In an exclusive interview to The Wire, the Congress leader attacks Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje for trying to shield the corrupt, and insists his party is on course to come to power in the two states under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.
The following is the full transcript of Sachin Pilot’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, recorded in New Delhi on October 27, 2017.
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to a very special interview with the president of the Congress party in Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot, for The Wire.
Three days ago, the Vasundhara Raje Scindia government in Rajasthan was forced to refer the criminal law amendment bill to a select committee in the Vidhan Sabha for a comprehensive review and many people believe that this has effectively killed the bill. So does the credit go to the Congress party? Is the party now in a position to defeat Vasundhara Raje Scindia in the elections due next year? And what about Rahul Gandhi? Does he have the wind in his sails or is this just a moment of euphoric exaggeration. With me to answer those questions is Sachin Pilot himself.
On the Rajasthan government’s recent move to gag the media
Let’s start with Rajasthan. After extensive protests by politicians, journalists and activists, Vasundhara Raje Scindia has been forced to refer her bill to a select committee and many people believe there the criminal law amendment bill will effectively die or be put in cold storage. Do you believe that will be the case or do you think this is still only a half measure?
Sachin Pilot: I think its a half measure because what she has done now is face saving – because of this huge universal opposition to this bill, and we aggressively fought for the values that we believed in. There are two parts to this bill, Karan, and I think we must shed light on that. One is that this is giving legal protection to all the netas and babus for all the corruption that they may have done and it also is applicable to ex-babus, so you could have been in a position, so you get legal security and frameworked security for a long time.
Thapar: So once you are a babu, whether serving or retired, you are protected, because you need sanction.
Pilot: Protected to the point that you need government sanction [to investigate] and government can wait up to six months before giving the sanction.
Thapar: And the second thing is that the media is gagged and it can’t report and it cant name them.
Pilot: The second part is even more controversial because it says that you can’t name a person, put his or her photograph in any media – social media, electronic media, print media. So it’s pretty much that the government will decide who can be chargesheeted, who can be called corrupt or not called corrupt. So this is effectively, basically, really, I think hitting at the basic tenets of our democracy, which we protested against and I am happy that they have actually referred it. But to my mind, referring it is not enough, they must withdraw the bill in totality because that’s what we require to be done.
Thapar: Let me pick you up on that point, because you are not just saying that the bill must be withdrawn. In effect what this means, is you want Vasundhara Raje Scindia, the chief minister, to stand up and admit she’s made a mistake. Now given that she has an over three-fourths majority in the Vidhan Sabha, she’s not going to do that. So you’re asking for something which is perhaps exaggerated because she won’t humiliate herself.
Pilot: Karan, it’s not about personal humiliation. This is a state, it’s run through democratic norms. You get a majority not to write laws that are going to protect the corrupt politicians. The government is there to make laws for the benefit of the people. And by the way, there is an ordinance in place, which in effect, today, in the state of Rajasthan, the same gag order is applicable.
Thapar: But that ordinance will lapse in 40 days because the bill is now being referred and if the bill doesn’t get passed, the ordinance lapses.
Pilot: Correct. So today.
Thapar: It’s a matter of 40 days only.
Pilot: But yeah, today in that state the same law is applicable, the same rule is applicable. So one must not forget that it’s not about committing a mistake, it’s about rectifying it effectively and admitting ‘yes its a problem’ and we’ll sort it out. The fact that the chief minister, first of all, why does she have the urgency to make such a law? She must explain to the people of Rajasthan.
Thapar: Beyond wanting the bill withdrawn, you’ve taken a second step. You also gone, as president of the Congress party, to the Rajasthan high court.
Thapar: Now before you did that, there were already two PILs, and a writ petition. Why did you feel a need to add to that? Why is that not sufficient? Why go to court as well?
Pilot: We went to court because the government was being very stubborn. They agreed to refer the bill to the select committee, but they did not withdraw the ordinance. Because the ordinance is illegal. Article 14, article 19 of our constitution are against what the bill stands for. So I think it’s illegal, it’s inappropriate, immoral and unconstitutional. We’ve gone to court.
Thapar: So you’ve gone to court.
Pilot: We didn’t go the court because of the bill. See the bill is the property of the house but the ordinance was passed by the cabinet and we have told the court that the ordinance itself is illegal and the court must strike it down and the court today itself has actually issued notices to the government, regarding this ordinance.
Thapar: In the meantime, one of the very interesting things, and perhaps this is a bit perplexing about the ordinance, is that it was actually signed by Governor Kalyan Singh on the 6th of September. But the world only found out about it on the 21st of October, when the Indian Express revealed its existence on the front page. Which means that for roughly six weeks, no one knew about the existence of this order.
