Millennium Post

‘Federal front is an enduring mirage of Indian politics’

Which major achievement of the Congress would you want to highlight and focus on while going for the elections in 2014?
The first thing that needs to be understood is the elections, as we speak, are still nine to 10 months away. There are a large number of initiatives, which we have taken over the past nine years, initiatives, which we have attempted to mainstream through the glimpses of India story, like the ‘Bharat Nirman’, which we had implemented between 14 May and 4 June. The next phase of ‘Bharat Nirman’ or ‘India Story’ is under preparation. Therefore, hopefully, in the month of August, we would be in a position to unveil it. This, essentially, would not only showcase which all bills have been delivered, but, most importantly, this will be an attempt to articulate a vision for the future. For example, if you look at the transition from UPA-I to UPA-II, there were a number of things which were still incomplete; when we went to election in 2009, the Right to Education, the land acquisition architecture, even, to some extent, the food security proposal were being incubated in the NAC, though they were still under consideration. Now, a number of them have been fulfilled, but there still remain some challenges in the entitlement-based architecture, for example the Right to Shelter, the Right to clean drinking water; the basic building blocks of any civilised society. I think a lot have accomplished, a lot to which we can be humbly proud of, and obviously in a country, which needs to keep evolving and keep developing. Fundamentally, if I need to sum it up in one line, the real challenge of India over the next decade is to see as to how we can move from a low-income country to a middle-income country.

How are you going to deal with scam and corruption related issues, which the government is embroiled in?
I think, for the lack of a better word, we need to make a distinction between sense and sensationalism. If you take 2G as an example, the former CAG vitiated the public discourse completely by throwing in very sensational numbers. He compounded it by repeating and reiterating them. Eventually, it resulted in a judicial process and that resulted in an auction. What do you have at the end of the auction? You do not have Rupees 1, 76, 000 crores, which was a presumptive loss alleged by the former CAG. What you have is about 1900 odd crores, which have actually come as revenue into the government coffers with a commitment of another 7000- 8000 crores payable over the next 10 years. This, logically, rises the question as to whether the entire hype and hoopla, the efforts at sensationalism and personality building that a certain individual indulged in at the cost of the institution, was really worth it at the end of the day.

The buzz is that the Congress might want to go in for early elections. How far do you think is it true?
It is absolutely baseless. The government got a five-year mandate, and the five years run out in 2014, and, therefore, the elections would be in 2014.

There has been a lot of rearrangement happening among various political parties. There might be a possibility of a federal front. How are you going to deal with this issue?
I think the federal front or the third front or the fourth front is an enduring mirage of the Indian politics, and so it will remain in the years to come. The reality is there are two competing visions of India, there is an idea of India as represented by the Indian National Congress and there is a very sectarian vision of majoratarianism represented by the RSS and its umbilical organisations. If you go back to Partition, back to the independence of India, the idea of pluralistic India flourished. Whereas Pakistan’s theocratic idea floundered and the country has been since then going through various trials and tribulations. The reason why I use this analogy is because in a very perverse sense of the word, that failed idea is being sought and thrust over the country by the BJP. The kind of language that you heard recently from the Chief Minister of Gujarat, for the lack of a better word, is completely obnoxious for the simple reason that if he has done it deliberately it just shows the very basis of existence which he stands for. If he has done it inadvertently then I think it raises very serious concern about the basic competence of an individual to be able to avert misusing the public space. You don’t go around comparing the minorities of the country to puppies, and I would even not use the word dog because I think the mere thought that this could be an analogy is reflective of an utter sense of perversity.

What are your views on and also the future of alliance with regional party heads like Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati?
Politics is the art of the possible, we never asked anybody to believe in the UPA. We have different people with different political understandings, some have to part ways, some are coalescing back. So politics is a dynamic process, and I think everybody has to understand that the real polarisation or fault line is still secular-qua-communal: it is not about governance. People of this country deserve an optimal level of governance, now that creates the fundamental fault line or competing visions. It is not personalities or individuals in politics: it is about issues. With the TMC, the Congress had a fair alliance. The Trinamool Congress decided to part ways, and from that they have been on a fairly slippery slope. If you leave out certain international issues, the Congress and the Left have certain convergence of views. It not about the individuals, it is about the dynamics of politics. When we talk about alliances, then it depends upon the feedback from the state governments.

