Lok Sabha elections 2019: BJP dodging real issues affecting people, says Priyanka Gandhi

At a time when the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are locked in a bitter verbal war over former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, his daughter and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said some people are raking up futile issues to dodge questions on income, jobs and farm crisis, without naming any leader from the ruling party. In an interview with Shashi Shekhar, the Congress in-charge of east Uttar Pradesh said the people knew her family, and her father well, and that she trusted their understanding. She also said that no leader from the Congress spoke negatively or contributed to an increasingly vitiated political campaign. Edited excerpts:

Let’s begin with your entry into active politics. For a long time, you took on the responsibility of Amethi and Rae Bareli . During this time, the workers demanded you be given a big responsibility. And a few months ago, you took on such a responsibility in the organisation. Is there any special reason for stepping into politics before the elections?

The special reason is this: I had the thought that at a time this country’s democracy, our Constitution and institutions are under attack, sitting at home and not coming to politics will be cowardly, and I cannot live with this cowardice.

As the party’s general secretary, you have the responsibility of eastern Uttar Pradesh but you also visited Gandhinagar, Silchar and Wayanad. Now with the elections in the final stages, will you take the responsibility of more campaigns in other states?

If the party wants, I will definitely go. So far, I have limited myself to UP, because the work here is so much, and the responsibilities so much more. With the elections in eastern UP going on, all the candidates wanted that I should go to their constituencies to campaign. There is a shortage of time, but I am trying my best to go to as many constituencies as possible. If there is time, I will definitely go.

People within the party believe you are a bit late in coming to active politics. During the UP assembly elections, Prashant Kishor had proposed making you a face of the elections. Don’t you think that if you had stepped in politics then, the picture today would be a different one?

Yes, I agree that when Congress president Rahul Gandhi suggested that I take responsibility as the party’s general secretary or the state president for UP, I declined the proposal. I was mistaken at that time. But people learn only from their experiences. So I learnt from mine and when the president reiterated it now, I decided it is time. I thought that it was a mistake then, but now I will take up the responsibility.

What are the Congress’s prospects in Uttar Pradesh?

In quite a few seats, we are fighting with a lot of strength. We have good candidates, and that has excited the party’s workers and they are wholeheartedly engaged. In any organisation, when there are deficiencies, then one cannot do away with those altogether, but within the party there is an endeavour to fight this together.

Are we talking to the chief ministerial candidate on behalf of the Congress in the next assembly elections?

I am the general secretary of the organisation. I have come here to strengthen the party. When I have neither greed nor wish, how can I speak of the chief minister’s post?

Political analysts say with the Congress firmly fighting these elections in UP, the effect on the prospects of the SP-BSP (Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party) combine will be negative, strengthening the BJP.

That is not true. We are firmly contesting the elections, but none of our candidates is harming the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance). We have given tickets to candidates who are, in fact, harming the BJP.

After the Karnataka elections, there was the idea of a big collective effort against the BJP, and that the Congress would lead the effort. But in Delhi, West Bengal and UP, the Congress could not firm up coalitions. Does this affect the prospects of the Opposition?

See, if we all fought unitedly, for instance in Uttar Pradesh, it was quite possible that the BJP would have been reduced to 5-10 seats. This is also true for other states. Fighting together always makes the fight more robust, but every party has its own compulsions in different states, and has workers to answer to. So, those who have made these decisions, would have put their thought to it.

In states where the Congress is in alliances, like in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand, the party’s scope is limited. What is the strategy to strengthen the organisation from the grassroots?

For the state elections, the party will have to fight alone on the ground. The organisation will have to strengthen itself upwards from the blocks in these states. Loyal and dedicated workers must be empowered, and those whose representation remains less within the organisation will have to be increased. Only then will the party strengthen itself organisationally and fight in alone in state elections.

Don’t you think that in order to ensure electoral success for itself in the future, it is necessary for the Congress to contest as many seats as possible in all the states? In large states like UP and Bihar, there is a dearth of young party workers. In a country of young people, how do you plan to fight this dilemma?

All my efforts after these elections will be invested in ensuring that more young people join the organisation. You are right when you say that the future of this country is in the hands of the youth, and unless they are fully represented within the party, new leadership will not be seen, and without that the party cannot be strengthened.

Nyay (Nyunatam Aay Yojana), farmers’ distress and joblessness are the main poll planks of the Congress, and the party’s strategy in these elections is centred around Nyay. Will this be a game changer? If so, how?

