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No Amount of Campaigning by PM Modi and Shah Will be Able to Save Vasundhara Raje: Sachin Pilot

On being asked about Rahul Gandhi being a Shiv bhakt, Pilot said the Congress president did not seek votes in the name of religion and one is free to go to any religious place. He wondered why the BJP is upset over it.

Zeba Warsi | CNN-News18

Updated:December 9, 2018, 2:06 PM IST
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Jaipur: Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot accused the BJP of raking up the mandir-masjid debate 10 days before the elections as they have nothing to show in terms of their work. Pilot, who is being seen as the CM face by many, accused Vasundhara Raje government of being corrupt and not having acted swiftly on the anti-social elements. He went on to say that nobody knew the word lynching four years ago and that CM vasundhara Raje failed to act on the matter.

Sahin Pilot, who was in conversation with CNN-News18's Zeba Warsi, exuded confidence that the next CM will be from the Congress. He said CM Vasundhara will have to pay for her actions and the campaigns by PM Modi and Amit Shah will not be able to save her.

On being asked about Rahul Gandhi being a Shiv bhakt, Pilot said the Congress president did not seek votes in the name of religion and one is free to go to any religious place. He wondered why the BJP is upset over it.

Here are the edited excerpts form the interview:

Q: You represent a breed of young, vibrant politicians in the Congress. Would you agree that people like you bring in something new to the table?
Sachin Pilot: The word young is very relative. At 40, you’re supposed to be young in politics but the average young man is much younger than that. By that account, I’m much older than the average Indian. But, I agree with you that we need to be in step with the changing times. The Congress party has been at the forefront of not only allowing young people in leadership roles, but in also empowering a generation of young politicians who can achieve a lot more in terms of imagination, ideation, creativity, capacity. We have really tried to give as many tickets as possible to young candidates — there are 45 candidates below the age of 40 this time. I must thank Congress president Rahul Gandhi for that.

Q: And you also have a sizeable chunk of first-time voters this time around?
Sachin Pilot: Young people need to know that they can become stakeholders in any party and government. Reaching out to young people is not just symbolism but a commitment that their voices will be heard. We must deliver on the aspirations of the young people. When we form the government in Rajasthan, youngsters must feel like they are a part of the governance. And hence the distance between politicians and people must be bridged.

Q: This is your first Assembly election and you are contesting from Tonk. You have said that you agreed to contest on the orders of Rahul Gandhi and on the request made by Ashok Gehlot. Were you keen on fighting this election? Do you see it as an exciting challenge?
Sachin Pilot: I’ve been the Congress president of the state for five years and the task given to me by the then congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi was that I must go and rebuild the party. Five years ago, we were reduced to 21 seats out of 200. So we built the organisation brick by brick. Every single Congress leader in the state has contributed. It’s been the collective leadership. And the responsibility that I’m given, I try and discharge it with all the honesty and commitment that I have. So when the Congress party asks me to contest, the congress president asks me to contest, of course I’ll contest. I’ve fought many elections before. This is my first election in the Assembly. I’m very thankful and happy that I’ve been asked to contest and the party has asked me to contest from Tonk constituency. It will be an honour to represent the people of Tonk.

Q: How different it is to contest an Assembly election?
Sachin Pilot: Every election is different. I’ve fought a few parliamentary elections. I’ve raised issues that are constructive that have helped people at large and elections should be fought on real issues - education, employment, healthcare, sanitation. Things that can do good for the people. Sadly, the BJP tries to change the narrative by bringing in issues of religion, caste, etc. I don’t think that’s what India needs today.

Q: Your candidacy has resulted in the BJP fielding a Muslim candidate, Yunus Khan, for the first time. How do you look at this?
Sachin Pilot: Is it not about fielding a Hindu or a Muslim. The question should be what vision you have for Tonk? The drinking water is poor, the roads are terrible, people feel that there are not enough industries there. We should be fighting elections on those issues as opposed to if he is a Muslim, I’m a Hindu. It doesn’t matter what religion we belong to. The problem with the BJP is that they have nothing to show for. Vasundhara Raje’s government has failed miserably on all fronts. Therefore, the last resort for them is to talk about mandir, masjid and caste. It’s irrelevant. People fight elections on issues. Yonus khan is a sitting minister, he is the second most important person after Vasundhara Raje ji in the state. He was elected MLA from Nagaur. He was denied a ticket because the BJP wanted to replicate the UP template of not fielding any Muslim candidate in Rajasthan. Now, as luck would have it, the Tonk Assembly constituency forced the BJP not to replicate a negative political landscape that they created in UP. The only reason he has been granted a ticket in Tonk is also because of the religion he belongs to. His working, his capacity, his strengths have no consequence. So this kind of politics is not a positive indication for times to come. We must look for what’s good for people, ideology and real issues.