Pilot: I think they’ve done a tricky game with this. So the ordinance was signed and it says ‘public servant’ but when they defined public servant in the bill that is put in the assembly, then they included everybody from sarpanch to MLAs, MPs ministers, politicians, babus, so the definition –
Thapar: So they widened it…
Pilot: Exactly, and that was the tricky part because public servant refers usually to you know, government officers above a certain rank. But when you define public servants and include politicians, MLAs, MPs and ministers, it shows that their intent is to give a legal safeguard to politicians who are doing corruption.
Thapar: What about your other point? When the bill happened as a replacement of the ordinance, they also at that point, add in, former, retired civil servants and public servants?
Pilot: Yes, they’ve expanded the definition of a public servant to include almost anybody.
Thapar: Very interesting, but come back to the ordinance. The point I am making about the ordinance is that it was signed by the governor on the 6th of September, but only revealed when the Indian Express revealed it to the world on the 21st of October, which means for 6 weeks, we didn’t know that the ordinance existed. Does that suggest to you that in fact there was an attempt by the BJP government to keep it under wraps, perhaps even to hide it from the public?
Pilot: Could be, I think they have operated with stealth on many occasions. So I wouldn’t be surprised if this was done in the same context.
Thapar: Now, this fiasco, and I am using that word deliberately, is a great setback for the BJP, and conversely, it is a gain for the opponents of the BJP. But the question is, who does the credit go to? To Congress, to the opposition, to journalists because they revealed something that no one knew about, or to activists because they actually staged protests and put the government under pressure?
Pilot: I think the victory is of the democratic forces. When you violate the rights of citizens, as a state doing it, we have to oppose it. So it is a victory of the democratic forces. We are a political party, we have the right, resources, responsibility to act against such actions. We acted against the government in the assembly, I think, the pressure mounted, finally the chief minister relented, but, half heartedly. I think their stubbornness is still left in that position.
Thapar: You are calling it victory, but at the same time, you’re saying that she only relented half heartedly and now I want to pick you up on that point. You are now demanding a full withdrawal. She’s the one who has referred it to a select committee. People are saying that the referral amounts to the bill being put in cold storage. She doesn’t fully withdraw. After all, as I said, she has a three-fourths majority. She can withstand any degree of opposition on the floor of the Vidhan Sabha. What then, if she doesn’t fully withdraw, what happens?
Pilot: Karan, the state and the country are run not just merely on numbers, but also some ethos and some functionality that has to be legal. Now, we’ve approached the courts for getting justice against this ordinance.
Thapar: But that’s not the ordinance.
Pilot: Yes, but if the bill, that’s why I said, the chief minister should have actually withdrawn the bill as opposed to referring it, I think it is a face-saving exercise, because she didn’t want to seem like she has made a grave mistake.
Thapar: But that face saving is not sufficient for you.
Pilot: Not at all.
Thapar: You’re insisting that she withdraw and demanding that she withdraw, also insisting that she humiliate herself and I am asking you, what if she refuses?
Pilot: It’s not about… We will go to any length, to make sure that such a law does not take place in Rajasthan.
Thapar: What do you, But, but you’ve gone to the court, that I understand.
Pilot: We’ve gone to the court, yes,
Thapar: To what length will you go within the Vidhan Sabha to ensure a complete withdrawal as opposed to a referral to the select committee?
Pilot: You see, I think you are making it individual based, which is not what i want to do. Or the chief minister–
Thapar: No, not you. I am making..
Pilot: Exactly, so we are a political party. We’re fighting tooth and nail, politically, legally, at every step we will challenge her intent to make alive this bill one more time
Thapar: But can you challenge her?
Pilot: We can challenge her, trust me.
Thapar: But you’ve got 21 seats versus 163.
Pilot: You know, it doesn’t matter. 21, 24 MLAs of our assembly have forced her to withdraw the bill. By the way, within the assembly, there’s no activists, there are no NGO’s, there is no media, it is the MLA’s who stand there and forced the government to withdraw.
Thapar: So the real credit you are saying goes to the Congress MLAs–
Pilot: I am not here to take credit, all I am saying is that it is the political opposition, as the principal opposition party we made sure that the ruling dispensation does not do as it wants. There is a sense of arrogance in the ruling party, today, in the BJP, and I think the chief minister finally took that step because the Congress party vociferously acted against that law, in parliament, on the street, and we left no stone unturned. I was arrested, i was taken to the police station because we have been protesting. So I think it’s not about taking credit, but we must fight for what is right.
On the state of governance in Vasundhara’s Rajasthan
Thapar: Alright, let’s not say it’s a question of taking credit, but it’s a question of accepting the fact that it was on the floor of the assembly that the government was forced to have to refer the matter, and on the floor of the assembly, there are no activists as you said, it is only the Congress and other opposition MLAs. Let’s build on that point then. You’ve scored the significant victory, even though it’s not the full withdrawal yet. But it’s a significant victory. Can you now from this position, actually unseat Vasundhara, defeat the BJP in the elections which are now, just a year away? Or is that one step too far?
