Excerpts from an interview:
What do the poll results mean for the Congress?
At the national level, the division of the secular vote was largely responsible for our defeat. The BJP, with barely 20 per cent votes, got more seats than us though we had more than 30 per cent votes.
War the division of the secular vote the sole reason for your party's poor performance?
No. It was organisational inefficiency as well. We could not win back the confidence of our traditional supporters—Dalits and Muslims. We need to rebuild the organisation and win back our traditional support bank. But for that we need to strengthen the party.
And get a new leader as you suggested in the working committee meeting on June 14?
That was my suggestion in the party forum. I would not like to comment further on that.
While you suggest the Congress must get the Dalits and Muslims back in its fold, your party has been advocating a more indirect approach—get the Dalit support through an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party. Do you support this move?
We have always had a pro-Dalit policy. We have not really had a Dalit leader after Babu Jagjivan Ram. In such a void, we need to realise that this is the age of political alliances and go for it with the BSP. Even secular parties—the Samata Party and the Haryana Vikas Party—have joined hands with communal forces like the BJP. The BSP is a pro-Dalit party and I see no harm in the Congress aligning with it.
Regarding the alliance with the BSP, it seems you are already friendly with its legislators in Madhya Pradesh and are banking on their support. It is also reported that you have met party chief Kanshi Ram?
Yes I had a series of meetings with him. I kept the party high command fully informed on this.
Do you have any concrete ideas on how to reorganise the party?
Make it a democratic organisation. It must follow its constitution, hold regular elections. The rest will follow.
The Ayodhya incident is still fresh in the Muslim mind. How do you plan to redress their grievances?
Yes, we failed them. We need to win their confidence and it needs consistency and sincerity on our part.
The UF Government proposes to refer the Ayodhya issue to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2). Has the Congress formulated its response?
It supports this move. It would be binding on all sides.
What difference did the denial of tickets to scam-tainted ministers make in the electoral outcome in Madhya Pradesh?
We would have won at least five more seats in the state.
You think they will be back in the party?
I can't say anything at the moment. There will be a collective decision on this at the AICC meeting.
Are you for Rao quitting one post?
Yes. The Congress Working Committee had made an exception in Rao's case and had allowed him to be party president when he was the prime minister. Now that he is no longer the prime minister, the party should revert to its one-man-one-post norm.