‘Like Kejriwal, Modi too is selling dreams’

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Shakeel Ahmed | 58 General Secretary, Congress
Shakeel Ahmed, 58, General Secretary, Congress. Photo: Ankit Agrawal

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

The Congress did not perform too well in the recently concluded Assembly elections. How do you see the future of the party?

The results of the Assembly elections in Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were definitely not in our favour. We were not unable to explain things like price rise and inflation. In my opinion, there was a communication gap between the masses in these states and the Congress party’s local units, which failed in highlighting the UPA’s achievements and the failure of incumbent state governments. I have no regrets in accepting that we have failed in communicating our achievements and countering the Opposition’s misinformation campaign. However, it would be too early to dismiss the Congress party yet. In a democracy, tables turn quickly and in unexpected ways. For example, although we won in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections in 1998, we badly lost in the General Election a year later in 1999. Similarly, in 2003, the BJP won in the three states except Delhi. The party was so delighted with the result that its ruling coalition, the NDA, held the General Election six months before schedule, and they lost the 2004 General Election to the UPA. So, it is too early to dismiss the Congress yet. There were shortcomings in our methods and we will rectify them.

You were the general secretary in charge of Delhi, where the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and later went on to support AAP. There was a difference of opinions among senior party leaders with regards to extending support to AAP. How do you see this?

Of course, there were different opinions. Some of my colleagues were in favour of supporting AAP while others were not. However, after considering the different views, the Congress party’s leadership decided to extend support to AAP. We didn’t want to put pressure on the general public with the extra expense for a fresh election. We wanted the people of Delhi to have an elected government. Without them asking for support, we extended support to them to give them a chance to prove themselves.

But don’t you think that Arvind Kejriwal’s government is adamant on embarrassing both the Congress party and the Central government?

We are still watching them. They have completed 30 days in power. Of course, these 30 days were disappointing for the people of Delhi. But 30 days isn’t enough time to judge a government. So, we will try to extend our support until we conclude whether they are capable or not of delivering their promises to the people of Delhi. Their policy on water is confusing. Their decision on reducing electricity bills also had no impact. At the moment, they are just playing to the galleries and we are yet to see any concrete steps.

What are your views on the language used by AAP ministers like Somnath Bharti, and the treatment meted out to former Congress MLA and Delhi Commission for Women chief Barkha Singh?

We hope they mend their ways and concentrate on governance instead of playing to the galleries. We are cutting them slack because they are new to governance.

In the past few days, we have seen Rajya Sabha (RS) nominations being announced. Isn’t it strange that senior party leaders who have been sitting ministers, MPs and chief ministers are opting for RS nominations?

It is for the Congress party’s president to decide which leader or party worker will work where. The party has asked all its general secretaries and state unit presidents to consider whether they want to contest Lok Sabha polls or work for the party organisation. The party needs people to work for the organisation. Although, a final decision is yet to be taken, people nominated to the RS will be roped in to work for the party in New Delhi. A Lok Sabha MP has to fulfill the obligations to her/his constituency. I have been elected to the Lok Sabha twice and I realise the tremendous pressure one is under as an elected representative. It’s easier to work for the party as an RS nominee than as an elected representative. I don’t think there is anything wrong in it.

You are the Congress party’s general secretary. Don’t you think there are twin power centres in the party — the party president and the vice-president?

I feel they complement each other. The Congress party’s president is the supreme leader of the party. She carries the love, affection, respect and command of the entire Congress party. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, has the love and affection of young leaders. As the party vice-president, he has opinions on issues and he offers suggestions. His suggestions are considered, but the Congress president takes the final decision. I don’t think there is any contradiction or confusion between them.

The Opposition is claiming that the Congress has lost all hopes ahead of the 2014 General Election, so much so that the party isn’t even campaigning extensively unlike the BJP. How do you respond to such charges?

Bragging is their prerogative. Our campaign, in right earnest, hasn’t picked up yet. So, they are trying to project that they have an upper hand. But the reality is far from it. The main Opposition party, the BJP, has five chief ministers whereas we have 12. So, the BJP is just bragging — where one man says, “I will deliver everything.” He is Arvind Kejriwal on a much larger scale. The people of Delhi have realised, or at least have started to realise, what voting for Kejriwal has led to. Like him, Narendra Modi too is selling dreams. But what he has delivered in Gujarat is for everyone to see. The per capita income of Delhi is more that Rs 2,13,000 per annum, where as the per capita income of Gujarat is about Rs 80,000 per annum. In the yardstick of all the states, Gujarat is at the 10th position in per capita income, 11th in infrastructure, 14th in the field of education and 17th in health. Gujarat is at the 12th position in the human development index. These statistics are not provided by my party or me but by the RBI governor committee’s report. Unfortunately, people start believing lies as gospel truth if they are repeated ad nauseam.

So are you saying that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has no substance?

He certainly has no substance. Moreover, the stigma that he carries is too deep to be washed away. I don’t think any civilised society will decide to vote in his favour.

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