Not possible to mobilise Congress without Gandhis: Mallikarjun Kharge

The senior leader says that without the party, there cannot be strong Opposition politics in the country as every other party has a regional identity, and emphasises that people who have got faith in their ideology will not leave the Congress; promises to implement the Udaipur Declaration

October 13, 2022 08:20 pm | Updated October 14, 2022 12:44 am IST

Congress president poll candidate Mallikarjun Kharge addresses a press conference in Bhopal on October 12, 2022.

Congress president poll candidate Mallikarjun Kharge addresses a press conference in Bhopal on October 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

After a day of hectic campaigning across Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge speaks to The Hindu about the upcoming presidential elections. Edited excerpts:

Defying your critics, you are busy in hectic campaigning for the Congress President’s post, covering at least two to three States every day. So, what’s your vision for the party?

One should know that the Chintan Shivir adopted the Udaipur Declaration that was prepared after deliberations among hundreds of people. There were experts in economics, agriculture, finance, social justice, women and child welfare, youth and so on. And this document, prepared in the month of May, wants to bring change and everything is included there. Whether it is about giving representation to youth, women and representation to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), minorities, everything is laid out. First, it is my duty to implement them, one by one. After the new committees [Congress Working Committee, All India Congress Committee and Pradesh Congress Committees], are formed, we will take up any new idea that comes to reform and make corrections. We have to fight against unemployment and inflation. Our economy is being destroyed, they [the BJP] are misusing autonomous bodies, changing the syllabus in educational institutions and so on. We have to tell our people [workers] all these things and train them.

We have seen a lot of leaders, young and old, leaving the party because of lack of faith in the leadership. What would you do to inspire confidence in your leadership if you get elected?

People who have got faith in the Congress ideology will definitely stay here only. How can a person who believes in secularism, social justice, Constitution prepared by Dr [B. R.] Ambedkar for the weaker sections go to the BJP. Your party may be in power or out of power, committed people will not leave. There are people who enjoyed when we were in power and are now leaving by putting some blame [on leadership].

Accessibility of the Congress leadership is cited as a problem by people who have left your party. How will you change this if you get elected?

You know I have worked as a minister for 20 years in the State [Karnataka], PCC President, Opposition leader in the State and here. I have always been available for the people. Am I not available? Whatever is the available time round the clock, I will work. I cannot create magic in one day but I will give my best!

You are seen as the ‘establishment’ candidate because of your proximity to the Gandhi family and there have been suggestions that you may not be able to take independent decisions and may be remote-controlled.

(Smiles). These perceptions are being created because I am loyal to the ideology of the party and I can’t leave the party and these leaders whose family members have sacrificed their lives for the sake of country’s unity. Should we forget the contribution of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ji, Indira Gandhi ji, Rajiv Gandhi ji? Or the good work of Ms. Sonia Gandhi ji without taking any power or Rahul Gandhi ji who didn’t accept any position. Is it the intention of the people that whoever becomes the Congress President should revolt against the Gandhi family?. Haven’t people suddenly got tickets, MPs and ministers without doing any grass-root level work? Who made them? It’s the Congress leadership. So, saying such things [of being remote-controlled] is hypocrisy.

What would be the role of the Gandhi family after the elections?

For over 20 years Madam Sonia Gandhi worked as the party president and worked on welfare schemes for the poor people like Right to Food, Right to Information, NREGA, health schemes and so on. Are the Gandhis away from the Congress? They are with us and I am with them. I can say one thing: without the Gandhis, it is impossible to mobilise our party and create strength. It is the truth. Now, Bharat Jodo Yatra. Rahul Gandhi ji is travelling from Kanniyakumari to Kashmir. Isn’t it giving strength to the party? If I go and meet him or take his advice, does it mean I am a rubber stamp president. Sonia Gandhi ji and Rahul Gandhi ji are assets of our party.

In the past, Congress was a rallying point for non-BJP Opposition, but that’s no longer true and there are many contenders for the prime ministerial post: from Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), K. Chandrasekhar Rao (TRS) to Nitish Kumar (JD-U). Who will be the Congress’ PM face for 2024?

Who will be the Prime Minister candidate will come after the Parliament elections and whomsoever the MPs elect will be our candidate. To be the Prime Minister, you need numbers. This is an organisational election and it is not fair for me to say anything. But one thing I can say, without the Congress, there can’t be a strong Opposition politics as every other party has a regional identity.

If you get elected, would you involve your rival Shashi Tharoor in the decision-making process?

These are internal polls and whosoever wins have to fight against the BJP and reactionary forces, against unemployment, inflation, falling rupee, GDP growth, our enemies are on the borders. These are the things we have to fight and among ourselves.

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