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Just as Sonia Defeated Vajpayee's NDA, Rahul Too Would Make PM Modi Sit Out in 2019: Kamal Nath

File photo of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath.

File photo of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath.

Kamal Nath said that the Congress will explore pre-poll alliances going to the 2019 general elections and will trump the BJP.

New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh CM-designate Kamal Nath affirmed Congress’s promise of farm loan waiver within 10 days of assuming office. He rebuffed suggestions that it was bad economics.

Speaking to CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil, Nath expressed confidence that the Congress will be able to get the required numbers in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He maintained that the “PM Modi sheen” was wearing off. He said much like Sonia Gandhi fought off the challenge from the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and put NDA out of power, similarly Rahul Gandhi will put PM Modi out of power in 2019.

Here are the edited excerpts:
Q: Mr Kamal Nath, you have been a nine-time MP, you have also served as a protem speaker and as a commerce minister, yet you say this (being CM) is a milestone in your career. What makes you say so?why do you see this as a milestone in your political career?
A: This is my first experience in the state and thus it is a milestone. I consider this to be perhaps the biggest challenge which I have faced. Being a Minister in the Centre is very different from being CM in the state. In the state, you encompass everything. There is such a wide spectrum of experience that is required, wide spectrum of knowledge that is required and it is so different from being a minister in the Central government. So, I think it is not only a milestone but I think perhaps it is a bigger challenge than any of my ministerial portfolios, I have had.

Q: So how do you see the Congress party in the state of Madhya Pradesh?
A: The first challenge we have before us is the Parliament elections, which is just a few months away. The people of the state have seen the writing on the wall, they have seen the picture of the state where every section of the society is in distress. So, we have to carry this message in a better way, in a stronger way to the people. In a way that we achieve success in the parliamentary elections. There are challenges with the finances of the state. The state is bankrupt. We have got to find out how do we tighten our belt, what costs we cut and what resources we raise. The whole economy of the state has to be looked at differently. The MP economy is based on agricultural. Seventy percent of the people are indirectly or directly connected with agriculture. They may not be farmers, but, say, there is a shop in the village, his trade depends on the purchasing power of the farmer. The tractor driver, he is not a farmer but he is dependent on agriculture. The agricultural labour is dependent on agriculture. So, across the state, we've got to put the economy in a proper perspective. We are not an industrial state. Our effort will be to look at the economy in a completely different way.

Q: What about the farm loan waiver promise to be completed within 10 days of assuming office?
A: Our manifesto says that it will be done within 10 days and there is a reason and a logic to this. A farmer is born in debt. He dies in debt and he is such an important component of our economy that unless we put him on a better anvil, unless we give this a start, the agricultural sector will never improve. So, the farm loan waiver is very important. If the banks can waive off 50% of the loans to businesses and industry why can't it be done for farmers?

Q: But people say that's bad economics because the state of Madhya Pradesh may not be in a position to do this kind of farm loan waiver. Did you make a tall promise which will be difficult to implement?
A: It is not bad economics. All those who say bad economics don't know economics. They do not know the state, they do not understand this country. It is all very well sitting in drawing rooms and making these comments. But what happens when you waive off loans for the business community? Is that good economics? And when you do the same waiver for farmers, it is suddenly bad economics. I don't understand this.

Q: Another promise that you had made during the course of election is about Gaushalas. Is it going to be implemented or was it a part of the cow politics which we saw between the Congress and the BJP?
A: This was not a part of our manifesto. It later became a part of our manifesto. I had gone to a district and in the rallies I saw how cows were being treated. I was very disturbed by it. So it is nothing to do with manifesto. I had announced this three months before our manifesto. It is important to have a Gaushala in every Panchayat. What is religious about it? It is our sentiment, it is our belief. That is our heritage. There is nothing wrong in it. The BJP will say it is Hindutva. Have they taken the agency for Hindu religion. Have they taken up distribution of Hindu religion? We are as religious.

Q: Do you think this is the way forward for the Congress party that they have to define, perhaps re-define their understanding of Hinduism?
A: It is not redefining, it has always been so. We're not redefining anything, we go to temple. I have my own religious beliefs. Four days ago, I went to Kedarnath. I have built the biggest Hanuman temple in Madhya Pradesh. I never publicised it. It has nothing to do with politics. We don't bring religion to a political platform. We don't use religion as a political base. That's what the BJP does and that is the difference. Now, whenever we visit the temples, unfortunately, the media shows it as if we're doing something strange. I go to Kedarnath, Vaishno Devi, Tirupati, so often. It is not on media. But, today if I start doing it, all the media will say I am a following a Hindutva line. That is very strange. Our sentiments have always been the same.