Nyay is a scheme which can prove to be a game changer, because today, the farmers, the poor and unemployed youth are totally oppressed and suffering. For them, government support systems have weakened, which included schemes for farmers, like MNREGA {Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act}. At such a time if they can get a basic income and basic support, through which a family can rise above poverty, then at least it is a start. They can hope for development. That is why this plan will prove to be a game changer. The BJP knows this and that is why it has deliberately preached that, in Nyay, the burden of tax will fall on the middle class. This is totally untrue and I want to clarify that no such burden will fall on the middle class. Nyay will undo all the injustice that has been done with the poor, farmers, women and youth in the last five years.

The BJP is making nationalism a poll issue. Will Congress’s poll plank be able to face the BJP’s nationalism narrative?

We are also talking about nationalism. In the BJP’s brand of nationalism, people have no significance. We are saying that listen to the people of the nation— to the voice of the farmers, the youth, the soldiers, the workers, and of the women. All of these together make what nationalism is. We work for the people by listening to them. The BJP’s nationalism starts with (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s name, and ends with it. That’s the reason why they use humiliating phases like ‘Modi’s army’.

The BJP is accusing the Congress of speaking the language of Pakistan, and attempting to test the Congress’s nationalist credentials. What is your opinion on this?

Every BJP leader talks about Pakistan in each of his speeches, while every Congress leader talks about Hindustan, talks about the issues within Hindustan, and about the problems of the youth. They talk about the problems of farmers, of women, and of the poor. This is the answer to this question.

In response to the Congress’s ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ slogan, the BJP launched a ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign. You gave a new twist to this debate by saying that ‘only the rich have watchmen’. Will this benefit you?

A farmer in western UP had told me this, and see, the public understands the truth well. This thought has emerged from the minds of the people and this is the truth. Watchmen work for the rich, not for the poor.

The government is also investigating cases against your husband Robert Vadra. You are standing firmly with him. Do you feel scared?

Not at all.

There is always a crowd around your election campaign, and workers remain excited. What do you feel when you look at the crowd, responsibility or pride?

Responsibility. There is no pride in this. In this, there is a sense of responsibility and the feeling that people are sending their love to me, and this leads to responsibility. When people love you, you have to be responsible for them.

People see the image of (former prime minister) Indira Gandhi in you. Does it make it easy for you to reach people or increases the challenges?

There are two things: It is my honour that people see her in me, but my responsibilities increase because of that.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi calls you his best friend Do you discuss politics with him? Have you ever had differences on any issue?

We are siblings, and there are many issues we do not agree on. Then there are many issues on which we are totally united. It is very natural in the relationship between a sister and a brother. I have always said that my brother is a friend who always speaks the truth to me and sometimes his truth may sound bitter to me. But I have always seen that whenever I ask him for any advice, he speaks the truth and that advice always benefits me. I learn from him.

Indira Gandhi had once said that a mother in politics has to do double the work at home. You are now in active politics, do you think so too?

Yes, it is absolutely true that a mother’s work doubles. This is not only true for women who are active in politics, but for women in any profession. A professional woman has to handle both the household, the family and her profession.

You have seen your grandmother and then you mother in active politics. Any such experience you remember because of their preoccupation which has led you to keep your children away from it?

The violence that I experienced in my childhood, when my grandmother and then my father were killed, changed my life significantly and had a great effect on me. I want to keep my children away from such form of violence and always wanted them to lead a simple and normal life. I wanted their personal lives to remain away from the glare of politics till the time they reached the age where they were able to understand it completely.

In the Lok Sabha elections, if Congress emerges as the largest party in the opposition, then as a sister, would you want your brother to take charge of the Prime Minister’s post?

As a sister, I would like to see my brother happy. I wish that he gets whatever he needs for his happiness and for him to feel complete. I wish for his success.

You speak both Hindi and English with equal ease. What led you to your hold on language?

In our childhood, everyone spoke to us in Hindi. Rahul and I spoke to each other in Hindi during our childhood. Till the time my children went to school, I spoke to them in Hindi. The school’s principal told me that I should talk to them in English, because they could not understand the language, and that’s when I started speaking to them in English. My grandmother had a rule that the household will speak in Hindi when we eat, so that my mother’s Hindi could get better.

In your personal time, what is the one thing you do?

As soon as there’s some spare time, I start cleaning the house. I clean the kitchen, and the books that are lying around, and then I fold the clothes. This is the first thing I do in my free time.

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