President of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee, Sachin Pilot, says that the common man has not got the “acche din” that the BJP had promised.
Pilot also feels that the BJP party made tall promises while campaigning to win the elections at any cost. Pilot was speaking to Govindraj Ethiraj at a The Growth Net, conference of global investors and academics in Delhi.
Pilot was asked for a 10-month report on the BJP government’s performance so far. Pilot asserted that, as the opposition party, they would make the government accountable and are watching BJP’s every move like a hawk.
Pilot is also confident that the Congress party has learnt and adapted over the past 10 months. His aim is to make the party robust enough to take on the BJP when the time comes.
Ethiraj: What have you been up to in the last 10 months?
Pilot: I’m the president of the party in the state. And we have a lot of work to do to rebuild the party. We are in the opposition, not just at the centre, but also in the state legislation. So, we are building the party from ground up. It’s a lot of work to regain the party cadres’ confidence and keep the sprits up. We’ve done some local elections, so that’s added to it. So, the last 10 months have been, for me, quite rewarding because I think my hard work is paying off to some extent.
We are not making big long promises and speeches. We are certainly saying that we will make sure that the government will be accountable and we can be a voice to do that.
Ethiraj: What are the two or three key lessons that you’ve learnt, particularly at the local level?
Pilot: This country, and Rajasthan as a part of it, has changed dramatically. There is a paradigm shift now in what people expect in terms of aspirations, expectations, policy making, and response of government. So, one has to keep those realities in mind before you launch a campaign or you try and fight and win elections.
The Congress party, for 130 years, has been quite good at adapting itself and we have to be competitive. At the same time, being in opposition gives you the freedom to be very vocal about many things that perhaps while in government, the elbow room wasn’t there that much.
I think losing an election is not the end of life. It’s certainly time for you to look inward into what you stand for, what your values are and how do you structure and manage a political organisation. All these are very key issues, which sometimes every political party needs to ask itself, to keep reinventing itself. I think the Congress needs to do lot more to really endear itself to the younger generation of Indians.
You know that three-fourths of this country is young people, who need to understand what the Congress party stands for in the 21st century background, not what it was before independence and what we stood for in the freedom struggle. So, that transition has to take place and we have to do it from within. We are doing it in Rajasthan.
As the president of the party, I’m giving a lot of young people responsibilities making them the task masters and judging them on their performance. Because merit and performance should be the only way to reward political activists. There’s a change of culture, there’s a change of atmosphere. These are things that we have tried to inculcate in the last eight to ten months.
We have to reach out to people. We don’t think people will come and knock at our doors. We have to go and make ourselves available and see how we can join issues with them. What are the problems they are facing and how we can be the catalyst for the resolutions of those problems.
“Make in India” is a good slogan but Make in India will happen in states and states are run not by the BJP. These states have to be taken on board. You have to have states like UP, Bihar, and Bengal on board for Make in India to really take shape. You can’t do it by just policy making in Delhi.
Ethiraj: So you’re saying you are picking some issues far more aggressively than perhaps you would have done it in the past?
Pilot: I won’t say aggressively but more pragmatically. I mean, we are not making philosophical statements. We are not making big long promises and speeches. We are certainly saying that we will make sure that the government will be accountable and we can be a voice to do that. But for that, we have to win trust and credibility. And you can only do it by being with people. You can’t sit in Jaipur or in Delhi, and then you know, just email people and just say well now I’m your friend. You have got to be able to sweat and bleed with them in the time of need. And once you are with people, you get their confidence and their blessings. Then, you know, political dividends are an outcome of that process.
Ethiraj: Are you getting a sense that if you keep working closely with people in that region, you would be able to, let’s say to have a strong go at the next election that you might fight?
Pilot: We are a political party and we are here to get people’s votes, to be able to serve them. Now, I won’t be as pompous as to say that yes, we will score the next electoral victory because we have lost very badly. When I took charge, the circumstances were such that we had never got as low a number in the assembly as we had. We had 20 out of 200 and that has never happened in independent India. We have lost all Parliament seats by huge margins. When I took charge, it was a very desperate situation. So, we have come a long way since then.