Pilot: Well, I don’t want to sound… Overconfident. But I can tell you with all my experience in the last four years, working in the state as the party president, it’s not just about this really, really awful bill that she wanted to make into a law, it’s about the governance. If you look at the data, Karan, in all of India, Rajasthan ranks number 1 for crimes against Scheduled Tribes, we are number 2 in atrocities against Dalits, we are number 3 for the number of rapes that happen in all of India. And these numbers are not mine, these are the home ministry, Government of India’s numbers. And being a woman chief minister and having third highest numbers of rapes in Rajasthan, shows you the lack of governance.
Thapar: These are issues that you are going to exploit, to make sure you defeat her next year.
Pilot: It’s not about exploiting, but letting people know what the facts are. It’s okay to have propaganda, to have lots of resources, to build on media, you know, campaigns. But on the ground, farmers are committing suicide, joblessness is at its peak, people are…
Thapar: She does have a farmer loan waiver proposal, it may not have been implemented, but she has announced it, and that could ameliorate many of the distresses that farmers feel. That could win them over.
Pilot: I have heard this for the past two years. We’ve had farmers rallies all across. I did a padyatra, 100 km for getting a farmer loan waiver. My point is if the chief minister of UP and the CM of Maharashtra can give farm loan waivers, what crimes have the farmers of Rajasthan done to not get that farm waiver?
Thapar: In other words, announcing a farm waiver is not sufficient, she has to act on it, and because she hasn’t acted on it, you believe you can swing farmers vote behind you.
Pilot: Oh she’s made some committees, she’s studying other states, how they’ve done it, I think it’s all eyewash. We forced her in this assembly, our MLAs sat for two days and two nights on the floor of the house to demand that farm loan waiver announcement.
Thapar: What about the fact that yesterday, that is to say on Thursday, Vasundhara Raje passed another bill, increasing reservations for OBCs and a result, total reservations are now over 50%. The bill maybe challenged in court, arguably it could be chucked out. But that’s another matter. The bill has given a very clear message to the Gujjars who have been demanding reservations now for over 10 years. That Vasundhara Raje is going out of her way to help them.
Pilot: By the way, this is the second or third attempt she’s made. People are not going to take these false messages, we all want every community to get adequate space and, and representation, the fact is that when you do the same law that was passed by the assembly, three times it’s been struck down. Three times! Forget about what I am saying, it is the BJP MLAs saying this.
Thapar: But look at her persistence, she has now done it for a fourth time
Pilot: But do it right! Why keep doing it the wrong way, just to give a message but not actually have it on the ground? If you really want to benefit those communities, you find a legal solution which will not be challenged in court
Thapar: But she believes that she has actually done it right. Because previously, when the bill was struck down, it was struck down on the basis that there was no scientific argument for expanding the reservations for the Gujjars and other OBCs. Now, she’s had a commission go into it, the commission report has recommended it. She believes, this will now go through.
Pilot: Let me tell you, first of all. Karan ji, the entire assembly is 200 members. Every single member has supported each time the bill has come to the floor of the house. It is not a political issue at all now. The point is that if the government has the intent, they will find a legal solution to do this because we all know the writing on the wall.
Thapar: And you’re saying that she hasn’t made an effort to find it, or you’re saying that there is no–
Pilot: If you read the bill, the BJP MLAs themselves are saying this is eyewash. Forget about what I am saying.
Thapar: In other words, this bill is not a proper bill because it hasn’t made that extra effort, to find a proper legal solution. You’re saying, you’re saying that there is a legal solution but she hasn’t found it.
Pilot: I think, Karan, I am hopeful that it will pass through legal scrutiny. But past experiences have shown us that it’ll probably won’t be, and that, I think, is a problem, not just for her and our government, but for the state. Because time and again you’re raising expectations, passing infructuous bills that get struck down by the court.
Pilot: For the fourth time it’s been challenged.
On the Congress’s poll prospects in Rajasthan
Thapar: Let me come back to the question we began this with. Do you believe, you are in a position to defeat Vasundhara Raje in the elections, which are now just a year away? You’ve pointed to distress, you’ve pointed to false promises, you’ve pointed to farmers’ waivers that have been announced but not implemented. You’ve pointed to bad governance. Therefore, you have, you believe, many reasons why people will turn against her. These are reasons that Congress will make people aware of.
Pilot: No, I am making two points, one is the point that you listed. I will go, my party is going to go to the people of Rajasthan, not with the faults of the ruling dispensation. But I am going to go to the people of Rajasthan with the vision the Congress party has for Rajasthan and we will give a very broad and very specific ideas of what we will deliver for the government. It’s not about a negative campaign.
