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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