Two weeks ago, political circles in New Delhi were abuzz with speculations of a senior Congress leader close to 10 Janpath joining the BJP. One newspaper went to the extent of saying that Gandhi family loyalist and former minister Kamal Nath could be the one being wooed by the ruling party. In an exclusive interview with News18’s Marya Shakil, he says it is absurd to suggest that he could even think of leaving the Congress for the BJP. Edited excerpts:
Marya Shakil (MS): To begin with, let’s talk about rumors around you considering to join the BJP. Should such speculations be taken seriously?
Kamal Nath (KN): Well, this was initiated by the BJP. They were trying to use my name to entice others. There was no such talk, there was no such thought. It is absurd to suggest that such a thing would even cross my mind… when I tried to get to the bottom of it, I came to know that the rumour was started from the BJP camp, which was trying to use my name to go to the people saying “Oh! Even Kamal Nath is going to join us, so why don’t you?” It was just politics, plain politics of enticement of Congressmen from the Congress.
MS: Why do you blame the BJP? What if someone from your own party was behind the mischief?
KN:No, it was not someone from within our party. But whatever information I could get, it was purely and wholly initiated by the BJP.
MS: The process for internal elections in Congress is underway. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said that Rahul Gandhi is in a position to become the party president. What are your views?
KN: Of course, he should take over. I have said this many times. I said it two years ago that he should be in the position… he is de-facto leader of the party… now we should not let any confusion or any kind of misunderstanding remain. It is very clear that Rahul Gandhi is leading the party. And that he should take on the role as the president of the party.
MS: We are witnessing a scenario where politics is being defined by the ruling party. BJP president Amit Shah has a blueprint ready for the upcoming state polls and is already gearing up for 2019. Rahul Gandhi is seen as someone who is not a 24x7 politician. Can he really script the Congress revival?
KN: Of course, he can. He is holding very consistent and long discussions, very detailed discussions with Congressmen. State-wise, he is getting a sense of things. A strategy is being prepared. The BJP strategy is only to create a climate.
MS: Why can’t Congress create such climate?
KN: Because that is not the Congress way of functioning. We are doing what we have to do. Yes, there is some delay somewhere. I agree with you that in some states there may be a delay. Rahul Gandhi is seized of the matter and I see no doubt that we will have a blueprint… a blueprint is already in the making. After all, elections are two years away and you can’t start making (strategy)… new issues will come up in the next two years.
MS: What about the Assembly polls in several states ahead of the 2019 general elections?
KN: Of course. For state elections, blueprints are being made. Just last week, we had a two-and-a-half hour long discussion with people from Madhya Pradesh. I was also there.
MS: Let’s talk about Madhya Pradesh a little more. Punjab CM Amarinder Singh has said that when states go to polls, a strong regional leader should be projected as the chief ministerial candidate. Are you up for it in Madhya Pradesh?
KN: Well, it’s important but I must say that it’s not absolutely necessary. Whom did the BJP project in Uttar Pradesh? Whom did the BJP project in Uttarakhand? And if you see, state after state there was no CM candidate from the BJP and the Congress. So, it depends on circumstances.
MS: Doesn’t a strong regional leader as chief ministerial candidate help in the run-up to the elections?
KN: I firmly believe that when we are talking about Madhya Pradesh, no single person can bring victory to the Congress. Everybody has to be working together. All leaders have to work together. Madhya Pradesh is a large state, it is not a small state like Haryana or Uttarakhand.
MS: Opponents say Madhya Pradesh Congress is divided between various groups and that there is a lot of confusion. Is that true?
KN: There is no confusion. No! I don’t think as of date there are any factions or confusion in the Congress in Madhya Pradesh.
MS: Recently, Digvijaya Singh was removed from the post of state in-charge of Goa and Karnataka. Do you think it was important to fix responsibility?
KN: I think Digvijaya himself asked to be released. And I believe that national general secretaries should not have so many states with them. You cannot function. You cannot do justice. Even after being released from two states, he has two very important states to handle — Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
MS: The criticism is that most general secretaries of All India Congress Committee have lost connect with the people. Do you think accountability should be fixed for loss in every election?