Thapar: You want to do an optimistic campaign, you will also be talking about what you will be promising.
Pilot: The Congress party’s vision of Rajasthan. And I think a better governance alternative is what the Congress party will offer.
Thapar: But let me tell you the problem, and the problem is a very simple mathematical one. In 2013, she won 163 seats, which is over 80% of the Vidhan Sabha. Your party won 21, which is just marginally over 10%. For you to now get a majority from that base, you have to win practically five times more seats. That’s an enormous demand. No matter how unpopular she may be, no matter how brilliantly you may campaign, no matter what promises she’s left unfulfilled, for Congress to increase its tally by almost 500% is so difficult, it’s almost impossible, that’s why I say to you, can you really win, next year?
Pilot: I don’t think the numbers intimidate me as much as they intimidate you. Because I have worked there for four years, and not just me, all our leaders in Rajasthan are singularly focussed on reviving the Congress party. I’ll give you a data point, because you are talking about statistics now. In 2014, when the BJP and the Congress fought the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP polled 56% votes, Congress Party pulled 30%. The difference was 26%. A year later, we had the panchayat elections, the Congress party was up 45%, the BJP down to 46%, so the gap was 1%. There have been been five bye-elections in Rajasthan so far, we have won three, they have won two. They have the brute majority of the Government of India, of the Rajasthan government and all the resources and yet, we keep winning by-elections, municipal elections, and, to my mind it’s not just the numbers that you feel are so impossible to achieve, it’s the sentiment, the public mood and the acceptance of the Congress party in the hearts and minds of our voters. I am absolutely confident in 12 months time, when you and I talk again, we will have a Congress government in Rajasthan.
On the various contenders for Congress president in Rajasthan
Thapar: Okay, you may be right. Time alone will tell. But let me reach the second problem, that the Congress Party in Rajasthan will face, and this time, it’s to do with your own continuation, as president of the party in Rajasthan. People in Delhi are saying that when the Alwar or Ajmer by-election is held, Sachin Pilot will be a candidate, undoubtedly, he’ll win and he’ll be moved to Delhi. So the question is, will you be there, next year, to fight the elections, in the state, as president of the Congress Party?
Pilot: I have been now in the Congress and politics for 17 years, Karan, and every time a party has given me a task, I have performed it with full, you know, diligence.
Thapar: I am not questioning your diligence, I am questioning whether the party will take away the task just before the elections. Will they appoint someone else? Because that’s the speculation which you know about
Pilot: You see Karan, we all work within the party structure, and whatever job we’ve been given, i have been doing it to the best of my capacities. That is, i believe, we have 12 months left for the elections, we are working as a team, whatever position, I maybe or may not be, the Congress party stands to win, and it is my responsibility today as Congress president, to see us go through that line. Now, you are making assumptions, about who’s going to fight, about who’ll be party president, I don’t. We don’t really worry all much about that. The Congress party is one strong entity, I am one worker of it, right, and there are hundreds like me, perhaps thousands.
Thapar: That is a very astute answer and I grant you that there is probably none other that you can give me. But let me put it like this, Alwar and Ajmer by-elections will be announced, probably in weeks, maybe at the most in a month or so. If you end up as a candidate for one of those seats, does that mean, that you will cease to be the Rajasthan Congress president. Is that first sign that they are going to replace you and bring someone else?
Pilot: Why must you have such a negative attitude? We have a by-election that is important for us to win, whether the Congress party puts me as a candidate or somebody else, we have to win that seat, and thats a singular focus in my mind today, to win those by-elections.
Thapar: Can you be an MP in the Lok Sabha and Congress president in Rajasthan at the same time?
Pilot: There have been many instances, but like I said, who’ll be the candidate finally, will be decided by the All India Congress Committee, and not by somebody in Rajasthan.
Thapar: I’ll tell you why I am pursuing this point and I don’t mean to be hurtful, but I am being blunt. Because again, you know this better than me, your party in Delhi has been debating, not today, but for several weeks and months, whether you are the right face against Vasundhara in the elections next year, or whether it should be Ashok Gehlot. You are young, you are energetic, you are close to Rahul, but he’s a two-time [CM], he’s very experienced, at the moment he seems to be making all the right moves in Gujarat. What can you say or do to convince the party that the mood is with you, you represent youth, you represent the future. Gehlot is the past.
Pilot: Karan, my job is to convince the voters of Rajasthan–
Thapar: If you won’t convince your party, you won’t be in a position to convince the voters.
Pilot: It doesn’t matter, I think all of us have a collective objective, to defeat the BJP and I think any leader in Rajasthan will agree with this. When elections happen, and we win those elections, the MLAs in the Congress Party will decide who will head the party at that point. It is not important. I have got enough from the party, so has Mr Gehlot, Mr C.P. Joshi.