Q: It has been a high-octane campaign. The Ram Mandir promise has resurfaced. Both Yogi Adityanath, BJP’s star campaigner, and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat have made a high pitch for it. The Shiv Sena has jumped in as well. Why do you think Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has become a part of the political discourse this election season?
Sachin Pilot: Isn’t it curious. During the four and a half years, there was no mention of temples, masjid, etc. I don’t think it’s the job of political parties or governments to make churches, gurudwara and temples. They must keep politics and religion aside. But when all else has failed, like the GST, demonetisation, skill India, make in India they have no answers to give. So what they do is they start talking about temples, masjid and all. I think people have moved on from there. Twenty first century India needs a good and secure environment for business to take place. They need jobs, they need food security. Farmers need adequate prices for their crop. Nobody is willing to talk about that. Today cooking oil costs nearly a thousand rupees. Petrol diesel prices have skyrocketed - they want to avoid discussing those issues that’s why these religiously emotive topics are talked about. But people can see through all this.

Q: You’ve been campaigning extensively on the ground, do you see the Mandir debate resonating on the ground?
Sachin Pilot: I don’t think so. How many times can you serve the same propaganda as elections come around. I find it amusing that 10 days before elections, people start talking about religious issues. For the last four and a half years, what did the government of India do, what did Vasundhara ji do? People want to know that. Close to 130 farmers have committed suicide in Rajasthan. Four young boys killed themselves in Alwar because they couldn’t find jobs. We must introspect. It’s not a political issue, but it certainly is a societal issue. We must focus on where we want the state to go. Mob lynching, cow vigilantism, the venom in society, the caste conflicts in Rajasthan are serious issues. There are 13 rapes every day in Rajasthan. I’m absolutely certain that on December 7, the people will vote on these issues and not the peripheral emotive topics that the BJP wants to propagate.

Q: The Alwar lynching created a lot of noise. Do you think lynching has become a common word in the state?
Sachin Pilot: The word mob lynching didn’t exist in our dictionary four years ago. Who are the people responsible for supporting these anti- social elements. There have been anti-social elements since a long time but certain powers give them the help and assurance that they can get away with murder. That’s not acceptable in a civilised society. If the CM had put her foot down the first time such an incident happened, other people would not have dared to commit such crimes. You can’t kill somebody purely on the basis of suspicion. There’s no law and order. The only reason Vasundhara Raje ji has stayed in power is because she tried to shield those officers and politicians who are involved in sand mafia, liquor mafia, mining mafia. People have seen through this. The time has come for people to speak and the Congress party will get the blessings of Rajasthan. The hard work of all our leaders who have worked together will pay off and we will form a government that will be for the people.

Q: Would you say it has been a case of state sanctioned lynchings in Rajasthan and other parts of the country?
Sachin Pilot: If the government of India wanted they could have put a stop to it right in the beginning. There was a lack of conviction to contain these hate crimes. Rajasthan has been a peaceful state for centuries. There has been no acrimony here. But somehow there are some elements that want to gain political dividends for such actions. They misuse social media to propagate this religious fanaticism. We are a secular democracy, we have a Constitution, a law of the land. But sadly, in Rajasthan, all of that is missing. I think a large part of Rajasthan voters may not vote for Vasundhara ji to lead this kind of governance. She has betrayed the trust of the people and she will have to pay a heavy price no matter how much PM Modi and Amit Shah campaign. They can’t disassociate themselves from Vasundhara ji’s report card. She is the CM face. She has to be answerable for all her actions also.

Q: Ahead of elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been presented as a Shiv Bhakt, a Ram Bhakt. He is doing the rounds of all the temples. The critics call it soft Hindutva, how would you react to that?
Sachin Pilot: I don’t know what the word means. What is soft Hindutva? If somebody goes to a religious place, seeks someone’s blessings or prays to god, I don’t know why it upsets the BJP. We must keep religion and politics aside. Not once did Mr Gandhi or anyone in the Congress party sought votes in the name of God, in the name of religion, in the name of who you worship. There has been no discrimination. Religion is a very personal issue. It’s a matter of your home and heart. Why must you wear it on your sleeve, why must you politicise it. Why must this become a topic. When Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister, these were never the issues. It is only in the last four years that which temple, which church, which mosque, who you pray to, what you eat, what clothes you wear has become a point of interest. Now, the BJP wants a discussion on the 'gotra (clan)'. They don’t want to talk about the joblessness, the state of economy, the problems of national security that we’re facing on our borders, the price rise or the agrarian crisis. They want to deflect. I think we must also as citizens ask ourselves, should we allow this propaganda to take a larger space in our discourse.

