Inside a roadside hotel in Tonk, 90 minutes’ drive from state capital, Jaipur, PCC chief Sachin Pilot is finalising the campaign strategy for the next two days with former Union minister Namo Narayan Meena. Before embarking on his campaign, he speaks to DNA’s Siddhartha Bose about Congress’ priorities, why BJP is raking up Ram mandir and dissecting Lord Hanuman’s caste. Excerpts:
Congress has taken up the issue of farmers’ suicide in the state. But the BJP and your opponent, Yunus Khan, are going about bunking your claims…
In Rajasthan, the agrarian crisis is at its peak. And, never before in Rajasthan, suicides in such large numbers have taken place. Now, it’s sad to see the government of the day is turning a blind eye and is living in denial. On record, more than 150 farmers have committed suicide in the state. It’s a telling situation in Rajasthan that farmers are forced to take their own lives.
But the Centre announced procurement at MSP prices and the state government also came up with a loan waiver scheme…
Sadly they’re (farmers in state) squeezed from all sides. Right from the announcement of MSP which they never did actually get because the black-marketers and hoarders, the middlemen don’t let the farmers get adequate price at the mandis (wholesale market). Even today Urea is being sold under police protection. The farmer is under distress when the input cost is high. When Bijli, pani, beej (power, water, seeds) their cost is higher and he doesn’t get his price, the farmer is under distress. How much and for how long will the BJP government defend itself for its inactions?
How do you resolve this crisis, then?
I am of the firm opinion that there has to be a dramatic reduction in the cost to set the agrarian economy right. To my mind, the BJP is one party which doesn’t understand the plight and the woes of the farmer community
This election has got a lot more personal… Candidates and party leaders are taking personal jibes at their opponents.
There is no reason why one should indulge in personal remarks. I have always maintained something of this sort shouldn’t be a part of the narrative. There is no reason why you would want to take something down to such level which you won’t be proud of later. Young people are always watching our actions, what we say, and what we do. If you can’t set an example, let us not embarrass the young people in this country.
Why do you think even the leaders are stooping low?
I have always focused on issues unlike Vasundhara ji or the prime minister. Vasundhara ji’s government has come in for flak because of her inactions and wrong policies. The fact that today Vasundhara ji is talking about some fake video that has appeared, all day long they (the BJP leaders) are debating it. They are clutching at the straws.
Why do you think is the BJP clutching at straws?
They lack issues. Their performance is zero in their report card. Issues like mandir-masjid, Hindus and Muslims are back, while Rahul ji and I are talking about farmers, investments, jobs and inflation, education and health care. Those are the issues which we must concentrate on whereas the BJP is right now about jati (caste), nanihal, gotra (family tree). The BJP, right from the top to the bottom is trying to deflect the narrative while we are putting the issues back where they belong.
Mandir as an issue is back…
It begs the question, after four-and-a-half years when you were in the government in the states and at the Centre, why is the issues coming up today? This is the last resort. When everything else fails, they come back to this topic. They believe that it is the easiest way to cover up for their follies.
So, does it impact the elections?
I think India has moved ahead. People will not fall for this gimmickry one more time. People have decided, if you don’t deliver, we will boot you out. People believed Mr Modi and Vasundhara ji when they were campaigning five years ago. They did nothing wrong in giving their faith. But, it has been a betrayal of trust in the last five years. And, today we are coming back after five years and still seeing the same situation where they are talking about which community hanuman belongs to? Whether he is a Dalit or an Adivasi.
Rahul was in Alwar yesterday. This is the same place where lynchings had taken place. The BJP dropped its candidate here, and at two other places, all charged with hate-mongering. Do you think it will control the damage?
They play good cop, bad cop. One guy says something. They replace him. Earlier, these acts were blamed on the fringe elements. Now, it’s ministers and MPs and MLAs who are saying this. They are no longer fringe elements anymore. I think they have cut the tickets to deflect the anti-incumbency against Vasundhara ji.
So, you are saying the anti-incumbency is against the chief minister?
The anti-incumbency is against Vasundhara ji. The poor MLAs have become the scapegoats. She didn’t undertake the development of the state. People are angry with her. They ended up dropping 60 legislators. Vasundhara ji’s inefficiency and bad governance have ended in MLAs being made the scapegoats. The resounding atmosphere in Rajasthan is that the Congress is coming back to power.
What is Congress government’s focus area if it returns to govern the state?
Obviously we are looking to have a fresh start. First is helping the farmers and the second is incentivizing job creation in the state.
The farmers as I said are in acute crisis. We need to look after our farmers. We need to bring down the costs of farming in a radical way. We would be working towards that. Our farm loan waiver will take the burden off their backs.
The BJP says it has created jobs…
Job creation has so far been a jumla (loose talk). We want to ensure that jobs are created in the state. All the degrees and diploma that we give our boys and girls in the state, there is no meeting of minds with the corporate world, the industry to understand what their requirement is and? We are teaching them a curriculum which perhaps has no relevance in the current context. Or, there are no takers for youth passing out with those academic qualifications in Rajasthan. If the people in the corporate sector sit with the academic community and figure out what are the skill-sets they require, then we can reshape the curriculum for diploma and degree courses so the students pursuing them become employable. We are going to do that, once in power.
The Congress president has announced farm loan waiver, which has been included in its manifesto. How is it different from the BJP’s loan waiver in Rajasthan?
The Congress party is going to happily and willing do it (loan waiver). The announcement by the party head Rahul ji and its inclusion in the manifesto shows our intent. It reflects on our priority as a government. The BJP was into sand mafia, liquor mafia and mining mafia first. Then just before the elections, they announce sops for the farmers knowing fully well they will never be able to deliver on their promise. We, on the other hand, are starting off with that.
How did Manvendra happen in Jhalrapatan? Was it a last-minute decision?
No, it wasn’t. He joined the party recently. The party thought he is the best candidate to contest Vasundhara ji. So, he is fighting there and he is giving the BJP a tough time there. Last year I had taken out a Kisan Nyaya Yatra in a 100-km stretch in Jhalawar (where Jhalrapatan is). I saw the farming community there. They were really agitated there. And, the maximum farmer suicides happened in the Hadauti belt. The BJP MP, he is also a big name (Raje’s son Dushyant Singh). Despite that the people were agitated. So we though, who better than Manvendra who knows the BJP so well, to try and expose them for all their ills and inefficiencies that Vasundhara ji has come to represent.
- We are looking to have a fresh start. First, help the farmers; second, incentivise job creation.
- There has to be a dramatic cut in the cost to set the agrarian economy right.
- To my mind the BJP is one party which doesn’t understand the plight and woes of the farmers.