The two consecutive defeats faced by the ruling BJP in Delhi and Bihar polls have instilled hope in the Congress party, so much so that it'll continue its onslaught against the BJP on the "intolerance" issue and work toward convincing the people that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not fit for the two-term premiership.
In an exclusive interview, senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member, Digvijay Singh, shared these thoughts with The Hindu on Wednesday.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections turned out to be a disaster for the Congress but within a year the party regained some space in the country’s political imagination. What kind of thinking was prevalent in the Congress before the Delhi elections—how did you foresee its future?
Digvijay Singh:This is not the first time the Congress has had bad election results. The party has been out of power in the past as well, but then it has proved to be a party which has strength to rejuvenate and recover itself in difficult times.
So you’re suggesting that you knew the party was going to recover on its own?
Digvijay Singh:No, I am talking about resilience, which some people underestimate. And we did think about our defeat. The Congress president [Sonia Gandhi] appointed the Antony committee to look into the issues which led to the disastrous results and then the vice president [Rahul Gandhi] had discussions with almost 300 top leaders of the party. A background paper was prepared and that was given to state leaders to discuss and take feedback from the block level. The report has come and it is with the president and she will soon be discussing with senior leaders to prepare a document for the upcoming party session.
What are the issues the Congress would like to raise in public?
Digvijay Singh:The BJP has not been able to fulfill its election promises. They are caught in their own web. Amit Shah said the election promises—like bringing black money back in 100 days and filling in each person’s bank account with Rs. 15 lakhs—were only a Jumla. Now what does a Jumla mean—it means a false promise. At the same time, it’s been almost 20 months now since the party came into power and the economy is not doing well at all. The exports are declining, the value of rupee is declining and there is a general despondency amongst the business and corporate sector. The farmers are not getting minimum support price, the purchasing power of the people in rural areas which fuel the economy at the national level is decreasing. We are forgetting the time when the whole world was going through a massive recession and India was still doing fine and that’s because the UPA believed in the pro-poor politics and its policies like NREGA fuelled the purchasing power capacity in rural areas and saved the country from the disastrous consequences. In 2012 and 2013, we saw the rural areas had more purchasing power than the urban areas. Unfortunately, all those achievements have been rolled back. What you see is the investment in the social sector has reduced, the NREGA allocations have reduced, the investments in the education and health sectors have come down, the budget allocations for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes have be cut down. And the list goes on.
Although the government of India has increased the share of the states in the devolution of central taxes but at the same time it has cut down the allocations that are made in the central schemes. So the net devolution of taxes as a percentage of GDP has come down. If you compare the devolution with central taxes and central assistance, the amount of money allocated to the states has come down. So all this has led to a great sense of despondency among the people. And they feel cheated.
Looking at the current debate in parliament, it seems that two things matter the most—one, the growing “intolerance” in the country; two, the failing economy. Yet, the Congress seems more interested in pinning down the BJP on the intolerance issue?
Digvijay Singh:We have to talk about intolerance and remind the country about tolerance. Tolerance has been the basic ethos of this nation. We have never attacked any country. There has been no religious war in this country. Islam came here and it got absorbed in the Indian system. Christianity came here before it went to Europe and it got absorbed in this system. It happened because the spirit of accommodation of India and its ideology is based on “live and let live” concept. Therefore, we have never had people with fanatic bent of mind. By and large, if you examine the Mughal rule in India, you will see that they have allowed the Hindus to grow; they have allowed Sanatan Dharam to grow. If they wanted to turn this nation into an Islamic nation, they could have done that because they ruled this country for almost 500 years. But they did not do it. They had Hindu generals in their army, they had Hindu advisers. If you see the nine great people around Akbar, you will find that most of them were Hindus. So this is the greatness of this country which is unfortunately being destroyed by the way the BJP is allowing its cadre in the fringe to take law in their hands and to divide people on the name of religion. And that is the matter of serious concern. If you allow this polarisation to grow, it will create a fanatic fringe in the minority communities, which it will, as the reaction to the extremist elements of the majority community. That socio-political dynamic poses a greater danger to the country than any other issue. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had rightly said the majority communalism is more dangerous than the minority communalism.
What happened in Pakistan? Zia-ul-Haque allowed Jamaat-i-Islami and its fanatic leaders to be inducted in the governance which resulted in a situation where Pakistan stands today. It is almost like a failed state now. We fear that this may happen in this country, if these fanatic elements among the Hindus, which the BJP promotes but cant control, do not subside. The BJP takes full advantage of these people to create the polarisation but once they do it they loose control over them. It is like a Genie, which once taken out of a bottle is difficult to put back in. So the genie of the communalism is something which we are all scared of. That is why we want this issue of intolerance to be debated.
But it seems like the debate is going nowhere. The BJP is countering the Congress on similar lines. It says the dissent over “intolerance” is “manufactured,” or the Congress is cherry picking issues to be angry about? How would you respond to that?
You know the issue is that the very strategy of the BJP and the RSS is to inculcate the feeling of insecurity in the minds of the people. It is to pitch Hindus against the Muslims and that comes through Saraswati Shishu Mandir, which preaches that the Muslims are undependable people, they are not good people. As the minds are poisoned from the childhood, the hatred slowly seeps into the society. I think the greatest damage is done by Saraswati Shishu Mandirs as they are poisoning the minds of the students, preaching them to tame hatred against the Muslims and the Christians. They tell them they [Christians and Muslims] are not from this country, they are foreigners and outsiders. Therefore, we are debating this industry of hatred, which must close down.
Congress seems to be on a good track--what would you like to achieve in the coming days?
Digvijay Singh:Congress party shall carry on its programs which are pro-poor, pro-weaker sections because the first right to the country's resources belong to them. We have to raise the standards of living and quality of life among these people else the nation will not grow. We have to ensure that the gap between rich and poor doesn’t go beyond limit, triggering social unrest. That will be dangerous for the security of India.
We are a party which is modern and liberal. We are not rooted in the 18th century. That is why we are so different than the RSS and the BJP—they want to take the country back to the 18th century by saying this is how you should dress, this is how you should think. It is the modern, liberal thinking of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which has brought us to this level. We are grateful to the people of Bihar that one mandate has brought some sense into the minds of the BJP leadership. Those who were not prepared to even talk to the opposition are now discussing with the opposition. Those who were not even prepared to accept the contribution of the Congress leaders to the nation building are saying they cannot deny that contribution. The Bihar failure has brought them to the table, where they are talking to Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Prime Minister Modi must realize that he is not the Chief Minister of Gujarat which he ran like his fiefdom. This is the nation of 1.2 billion people and it has to be governed by carrying everyone along. If he doesn’t want to learn from Pandit [Jawaharlal] Nehru, he should at least learn from Atal Bihari Vajpayee.