It is time for the larger unity of all Congress-minded people across the country for a united fight.

AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh has called upon all ex-Congress leaders, including Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee, to comeback to face challenges unitedly. In an interview to CL Manoj about the poll debacle, he says Congress and UPA regime failed in statecraft and let RSS, BJP and Modi beat them. He also feels Manmohan Singh should have shown political skills in defusing allegations on 2G and coal and Rahul should back up his organisational experiments with a political action-plan and should have spent more time in UP after the last assembly poll defeat. Excerpts:

Did you expect such a crushing blow for Congress?

I was shocked. I never realised it was going to be as bad as this.

What is your immediate analysis?

I feel the RSS and BJP have achieved what they have been planning for decades: Polarise Hindus and Muslims. For the first time, the RSS has openly led the BJP poll campaign and its communal policies overtook caste politics. This is exactly what RSS-BJP has been working on for decades. Further, the projected strongman image of Modi made many think he is one who could deliver. People would not see reason and, have been taken in by the Gujarat model propaganda.

Also due to the overall situation, large sections of Hindus felt they were getting a raw deal and they must unite to defeat all those secular parties. Even the word secularism is now, unfortunately, being identified with so-called Muslim appeasement.

Why should Hindus feel wronged?

Through a sustained campaign, the RSS has been spreading canards, such as growth in Muslim population would make Hindus a minority in India. Through sustained whisper campaign, the RSS-BJP managed to spread such messages across to the people. Pamphlets, without the printers' names, containing filth against the Nehru-Gandhi family and explosive comments against Muslims and Christians have been distributed all over.

Why could not Congress and UPA regime counter such propaganda?

The Congress has been focusing on the social-economic development and it did not pay attention to the RSS canard. Yes, it was a failure! But why blame only Congress? No other socalled secular parties too realised the extent of the RSS whisper campaign.

Is it not true that Congress and UPA lost grip on political management beginning with the Anna Hazare movement?

In the last one decade of UPA rule, India has seen high growth in every sector. Our economy, investments and purchasing-power parity have all grown. BPL families have come down, infant mortality rate and maternity mortality rate have come own. Our social schemes reached the needy. But, we failed in statecraft. In all such cases, such as Hazare and Ramdev episodes, the UPA government did not act decisively, leading to the impression that our government was weak.

But the government also faltered in dealing with politics over inflation and corruption?

The Sixth Pay Commission gave a huge hike to government staff. Any such hike fuels inflation as prices of perishable items and grain depend on supply and demand. Yet, prices of many commodities have also come down. But, nobody from our government was pointing out that or explaining why the purchasing power of the common man had gone up. I say we lost this election only because we lost the war of perception and the war of communication.

As a supporter of Manmohan Singh, would you agree he was acting as a PM without a mission or passion in his second innings?

After his second by-pass surgery, Manmohanji could not be very active even though he never shied away from hard work. But, none should doubt his integrity and commitment to the nation and to Congress.

Many would say Singh's failure to speak up on 2G and coal allocation proved costly...

I agree with you. PM's statement blaming it on compulsions of coalition, in hindsight, was not the right thing to say. We had a strong case to explain to the people that the figures mentioned by the C&AG in the so-called 2G scam were notional. Manmohan Singh stood for the auction of natural resources.

But, UPA was following NDA regime's telecom licence policy which was decided in 2003. When UPA government wanted to auction the spectrum, it was opposed on the ground that you can't have two kind of service providers - one who got the license from auction and other who got without auction. Even when the SC asked our government to auction, there were hardly any takers. But in 3G and 4G, the UPA had its own transparent auction policy and there were no complaints. Similarly, Manmohan Singhji made a statement in 2005 that we would like coal blocks to be auctioned.

And that was the assumption on which C&AG assessed the loss. But the fact was auction could not be done as there was no law that allowed the auction of mineral resources. When UPA regime made a proposal for auctioning coal blocks, all states that had coal and were ruled by Opposition parties opposed it saying there was no law to auction mineral resources. They blocked the auction and the UPA got the blame! Even C&AG, very conveniently, blamed us. I agree UPA failed to expose these baseless charges.

What about the image of Rahul Gandhi as a leader reluctant to shoulder responsibility?

Rahul wanted to put the Congress organisational structure in place which, unfortunately, he could not do due to resistance from senior leaders. He could only experiment with the Youth Congress and NSUI. He has put in place elected bodies of NSUI and Youth Congress in every assembly segments. But the problem was he could not broad-base these experiments by backing it up with a political programme.

And Youth Congress fellows have vanished from agitational politics and ended up as theoreticians?

While Rahulji has been working on a long-term plan, I think, he should have had a short-term plan as well. He should have given Youth Congress a political orientation and backed it up with a political action-plan on the ground which, I think, did not happen.

Did Rahul lose his nerves after the Congress defeat in UP assembly polls?

We lost the assembly polls but increased our vote share. During campaign speeches, Rahulji promised that whether Congress gets 2 or 200 seats he would spent more time in UP. I feel he should have done that.

Why didn't he?

I don't know.

Is Team Rahul in conflict with Congress' seasoned leaders?

Every leader creates his or her team. One shoud not grudge that. There is no disconnect between senior leaders and Rahul's team. He is one person who shows respect to seniors.

But is it not ironic that the youth left 43-year old Rahul Gandhi and rallied behind Modi?

It was due to lack of communication by UPA and Congress, Modi filled up the vacuum. Modi and his team also tapped the social media more effectively.

What are your comments on the view that though CWC still rallies around Gandhi, Young India dismisses him as a listless leader with a famous surname?

The Congress Party is nurtured and guided by the Gandhi-Nehru family. In 77, Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were put in jail. But they led our fight back to victory. Post-Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, both Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri failed to hold the Congress together.

It is Sonia Gandhi who united the Congress and led us to two consecutive LS polls victories. Therefore, we don't throw the baby with the bath water. We have a leadership, we will sit together and recast our action-plan while playing the role of a constructive Opposition.

Can it be an easy task under the Modi regime?

You have seen Congress losing in 1977, 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2014. You have also seen BJP decimated to just two seats in 1984. One thing constant in democracy is change.

Can there be real organistaional elections in Congress?

I strongly feel Congress must develop state leaders and allow MLAs to choose their chief ministers as it happened in Karnataka.

Given the crisis, will Congress take initiative for return of leaders who quit the party in the past?

I have been always telling Sharad Pawarji that he must merge NCP with Congress. I strongly feel and appeal to all leaders and workers who have left Congress in the past, be it Sharad Pawarji or Mamata Banerjee, to come back. It is time for the larger unity of all Congress-minded people across the country for a united fight.

By CL Manoj, ET Bureau | 22 May, 2014, 04.00AM IST