In a short interview with The Wire‘s Arfa Khanum Sherwani, Congress president Rahul Gandhi acknowledges that the Congress cannot come to power on its own and is willing to work with a coalition.
Gandhi talks about why the people of India are unhappy with the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre.
He also responds to questions about corruption allegations against his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, the Congress party’s lapse in not raising the issue of intelligence failure after the Pulwama attack successfully, and the need for a law against mass crimes like 1984 and 2002.
Arfa Khanum Sherwani: Hello, this is Arfa Khanum Sherwani from The Wire. In our election coverage, we have reached Ludhiana in Punjab. Congress president Rahul Gandhi is present here – he’s holding rallies in various nearby areas. The Lok Sabha elections of 2019 are being considered by many to be the most significant elections in the country’s history. Rahul Gandhi is here with us.
My first question is that everyone is anxiously awaiting the May 23 results, and what are Rahul Gandhi’s expectations regarding that?
Rahul Gandhi: The Congress party will win. The people will decide what happens on the 23rd. We will abide by what the people of the country choose.
AKS: By winning do you mean you will form the government on your own?
RG: No, it seems like it’ll be a coalition government. But overwhelmingly, the people are unhappy with the ideology of Narendra Modi and the BJP. Demonetisation, Gabbar Singh Tax, unemployment, the plight of the farmers, the situation of the economy, corruption, these are the issues that matter in the elections. Modi had started his promotion with the slogan “Dusri Modi sarkar (second Modi government)”, then he moved on to “Fir Modi sarkar (Modi government again)”, then to vikas (development), then to nationalism, then back to vikas, then to my family, then he started using objectionable language against my family. So Narendra Modi is jumping around, going back and forth. But the people have already decided, and the elections are over.
AKS: You have started a new culture of giving interviews. Although it would have been better if the interviews happened at different times over the past five years, instead of just now before the elections. Even Narendra Modi has started picking up the pace, given interviews, but only to his sympathisers.
RG: To his sympathisers…and do you see any note-sheet in my hands? There is no note-sheet here. Do you see any note-sheet? There is no note-sheet, right?
AKS: And you have not given my any pre-set questions to ask.
RG: No, I will not give you any questions. Look, a politician should be able to accept this kind of challenge. You are, in a sense, the country’s voice. You are using the country’s voice to ask me questions. It’s okay that sometimes there are mistakes, you ask a question, and I give the wrong answer. But one should not be afraid.
But our prime minister is afraid. He does not appear in front of the media without a piece of paper or a note-sheet. He does not hold any press conferences. And there is a reason behind the fear. The reason is Rafale. Because Narendra Modi helped Anil Ambani get Rs 30,000 crore. This is absolutely clear. People from the air force concur. They said that Modi did direct parallel negotiations with France and with Dassault. This is what the people of the air force have said about Modi; [Manohar] Parrikar, the defence minister, had said that he does not know anything. The French president also said this. So I understand that Narendra Modi is afraid. I challenged him to come speak about corruption. Open challenge, do it anywhere.
AKS: Speaking of corruption, since you have raised the Rafale issue, and it is good that you have made it a national issue, whenever you make the accusation that Anil Ambani was given a contract despite no experience, the same sort of accusation has been made against Robert Vadra. That when Manmohan Singh was prime minister, and Hoodaji was the chief minister, Vadra was treated favourably because of his relationship with you.
RG: Look, you can investigate. You can punish. If anyone has done anything wrong, you can investigate and punish. And do the same for Rafale. Why is the government not doing it?
AKS: But you have also been in power in the past?
RG: Yes, yes, but Rafale occurred during this government’s tenure.
AKS: But regarding Robert Vadra…
RG: If there has been a mistake, please investigate and punish. I am absolutely clear-cut about this. Regardless of who is at fault, regardless of whether they are in my family or not, justice is justice. And everyone should get justice.
AKS: Rahul Gandhi is saying on camera that if his party forms the government in 2019, then there will be an investigation regarding not just Rafale, but also Robert Vadra?
RG: I am not talking just about Robert Vadra or Rafale. Wherever, whenever any sort of corruption takes place, regardless of who is involved, there should be an investigation and justice should be delivered. Absolutely.
AKS: You have said well that…
RG: But the main thing is that Narendra Modi has been the prime minister for give years. Investigations are going on, regarding all sorts of things, but not regarding Rafale. There must be some reason.
AKS: Will you conduct the investigation?
RG: Not me. They have broken the entire procedure, so of course there will be an investigation.
