Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad speaks with WION's Kartikeya Sharma on a range of issues concerning the ongoing assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. He said that Priyanka Gandhi is actively managing the elections in UP from Delhi and was in charge of all political decisions. He also claimed that the Prime Minister's three-day campaign in Varanasi is a sign of weakness and not strength as Prime Ministers do not devote so much time to their constituencies for election campaigning.
Q: How is the election going for the Congress Party?
A: I don’t think we would have fought a better election than this. We have alliances in many states but the way alliance has worked in Uttar Pradesh has been different. I’m very satisfied.
Q: In 2007 and 2012, Rahul Gandhi fought elections alone. How did the Congress reach the conclusion that it should fight the election in an alliance?
A: Even this time we wanted to fight elections alone. That is why we organized lot of kisan yatras throughout the state. We had also decided to review the situation in October whether we would be able to fight a good election or not. Simultaneously, developments took place in SP which created uncertainty for them. Then we too at that point of time were uncertain. We realized that we shouldn’t repeat the mistake of Lok Sabha elections. BJP got 31 per cent of votes and managed to get 282 seats (in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014) because the opposition vote got fragmented. So, we didn't want such a situation this time. It could be any other party this time who could have come to power with lesser vote share because of fragmentation of the opposition vote. We decided to create an alliance so that the vote doesn’t divide. We didn’t want this election to become a matter of false prestige. We didn’t want to take chance this time around. May be this was the reason for SP also.
Q: But alliance has problems. Gandhi bastion is witnessing friendly fights. Priyanka Gandhi couldn’t go because of it?
A: Priyanka did not go (for campaigning) not because of the friendly fights. She didn’t because she was in a different role. There are two areas of campaign. One is physical campaign and another is management. Priyanka was in the management of the campaign like an in charge of ATC. Someone senior was required to look into the issue management of the elections and we decided that this part should be played by Priyanka Gandhi. If she wouldn’t have done this job, then it would have fallen on any other general secretary. Priyanka Gandhi did a fabulous job. No one else could have done it better than her.
Q: Are you telling me that Priyanka Gandhi is in charge of the political air traffic control of the Congress Party?
A: She was involved from the beginning when it came to Uttar Pradesh. The decision to contest particular seat or to give it up were decided by her. It took us a month to firm up the alliance. We used Priyanka fully in Uttar Pradesh.
Q: Many would say that senior leaders did the work and gave all the credit to Priyanka?
A: I don’t share credit unnecessarily. I don’t give undue credit to anyone. Priyanka Gandhi really did a fabulous job. I don’t think I would have been able to do the job like this or devote so much time.
Q: Goal posts in elections changed midway when Prime Minister spoke about "kabristan" and "shamshan". But Congress didn’t approach the Election Commission. Have you changed the goal posts? Like Gujarat?
A: Our agenda remains the same. It is focused on agriculture, employment and health. It is the PM who moved away from the developmental agenda. It is very disappointing. In 1990s, rath yatra was started. I don’t want to get into it so that we get diverted from the agenda once again. The issue is that BJP felt that it was not able to match the agenda of the alliance. Akhilesh has done good job and they changed horses midstream and that is why they will lose the elections. I don’t think statements of the Prime Minister were appreciated by the majority community. BJP wanted us to make this into an issue and that is why we refrained from it. We don’t want to mix religion with politics.
Q: There are changes even in Rahul Gandhi. Before 2014 elections one couldn’t find Rahul Gandhi going to temples religiously and regularly. Now he does. Why?
A: We have no issues with people going to temples or church. We never made any issue of PM going to temples. We have no issue with people visiting religious spaces but we have issue with people talking about things like kabristan and shamshan.
Q: Who is your opponent? BSP or BJP?
A: Our fight is against parties who have no political principles. Both of them are fighting each other for 2nd and 3rd position.
Q: Aren’t you concerned about BSP? BSP has given large number of tickets to the minority community?
A: It is not an issue for us. We aren’t BJP. We need both majority and minority. We want the votes of all the castes be it backward or forward. We want them all.
Q: Is demonetisation an issue in UP? It seems that demonetisation didn’t work as an issue in municipal polls in Maharashtra?
A: Demonetisation was an issue. Whether people voted on the issue on it or not is a different thing. People got affected. This fact cannot be denied. Demonetisation affected lot of business. I have interacted with people in UP and I felt that demonetisation is a living issue.
Q: Biggest leader of SP, Mulayum Singh Yadav didn’t campaign for the alliance? He didn’t endorse it politically?
A: He is supporting us and his silence speaks for it.
Q: After 1998, Sonia Gandhi has not campaigned in Uttar Pradesh. Why?
A: She didn’t campaign in any of the states for that matter. This time Rahul Gandhi aggressively campaigned.
Q: OK, if Priyanka Gandhi was in charge of the so called political ATC, then what was Rahul Gandhi doing?
A: He did the campaign for us.
Q: You decided the distribution?
A: He is my boss. He is the Vice President. He is above me and Priyanka Gandhi. All happened under his supervision. Alliance and distribution of the work. Both.
Q: This is the last phase. Does it worry you that there is an upsurge of BJP in the rural areas?
A: Our only worry is that they continue to polarise the elections. They are doing the same work which they used to do in the opposition.
Q: Are you worried that no one gets majority in UP. Even PM spoke of it?
A: PM is devoting three days to his constituency. He did a programme without EC’s permission in the district. He did the roadshow. Prime Ministers never give so much time to their constituencies for election campaigning. There are 40 ministers in this area. Doesn’t it show that we are coming to power.
Q: But it could also mean that BJP wants to fight for every seat?