Q: Will you be carrying forward the work done by Shivraj Singh Chouhan or will you be undoing it?
A: I will have to see. It is just not about having a scheme. It is seeing the delivery system. What is the delivery system of that scheme? If the system leads to such leakage of funds, I don't want such a scheme.

Q: What about the Vyapam Scam? Will you set up an investigation into the alleged scam?
A: I have already announced that we will set up a people's commission to investigate into all the scandals and all the corruption of the BJP government. This will not be to seek political vendetta. It will not be to oppose anybody, it will be to expose whatever needs to be exposed.

Q: Are you ready to give this credit to your predecessor Shivraj Singh Chouhan that he managed to bring out Madhya Pradesh from that 'BIMARU’ state category?
A: Madhya Pradesh is number one in farmer suicide. It is number one in unemployment. The state is number one in rapes. It is also number one in women atrocities. This is the state of Madhya Pradesh. Is this not BIMARU? So, just saying that we have come out of the BIMARU states is fooling the people.

Q: What do you have to say to the fact that that Mandsaur, the site of rural distress, voted for the BJP?
A: A constituency has its own characteristics. You may have got your caste equations wrong. You may have got a wrong candidate. These things happen. The rural distress came to the fore. We were competing with the organisational strength of the BJP and their money power.

Q: Do you see the Congress converting the kind of numbers that you managed in this election in the general elections as well?
A: We must understand that people in this country may be simple or poor but they're not fools. They have seen through PM Modi’s promises.

Q: Are you satisfied with the final number at 114?
A: I am not satisfied with the 114 seats that we have got. We have lost in particular areas where we did not expect to lose. We couldn't match the BJP's organisational skills and money power. But that is a lesson to be learnt. We will make up for our shortcomings.

Q: Do you regret not going in for a pre-poll alliance with the BSP?
A: It has got to benefit both parties in an alliance. An alliance is there to defeat an opponent. But, what did we see this time? We saw the BSP's vote share come down. It is not only we who suffered. The BSP also suffered. From four seats, they came down to two. So, when we talk about alliances, we have got to look at it from a point of view that it is going to be a win-win situation for both. But, when it is not so, both parties stand to lose.

Q: You had a formidable opponent in Shivraj, the entire machinery of RSS that was working against you. How did you manage this number?
A: The BJP had a slogan, Ab ki baar, 200 par. They had this slogan in Gujarat, Ab ki baar, 250 paar and they couldn't even reach 100. All these slogans mean nothing. Of course, the BJP's organisational machinery is very strong. I built whatever I could in the 6-7 months I had. Now, we've got to build upon it and see that we strengthen our organisation much more.

Q: How did you create that organisation in a matter of eight months across M.P? That's a feat in itself.
A: It was an enormous task rebuilding the organisation at the village, block and district level. We successfully did it to a point. I would want it to see it better. Then, we went to various other social organisations, we reached out to government employees, we reached out to social organisations, so that they could understand the message of the Congress. All I would tell them is the picture is in front of you. See the truth and go and vote for the truth.

Q: I remember very distinctly that you were of the opinion that a number of your party MLAs were not being given certificates despite having won the elections. How will you manage a very, very hostile administration in many ways?
A: Many administrative changes will have to be made. I am going to make them. I am going to ensure it is based on efficiency, honesty and keeping our institutional arrangements intact. You cannot destroy India's institutional strength. India is a complex country and the complexities are so profound that perhaps no other country has. These complexities have to be sustained by institutional strengths. Our constitutional institutions and even the non-constitutional institutions we have is got to be held together by that. That is what I want to put together. You are seeing that in the central government the RBI is divided. The CBI is divided. Society is being divided.

Q: After you won the state, it took 48 hours for the Congress leadership to finally announce your name. What was the hiccup?
A: There were consultations, there were no big hiccups. We had the results. As we speak, the results came on the 11th night between 9 pm to midnight and from midnight to 5 pm. Some results were announced at 3 am on the 12th and today is the only the 14th. The Congress decided this on 13th evening. How long did the BJP take in Maharashtra? They took about 8 days. How long did they take in Himachal? How long did they take in UP?

Q: Tell me what role do you have for Jyotiraditya Scindia in your government?
A: He has got no role in the government but of course everybody is a participant in the functioning and the formation of the government. We all have to work together and we have worked together in the last 7-8 months and we will work together in the future because everybody has a role to play.