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Thapar: But it is very strange, that if you aren’t president when the elections happen, that the MLAs will still choose you as chief minister. Because that’s like bringing you back through a different route.
Pilot: It doesn’t matter who they choose, we must get a majority. Thats everyones attention and focus today and that’s what the Congress leaders in Rajasthan are wanting and working towards.
Thapar: One last question on this before I change subjects and come to Rahul Gandhi. This speculation that Ashok Gehlot could replace you just before the elections is peculiar, if not perplexing, for two reasons. At the moment, all over the world, young leaders are coming into the forefront, its happened in Canada, its happened in France, it’s happened in Ireland. Right, it’s happened in Austria, where a 31 year old has taken over. Your party is toying, perhaps more than just toying, with bringing Rahul Gandhi to the forefront. He’s a new generation of leader, and yet if they bring Ashok Gehlot to replace you in Rajasthan, what message will they be sending? Suddenly, whilst you are going younger and younger and younger, in Rajasthan, you are going backwards in age!
Pilot: Why are you keen on forecasting about what the party might do?
Thapar: Because everyone’s talking about it. Your party is talking about it.
Pilot: Let’s see what decision the party makes, we have organisation elections going right now, and within a month, we’ll have a new president in almost all the states and we’ll have a new president for the AICC. So let’s see how the party decides to put people in different positions, and I can tell you, whether it’s me, or Mr C.P. Joshi, or Mr Ashok Gehlot ji, everyone is being given a task..
Thapar: C.P. Joshi is another possible candidate.
Pilot: Yes, we’ve all been given tasks to do. By the way, I think the party is strong today, Karan, not just because of me, because everyone has made collective efforts to make the party strong and that’s why we are here today and a better alternative to the BJP. Not because of one, or 4-5 leaders, but everybody has worked together.
Thapar: My last question on this subject.: Are you confident that you will be the president of Congress in Rajasthan, when the state elections are held next year?
Pilot: I am confident the Congress party will win those elections next year.
On the delay in Rahul Gandhi taking over the Congress
Thapar: Very clever answer, but not an answer to my question, but a very clever answer. Okay, let’s come at this point to Rahul Gandhi. Has a date been set, when Rahul Gandhi will take over as Congress president? Or is the best answer you can give me, ‘It’ll happen soon, but no date is known.’
Pilot: Because I think, it’s a very simple thing, it’s not that complicated. We have to finish the elections of our party, before the month of December. The elections of the delegates in the states has already happened, we’ve all passed resolutions, we have to now just figure out the election scheduling for the post of president of the Congress Party which the CWC will decide. I think in a matter of days we’ll have a schedule. And then, you know, people will file nominations and we’ll have a new president.
Thapar: In a matter of days, we’ll have a schedule but literally, 27 days ago, speaking to PTI on the 1st of October, you said and I am quoting you, “The new president could take over shortly after Diwali.” Now 8-9 days have virtually gone by after Diwali, We have got no idea when the new president will take over. Suddenly, your failure to set a concrete date is creating doubt in people’s minds.
Pilot: Not at all, there is no doubt and please don’t create any. The election schedule has already been announced. The election of the president is a matter of days about you know, you file a nomination, when you withdraw, its an exercise of the Congress party in-house. It’s not some external exercise.
Thapar: I tell you why.
Pilot: I think the time is going to be, I said Diwali because somebody asked me, “is it before or after Diwali”. I said after Diwali because that’s what the schedule said. So we’ll see now in a few days time. So just have patience about the announcements, it’s going to happen very soon.
Thapar: I’ll tell you why people are doubtful, it’s because last year, roughly at this time, there was a lot of excitement, speculation and talk that Rahul Gandhi was going to take over. No date was set and the whole matter fizzled out. Now a year later, we seem to be back in the same position. Congress is talking about Rahul taking over, Rahul no doubt is performing a little better, but again no date is set, and people ask, will it once again fizzle out.
Pilot: There is no fizzling out, and let me explain it to you, the Congress party postponed its election by a year, it’s not about Mr Gandhi himself, the entire machinery was postponed by a year because we wanted more time, and the election is an internal exercise and Mr Gandhi’s elevation to the president’s post must happen through an election, that’s what he wants, as opposed to just being announced by the working committee, which is a fair point. So when the elections get postponed by a year, it’s not just the AICC President
Thapar: But why can’t the elections be held immediately, why are you delaying?
Pilot: They have been conducted, we started in August.
Thapar: But you had a whole year to prepare for it.
Pilot: It’s not that simple, you don’t know the exercise. It’s a humongous undertaking, we started in August and it takes at least 5-6 months to finish elections in 30 states, you know block, district, panchayats, states. It goes on and on. But I think now the culmination of that election process is, is almost done and we’ll have announcements to the election of the president very very soon.
