NEW DELHI: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, talks about a range of issues, including her late entry into politics, the grand alliance in UP and elsewhere, Congress’ strategy to increase its footprint, and comparisons with Indira Gandhi. The BJP would have been reduced to “5-10 seats" if a grand alliance was formed in UP, she said in an interview. Edited excerpts:
You have been playing a key role in Amethi and Rae Bareli over the years, and workers have been asking you to play a bigger role for long. What prompted you to enter active politics now?
Now, it would be an act of cowardice to sit at home when democracy, the Constitution and all the institutions are under attack. I could not live with that.
As a general secretary of the Congress, you been given the responsibility of UP (East). But you have campaigned in Gujarat, Assam and Kerala, too. Now the elections are in the last leg, will you continue campaigning in other states as well?
I would, if the party wants me to. So far, I have limited myself to UP because there’s a lot of work and responsibilities, and since elections in East Uttar Pradesh are starting, all party workers want me to visit their constituencies and campaign for them. There’s a time constraint, but I’m trying to visit all the constituencies. And, if I get the time, I will surely go to other states as well.
Many in the party believe you joined politics very late. Prashant Kishor had talked about making you Congress’ UP face in the state elections. Don’t you think the situation would’ve been different today had you joined politics then?
Yes, I made a mistake. I agree that I had declined the offer when Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked me to take up the role of a party general secretary, or as UP Congress president. But people learn from experience. So, I learnt from that. And when the party chief asked me again, I took the decision. It was a mistake back then, but now I am ready to take the responsibility.
What are the possibilities for Congress in UP?
We are in a very strong position in many seats. Our candidates are good, the party is excited, and the workers are giving it their all. Usually, all the shortcomings in an organization can’t be worked upon in one go, but everybody is trying to put up a good fight together.
Are we talking with the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate for the next assembly elections?
I’m a general secretary of the party. I’ve joined to strengthen the party and don’t wish for any other role. So, how can I say that I will be the chief ministerial candidate in the forthcoming assembly polls?
Analysts believe that a strong Congress in UP will hurt the prospects of SP-BSP combine, and strengthen BJP instead.
No. That’s not correct. We are strongly fighting the elections. None of our candidates are affecting the prospects of the alliance. We have chosen candidates who are hurting the BJP.
People were expecting a grand alliance to counter the BJP. It seemed the Congress would lead it, but alliance talks have failed in Delhi, West Bengal and UP. Hasn’t it affected your chances?
If we (Congress, SP and BSP) would’ve fought the elections together in UP, possibly the BJP would’ve been reduced to 5-10 seats. That’s true of other states as well. Fighting together makes us stronger, but parties in every state have their own compulsions, and their state leadership has to answer their workers. So, whoever took whatever decision, they must have thought it through.
The Congress is losing ground in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand, where it is in alliance with regional parties. What is the party’s strategy to strengthen the organization at the grassroots ?
The party will have to fight state elections alone. We’ll need to strengthen the party from the block to the state level. We’ll have to promote loyal and dedicated workers. We’ll have to increase the representation of the underrepresented. Only then will the party be able to strengthen itself to fight alone in state elections.
Is Congress’ Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) a game changer?
NYAY could prove to be a game changer. The farmers, the poor, and the unemployed youth are in distress today. The government support system for these people, schemes for farmers, schemes such as MGNREGA, have been weakened. At a time like this, if someone can get a guaranteed income, it can help a family overcome poverty, they could at least make a start, and then hope for growth. That’s why NYAY will prove to be a game changer. The BJP deliberately campaigned to say that to fund NYAY, the middle-class will be burdened with taxes. This is absolutely wrong and I want to clarify that the middle-class will not be burdened with taxes. NYAY is extremely important to rectify the injustice to the poor, farmers, women and the youth, who have suffered in the last five years.
How is Congress countering BJP’s campaign on nationalism?
We are the ones talking about nationalism. In BJP’s nationalism the people have no significance. We are saying, listen to the people—listen to the farmers, soldiers, youth, labourers and women. They together make nationalism. We are listening to them and working for them. The BJP’s nationalism starts with Modi’s name and ends with his name. That’s why they have an insulting tone, like “Modi Ki Sena".
The BJP is accusing the Congress of speaking in Pakistan’s language. What’s your view?
BJP leaders talk about Pakistan during every speech. Congress leaders talk about India (Hindustan), India’s problems, problems of the youth, problems of farmers, problems of women, problems of the poor in all their speeches. That’s the answer to this question.
Are you worried about the investigations against your husband Robert Vadra?
People like to compare you with Indira Gandhi. Does it help in reaching out to the people or is it a challenge?
Both. It’s an honour that people see her in me, but it also increases my responsibilities.
This is an English translation of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s Hindi interview given to 'Hindustan'. Read the full interview