Q: In Rajasthan, things were not looking normal. We have seen supporters of Sachin Pilot burn tyres, block roads. Is this the correct way of choosing your leader?
A: Sometimes emotions go astray. But these are all temporary and this is going to sort itself out. We don't have any of these kinds of things in Madhya Pradesh. Yesterday, it was Mr Scindia who proposed my name as the leader of the legislative party. So, we don't have all these kinds of things in MP. We are together and we will remain together.

Q: In 2019, as general elections approach, will there be pre-poll alliance with the BSP and the SP?
A: The BJP is in power because of the fragmentation of votes and we must remember that the BJP in 2014 polled 31% of the votes that means almost 70% of the people of this country voted against the BJP and the BJP announces to the world that we have a national mandate. Perhaps, it is the only political party in the world which having got 31% of the vote says we have a national mandate. We have got to stop this fragmentation and for this fragmentation we will have to build alliances. That is what I am looking forward to doing. Leaders from different states are working, coordinating with the other to have alliances.

Q: Before you went for this poll, BJP had built this narrative that here's a strong leader like Shivraj, like a Raman Singh or say a Vasundhara Raje vs a collective leadership of the Congress party. Do you think that narrative of strong vs collective leadership stands defeated?
A: We did not have a CM's face in MP. You had these leaders, who you call big and strong, what happened to them in Chhattisgarh, in Madhya Pradesh, in Rajasthan? So, it is not that. In the end, we must recognise that the people of this country are looking for promises to be kept. Take demonetisation. It was a disaster. Take GST. They have misconceived GST. It has caused so much distress to people. Take the agricultural sector across the country. We have more farmer suicides in India than the whole of Africa. So, this is the state of affairs in this country.

Q: This is one of the most closely contested elections and in close to 73 seats the winning margin was less than 5 per cent. Do you think the BJP got an advantage in the last leg after PM Modi started rallies in the state?
A: I don't think Mr Modi made any difference. He came to my own district. I had the privilege of having Mr Modi in my district, I had the privilege of having Mr. Amit Shah in my district, I had the privilege of having Mr Fadnavis in my district. I had the privilege of having Mr Gadkari in my district and they couldn't win one seat in my district and they've lost by huge margins.

Q: Are you saying that the Modi magic or the Modi factor had no role to play in these elections and it was only the Congress leadership taking on Shivraj Singh Chouhan?
A: People trusted Mr Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party. It is evident after the results. With all the BJP machinery, with all their publicity, with everything they had planned, they could not succeed. They got hammered in Chhattisgarh. They lost in Rajasthan and they've lost in Madhya Pradesh. They've come down from 160-odd seats to 108. What does that demonstrate? It says that Mr Modi is no longer a vote getting factor.

Q: The popular vote is still with Shivraj. You had a greater conversion. So do you see this as a major loss for him?
A: We had little time. We united very late. And I think playing around these numbers does not illustrate anything. They got a 0.1% lead over us. But what is it? If you were to take out 2 districts from this, we would have overtaken them. For instance: You can take out Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan's voting percentage and you take out some other voting percentage. They've got less votes than us. So, these holistic figures that are presented in terms of average, in terms of total votes are misleading. We should look at it, district by district, constituency by constituency. When you look at it, constituency by constituency, you will get a very different picture that shows how the BJP's vote share has gone down.

Q: What is that one big challenge facing Kamal Nath as CM?
A: It will be putting the state's finances in order. Our system of governance also needs change. We have a system for the last 70 years that has not changed. We have to ensure our delivery system improves. But most important is that we're bankrupt. The BJP government has left the state bankrupt. We've got to get into cost cutting, we need to see how will we raise new resources without hurting the people, you've got to do a lot of out of the box thinking. You need innovative ideas and that is what we will start doing.

Q: My last question to you. From Indira Gandhi to Sanjay Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, it's been several generation of Gandhis that Kamal Nath has worked with. Can you rate these leaders on the basis of your own equation with them?
A: Each one has a different style, each one was in a different period. It was in a different age, period, world and in a different India. Sanjay Gandhi was in a different age of India. Mrs Indira Gandhi was in a different era and had her own style. Mr Rajiv Gandhi was launching India into the 21st century. That was a different period. Mrs Sonia Gandhi came in when we had Mr Vajpayee as the PM. She made him sit at home. Now, Mr Rahul Gandhi will make Modi sit at home.

Q: Will we be seeing you return to Delhi after your 5 years in Madhya Pradesh?
A: I have spent enough time in Delhi. I was first a minister in 1991. Now, I want to serve my own state.