On Rahul Gandhi’s ability to take on Modi
Thapar: Alright, let’s assume that Rahul Gandhi will be the new president of the Congress party, whether that happens in a month, a week or a year. The key question, and it’s one that hangs like a sword of Damocles over his head, is his image, I accept, that after his visit to Berkeley, I accept that after his recent trips to Gujarat, I accept after his rather witty tweets that have attracted attention, his profile is higher, but many if not the majority of India still think of him as a pappu. A pappu is not his case a term of endearment, in his case pappu is a clear sign, that they don’t think he’s got the qualities to be prime minister. People don’t elect pappu’s as Prime Ministers.
Pilot: Please don’t demean the people of our country, by saying that they use those words. That word is being particularly used by the BJP and its hired hacks who sit on computers all day long.
Thapar: Hasn’t it caught on?
Pilot: It’s something that’s being propagated by the BJP and we believe in the politics of decorum and decency, we’ve never called people names and that’s not what we do as, as the Congress party. Idea is to talk about principles, issues, and our politics and governance, not about individual character assassination which the BJP has perfected the art of. And I believe today, let the BJP answer on core issues, of the economy, the GST, and the money ban, as opposed to talking about individual leaders and trying to allege things onto them.
Thapar: I accept that the term pappu was created by the BJP, but it has now spread across not just the social media, it’s become a part of common people’s parlance and talk. But leave that aside, what the term pappu denotes is the concern about three things, that a) this young gentleman may not have the talent to be a successful politician, he hasn’t shown it so far, number 2) He’s not a great public speaker, public speaking is an essential quality in a serious politician, number 3) he’s not dedicated, he’s not persistent, he often takes a break and disappears. Now, how are you going to change those qualities, that image. Because unless that image changes, people are going to be reluctant, no matter how witty, no matter how clever his SMSs and tweets maybe, unless people are convinced he’s got what it takes to be PM, they won’t vote for him.
Pilot: So Karan, you can be as critical as you want to be, but the people of India decide and look at leadership, what kind of ideas you bring to the table and what your philosophy in life is. What your stand on political issues is. One can always aspire for different things in different leaderships, but I think what Mr Gandhi is doing is opening up the systems of our Congress party, and making sure that we are able to be a fighting force. And I can tell you today, the national party that can challenge the BJP pan India, remains the Congress. So every like minded party may come along, but to challenge the BJP in 2019, the Congress party has to lead from the front, and you’ve seen the kind of support Mr Gandhi’s got not just in Gujarat, but in other parts of India, but you see, when people will vote and they will deliver, uh, what we expect them to deliver, you will change those attitudes also.
Thapar: If I understand your answer correctly, not just this, but the earlier one as well. You’re hoping, in fact banking on the fact that the election in 2019 will be about issues and policies.
Pilot: As it should be.
Thapar: The election in 2014 was a personality clash between Modi versus Rahul Gandhi, and everyone says Modi won it hands down. How are you going to ensure, that that doesn’t replicate itself in 2019. In 2019, it is about policies, it is about GST, it is about demonetisation, it is about farmers loan waivers and all the other promises that Mr Modi hasn’t fulfilled. Like the creation of jobs. How will you ensure because Mr Modi might do again what he did in 2014 and make it a personality fight?
Pilot: You see in 2014, Dr Manmohan Singh was the PM of India and the election was fought on false promises. Four years, three and a half years down, today, people are asking those same questions. I don’t think it is that simple for Mr Modi in 2019, to get up and say well, “vote for me one more time because I am going to promise you X, Y and Z.” He has to answer and has to be accountable to the promises he made in 2014. Big ideas, lot of promises, jobs, you know, corruption, inflation, black money, so on so forth, the delivery has been absolutely abysmal…
Thapar: So you’re confident…
Pilot: I am absolutely confident
Thapar: You’re confident 2019 will be on policies, on Modi’s performance, not about personalities
Pilot: It has to be, the economy is in a mess, jobs aren’t being created, every fundamental economic indicator is not looking healthy as it should be, so to my mind questions will be asked. And I think, I think, the people of India are smart enough to realise that slogans and propaganda is just not enough. They’ve got to see delivery.
On whether the Congress can win Gujarat
Thapar: The first test, that the policy issues you intend to raise in 2019 will be effected, is going to be in fact the outcome of the elections in Himachal and Gujarat. Let’s take Himachal first, the polls suggest that BJP could win, something like 47 seats out of 68, which is a two-thirds majority. Congress could slip, to just 21. If that extreme prediction turns out to be correct, you’re finished. That will clearly show, that the policies, the issues, the economy, the joblessness isn’t working.