KN: I think there could be some disconnect. I was general secretary in 2001. I am still the general secretary of the party. This depends on the person. And it depends on the state. Try and fix responsibilities in a state like UP. In UP, we were not in the context since Day 1. We won 21 seats. The contest was between the BJP, Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Now to say that so and so should take responsibility for the Congress loss in UP is not correct.
MS: Then who is responsible for poll debacles, one after another? Is Congress having a problem in reinventing itself?
KN: There has to be some kind of accountability and it must be measured. It has to be in relation with something. Politics has changed in the country. The Congress should change with the changing politics. Social Media was never a thing 10 years ago, not even 5 years ago. But today social media is a big thing. Even aspirations are different. We are the largest aspirational society on this planet. Previously, if you looked at a village, you could say this village will vote for us. Today, you can’t even say that about a house because the father can vote for somebody else, so can the son, the mother or the daughter.
MS: Do you think senior Congressmen like you are being complacent because you have seen power for several decades? Why isn’t there any desperation to get out of the opposition mode?
KN: No, we are not trying to wait in the opposition. We certainly don’t want to remain in opposition and we won’t be in the opposition. Let me be very emphatic. I am saying that the politics has changed. The Congress must adapt and adopt this change. Look at the organization at the grassroots level — not just at the district level, but at village level. Previously, the village level organization sprung up on its own. Today, you have to drive it.
MS: Do you think the high command culture is outdated?
KN: I don’t think there is any high command culture. Doesn’t every single party have it? They may give it a different name. What is internal democracy in Samajwadi Party, the BJP or the BSP? What internal democracy are we talking about? Was Amit Shah elected as BJP president? The moment Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, within a few days he declared that Shah will be the next BJP chief.
MS: It looks like in the next Lok Sabha polls, it will be Modi Vs nobody. Who can challenge Modi in 2019?
KN: I don’t think it will be Modi Vs nobody. The fact is that Narendra Modi has said so many things. It’s going to be those so many things Vs the people. The question is issues. Today, the voter looks at issues. And how can you say that we don’t have anybody? We have Rahul Gandhi. Nobody can point a finger at him. He is new in politics, let’s face it. He has not been in politics as long as Modi has been. So we must recognize this fact. He brings fresh air.
MS: Why is Rahul Gandhi’s freshness not able to win elections for Congress?
KN: In the recent Assembly elections, what happened in Goa? The BJP was in power there. The defence minister went back. What happened in Manipur? They were hungry to form a government, not to win elections. We stuck to our principles. We did not go for allurement. Let’s see how long it will last.
MS: Are you not worried that there is a steady flow of Congress leaders to the BJP? For example, Himanta Biswa Sarma has done immense damage to the Congress in the North East.
KN: There were issues between him and the chief minister. It had nothing to do with Delhi. I was general secretary in Assam in 2002 and I know the ground situation there. He had only one demand, remove the CM. But majority of MLAs were with the CM.
MS: You have worked with both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. Given the fact that most of Rahul Gandhi’s decisions in the recent times have proven wrong, shouldn’t Priyanka lead from the front?
KN: It’s up to her. It’s for the family to decide. It’s not for me to decide. And if Priyanka decides to play a more active role, I think it will be very good. But that is a decision she must make, not us.
MS: Recently, Priyanka Gandhi issued a statement on Robert Vadra’s land deals. Do you think allegations against Vadra are forcing her to remain a backroom person?
KN: There will always be politically motivated charges. There is no sustainable charge against Robert Vadra or Priyanka Gandhi. Hype has been created around this.
MS: In Chhindwara, your constituency in Madhya Pradesh, you have built a 101 ft tall statue of Hanuman. Is Congress trying to redefine the Hinduvta agenda of the BJP?
KN: The statue was built three years ago, before Modi was in picture. And now people outside Chhindwara are getting to know of it. We celebrate everything, including Hanuman Jayanti. What’s wrong with that? I also celebrate Ram Navami.
MS: Does it have anything to do with some kind of rethink within the Congress?
KN: The fact of the matter is that the BJP has taken ‘theka’ of Hindutva… have they taken ‘theka’ of Ram and Hanuman? We are going on the line we always followed. We have nothing to do with Hindutva. It has got to do with the sentiments of the people and the ethos of this country.