AKS: Another change in culture you have brought is that you do not take offence easily. You have laughed off the ‘Pappu’ name-calling. But some people say that your inexperience in administration, that you have not held any minister posts…Why did you not, like Sachin Pilot and others, first become a minister and then try to become prime minister?
RG: I have plenty of political experience. I definitely have it. You cannot say that in the past five years, I have not fought any political battles. First, you were saying that Narendra Modi cannot be defeated. People said that Modi would remain prime minister for 10 years. But today no media person is saying that Modi is winning the elections. So, we have fought.
AKS: But had you become minister first…
RG: No, I had committed to Manmohan Singh that he would become prime minister, and I would not interfere in his government…I told him that for his full two terms, I would do everything to help. But I will not become part of the government. He asked me thrice to become part of the government, I said that I had made a commitment and I therefore will not.
AKS: Do you think he would have been affected somehow by you becoming a minister?
RG: No. It would have automatically become an issue. Automatically. The Congress president, Soniaji, and I had decided to make a line – running the government on one side, running the party on the other.
AKS: Regarding Pulwama, it seemed like that the Congress had entered a state of paralysis, as if it did not know how to respond…
RG: Who said this to you?
AKS: The way Mamata Banerjee raised the question of an intelligence failure, there was no question from your side…
RG: Look, I spoke very clearly. I deliberately held a press conference personally. Because I wanted to give the message that the Congress would not politicise the Pulwama issue. No matter what happens. We will not use our martyrs for the sake of politics. I said clearly that we stand with the CRPF. That we stand with the Indian government.
AKS: With the government?
RG: Yes, I said so. I also said that you will not see or hear us politicising the army. Narendra Modi does not think that way. When there was an attack in Mumbai, Modi was standing in front of the Taj Hotel. He was holding a press conference. Inside people were dying. He wants to use these attacks for political gain.
AKS: But you should have raised the issue of there being an intelligence failure. Forty jawans died. Yet nobody is holding the government accountable.
RG: This is a matter of timing. At that time, the mood of the nation…
AKS: Were you afraid?
RG: No, no… The country was hurt.
AKS: On the issue of nationalism…
RG: Just listen to me. The country was hurt, and we wanted to respect that. That is why we did not raise any questions. We are not afraid. But we respect the army of the country.
AKS: But as a journalist, I was surprised. Several journalists were raising the question of there being an intelligence failure. But not the opposition party. And journalists and the opposition parties get energy from each other…
RG: Now that Narendra Modi is being defeated politically, being surrounded on all sides, do you think that journalists have any role to play in that?
AKS: But journalists have raised questions, journalists like me have raised questions…
RG: Yes, sure you have, but the majority of the press did not. If any group has really fought, it’s the Congress party. Narendra Modi does not talk about you. He talks about the Congress party. Modi does not say that journalists are attacking him, he says that the Congress is attacking him. And we have fought, very much so.
And it is not the Congress party that has fought, we have taken the voice of the people and used that to fight. And we have raised the people’s issues – unemployment, corruption, the plight of farmers, the state of the economy, demonetisation, Gabbar Singh Tax. We have listened to the people’s voice, and we have raised the people’s voice. Whoever raises the voice of the people is not afraid of anyone. You are mistaken.
AKS: I am telling you, I have been travelling for 2.5 months for the elections, I have seen a lot, from villages to cities…
RG: Please ask your last question.
AKS: Regarding the issue of nationalism, the BJP has successfully used the issue, you have to admit that you were on the back foot.
RG: Not at all. You can see, you will see what happens on May 23, who goes on their back foot. I can guarantee you that Narendra Modi will not become prime minister. The Congress’s coalition will win. Thank you…
AKS: Last question, last question. Please sit…
RG: I have to leave… You ask.
AKS: Sam Pitroda also spoke about this. Regarding 1984 and 2002, both are often compared. We have seen that in both the governments in power have been responsible. From policemen to politicians, nobody was declared guilty. You have at least apologised. They have not. Will you promise, on camera, that if you government comes into power, that you will make a law that will also implicate politicians in cases in which mass violence takes place?
RG: I have said absolutely clearly, about what Sam Pitroda said, I told him that he would have to apologise. I did not give him any options. I told him that he spoke incorrectly, that what he said was inappropriate and wrong, and that he would have to apologise. There should be due process against whoever breaks the law, and they should be punished. It is absolutely clear-cut.
AKS: Will you make a law against mass violence?
RG: It’s clear-cut. Yes, we will see about that… It’s clear that whoever has broken the law, whoever has used violence, they will be held accountable. Thank you.
AKS: Thank you very much.