Makar Sankranti is alive with myriad kites dancing in the clear blue skies in Jaipur. It’s a big festival and we seem to be the only visitors in the elegantly laid down chief minister’s office. Bang on time, Ashok Gehlot walks in, for the third time in his career to these offices, with a marked spring in his steps. He is an old-world politician, warm and unassuming, enquiring after our well-being and insisting we all have sweets with him. Gehlot says he will not let another lynching take place in his state, Rahul Gandhi has never used his family to win votes and that Narendra Modi has lost his chance to come to power again. Excerpts from an interview with Satish Padmanabhan:
Compared to the mood of the people during campaigning, is the final result a disappointment?
There were some shortcomings in the ticket distribution. This gave a jolt to the mood prevailing at that time. But Rahul Gandhi had set an agenda for jobs for the youth and helping the farmer right from the Gujarat polls to these elections. If not for that, we would have got even less seats.
You were in charge of Gujarat where Congress performed well. As a senior party leader, won’t it be better that you were in Delhi, to strategise and plan before the 2019 elections?
Whatever the party high command decides for anybody should be acceptable to all. No leader should ask for any post. This is not the time to demand any post. This was a perception created by the media.
The perception was that there was a race for the CM’s post.
It was totally created by the media. There are three things which decide the chief minister: whom the people want, the party workers want and the MLAs want.
Also, that there was a rift between you and Sachin Pilot.
It was splashed unnecessarily by people who didn’t know the ground realities. They said there was a big fight between us. There was no such thing. Neither of us has said a word against each other. Whoever declares himself the CM never becomes the CM. I have never asked the party leadership for any post in my life. I have never asked to be made the PCC president, cabinet minister or chief minister. Only once in 1977 I asked Indira Gandhi for a ticket to contest elections and that I lost.
There were reports of differences between the two of you even in portfolio distribution.
Again, a media created thing. In reality, there was no discussion about portfolios at all. I only discussed it with Rahul Gandhi. Neither was Sachin Pilot there, nor was there any argument between us. The fight was going only in the media. They were going on flashing on TV that now Gehlot has gone in, now Pilot has gone in. Actually, there was no discussion at all, as Sachin Pilot was not even there.
What is your view on giving more responsibility to the younger generation?
I am all for it. All of us got our opportunity when we were young. I was a central minister at 29. But young doesn’t mean everything should happen too early. I became CM 14 years after being selected the state party president. I was thrice the state party president before I became CM. There is a process of getting ahead. In our generation, people who became MPs in their 30s, became central ministers or chief ministers or members of the AICC in their 60s. But yes, the younger generation must come forward. Rahul Gandhi has a very aggressive view on this.
The other two states where the Congress has recently won, especially Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh, have embarked upon a de-saffronisation drive. Would you also be doing it?
This needs to be done in the whole country. There is a fascist mindset government at the Centre. Those ruling now don’t believe in democracy, they only put on a mask of democracy. Only two people, Modiji and Amit Shahji are ruling this country. Does this bode well for a democracy? The whole country is concerned, there is fear, there is suspicion, there is hatred, people are being lynched. People are afraid to use mobile phones, they tell you to message in WhatsApp. Does this happen in any other democracy?
So you would also be changing heads of institutions, those who are political appointees….
All institutions are being shattered. They have destroyed the CBI. We Indians used to hold the CBI in high regards. So, yes, we have just come to power, we will take an overview of how institutions are run and take decisions which will be in the interest of Rajasthan.
Your education minister has said he will restore the syllabus which was changed by the previous government.
Yes, we will change the history textbooks to what they were before.
Won’t this confuse the children, they learn one thing in one regime, another in the next?
Well, we have to place the truth in front of them. Those who change history, tweak it, have never been able to make history.
They say the Congress has tweaked history too.
Congressmen haven’t written history. They have been written long ago. Those who can demean Pandit Nehru on social media, who is acclaimed by the whole world, who laid the foundation for a democratic India, are blaming us about changing history?
You spoke about lynching. Sadly, Rajasthan has seen many, right from Pehlu Khan. How would you stop it?
We have already told the chief secretary and the DG police that we will not tolerate it and will be dealt with very seriously. We will make sure that such an incident doesn’t happen again.
And you have also launched schemes for cow protection, adoption of stray cows….
That we have done before too. There are many stray cows on the roads, in the fields, which is worrying. Something has to be done about them. But we don’t do politics in the name of the cow. It is very easy to do politics in the name of religion.
Other parties are trying it too. The Congress is accused of peddling soft Hindutva.
No, we don’t believe in it. But yes, if there is a wrong perception among the public, it needs to be corrected. When Rahul Gandhi went to temples in Gujarat, everyone said we are heading towards soft Hindutva. That is not true. But if the perception has been created that Congress has become a party for Muslims, that needs to be corrected, because we are with every religion. If Rahul Gandhi is Hindu, or I am Hindu, and if I go to a temple, why should anyone be bothered? The Muslim minority understands this very well.
Yes, religion is a personal thing, but if a spectacle is made of someone going to a temple….
Who makes that spectacle? You make it, the media makes it.
But if Rahul Gandhi goes from one temple to another in Gujarat the media will certainly cover it….
Let them cover it. That’s how a wrong perception will be broken. It is our responsibility to do that, to break something that is absolutely a false perception. The BJP and RSS were successful in creating this image. We have to spread the message that the Congress is for everyone.
Coming to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, what is your gut feeling?
It’s too early to say anything. But I can say this: the BJP had a great chance of coming back to power under Modiji. The people had reposed great trust in them for development, for jobs, in 2014. I can say they have lost that chance.