My advice to BJP leaders is to first read our manifesto, then decode it: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra - Hindustan Times
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My advice to BJP leaders is to first read our manifesto, then decode it: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

May 19, 2024 12:28 PM IST

“In today’s world, lies have to be countered with the truth vociferously,” Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra says in an exclusive interview with HT

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been campaigning for the party across the country. She camped in Rae Bareli for the past two weeks to seek votes for her brother Rahul Gandhi here and KL Sharma in Amethi. At the end of campaigning, Priyanka Gandhi spoke to Hindustan Times about the issues ranging from her assessment, the political discourse, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attacks on the Congress and the BJP’s 400-plus slogan. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra says the alliance leaders will take a decision collectively on who will be PM if the INDIA bloc wins the polls. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra says the alliance leaders will take a decision collectively on who will be PM if the INDIA bloc wins the polls. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)

Q: More than half the election is done. You have been actively engaged with the campaign and strategy. Your assessment of the polls so far?

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A: I think there is an upsurge against the BJP. I see it everywhere I go. People are fed up with the politics that does not address the very real hardships they are facing. The people have immense problems. Whether they are the poor, the farmers, the labourers or the middle class. They are facing problems. They want answers, they want politicians to take responsibility for their actions and they want a politics that delivers development and prosperity to them. I believe this sentiment is reflected in the polling that has taken place so far.

Q: Where is the political discourse going?

A: The political discourse is being taken to a totally different level. It’s about stealing the buffaloes, stealing the mangalsutras. They (BJP) are not saying what they are going to do to reduce the rate of unemployment and price rise. The Congress’ main pitch is what we will do for the people, and how we will alleviate them from the problems they are facing.

Q: Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP campaign has shifted to allegations of the Congress intending to usurp the Hindu rights and give their wealth to Muslims. The mangalsutra debate. Religious reservation charge. The BJP says it is just decoding the Congress manifesto? How do you respond?

A. My advice to them (the prime minister and BJP leaders) is that they should first read the Congress’ manifesto. You can only decode what you have read in depth. They (BJP leaders) clearly haven’t done so. Inventing and imagining things that are not in our manifesto is very different from “decoding” it. The manifesto is a public document, yet their biggest leaders seem shockingly unconcerned about lying outright about it. Besides, why are they talking incessantly about our manifesto? Do they not have one of their own? What are they offering the public except lies and distractions? What’s their plan for the people of India? Or do they not have one? All they (BJP leaders) have to say is that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did not do this, or the Congress did not do this after remaining in government for 70 years.

Q: Why are they (BJP leaders) doing this?

A: Because they have nothing. They have won two elections on the basis of polarisation. They have used religious rhetoric to win two elections and they think they can win a third election like that. I think the public has been able to see through, sorry to say this, the kind of propaganda that is being fed to them — daily in the media. So, through other means, YouTube, internet, social media they are now getting to see a different truth. And frankly, there is a truth in their (people’s) own lives. What is the common man facing? He wakes up in the morning, he has done everything to educate his child. His child is unable to get a job despite that. There are BScs, BTechs and MScs everywhere and in every village. Every family, no matter how poor they (people) are, or no matter how far flung the village is, they want to first educate their child. They do everything possible to educate their child. They take loans or whatever possible and yet there is no job. There is joblessness and huge price rise. When women go to market, and they are able to pick up half of the things they are thinking of (to buy) and these are not very extravagant things. These are very regular items — vegetables, oil and pulses. They expect their problems to be addressed.

Q: For the first time, the prime minister has alleged Ambani, Adani are giving funds, black money to the Congress. Why this attack?

A: Well, if the prime minister is aware of black money being given to a political party and being transported in tempos, as he alleges, then why hasn’t he had the tempos impounded and used the agencies at his command to confiscate it? He is supposedly one of the most powerful prime ministers this country has seen, why isn’t he using his immense powers to take action? Why is he suddenly whining about it at public rallies instead?

Q: Your take on the BJP slogan of “400 paar”? Has it boomeranged?

A: Well, they have stopped talking about that. So, you should ask them. I think it was an unnecessary overstatement rooted in arrogance. In fact, after four phases of polling, it has miraculously disappeared not just from the repertoire of BJP leaders but also from that of the mainstream media.

What has rightly alarmed a large section of the public is the claim made by many BJP candidates and leaders that if they do indeed cross 400 seats, they will change the Constitution of India. The rights of the Indian people are enshrined in the Constitution. It gives us the right to vote, the right to reservations, the right to food, education, protest and so on.

Considering that this government has done all it could to weaken democracy in the last 10 years, it cannot be trusted to uphold constitutional values and strengthen our democratic principles. They have already shown us proof of this by subverting democratically elected state governments, imprisoning two chief ministers at the time of the elections, blocking the Congress party’s accounts and by taking numerous other undemocratic actions like throwing MPs out of Parliament, not debating laws before they are passed and using government agencies to attack the opposition. People are right to be alarmed and wary. Modi and his government are capable of doing anything to retain absolute power.

Q: The INDIA bloc and the Congress campaign seems to be sticking to fixed issues of caste census, unemployment, price rise and misgovernance. You are confident that these are matters which relate more to people?

A: It’s not a question of being confident about these issues, it’s a question of looking around us and seeing what really affects the lives of the common man. Everyone is struggling today, the poor, the farmers, the middle class. Price rise is at an all-time high and unemployment is higher than it has ever been in 45 years. Seventy crore Indians are unemployed today. These are issues that touch every family, every household. Not addressing them and attempting to distract the electorate by taking public discourse to unimaginably low and facile levels is an insult to the people of India who are desperate for recourse.

