Q. What are the Congress’s chances in the upcoming assembly elections?
A. I see a very good chance as the people’s expectations of the BJP have not been [met]. We did not see any relief from the government during demonetisation and Covid-19. There are no jobs. People do not get compensation for damage caused by natural calamities. A select few have a hold over the administration and only a few get relief. People in the state are in a mood to change the government.
Q. How many seats does the Congress expect to win?
A. We will win 125+ (of 182) seats. In the last elections, we lost about 18 seats by a margin of 3,000 votes. There are 40 to 50 seats we have not won in the past several elections. Then there are about 25 seats that history-sheeters or headstrong BJP people have contested. Usually, we take up selection of candidates on these seats at the last moment. However, this time, we have already started discussing names.
Q. What issues will your party raise during the elections?
A. There are a lot of [areas] where the state government has failed. We are committed to creating 10 lakh jobs, opening 3,000 new schools and giving free education to girls. We have also committed to waive loans worth 03 lakh for each farmer and give 300 units of free electricity to people.
Q. What challenges does your party face in these elections?
A. The BJP does not have an issue [to take] to the electorate. It will polarise the electorate on the basis of religion. It has done so in five states. We are devising a plan to tackle it.
Q. Why should people vote for the Congress?
A. Twenty-seven years of rule is not a small period. People have [voted in] the BJP with the hope that it would deliver. The people now feel that this party only holds functions and does not believe in the wellbeing of the masses. People feel that [the BJP] takes care of [only] select industrialists.
Q. How will the AAP’s presence affect your party’s prospects?
A. The AAP has been fighting elections since 2014. In the past, [leaders such as] Shankersinh Vaghela, Keshubhai Patel and Chimanbhai Patel also had their own parties. The people in the AAP have not risen from its cadres. Its candidates are the ones who did not get tickets from the BJP or the Congress. Looking at the results, it is clear that the fight is between the Congress and the BJP.
Q. The BJP’s network, down to the booth level, seems unmatchable.
A. It is just publicity. Page leaders, micro-planning, booth management, these are [all just] decorative words. All [these terms] are used on social media, media houses and in government publicity. I personally feel that the BJP’s cadre is finished during its [more than two decades] in power. The cadres that brought the BJP to this stage are unhappy; they are not heard and their dreams have not been fulfilled.
Q. Why has the party failed to stop its workers and leaders from quitting?
A. Nobody will be able to stop that. My question is different. The BJP has a thumping majority, even at the national level. Do we see democracy through the lens of the attempts that have been made in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa to topple the governments by luring and threatening lawmakers? This is not the way governments are formed. The issues that arise from these developments are serious in nature.
Q. Who will be your chief minister candidate?
A. No one. There will not be a face. The elected MLAs will decide the chief minister candidate.
Q. The Congress is going through a crisis at the national level. How has this impacted things in Gujarat?
A. I feel that most of the issues have been resolved. Unlike the BJP, we do not have a dictator. There is total democracy, and in democracy these issues are discussed. It should not be deduced that there are differences within the party.
Q. What will be the criteria for the selection of candidates?
A. The ability to win.
Q. Why have the people not reposed faith in the Congress in the past 27 years?
A. Since 2002, the BJP’s seats have decreased in every election. In 2017, we fell short by about nine seats [in our quest] to form the government. This means the people want to change the government. However, in the last 15 days or a month [before voting], the BJP has succeeded in dividing the electorate on the basis of religion and community. It does damage the Congress. We are moving ahead in such a manner that this [would] not damage us.
Why is the BJP bringing in [Asaduddin] Owaisi? The AAP is also the BJP’s “B” team. The BJP will adopt every method to divert the Congress’s votes. May that be [through] Owaisi, the AAP, independent or even social organisations.
Q. Unlike the BJP or the AAP, the Congress does not have a face that can bind everyone within the party.
A. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are our topmost leaders and under them the entire Congress is united. Senior leaders, who have some problems, can raise the issues in the party forums. The ones who are not getting Rajya Sabha tickets or are unable to win are leaving the party.
Q. In Gujarat, one sees only the BJP and the AAP on social media.
A. The kind of language that the BJP’s organisations use, the Congress can never use. If the media or intellectuals try to give a new direction [to an issue] and if any kind of opposition to the BJP is seen, they hurl abuses and even threaten [those people]. The Congress cannot stoop to such levels.
Q. If the Congress falls short by a couple of seats, will it join hands with the AAP to form the government?
A. The Congress will form the government with 125 seats. So, there is no question of going with any party.
Q. How is the Congress keeping alive its workers’ enthusiasm?
A. I would put it in a different way. Our party worker is more powerful than the leaders. For the past 27 years, the workers have faced a lot of vengeance. Say, for example, a Congress worker’s auto was snatched away. Yet, the way the workers came out in large numbers during Rahul Gandhi’s rallies in Dahod and on the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad shows their enthusiasm. The credit of forming the government will go to the workers in villages and mohallas.