Jaipur. Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, a two-time member of Parliament from Dausa and Ajmer, is confident that the party will win a resounding mandate in the upcoming assembly elections.
For the first time, Pilot is contesting an assembly seat, Tonk, where his main rival is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate and Rajasthan cabinet minister Yunus Khan, who has shifted from his constituency Deedwana at the behest of his party. In an interview to Sachin Saini, Pilot talks about his candidacy and vision for the constituency.
Tonk is a new constituency for you. How do you plan to campaign?
The decision to contest the assembly election, and from where, is the party’s decision. It’s an area I have had a very long association with, and I am very honoured and delighted that I got a chance to be the Congress candidate from there. Tonk, I think, doesn’t need a candidate who’s a Hindu or a Muslim, forward or a backward (caste). It needs a person who can really deliver development to the constituency… I have had the good fortune of being an MP from the adjacent constituency of Ajmer. Tonk, I think, looks forward to someone who can usher in a new era of development.
Congress has been fielding Muslim candidates in the last many elections from Tonk, but this time the BJP has fielded a Muslim. How do you see this?
The narrative of our election debate should not come down to such a level where we are looking at everything through the prism of religion. I am sad to say that the gentleman who is fighting against me he is now the number two minister in chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s cabinet. He was elected from Nagaur three times. I am told that the BJP is keen to replicate the Uttar Pradesh template in Rajasthan (of fielding no Muslim candidates). Now, I am also pleased that my candidature has meant the BJP’s attempt to replicate the UP template has fallen aside… the only reason he (Khan) has been given ticket from Tonk is not because the people of that area wanted him or BJP workers wanted him or he wanted to contest (from there). He was very reluctant, he said it on record, but only reason they gave him ticket at the last moment was because of his religion..
Traditionally, Muslims are seen as Congress supporters. How will Muslim politics play out?
That’s a wrong assumption. The Congress has been winning elections for the last 70 years and we have been winning elections not because of one community, religion or section of society but (because) entire India has voted for us many times over, including as recently as in 2009. It is true that in 2014, we didn’t do well but every section of the society has equal space in Congress and that is really one of the hallmarks of the party – that we are truly representative. So, it is wrong to be binary in focus by saying ‘this religion, that caste.’ We represent everybody.
Why do you think the party chose Tonk as your electoral battleground?
I think the thinking behind the decision of the party, perhaps, would be that my candidature will yield maximum political benefit for the party. I had left the decision to the Congress president (Rahul Gandhi) and it is he who asked me to contest elections. I came here five years ago as party president and my singular job was to make sure that the party gets revived and rebuilt and we have built the party brick by brick. And now where to contest from, I think, also must have influenced the party’s decision in terms of…which area my candidature brings the most benefit to the Congress.
Besides being a candidate, you are also state party chief and required to campaign across Rajasthan, but your opponent will be in Tonk all through. Do you see it as a challenge?
I have fought many elections before and I am confident that every single constituency where I am required to go, I will go. I have worked five years as party president and I will give everything that I have to this campaign. I am leaving no stone unturned to reach out to the farthest corner of the state. My being candidate will have absolutely no bearing in terms of the time that I will give to campaign (for)…my candidates.
You worked hard in the state for the last five years and as state party chief you must have been instrumental in the selection of candidates. What is your prediction in terms of numbers?
I cannot predict numbers and candidate selection was not by one or two persons; the entire party sat together and we had consensus. I am happy to say that all 200 (candidates) given nomination are my and the Congress’s candidates. But I do have a sense that the mood is in our favour and people will give us a resounding mandate and we will get numbers that no survey has predicted because groundswell of emotion is in favour of Congress party.