New Delhi: Congress Lok Sabha member Rahul Gandhi spoke about his expectations from upcoming state assembly elections, ironing out differences within the INDIA alliance, a caste census, women’s reservation, the ‘one nation, one election’ proposal and politics in the north-east at an hourlong discussion organised by the Pratidin Media Network.
Here are five key takeaways from the discussion.
Upcoming assembly elections
Rahul Gandhi appeared fairly confident about the Congress’ victory in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections.
“I would say right now we’re probably winning Telangana … we are certainly winning Madhya Pradesh. We are certainly winning Rajasthan, we are very close and we think we’ll be able to win.”
He said the party’s key learning from the Karnataka assembly polls, which the Congress won, was to have its own narrative rather than reacting to “distractions” by the BJP. He added that the Congress would try to do the same in the upcoming assembly elections.
“If you look at the Telangana election, we are controlling the narrative. The BJP is not even in the narrative. In fact, the [BJP] has been decimated. It’s over in in Telangana,” he said.
“If you look at the narrative in Madhya Pradesh, we are controlling the narrative. If you look at the narrative in Chhattisgarh, we are controlling the narrative; no matter what the BJP tries to do, they are not capturing the narrative,” the Congress leader said.
In Rajasthan, he claimed the people are happy with the Congress state government’s social welfare schemes and the work done in the area of healthcare.
Differences within the INDIA alliance
Rahul Gandhi accepted that there were some fundamental differences between various parties that have come together under the umbrella called INDIA.
“We [the alliance’s parties] can sit down and say [to each other] that ‘we don’t agree with you’ … but there is a great deal of flexibility. And I am quite happy with that,” he said.
Gandhi said all opposition parties understand what is at stake now, which he said was “the idea of India”. “We are fighting to defend that idea,” he said.
One nation, one election
Gandhi labelled the BJP-led Union government’s proposal to simultaneously conduct national and state elections as yet another distraction and nothing else.
He said the idea was thrown into public discourse by the BJP when the world’s leading media outlets had come out with fresh exposes on Gautam Adani.
He alleged that these distractions are floated by the BJP to avoid discourse on pressing issues like unemployment, huge inequality, the concentration of wealth and atrocities against tribal people. He said the apparent bid to change the name of the country was another distraction and added that the Congress would not pay heed to these distractions.
Caste census and women’s reservation
Gandhi reiterated that a caste census was the urgent need of the hour. He said the first thing that the party would do after coming to power is to release the data of a survey done by the UPA government to record the socio-economic characteristics of and castes in 25 crore Indian households.
He said even the government of the day has that survey’s (caste) data, which it was not releasing.
He also spoke of the near-unanimous support in parliament for the Women’s Reservation Bill, so there is no scope for the Modi government to delay its implementation if it is serious about the issue.
“All you have to do is to say that 33% seats are going to be reserved for women in the Lok Sabha…” he said, reiterating his demand in parliament for a quota for OBC women within the overall women’s quota.
Politics in the Northeast
Rahul Gandhi ruled out any alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) party in Assam. Led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, the AIUDF is considered a minority-based party. The Congress had snapped its ties with the AIUDF in 2021 owing to “baffling behaviour and attitude” by the party “in relation to the BJP”.
Gandhi expressed grave concerns about the situation in Manipur and said what he saw there was something he hadn’t seen in his entire political life, recalling an incident where a security staffer from the Kuki community was advised to leave his contingent when visiting a Meitei-dominated area, and vice-versa.
The Congress leader did not rule out another episode of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, from the western part of India to its east. He said the yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir was a learning experience for him and that he may want to do it from west to east also.
However, he did not commit to any specific plans.