Congress leader Bhanwar Lal Sharma, a six-time MLA from Rajasthan, was suspended from the party after he criticised party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, describing him as “MD of a team of jokers”. Outlook’s Abhijit Mazumdar spoke to him in New Delhi.
How many times did you meet Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi?
I tried seeking an appointment with Rahul five times, but each time I was told he was busy. I met Sonia Gandhi before the elections, and brought to her notice problems the Congress party faced in Rajasthan. She gave me assurances that she would look into the issues I had raised. But nothing was done to improve the situation.
Why do you blame Rahul Gandhi for the poll debacle?
Rahul had no strategy, no guidelines, no criteria for the elections, while the opposition worked to a plan. One day he would say something only to do exactly the opposite the next day. Sample this: He said no one would be allowed to change his parliamentary constituency. However, in Rajasthan alone, he allowed C.P. Joshi and N. Meena to change their constituencies. Rahul had said those who had lost Vidhan Sabha elections would not be given Lok Sabha tickets, but Pramod Jain and Uday Lal were allowed to contest despite their Vidhan Sabha debacle.
The minority community, too, was angry with Rahul. No minority was given ticket in Rajasthan; Mohd. Azharuddin was made to contest. Funnily, minorities refused to consider him as one of their own, leading to his defeat in the elections.
Rahul had a team working with him. Were they not responsible?
Rahul is surrounded by people who do not have a mass-base and are sycophants. For instance, Madhusudan Mistry is someone who cannot win an election on his own. Neither does he have a mass base, nor does he have self-respect. He is basically Rahul’s yes-man. People like him are close to Rahul and manipulate affairs in the party. Rahul nominated people like C.P. Joshi and Mohan Prakash, among other people, to look after election management. Rahul should take the blame, because those responsible for the poor showing of the Congress were handpicked by him. Rahul is not mature enough to handle delicate political situations. It is Ahmed Patel who calls the shots, advising Sonia Gandhi on critical matters issues.
What should the Congress do now?
It has been a huge loss for the Congress party. As part of damage control Rahul has started taking feedback from leaders. What’s the use of doing it now? He should have done it earlier to prevent such a humiliating loss for the Congress. The Congress party should focus on the states that will go to polls in the next few years.
Wasn’t anti-incumbency of Dr Manmohan Sigh an issue, too?
Dr Manmohan Singh was never in the picture. It was the Rahul coterie comprising Madhusudan Mistry, Ahmed Patel, among others, who were micromanaging affairs of the Congress. What added to the Congress woes were corruption scandals of senior leaders. Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra was also in the news for all the wrong reasons, damaging the Congress prospects further. Narendra Modi and the BJP cashed in on this simmering discontent.
Do you think there is democracy in the Congress party?
Absolutely not. Only a select group of yes-men take decisions and impose them on the rank and file of the party. I have raised my voice against this type of tyranny in the party. If real democracy has to be ushered in, them from the block to district level and, finally, in the AICC elections must be conducted in a fair manner, doing away with the earlier trend of manipulating electoral applications of candidates.
Sachin Pilot has endorsed your suspension. How are your relations with him?
I have worked with Sachin’s father Rajesh Pilot. But, let me make it clear that Sachin is into politics because of the dynasty factor. Rajesh Pilot’s untimely death had created sympathy among the people for Sachin. He is no one to endorse my suspension. After all he has been suspended, nay sacked, by the people in this election. He does not have the moral right to comment. While Sachin is backed by Rahul, I am backed by the people of Rajasthan.
What were the reasons for the fall of the Gehlot government in Rajasthan?
Gehlot was never a popular choice of the MLAs. Digvijay Singh and Gulam Nabi Azad were sent by the high command in 1998, and they imposed the Congress high command’s decision of favouring Ashok Gehlot on the MLAs. Digvijay and Azad later exploited Gehlot for personal gains. Gehlot has never enjoyed the confidence of a majority of Congress MLAs. His lifestyle and inaccessibility were sore points among Congress leaders in the state. He would not listen to any party worker, instead relying on a group of bureaucrats. He promoted friends and loyalists in the party. All this snowballed into a major elector defeat for the Congress.
Are you joining the BJP?
Not as of now.
Where do you go from here?
I will soon visit my Vidhan Sabha constituency and seek people’s opinion about my next move. Later, in July I will tour all the 33 zilas (districts) of Rajasthan and highlight issues that I hold close to my heart.
Has the BJP sent you feelers?
No. It has not. But after being in public life for almost 50 years, I have friends in every party. I also know Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje.
Are your family members in the Congress?
My wife is a block pradhan and son is a block president for the Congress party. My brother is a sarpanch owing allegiance to the Congress. As and when I move, they too will be with me in my future endeavours..
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Rahul should resign from politics altogether. For the next ten years, he just should read books, and travel the country, its length and breadth, understand its people. He sounds so unimpressive, very little substance, when he speaks. He is a functionally illiterate man.
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