New Delhi, 24 May-2014, IANS: Sonia Gandhi was Saturday re-elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary…
NEW DELHI,MEHBOOB JEELANI: The Congress seems to have found a measure to quell the growing dissidence: empower its general secretaries at the national level. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is the party’s new in-charge of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, tells Mehboob Jeelani that in the coming days, the general secretaries will vet the leaders’ complaints and ensure most of them are resolved at the State level. Excerpts:
Starting with the fact that Uttar Pradesh has always been a challenging State for the Congress, how different is the upcoming election from the previous ones?
The difference is that when I was the general secretary of U.P. earlier, V.P. Singh was heading an anti-Congress front which was a conglomerate of regional parties which included the BJP, the BSP, the SP and a breakaway group of the Congress led by Arun Nehru. I have seen that phase as the State in-charge and it was a tough time. It was the Congress versus everybody. But there wasn’t much of caste-influenced politics back then. It became a dominant factor in the 1990s and the Congress was pushed behind. During the NDA-I led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee communal politics entered into U.P. with the BJP and the BSP forming a coalition government. And since then we have seen how the BJP has divided people for vote bank politics. And this time, the BJP is again polarising the State, fomenting unrest between Hindus and Muslims with an aim to push aside secular and caste-based political forces.
In that view, can secular and caste-based parties come together to fight the BJP?
Unfortunately, secular and caste parties are not realising the danger the BJP is posing to our society. They are all busy fighting each other.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is also working to figure out how to increase the Congress’s vote share in U.P.? How do you see his role?
I don’t think there is any clash between the organisation and Prashant Kishor. He is working as a strategist with a well-defined role. Ultimately, the party and Prashant will have to work in tandem because our goal is one — to increase the number of seats in the State.
You recently said that the Congress will project a new face in U.P. Who is it?
I don’t know whether that will be done immediately. First of all we have to give some political work to our workers. So in the next few weeks, we will commission work to our workers, which will generate enthusiasm on the ground. As the election gets closer, the new face will be projected and it will be the real Congress face, a representative of all the religions and communities.
Is Priyanka Gandhi going to be that face?
I think it’s too early to comment on that.
Since the much-awaited AICC reshuffle started with your and Kamal Nath’s appointment, you think the old guard will continue to dominate the party?
I personally feel there has always been a mix of leaders comprising different age groups from Indira Gandhi’s to Sonia Gandhi’s time. When Indira Gandhi led the party, she worked with leaders from three generations — people from her father’s time, her contemporaries, and then the youth led by her son Sanjay Gandhi. I don’t think one generation can satisfy the egos and demands and aspirations of a vast country like India. Therefore, we have to take leaders from all the four generations on board, including the one led by our vice-president [Rahul Gandhi].
Do you think the new leadership will be able to reverse the party’s decline?
The Congress may be down but not out. Though we are going through a rough phase, we are positive about coming out of it strong. In the last two years the BJP has been exposed to a great extent and in the next three years it will be an utter disappointment. Apart from making false promises the govern-ment is unable to deliver.
But the Congress is also facing serious dissidence from various quarters. How will the party deal with it?
I think we will have to find a mechanism. It’s for the general secretaries to ensure that the party president and vice-president are not overwhelmed with meeting people from 29 States and six union territories. It’s the job of the general secretaries and PCC chiefs to solve the party matters at the State level. The high command cannot meet everyone. Therefore, in the coming days, general secretaries will have more powers … They will decide who should meet the high command and who should not.