Don’t you think the people are affected by these issues. What the Prime Minister is saying about the Congress manifesto- stealing buffaloes- the people are laughing. Ordinary people either laugh or they get angry. They say this is my prime minister who must have a certain dignity and level. He (PM) is now telling me this. Am I going to believe him. Is it a joke? What about the fact that I cannot feed my children? What about the fact that how many people in my family are working and they are unable to make two ends meet? What about the fact that the farmers are drowning in debt, and you are not helping them at all? GST is being imposed on everything that the farmers need for farming.

Q. But the BJP is confident about “Modi ki guarantee”. Your take?

A: Practically everything Modiji has promised in the last 10 years has not been delivered. Why should his so-called “guarantees” be taken seriously?

Q: Do you feel this election is also about the “idea of India?”

A: It most certainly is. For the last ten years, as I said, we have experienced a form of governance based on the ideology of the RSS and the BJP. Democratic institutions have been subverted, Parliament has been reduced to a rubber stamp, historical facts and figures have been wiped out of educational curriculums to reflect their ideology, the judiciary has been imposed upon, particular sections of society have been vilified, suspicion and hatred has been spread amongst people, the media has been brought to its knees, government agencies have been used to harass and muzzle the opposition and every constitutional value has been undermined.

The very fabric of our democracy is being torn today. Our fight is a fight for the nation Gandhiji, Nehruji, Sardar Patel and lakhs of freedom fighters fought for, the nation they built. The only country in the entire subcontinent that has survived as a strong, independent, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. It is our democratic and secular foundation that has enabled us to flourish and prevented us from turning into a failed state like many around us. The value of our democracy cannot be overemphasized.

Q: It really took very long for finalising candidates in Rae Bareli/Amethi. Why? Was it a dilemma or a strategy?

A: It didn’t take long to decide at all in fact, we simply decided to put it out in public at what we thought was the correct time to do so. It worked fine for us strategically.

Q: BJP leaders say Rahul developed cold feet in Amethi. Why did Rahul Gandhi not contest Amethi and shifted to Rae Bareli?

A: Why didn’t Modi ji fight from Gujarat anymore ? Has he developed cold feet? Why is he fighting from Varanasi, all the way in U.P? How come the whole nation’s media is so invested in which seat Rahul Gandhi should fight from but not a word is said about where the prime minister is fighting from?

Q: You didn’t contest. Why?

A: These are not the kind of constituencies where you can contest by remote control. Here we have a family relationship. We have worked here for years. The people expect us to come to their houses. They expect us to be among them. You know that I have been here for 15 days. So, it was a very practical decision. Both of us (Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi) were campaigning throughout the country. If both of us were to contest both of us would have to come here and meet everybody. Frankly, that is the way it should be. So, we decided that one of us should continue to campaign in the country, and naturally that would be Rahul and I look after these two elections.

Q: But you have made the Amethi battle as you versus her (Smriti Irani).

A: Not really, the battle is between the BJP candidate and Mr Kishori Lal Sharma and I am confident that he will win it.

Q: We have seen you being at the forefront of hitting back at the BJP on matters of personal attack against your family, especially your late father and grandmother. Is your response political or very personal and emotive?

A: No, it doesn’t pain at all in fact, because when you experience the martyrdom of someone you love so deeply, when you lose them to something greater than yourself, it is a devastating truth that no one can redefine for you. They can say all they want, it simply washes over me.

My response to them is neither political nor personal. I feel that personal attacks are the hallmark of political weakness. Modiji is a weak prime minister who hides behind power and lies. He and his party have carried out a massively funded campaign to spread calumny about my family for years now. I simply feel that our truth needs to be told as well.

My parents and my grandmother believed that the truth would speak for itself, that they did not need to speak out to defend themselves against lies and propaganda being spread about them. They believed in their duty towards the nation and the values they upheld.

I differ slightly from them in this regard. I feel that in today’s world lies have to be countered with the truth vociferously because there is so much noise around us that it is easy to lose sight of what is true and what is not.

By keeping quiet all the time, we have allowed the BJP, the RSS and their friends in the media to build a totally false narrative about us. I feel it’s important to set that straight.

Q: Your brother is almost regularly referred as “shehzada” by Modi. The issue is of dynastic politics. How do you respond to it?

A: Well, he seems to have relaxed his views to take many sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of so-called political dynasties into his own party and filled it with them. I have a feeling there are more such people in the BJP now than in any other party. The problem with the prime minister is that his words count for nothing, they apply selectively to everyone but himself and his party.

Q: There is an increased assertion in the Congress ranks. Rahul says INDIA storm is sweeping U.P. What do you expect the U.P. story to be in the polls?

A: I think there is an undercurrent that is becoming more and more visible as the elections progress. The alliance is working very effectively and cohesively as a team here. I believe the results in U.P. should be very positive for us.

Q: Presuming INDIA wins on June 4, will Rahul be the PM as the leader of the biggest party in the INDIA bloc?

A: The alliance leaders will take this decision collectively if such a situation arises.

Q: Leaders in your party and the SP are already saying the Congress-SP alliance is a hit and will continue in 2027. Do you think the same?

A: As I said, it is working very well as a team. Even on the ground, all our workers are putting in all they’ve got. I do believe it will bring us success.

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