HT Interview: If Opposition fights together, we are going to succeed, says Congress chief Kharge
The 81-year-old is feeling quietly confident about the upcoming five state assembly polls
New Delhi: When Mallikarjun Kharge marks the first anniversary as Congress chief next month, he would have two assembly election wins under his belt - Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. The 81-year-old is feeling quietly confident about the upcoming five state assembly polls, but coordination for the INDIA bloc could prove trickier. In an interview with Sunetra Choudhury and Saubhadra Chatterji, Kharge talks about how he resolved the differences between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and what he makes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among other things. Edited excerpts.
What has been your biggest learning?
The biggest learning is that nothing is new for me. I started as an ordinary Congress member, then became block Congress president, then district unit chief, then state unit chief, then all India general secretary, and again, now, I am president. So, I don’t think it is anything new for me. And since I came into contact with various people for a long time, I feel it is routine work. I have been given some great responsibility that I have to fulfil. We have to take everyone into confidence
Read here: INDIA group will edge BJP out in ’24: Kharge
Your style, it is always said, is to build consensus.
In a democracy it’s needed. Like if Modi ji takes a decision without discussing with his own people or party seniors, that will be called an autocratic decision and nobody will oppose it as long as his personal charisma is there. Or whenever he claims that main akela hi sab pe bhari padta hoon, that means the entire Opposition is on one side and Modi is sufficient to deal with them. This is his argument always and this will not go on forever.
You have brokered some kind of peace in Rajasthan. How did you achieve it?
If you are in one party, you must also learn how to come together and win elections. If you don’t come together, there will definitely be damage. We tried our best, and even Rahul ji [Rahul Gandhi] came along with me, and we discussed for 3-4 hours with Sachin Pilot and chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Rahul ji convinced them and I also said that whatever Rahul ji is saying, you must agree with. Because you people have a future, because Pilot’s age is on his side. We said that you can’t decide for yourself who will be CM, and unless you work together and bring the party back to power, these questions won’t arise.
And were you able to convince them?
We were able to, and they agreed. They gave a statement outside and even when Priyanka ji [Priyanka Gandhi Vadra] went there, they were together. So, we solved it and now we are hoping we will win.
The other thing commented upon was how you kept your challenger Shashi Tharoor as part of your team
See, just because he fought an election against me does not mean he is my enemy. I have to run the party and will not destroy it by removing people one by one. Even the people who earlier signed a petition (members of the so-called G23 group), we accommodated everybody, including him (Tharoor). So, our aim is to collect different people as much as possible -- those who can contribute in different ways, some may be at a ground level, some in writing, some intellectuals and some lawyers. So, I thought that he should be given an opportunity and when he came earlier, I told him don’t worry, we will not leave anybody.
But did it irritate you that people called you a figurehead president, handpicked by the Gandhis?
I think our opponents may say anything but my performance in the state everybody knows about. My performance as a minister -- at that time many people did not know about my performance -- but I worked as labour minister and travelled across the entire world for G20 meetings. It is not a new thing that G20 is here, and now it has moved to Brazil.
But did the Congress seem petty for criticising G20?
They (the ruling side) expect that we should praise everything, When you make it political and take advantage of that, it’s not acceptable. It is a programme and it goes to the countries one by one, so don’t create much hype about that. I don’t want to discuss much about it, and they did not give me an invitation to attend the G20.
But they are saying that they did not even invite BJP chief JP Nadda.
You can’t compare Nadda to me. Is Nadda an Opposition leader? Nadda is a party leader and I am a leader of Opposition (LoP) with cabinet rank. When your state ministers are there, I am a cabinet minister. And this has never happened before, So Nadda is different from Kharge because Kharge is LoP. People have given me this position. I am not asking as Congress president but they could have considered this. Then, the same people, during the Saudi Arabian visit, they invited. Then how did I not get invited for this (G20)?
But do you have a good dynamic with the PM?
We are not enemies. And if you don’t respect your PM and your own colleagues, it is not a good culture. In a democracy, yes we will fight in the House. We are fighting on ideological grounds but the ideology that he (PM) is fighting for is wrong and more so for Dalits, weaker sections, tribals, and so many things. I don’t want to explain such things and if the time comes, I will speak out. Sometimes they forget that the feeling of superiority and such things should not be there in politics. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi used to directly speak to Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji; earlier it was a good tradition, and nowadays, they don’t.
Is there no back channel with the Opposition at all?
No, that is because they are egoists; they think that they have got 303 people with them, so they don’t need anybody. That’s why they are passing bills, and you can’t help it. When they got a huge majority, they started working as dictators in a democracy. So that is the ego in them (BJP)
Sanatana dharma has become the big issue these days. Your thoughts?
I don’t want to talk on religion as I am in politics and I will tackle these issues politically. Religious matters I don’t want to mix with politics as they are both separate.
What do you make of the upcoming special session?
The two-line agenda has recently come and why he wanted it so short I don’t know. You could have done 15 days or one month’s agenda or so. But this may be a publicity stunt against the backdrop of the G20 and administration issues, how they handled these things. The PM wants a prachar-madhyam’. So it is a self-praising session more or less, without giving prior information
Ahead of 2024, are you feeling confident? What will be the biggest factors?
When we have joined, naturally the figures and the voting pattern show if we fight together, we are going to succeed. And, in a democracy, we can’t keep quiet, we have to highlight their shortcomings, we are fighting together, and I hope, this time, we will have an edge over NDA.
What’s the plan for the next five months?
I can’t tell everything now. We have got a working committee meeting and there is an election committee meeting also in Hyderabad on September 16-17 and there we will decide some things. But we are fighting together so that is why we are going to conduct public meetings in eight to nine places. Tentatively, we have said Bhopal, but let us see what the arrangement there is. So we are fighting together and when we fight together, definitely we will have good results. We have called several times all the leaders one by one; first everything was prepared, when Sharad Pawar, Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav and TR Baalu, who are all political heads, came here. They were here twice and ultimately, we thought that together we can go to each state and then the first meeting was fixed in Patna, then Bengaluru, and then Mumbai. So full unity and confidence is there, but our exercise and survey is going on, and different parties are conducting surveys.
Will seat sharing be done easily?
Everything is not that simple, and we will tackle however it is. We can’t succeed 100%, even if it is 99%, it is good because something is better than nothing. So it will happen.
What do you think of Bharat versus India?
When Congress members say Bharat Mata ki Jai, do we not mean it? We took out the Bharat Jodo Yatra, did we do it on someone’s instructions? We promoted Bharat Jodo Yatra as a foot march for 4,500 kilometres from village to village. Now someone tries to do some things for votes such as Startup India, Stand up India, Skill India, and Make in India. They mention India’s name and do publicity, and then they say that they hate the name India.
Will the Congress support a resolution to change the name of India to Bharat if it came up in the special session?
No I don’t know that; let it come, let us see