Edited Excerpts from an Interview
Despite your long association with the Congress, you have announced your decision to leave the party and join the BJP. Don’t you think the Congress’ central leadership could have addressed all your concerns?
I started my political career as a member of the Vishal Haryana Party led by my father Rao Birender Singh. We merged our party with the Congress in 1978 after Indira Gandhi came to Rewari and asked for support from my father. That was just after the Emergency and the Congress was at its nadir. And last March, when I decided to leave the party, it was probably at its pinnacle. At that time it seemed that it would retain power in Delhi and might do well in the Lok Sabha election as well. It was only after the Assembly polls last December that it became clear that the party is staring at a major debacle. So my decision to leave had nothing to do with the Congress’ prospects in the polls. I risked my whole career because I felt the Congress had ceased to be the party that I had joined in 1978. I realised that it no longer had a grievance-redressal mechanism. It didn’t cater to the needs and expectations of all Congressmen and of the people of my state.
So, when do you think the Congress ceased to have a proper internal grievance-redressal system?
I have spent almost 36 years in the party and helped to build it in Haryana. I helped the party come to power in the state in 2004. But, naturally, when what you have built turns out to be different from what you expect it to be, there is a sense of despondency and disappointment. I started speaking out on my concerns within the party in 2007-08.
It seems you are disillusioned with the current leadership of the Congress under Sonia Gandhi and Rahul. But earlier, your family had good relations with the Gandhis. You have often talked about how your father brought Indira Gandhi to Rewari during the lowest phase of her political career after the Emergency.
I was frustrated with the party leadership in Haryana. And when the central leadership did nothing about it, thereby affecting the party’s image in the state, it disappointed me even more. Yes, it was my father who brought Indira Gandhi to Rewari in 1978. And upon her request for support at a rally there, he merged the Vishal Haryana Party with the Congress. She was apprehensive of the people’s anger after the Emergency. I drove in an open jeep from Delhi to Rewari as part of her cavalcade. Our youth brigade from Rewari wanted to shield her from the public backlash on the way.
Why didn’t Sonia Gandhi intervene in your favour? Or does the party no longer believe in your political influence in Haryana?
It seems that people of my ilk, those with a mass base, have been shunned by the so-called kitchen Cabinet. Those who cannot manage to win even a sarpanch election on their own are today ruling the roost in the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi is today the face of the party and is projected as a progressive leader. Did you approach him to look into the issues you wanted to raise?
Well, for the first eight years of UPA rule, I didn’t get to meet him. However, after I floated the Insaaf Manch last March against the (Bhupinder Singh) Hooda government and it became known that I would leave the party, I met him three or four times in that many months. Things didn’t work out even then, though I put all my cards on the table.
If the Congress really saw you as a senior party member and an influential face in Haryana politics, why do you think Rahul couldn’t accommodate your concerns?
I cannot answer for them. I don’t know why they can’t take decisions. I can’t say why they have let the party slide to such an extent that one person owns the party in Haryana and his decisions become the gospel truth. I decided to leave the party because I doubt the ability of the central leadership to sort things out.
You are about to join the BJP, which is ideologically very different from the Congress. After 36 years in the Congress, which calls itself a secular party, how do you justify your move towards a party that the Congress accuses of being communal?
No, I think both the parties have more or less the same agenda, except on Article 370 and the Ram Mandir. The Congress has been gunning for Narendra Modi because it is afraid that he would come to power. Congress leaders are pointing fingers at him despite the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in their own backyard. You cannot have the pot calling the kettle black. Modi is the epitome of hope for the people of India, who desperately want good governance.
In Haryana, there is a strong anti-incumbency against the Hooda-led Congress government, but there is no formidable political alternative. It seems unlikely that the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the BJP would win enough seats to form the next government. How do you see politics in the state shaping up?
There will be a change for sure. Ten years of Congress rule has been very bad for the common people of Haryana and they want a change at the state level. They want a change at the national level also. People want a stable government that can deliver good governance.
Now, in the state, the question is whether there will be any party with enough seats to form a government. As things stand, with former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala (of the INLD) and his son in jail, there is little chance of the INLD coming to power. And the people of Haryana have not yet been able to see the BJP as an alternative in the state. So, though the party’s national agenda enjoys the sympathy and support of the people in Haryana as well, it is yet to see that being converted into votes here. But as the Assembly election is likely to be held in October, the BJP has ample time to reach out to the people. It has a good chance to do well in the polls this year.
But why do you think the people of Haryana will find an alternative in the BJP this time and not in the Aam Aadmi Party, even after its phenomenal performance in the Delhi Assembly election? AAP leader Yogendra Yadav has been campaigning in the state and getting a huge response. Four lakh people have already joined AAP in Haryana.
No doubt, AAP’s performance in the Delhi polls was phenomenal. But now that they are making a foray into Haryana, people will look at their track record of governance in Delhi. AAP needs experience, for which there is no substitute but to spend more time in politics. Right now, rather than letting its anarchic style of governance, already on display in Delhi, spread elsewhere, it should gain experience at the local level. Maybe, 10 years down the line, they may become an option in the other states or at the national level.