergency-like situation in our country. The constitutional bodies have been beaten, media is under pressure and India is turning into a mobocracy. If one disagrees with BJP leaders, they are told to “go to Pakistan”.

The opinion polls show Congress ahead of BJP in Rajasthan. Does that put you at ease?

The opinion polls are in our favour, but I am not getting complacent, because it is a tough election. As we saw in the by-polls, BJP will misuse power, money and muscle.

Can Modi-Amit Shah duo turn it around for BJP?

Not at all. We also have Mr Gandhi campaigning for us.

Two weeks ago, in an interview to DH, Raje said the BJP will sweep 180 seats out of 200 in Rajasthan. How many will Congress manage?

I am sure Vasundhara Ji meant 180 seats for BJP in all three poll-bound states together. I am confident that with the overwhelming support of people, Congress will win by a comfortable margin in Rajasthan.

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This time, it’s going to be Congress in Rajasthan: Pilot

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