'NDA rakes up emotional issues to cover up failures'

Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge has won elections for 11 consecutive terms (PTI File Photo)

Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who has won elections for 11 consecutive terms (nine terms as MLA and twice as Lok Sabha MP in 2009 and 2014), has seen the ups and downs of politics and the Congress party in particular from close quarters.

In a candid conversation with Deccan Herald’s Ajith Athrady and Anand Mishra, Kharge talks of politics present and past, the follies and failures of the Congress and the future road for India’s oldest political party.

BJP has formed the government at the Centre for the second successive term and the Congress is on a recovery path. How do you see the Modi 2.0 government performing?

The NDA Government has failed on several fronts whether it is controlling inflation or creating jobs or handling the economy or doubling the farmers' income. However, the media is not highlighting its failure. Besides, to cover up their failure, NDA leaders always rake up emotional issues like nationalism or country unity. We are not against the nationalism. But we don''t use it for politics. Let the BJP come for debate on real issues haunting the common man like inflation or jobs. The BJP is evading the real issues. 

But then, don't you think the Congress has totally failed to make an issue of what you call the failure of the government on inflation or unemployment? Or are people not taking your party seriously?

We tried hard to take the issue to the common man whether it is demonetisation or GST by organising protests and highlighting failures everywhere. But we need media support too. Media is now scared of the NDA government. They are being targeted. Several people in media houses lost jobs. Those who write fair news articles are being targeted. There is no space for real stories. We know that if anybody writes a correct story or carries out a reality check of the government’s claim, they are being harassed. If the government tried to arm-twist every independent organisation, how will the truth come out?

Several states are going to face polls in the coming months. But where do you find the Congress when Modi’s personality has ensured the BJP wins every election. Is it a lack of matching personality, which is costing the Congress?

We are waging an ideological fight. The person is not that important. However, our ideological fight is being diverted by raising emotional issues. In democracy, personality-based elections are not good. Even Ambedkar said that if you go for vyakti pooja (cult worship) in democracy, it will lead to dictatorship. Same thing is happening now.

Has the Congress failed in its ideological battle with the BJP?

We are fighting an ideological battle. We have to organise more and fight more. We have to expose the government and we have to convince the public. We have to reach out to the people. Nowadays, many young people are not aware of the sacrifices of the Congress. Some people are misguiding the youth and they are questioning the Congress's contributions. Even Jawaharlal Nehru's contributions are being questioned by some people. Nehru framed the foreign policy and led the non-aligned countries. Everything was not built only in five years. Today, India stands where it is because of the foundation laid by Nehru. Now, BJP leaders say Sadar Patel wanted to do this and that. Patel, Shyam Prasad Mukerjee and Ambedkar were part of the same cabinet. Differences of opinion must have been there. But decisions were taken collectively. Now, they (the BJP) want to split them. We should not distort the issue. We should tell people about the facts.

But the BJP has been able to stitch up good alliances with regional parties very well. The Congress despite needing this more has failed in it. Why?

Regional parties always have separate agendas and separate issues in different states. Even if we forge alliances with regional parties, many times they treat us as junior partners. Our alliances happened very well in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But in Telangana, the TRS is our Opposition party and we can't have an alliance with them. The BJP is not the direct challenger of regional parties in many states. When it comes to the Congress, the secular vote share we share is common with likeminded parties. Many regional parties start apprehending that if they partner with the Congress, their vote share will come down. But in the interest of the country, all secular parties must come together and fight against the BJP.

Opposition parties are attacking the NDA on various issues alleging its failure but separately. Where is your strategy to fight against the ruling dispensation?

On issues like Electronic Voting Machines, all Opposition parties are united. We have to come together to highlight the ruling party's failure in tackling the economy and job losses. It is happening in the Parliament. Outside also, we will do it.

Earlier, most of the decisions in the Congress were taken by the Gandhi family. Now, Rahul Gandhi has stepped down and Sonia Gandhi is interim president. Do you see a proper election process to elect the new president now so that there is some credibility to leadership?

I am not going to talk on what will happen in the future. Now, the membership drive has started. Who is going be what should not be speculated. The future course of action will be decided by the Congress Working Committee. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will guide the party as always. Just because Rahul Gandhi resigned, it does not mean that he is sitting quiet. He is also working. The party will take decisions collectively on all the major issues. We always follow the election process. Pradesh Congress Committees and AICC delegates are being elected. Only on their recommendation will the AICC president be selected. There is always a transparent process.

Recently, the Enforcement Directorate booked NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. This is after P Chidambaram and DK Shivakumar have been sent to jail. Why are so many Opposition leaders caught in corruption cases?

We were also the ruling party. But now, vendetta politics is happening and it spoils the political atmosphere. The ED is filing a case against Pawar without an Income Tax inquiry. What is the timing of registering the case? It has happened just before nominations for the state Assembly start.

In your party in Karnataka, there is a factional fight going on. There is a clear division between old-timers and newcomers. How do you get over that?

There is no such big fight happening in our party. In every party, such things are always there. In the Congress, for every issue, different views are being taken from different leaders and consensus decisions are taken. Some leaders become powerful and try to give some posts to their loyalists. This will lead to some friction among leaders. Ultimately, the party's top leaders will set it right. That is not a big issue.

Is there any internal sabotage behind the collapse of the Congress government in Karnataka?

There is no point in talking about the collapse of the government now. The old government is gone and a new government has already come. What has happened has happened. There is no need to do a postmortem. Let us think about the future and the work to build it properly.

After spending so many years in the Congress, are you optimistic that the party is going to revive? Don't you think the Congress has reached the crossroads and has no idea where to go? It looks like the Congress is in the ICU?

Nothing like that. One should not become pessimistic. Such things happen in a democracy. Ups and downs are common and all parties have faced it. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK had one seat and in the next elections, they came to power. The BJP also had only two seats in 1984 and in the very next elections, they got 85 seats. We should always be optimistic. 

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