Does the rise of AAP spell the death knell of the Congress, now reduced to zero seats in Delhi? Some party leaders have been lately speaking out about the rot within. Now senior leader Digvijaya Singh tells Sagarika Ghose that Rahul Gandhi's attempts to change the Congress are being blocked by the party 'establishment'
The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party is bad news for Congress. Many say AAP is the new Congress.
Aam Aadmi Party is a political movement by activists who were first promoted by the RSS. Then they went into politics. Even today they will never criticise the BJP for its policies. They are only talking of corruption. Corruption is an issue in society and government and in every political party. Every party is fighting its own battle against it. But if you ask Kejriwal what is your political ideology, they say we are against corruption. Who isn't?
But aren't they targeting the Congress vote?
They have to deliver. The Congress has to keep its left-of-centre, socialist, secular ideology strong when it competes with the regional parties of Lalu, Mulayam, JD(U) and AAP. I had warned Delhi Congress leaders that Kejriwal is targeting your core group, the slums, weaker sections, and you have to be careful. They were thinking he would damage the BJP more than Congress. That was a wrong assumption.
So AAP is a fundamental threat to you?
It has to be seen how they perform and where they spend their resources. They could be a challenge to both BJP and Congress. I will be very happy if Kejriwal delivers on his promises. First he has to identify himself. What are the thrust areas of his development schemes? Whom does he represent in his governance? That will become obvious in the next one year.
But aren't they a fresher secular alternative?
I have a hunch that AAP is an overall part of the Congress-mukt-Bharat scheme of the RSS. I've believed this since 2010. We have to pin him down. Does Kejriwal believe in the 'Hindu rashtra'? Why does he not speak on conversions? Does he believe in socio-economic programmes for uplift of minorities? Why did he not visit the places where communal riots took place in Delhi? Has he ever spoken against the communal mindset of BJP? Give me one statement where he has spoken against conversions, 'Hindu rashtra' or taken an ideological line against RSS. All activists who leave AAP join BJP, not Congress. Because that's where their ideological moorings are.
But AAP says it does not want to fall into the secular blackmail trap of the Congress.
It's not a trap, it's a commitment. Congress has never compromised with communal Hindus or communal Muslims. We were fighting Hindu Mahasabha and RSS on one side and the Muslim League on the other. We would like to know from Arvind Kejriwal whether he believes in communal harmony. Will he protect minorities from persecution? Will he stand up when churches are being burnt? Why only speak against corruption? What are his replies to Anna Hazare's charges about funds collected through IAC? Why is he quiet on that? Unfortunately, the Congress has not been able to defend and define what we mean by secularism. That is a problem. Post 2014, we lost the war of perception. We could not communicate and counter the aggressive propaganda of the BJP and its communal allies.
Should Rahul learn from Kejriwal?
You will be surprised to know that Rahul Gandhi did want to run a Kejriwal-type campaign. Open the party up, allow people to come in, put a greater emphasis on mass contact, but unfortunately he was not allowed to give a new direction by the establishment. But he has to come forward, become Congress president, campaign aggressively throughout, not just at election time. He has to be seen more, heard more. Why should people vote for Congress and Rahul Gandhi if they don't know what he stands for? He must be on Twitter and Facebook; social media is a reality you can't ignore.
So, there's a clash between the old and the young in the Congress?
People call me his mentor and adviser but Rahul doesn't need anyone. He is politically conscious and has a political mind, but since his mother has not been well, he does not want to impose his will on her because it will bring him into confrontation with her. But we have to change, we must change. Rahul is prepared to change, but maybe others are not.
Is the Congress getting squeezed with Modi taking away the middle-class Hindus and Kejriwal the lower-income vote?
Yes.Whenever there's an option of a third secular formation, that is a challenge. A coalition of the poor or a secular front is a challenge for us. We do have to re-set; every party has to press the re-set button periodically. It has been a failure of the Congress that we have not been able to build up regional leaderships.
As for Modi, his greatest strength is that he is doing the packaging and event management for all the schemes started by UPA. Inclusive banking was started by us, spelt out in Dr Manmohan Singh's 2011-2012 speeches. Modi has only renamed it Jan Dhan Yojana, claiming 11 crore accounts have been opened, but these accounts have always been there. Swachh Bharat is nothing but UPA's Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. In fact the budget still provides for it as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.
So the future for the Congress is … ?
We have to aggressively market ourselves as what we are — a left-of-centre, secular, socialist party. That's the future of the Congress, that's been the political space of the Congress from the very beginning. We cannot renege on that because if we do we will lose our identity. The rightwing space does not belong to us. And we must make attempts to build regional leaderships.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.