We must focus on real issues. When Mr Gandhi was in Rajasthan, he talked about the real issues, about jobs, about how MNREGA has collapsed, how the economy is distressed. Those are the topics you must go to the people with. Not the fact that that you’re a Shiv Bhakt or a Ram Bhakt or a Ganesh Bhakt. I’m a Hindu, I practice my religion. I don’t have to prove it to anybody. I don’t need a certificate. But the atmosphere being created in Rajasthan and in other places is purely because of elections.

Q: What do you have to say about the comments made by senior leaders like CP Joshi, Raj Babbar and Vilas Muttemwar against PM Modi. Don’t you think the political discourse sunk to a new low during this election season?
Sachin Pilot: I think nobody should make personal allegations or any statement that could hurt anybody. We must talk politics and policy and governance. But having said that, have we forgotten the kinds of things that were said about Mrs Sonia Gandhi when she was the Congress president. I think we must condemn everyone. As far as Mr Joshi is concerned, he had given a 24-minute speech and a 20 second clip from it was taken out. And not only has the Congress president but Mr CP Joshi himself has expressed regret. And that tells you what the Congress party stands for. If anyone has made a statement that is out of line, we check it, we condemn it and we take it back. But in the BJP, many leaders have made a living out of this. And all they get is encouragement from the top leadership. They play good cop bad cop. The ministers in the government, the MPs have made vile remarks against communities, against religious institutions. The speeches made by the BJP candidate in the by-elections in Alwar were outright communal. I salute the voters of Rajasthan. They heard him and they defeated the BJP with a two lakh margin. So people are smarter than what the BJP thinks them to be. The people of Rajasthan are wise, intelligent and they observe every action, every word that we say and we do.

The BJP just likes to blame the Congress. They complain that the Congress ruled for 50 years. If the Congress ruled for 50 years, it’s because every five years people voted for it. It’s no thanks to the BJP that the Congress remained in power. We have been defeated, we are in opposition with full humility but how long can you keep putting the blame on the previous governments for what’s happening today. They must be accountable to the people of India in the assemblies and in the parliament. Instead of answers, all we get is rhetoric. If you ask questions, they say you are anti-national. If you ask a question on corruption, they point at the previous government. We get no answers. People are watching exactly what the BJP says and does. Vasundhra ji’s government is a corrupt and autocratic one. It’s a government that has really hurt the sentiments of so many communities. I think they deserve to go.

Q: Would you say that these state elections are a prequel to the 2019?
Sachin Pilot: I think these elections are important because in a lot of the states, there is a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP. I think, we’ll form a government in at least four of those states. These elections will certainly set the stage for the 2019 elections.

Q: Many credit you for revamping the party in Rajasthan. Why has the party not declared as to who will be the CM?
Sachin Pilot: It has never done so. For the last 70 years, the Congress party has never projected A B or C as the CM. We work as a team, we fight as a team. Once we get majority, the elected MLAs will chose a leader. It’s a practice that we follow in every election. There is nothing uncommon here. In the last five years, we have all worked hard. The leaders from Delhi are now coming and making speeches here. For five years there was drought, flooding, farmer suicides, rapes, deaths of children, but nobody came at that time to wipe the tears off people’s faces. We have worked hard consistently and in a sustained fashion for five years and that is why the Congress party is strong. It’s not a two- month campaign or the media glitz that we see today. We have managed to endear ourselves in the hearts of people of Rajasthan. And with all the humility at my command let me say that we will do very well. We will get a thumping majority.

Q: The BJP continues to talk about how there’s infighting in the Congress in every state. In fact, Rajnath Singh while campaigning said that the Rajasthan Congress is like a marriage without a groom. Is there a tension between you and Mr Gehlot?
Sachin Pilot: These talks are coming from the BJP headquarters. If there was any infighting, could the Congress have been so strong? The mutual cold war is between Amit Shah and Vasundhara Raje. For 75 days, the state BJP unit was without a president as they both wanted their candidate. Finally, they arrived at a compromise candidate. The whole world knows that there is tension between the BJP leadership in Delhi and Vasundhara Raje here. As far as we are concerned, we had all the support from every leader in Rajasthan and worked as a team. I thank them for their wisdom and experience. If we weren’t this united we could never have won 20 out of 22 by-elections, panchayat elections, nagar palikas, etc. in all these elections. We won because the party was strong and united. The BJP won’t be able to fool the people with their propaganda. The Congress has worked really hard as a team and that’s why we have the strongest candidates.

Q: Would it be right to say that I just interviewed the future CM of Rajasthan? Is that a possibility?
Sachin Pilot: We don’t know what the future holds. My job five years ago was to make the party strong, to revive it. Today, I’m reasonably satisfied that the efforts that we put in, we are within striking distance to form the government. What the future holds, I don’t know. The party will decide. The MLAs will decide. But let me tell you that the next CM will be a Congress CM.

| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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