But, I still think that we have a lot of hard work to do and we have a lot of catching up to do, in terms of political work but, I’m very hopeful. I think it’s a bit wrong to take things for granted and to say well because I’m going on this path you know four years later my party will be in power. It will most certainly be my endeavour to do it.
Ethiraj: You also said about calibrating yourself for the long battle?
Pilot: I think there are no small battles in politics. If it’s a battle about people, it will have to be a long one. There are no shortcuts to success except hard work. One has to really work hard to be successful.
Ethiraj: That’s nice to hear. So let me sort of ask you for a small report card. How would you rate the 10 months of the Modi government?
Pilot: See, in terms of policy making, lot of the announcements that we see today, are not totally brand new ideas. For example, digital India was launched when I was a minister in the IT department. Skill development programme was launched by Dr. Manmohan Singh four to five years ago. These are necessary tools for India to be able to take on the 21st century challenges.
The signs suggest that this government is not that interested in having a consensual approach. It’s not interested in taking Parliament along. It’s happy to issue ordinances, it’s happy to dictate with a stick as what needs to be done.
In terms of what the BJP had promised before it came to power, I mean, it’s a very long list. They are lucky that oil prices have crumbled to one-third of what they were when we were in government but that does not insure the long-term longevity of policy-making.
I think the fiscal deficit is not what it was. Mr. Jaitley tried to do whatever best he could, but I don’t think he’s been successful. So there are lot of issues that were committed and promises that were made, perhaps in the whole charged of atmosphere of campaign and winning the elections at any cost. Promises were made about jobs. India needs 18 million new jobs every year just to sustain the current level of unemployment.
“Make in India” is a good slogan but Make in India will happen in states and states are run not by the BJP. These states have to be taken on board. You have to have states like UP, Bihar, and Bengal on board for Make in India to really take shape. You can’t do it by just the diktat of policy making in Delhi. It’s a great slogan, it reads very well in the Wall Street Journal. But, wow much of it will actually take effect on the ground remains to be seen.
Ethiraj: So I’m just trying to understand on the score card where are you rating them?
Pilot: I think it’s too early to give points on a score card because 10 months is not that long a period. The signs suggest that this government is not that interested in having a consensual approach. It’s not interested in taking Parliament along. It’s happy to issue ordinances, it’s happy to dictate with a stick as what needs to be done. But, you know, getting a majority in Parliament is not the be all and end all of democracy. You need to have people’s concern on board.
Our social fabric has taken a beating. The level of insecurity, the kind of incidents which have happened, the kind of rhetoric that you hear from the BJP leaders like Mr. Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath, the kind of rabid statements they make, it is a bit uncomfortable to hear all that. And what is more disconcerting is the fact that nobody from the leadership is actually going and saying, “No, this must stop. It’s absolutely wrong.”
My worry is that world is viewing India as a country that is becoming increasingly more intolerant and that goes back to the social side of it. These things have a long-lasting effect in the psyche of people. There are some elements in the Sangh Parivar which make things quite awkward for most of us.
Govindraj: So what would be your three things that you would sort of be watching like a hawk?
Pilot: One, they have said that 6 lakh crores of black money will be brought back into India. 100 days ka kaha tha unhone, 300 days have already gotten over. We will ask tough questions about that. They talked about eradicating corruption from the grassroots. With the magic wand that, you know, the 56-inch chest thumping bravado that we will make corruption go away, we are waiting for that to happen.
And quite frankly, this whole concept of “acche din”. I travel in Rajasthan and in other parts of India. Forget about me as a politician, I don’t find the common person in India is satisfied with getting the kind of “acche din” that were promised when the campaign was happening. This is not a politics of opposition for opposition’s sake. If tangibly, people’s life has improved, I’ll be happy to except it but I haven’t seen that in the last 10 months.
So far, my worry is that world is viewing India as a country that is becoming increasingly more intolerant and that goes back to the social side of it. These things have a long-lasting effect in the psyche of people and we need to give people the comfort that everyone is equal and everyone is protected. There are some elements in the Sangh Parivar which make things quite awkward for most of us.
The elections in Rajasthan are due in three years and 10 months time and time is flying by faster than I thought it would. For me, the real idea is to make the organisation robust enough to take on the BJP when the time comes.