Pilot: Every state has a different narrative, and Himachal Pradesh, I think the opinion polls today, to base our judgement on what one media report has said about opinion polls is actually incorrect. Let the election happen. In Gujarat, no matter what opinion polls suggest, the groundswell of opposition against the BJP is now historic. It’s never been like this before. Different social groups are getting together to ease out the BJP…
Thapar: The problem with those different social groups is that they have clashes with each other as well. Alpesh Thakore is a rival of Hardik Patel, my apologies. They are not, they are not, necessary collaborators, they are rivals. You’re trying to bring together people, who have different constituencies, different interests, different appeals, and they make clash rather than cohere.
Pilot: No, I think you’re being, uh, read the signs very clearly. The difference anyone may have, maybe marginal, but the main objective is to de-throne the BJP from Gujarat. And that’s the collective objective of everybody who is in the opposition. And those anti-BJP forces are coming together like never before. I can tell you, that the Congress being so robust and active on the ground, and these forces coming together, the BJP will have to work very hard, to get anywhere close to the half mark majority. And I am confident that the Congress Party will form the government there.
Thapar: Well, let me try and puncture that confidence. Because you began by saying that these forces are coming together, that the BJP will be de-throned and the forces you are talking about are, Alpesh Thakore and you’re hoping that people like Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani will also support you in some sense. But once again, look at two polls and not just ones that have come out in the last 36-48 hours, they give BJP a majority greater than it got in 2012, and secondly, and perhaps from your point of view more worrying, look at the vote share. According to India Today, there’s a 10% gap between BJP and Congress. According to Times Now, there’s a 15% gap, those are huge gaps.
Pilot: Listen, first of all, right now, the candidates haven’t been declared. We don’t know what the social configurations will be in these constituencies. And to have an opinion poll, 45 days before polling day, I don’t think people make up their minds that early, in time. So, like I said, time will tell. Let’s not jump to conclusions but from what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard in Gujarat, the reports that we get from the ground on Gujarat, is that the Congress party is in a very strong position to form a government there.
Thapar: Well, time always will tell but it’s that strong position that you claim Congress is in that I am questioning. A) Mr Modi will be campaigning in Gujarat as never before, he’s just not the sitting Prime Minister, he’s probably the most popular electro-campaigner in the country today. B) Amit Shah is regarded as perhaps, the cleverest, most astute election strategist, he’ll be virtually camping in Gujarat. In contrast, your party doesn’t even have a Gujarati face to put up.
Pilot: Did Mr Shah and Mr Modi not campaign in Bihar? They did not do the astute strategising in Delhi? So to say that BJP can’t be defeated is such an exaggeration.
Thapar: But it was a maha gath-bandhan in Bihar that defeated the BJP. Where’s that gath bandhan in Gujarat?
Pilot: There are, there are many gath-bandhans happening at many levels in Gujarat, you’ll see the anti-BJP forces
Thapar: Shankar Singh Vaghela has just walked away from your party, he’s taken MLAs with him, instead of forming a gath-bandhan, you are splintering.
Pilot: Not at all, I think someone who has done this needs to answer for himself. But I am telling you at many levels, the force is against the BJP coming together and that’s why. You see the election
Thapar: Sachin, can I point out
Pilot: No Karan, listen, the nervousness
Thapar: You don’t even have a Gujarati face in Gujarat to line up behind
Pilot: We have three or five or six top leaders in Gujarat who are working together as a team, it’s not about individuals anymore. Look at in Gujarat, how nervous the BJP is, they are announcing projects and showering thousand of crores of rupees one week before the election. That shows that they are not as confident as they want to be seem to be. And, and I think that if the BJP in Gujarat was so confident, they would have had the elections together no, for Himachal and Gujarat and now to put the blame on EC is unfair. And, the Prime Minister and ministers are going there, announcing today, where were they 20 years. Announcing a 1000 crore project today on the eve of the polls is an eye wash. Because you’ve been there for 20 years, what is the need for announcing projects, one week before the poll date?
Thapar: Let me put it like this, you’re extremely confident, that you’re going to win Gujarat, you didn’t share that confidence when you were talking about Himachal. Himachal you said was a state, that you perhaps…
Pilot: You, you focussed on Himachal for 30 seconds and for 5 minutes talked about Gujarat.
Thapar: But let me put it this way..
Pilot: I am, I am confident about both states, and I think we can win both Himachal and Gujarat.
On the selective use of investigative agencies in Himachal and Madhya Pradesh
Thapar: Even though in Himachal you have a chief minister who faces, and perhaps even now even has charges of corruption against him
Pilot: If you see in the last few years Karan, is there any opposition leader who has not been served notice by the Income tax, the ED, the CBI, you pick a non BJP leader who is of any substance, he or she has been hounded by the central government agencies for some reason or the other. I think it’s become, you know, an everyday occurrence. That anybody who is not in the BJP. Let me ask you a question. That, let me ask you a question. Vyapam scam happened in Madhya Pradesh, has the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh been asked one question by any agency? The Lalit Modi scandal happened in Rajasthan, has the ED or CBI asked the chief minister of Rajasthan any question. So they’re working with a bias.
