How do you rate four years of the Modi government?
This government has been big on slogans and commitments, but in terms of implementation, it is a big zero.
Do you feel there is a threat to the Constitution and democracy under the BJP rule?
The approach of this government does not show that it is eager to protect the constitutional rights of every person. There is a feeling among minorities that they are unsafe. There have been instances in BJP-ruled states when innocent people from a minority community were attacked, even killed, in the name of cow protection. The law and order machinery did not take effective action. The current government’s stand is the protection of majority religious fundamentalism.
Four senior judges of the Supreme Court held a press conference. Do you think there is an “undeclared emergency” in India?
I don't say that but there is an atmosphere of fear in the administration and judiciary. The first job of any government is to create an atmosphere of safety even for the smallest section of the society. Here there are sizeable sections which feel unsafe. We saw four Supreme Court judges addressed a press conference and raised certain issues... it had never happened in India. Unless the situation had gone to the extreme level, they would not have raised the issues publicly. They at least showed courage and that is why people started thinking.
Do you think 'Modi-mukt Bharat' is possible in 2019?
I don't believe in being 'mukt' from anyone. In 1977, some people were saying they want Indira-mukt India. There was Emergency and people were unhappy and so, they reacted sharply. She lost in 1977 and returned with thumping majority in 1980. What is Modi-mukt? He is not a person, he is an elected prime minister, and we respect that institution. So, one should not think that India should be free from that institution. The ruling party is not protecting the interests of the common man. They are also propagating a certain ideology which is making the minorities uneasy. So, we have to change that atmosphere. There should be breathing space in India.
Do you see opposition parties coming together ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
I do not believe in the coming together concept. Every state has a different situation. I do not believe in a grand alliance. After the elections, if we have the numbers, the leaders of non-BJP parties will come together and provide a viable alternative. Can the left and the Congress work together in Kerala in a grand alliance? Or, can [Chief Minister] Chandrababu Naidu and the Congress come together in Andhra Pradesh? But, there is every possibility that after the election results, Chandrababu and his party might join hands with the Congress.
Can the Congress be a strong anchor for opposition parties?
I cannot say. Ultimately, the numbers will decide. I have seen days when the Congress had fewer numbers in Parliament than the Telugu Desam Party.
Do you think Rahul Gandhi has been shaping up well?
How can I say about any individual who doesn't belong to my party. I don't want to comment on any individual. Every political party has the right to select their own leader. Congress is a major party. It is clear that Congress has faith in Rahul Gandhi. They have elected him. He is their democratically elected leader. So, we have to accept it.
Your party leaders tell us that you could become prime minister.
We do not have the numbers. My party contests in a limited number of seats in Maharashtra and in a couple of other states. It would be wrong to expect such a high position. It would be irrational thinking, and I do not believe in irrational politics.
So, who will be the face of the non-BJP forces after the elections?
There are many leaders. Senior leaders of non-BJP parties will come together and discuss it, depending on their numbers. We recently met in Bengaluru. We will meet after the elections and take appropriate action, if possible collectively. Back in the 1977 election, Morarji Desai was not projected as the prime minister candidate. The Janata Party was formed after the elections, and then Desai was chosen. The main thing is to provide a viable alternative to the BJP. Who will be the face is not the question today.
Will the NCP and the Congress come together in Maharashtra?
Yes, we are in the process of coming together. I have held discussions with the Congress president. State-level leaders of both parties will sit together and resolve issues. Our effort will be to contest elections jointly, along with other likeminded parties like the Peasants and Workers Party, a section of the Republican Party of India and others.
Will the Shiv Sena find space in this grouping?
They have already announced their decision to contest on their own.