When we talk about Narendra Modi, BJP has recently appointed him as the head of their poll panel for the coming elections. More or less, he appears to be the face of BJP for the elections now. To what extent this affects the Congress?
It is really not about the chief minister of Gujarat personally, it is about what he represents. If you go with his track record and his personal utterances and statements, it worries you because the test of a democracy is not how you treat your majorities, it is how you treat your minorities. This is a yardstick, and the chief minister of Gujarat has been an abject failure at measuring up to it.

With the plunging of the rupee and economic crisis in the country, how will the Congress party handle the scenario?
Much has been said about the fluctuation of the rupee. The fact is post the announcement of the FED that they are going to withdraw the stimulus because the American economy is looking better, the dollar has risen against other currencies of the world, so there is obviously an implication for India. I think, as we go along and some our industrial numbers start looking better with the efforts the finance minister is making with regard to the current account deficit, you will find that the rupee will stabilise. When market forces interact and react, there is a natural equilibrium, which keeps on taking place. Ultimately, the bottomline is the fundamentals of the Indian economy continue to remain very strong.

If Congress does not emerge as the largest party, will you form a government with other political parties, and, if so, which ones?
I think that is completely hypothetical, so therefore the one thing, which you learn as a spokesperson, is never to answer hypothetical questions.

What are the major issues that the Congress is going to focus on at present before the electorate for the Lok Sabha elections?
If you look at the budget, notwithstanding that it might be the penultimate or the last budget before the next general elections, we focused on fiscal consolidations, because unlike those who professed to put India first, we actually did put India first. Therefore, the trajectory is clear, we will remain focused on economic growth and economic and fiscal consolidations, and on seeing that the economy comes back to its commanding heights which it occupied between 2004- 2008, and then again between 2010- 2011.

If Congress will not project Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate, then who would be the choice of PM candidate? Would it be Manmohan Singh once again?
You have two competing visions: there is a vision of extreme ambition, which you see in some of our very eminent opposition parties. Then you have a vision of sacrifice and renunciation, which you see in the Congress. I think when people have to make a judgment, they will make it based upon who’s there to serve and who’s there to self-serve, then that is going to be the inflexion point. I think Mr. Gandhi has made his point very clear regarding his ambition, he believes he is an instrument to serve the people of this country. So be it.

What about Manmohan Singh? Will he continue?
At this point of time Mr. Manmohan Singh is the Prime minister of India, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the UPA, and we have young leaders like Mr. Rahul Gandhi to energise the party. So we have a trinity, which believes that politics is an instrument of service to the nation rather than an instrument to serve or trying to serve the personal ambitions. I think this arrangement has worked well.

Overall, how would you rate the chances of UPA coming back to power in the Lok Sabha elections as well as Congress’ return in the four states?
I think over all you should believe in karma and you should do your duties and leave the rest to God. In democracy, God lies in the people.

Since you have taken over the I&B ministry, what are the major initiatives that you have introduced?
I think it is an interesting ministry. The entire paradigm and the entire landscape of information, coalition, aggregation and dissemination has undergone a complete transformation in the last five years, especially with the entire medium of both access and dissemination getting democratic. So, it has been a learning experience.

Have you in any way taken ahead the thought process of your predecessor Ambika Soni in the ministry? If so, then how?
I have always believed that a change in ministry does not mean a change in the basic policy direction. For example, when I took over the first phase of digitisation was on the course of being implemented. We held the course, we digitised for cities, we held the course in phase two; digitised 38 major cities. Now we are in phase three and four. But we have added certain new elements to it. The focus is on new media, we are trying to overhaul the Cinematograph Act, 1952, we have got a new committee which is looking into the various aspects of the functioning of Prasar Bharti, we are unfolding the entire Bharat Nirman campaign. In addition to that, there are various other initiatives with regard to putting the legal and statutory architecture in a proper shape, references with the TRAI on cost holding on ground-based channels, on whether public entities should be allowed to enter the broadcasting and print space. So, it has been an attempt from the last six months to see that we can streamline the I&B architecture.

What is the strategy of the Congress to bring about the food security bill?
I think the food security initiative or paradigm is an inherent commitment, which any civilised nation state must make to its people. It is a compact, which is underpinned by a very simple philosophy that says let’s try and create a country where no child goes to bed hungry. So I think we have put the architecture on place and now it is up to the state governments to see that the benefit of this goes to the last man and the last child.

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