Thapar: I accept that as a politician, that this is an answer that will convince you, I am not going to do what anchors do, which is to repeat the number of scams and scandals the Congress governments have faced, whether the centre or the state, because this is not a question of whataboutery. I want to put something
Pilot: Should the law not be the same for everybody?
Thapar: It should be, and I am not talking about that. I am talking about what would happen, if you should end up losing both Himachal and Gujarat. You’d then be left with, just 5 states: Punjab, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Pondicherry. Pondicherry is not even a full state. On top of that you have barely, 44, 45 MPs in the Lok Sabha. On top of that you have a leader, which maybe, unfairly, but is still considered pappu. It would take a miracle, a miracle for Congress to win the elections in 2019.
On the BJP’s use of the word ‘pappu’ to describe Rahul Gandhi
Pilot: Can I say something, Karan? I am taking exception to the fact that you keep referring to Rahul Gandhi as the word that you used. If that’s the word you want to describe him with, then you tell him all the reasons that you personally believe in it. Either you quote someone who is saying it, or you say that I’ve heard it from someone, but you knew, as an interviewer, to keep referring to Rahul Gandhi with that name, I take objection to that. First of all, there are many names that I can say for BJP leaders.
Thapar: I am referring to him by that name for two reasons, for two reasons, social media calls him pappu frequently.
Pilot: Then, then say that.
Thapar: But, why do I need to say it, you know it, and I know it.
Pilot: Does Karan Thapar think like that? I can think of five names that people talk about Mr Modi, Mr Shah and I have never used those words because that’s not what we do. But if you want to do it on a personal level then you say that, “that’s what I think,” or else you quote some leader who has said it.
Thapar: But I said so, I said quite clearly, the country calls him pappu.
Pilot: Which country?
Thapar: Not the entire country, but vast majority of the country.
Pilot: Do you want to do a referendum of the whole country then?
Thapar: But tell me something, you are bristling at this.
Pilot: Because I think it’s unfair.
Thapar: Is it because it’s touching a nerve?
Pilot: You’re falling into a trap. Not at all, I take offence because I think you are falling into the same trap that..
Thapar: Come back to my question..
Pilot: You should not be falling into that because that’s what Mr Gandhi said, the BJP has hired an army of people who create WhatsApp messages, who do something on social media to create a very and very negative..
Thapar: And the task that is so difficult, is to change the negative media–
Pilot: Believe me, last six months. Social media, by the way is, is a sword with two edges, it cuts both ways.
Thapar: At the moment, you’re absolutely right that Rahul is using humour effectively. I have written about this in the Business Standard and he’s doing it effectively. The problem is if he can do it for long enough and effectively enough to change an image that has been around now for 5-6 years. But leave that aside, my key question was this, if you end up losing Himachal and Gujarat, with just 44 seats, and the leader about whom there are enormous questions, is it not a miracle that you need to win the national election in 2019?
Pilot: Let me ask you, what if we win Gujarat? What happens then? What kind of miracle do you expect the BJP to do? Never should one believe that they will win for all time.
Thapar: So Gujarat is critical to 2019, without Gujarat under your belt, 2019 is not a reality.
Also read: Too Many Dreams Dangled Before the Nation, Have Gujaratis Seen Through the Conjurer’s Trick?
Pilot: You can’t write off and you can’t say someone will win forever. I am confident because the BJP has not performed in Gujarat, their propaganda is now falling apart. We have a very strong base, we have worked very hard, and Rahul Gandhi is getting huge traction in Gujarat. And it’s the home state of both the BJP president and the prime minister.
Thapar: My last question.
Pilot: Clearly it has significance, both for Congress and BJP.
Thapar: My last question. Any good politician in your position is bound to sound confident if he’s going to win Gujarat. Are you really confident, or is this something you just have to say?
Pilot: You see, the last four elections Karan, the Congress party has polled above 40% votes. So it’s not that the Congress party, we are in bad shape, in let’s say Bihar and UP, which I accept, but in Gujarat, there is a huge Congress vote bank. And today, the anti-BJP votes are getting consolidated. It’s simple arithmetic, I don’t care about opinion polls.
Thapar: Ahmed Patel won the Rajya Sabha by the skin of his teeth and only because two other people had to be ruled out.
Pilot: But MLAs don’t represent people, right? They’ve been elected to the assembly.
Thapar: But the people are with you?
Pilot: I think the voters are with us and they’ve seen through the false promises of the BJP and they’ll vote for the congress this time.
Thapar: Sachin Pilot, a pleasure talking to you.
Pilot: Thank you.
Transcript prepared by Mehr Gill