After it became clear last week that the Congress would form the governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, dislodging the BJP, all eyes were on who party president Rahul Gandhi would choose to lead the states. Political observers were especially interested in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where both younger and older Congress leaders were competing for the top post. Gandhi chose to stick by the old guard in both states—Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in MP—signalling that he will strike a compromise between experience and youth in the run-up to the 2019 election.
Sachin Pilot, Rajasthan Congress president, who was named the deputy chief minister of the state on Monday, told HuffPost India in an interview that there was no divide between younger and older leaders in the party. Rajasthan also saw an increase in the number of hate crimes and lynchings under former chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s rule. Pilot said that the new government will work on curbing this to return “normalcy and brotherhood” to society.
Pilot also spoke about how the Congress plans to achieve the ambitious promises in its manifesto. Edited excerpts:
How did the (deputy CM) arrangement come about? During the campaign, it was thought that the state will get only a chief minister.
All of us elected MLAs authorised the party president to take a view as to who will lead the legislative party. Now, after having considered everything, I think the Congress president took a view that I have to remain as party president (of Rajasthan) and I must work as the Deputy Chief Minister of the state. And that’s a decision that all of us had authorised the Congress president to take and that’s the decision we all accepted. It is simple as that. I think it is for the benefit of the state and the party that Mr. Gandhi has taken this decision to have a Chief Minister and a Deputy Chief Minister.
How do you respond to this talk about there being a schism between the old guard and younger leaders in the Congress? About you pressing to be made the chief minister but somehow that not having come about...
I don’t know what sort of stories you have been told but the fact is that we have won the election. We were at 21 seats when we started five years ago. We have increased our seats five times. We have a clear majority. A clear mandate by the people is something that we are all proud of in the Congress party and having formed the government, it has to live up to the manifesto that it has produced. So my first job is to be able to deliver on those promises and we have worked together in the past, we are working together now and we will work together in the future.
During the campaign, though, analysts and poll watchers had expected the Congress to win more seats. What is your take?
We were 21 MLAs five years ago and we have increased our seats five times. BJP has lost close to a 100 seats so, one can take any argument forward that you want, but the fact of the matter is that, we have been able to secure a mandate despite the BJP’s no less than the Prime Minister, Mr. Amit Shah, top brass of the party spending ten days campaigning, throwing everything they have in this election. Trying to make it polarised, trying to make it based on religion and other things. People were, you know, not taken in by those arguments. They voted for the Congress party. I think that’s something that we have achieved. So, I am very satisfied with the result we have got.
Now that the government has a CM and a Deputy CM, what will be your priorities for governance?
We have to work on two issues. One is to get our farmers out of the financial crisis that we have witnessed for so many years and second is to be able to create jobs for young people. These are the two issues (priorities). Then we have a whole list of things that we have committed ourselves to in the party manifesto. We will deliver that in totality.
So by farming crisis, did you mean the overall issue, or just the farm loans that your party president Rahul Gandhi has said will be waived off?
We have to do both. First, of course, is the (farm) loan waiver. That is the commitment of the party. And the other thing is of being able to create a whole ecosystem where farmers can actually thrive and make it (agriculture) financially viable for them.
So, will this loan waiver be conditional as in the case of Madhya Pradesh?
Wait and see. We have decided to help the farmers and it is a commitment of the party. The Rajasthan government will live up to all its commitments. We have taken our oath only yesterday; two other states have announced a farm loan waiver. Very, very soon you will get to know what the Rajasthan government will do.
And in what way will you seek to make farming a viable business proposition for farmers?
There are many factors to it. Not just MSP but access to markets, credit, technology, availability of inputs, reducing input costs. All these things are required. We will make sure that we put our mind to them. Governments usually wake up in their last year of government. We want to do it right from the beginning, starting today; focusing all our attention on the agrarian sector.
During the press conference in which you were announced as the Deputy CM and Ashok Gehlot as the CM, you also said that your first priority now is to prepare the party organisation for the 2019 election. Since you will continue to be the party chief as well as the deputy CM, what kind of achievements in governance do you hope to showcase to the people during the 2019 campaign? Also, how do you plan to ready the party organisation for the Lok Sabha campaign?
Yes, that’s what the Congress President has asked me so I will continue as party president in Rajasthan. We have to deliver on many fronts but time is short, so first thing is to be able to give people a feeling that this government is their government and a participatory government. The arrogance and the attitude that the BJP government had has to be dispensed with. To sum up: like I said, farm loan waiver and jobs. Right now, we want that law and order, acrimony that people have, atmosphere of mob lynching and cow vigilantism has to be curbed immediately. So, this becomes important for us to give people a semblance of normalcy and brotherhood in society that we have always had. The machinery should gear up to serving the people as opposed to living in castles.
What did you make of the BJP’s performance in these assembly elections?
Their losing three states is a sign of things to come. Political landscape has shifted. The Congress is on a very strong wicket. Congress plus allies will certainly win the 2019 Lok Sabha election. There is no doubt in my mind.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has made comments about putting restrictions on migrants for jobs to prioritise employment for the state’s residents. Are any such restrictions being considered in Rajasthan as well?
Let’s not speculate.