Interview: Modi’s bubble will burst before 2014 elections – Kapil Sibal
By John Chalmers and Devidutta Tripathy
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Telecommunications and Law Minister Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress party leader, spoke to Reuters in an interview at his office in New Delhi. Here are edited excerpts:
What do you think of the impressive rise of Narendra Modi?
I don’t know about both the qualitative expression ‘impressive’ and the word ‘rise’. Because normally, the law of nature is that he who rises falls. And the quicker he rises, the quicker he falls. So, I don’t know how the laws of nature are going to work as far as Narendra Modi is concerned. I do believe that a lot of this, a lot of this, is hype and it’s based on a private army being employed by Narendra Modi to disturb the cyberspace in his favour. And we’ll see if he moves forward at all or not. Because at some time or the other, as you know all bubbles burst, that’s again the law of nature. This bubble too will burst.
Do you think it would burst before the elections?
Oh, I’m sure it will. Because bubbles can’t last this long.
Nevertheless, as the finance minister told us last week, he does seem to have a lot of traction with urban youth?
I don’t know what the finance minister said. Because I am not aware, so I cannot comment on it. All I can say is that again the traction is based mainly on misinformation. With a number of statements that this gentleman has made, which are far removed from the truth, is a record in itself. I have asked media people, I have asked the people of this country, I have asked thoughtful people, if they could tell me what the Gujarat model is and I have not yet got an answer and I’ve been asking this question for the last six months. And I wish you could answer that for me. Because I don’t know what the Gujarat model is. See, you can’t sell a product which you don’t have, right? He doesn’t have that product. Because when I look at Gujarat, the growth in Gujarat earlier to him was much higher. When I look at Gujarat, the social indexes in Gujarat are perhaps worse than many other parts of the country. He tom-toms about you know every home having electricity and the first state in India to give electricity to every home, this itself is a false claim. The first state in India to do that was Punjab. And he is No. 14 in the all-India list on energy supply. So, every claim, his statement that 20 percent of GDP of China is invested in education, I mean, I don’t anything can be far removed from truth. But the cyberspace is such that if you employ an army, and you contract an army, and you have enough money, and you sort of bombard cyberspace with misinformation, innocent people tend to buy it. But at some stage or the other, the truth always emerges.
About six months ago, the Congress party said they didn’t need to worry about Narendra Modi and wouldn’t need to make any comments about him. But now, we are hearing a lot of quite aggressive comments or quite critical comments …
Since you asked the question, I am duty bound to comment. If you wouldn’t ask the question, I wouldn’t have commented.
So you see him as a threat.
No, I don’t. I see him as just another contender like any other party.
Nevertheless, opinion polls show that the BJP is likely to get perhaps a small increase in the number of seats in the next elections and the Congress will lose significantly.
Well, opinion polls in 2004 showed that the BJP was getting 310 seats. The opinion in 2009 showed that BJP was far ahead of the Congress party. Where did these opinion polls take the BJP? … See, those who sort of become their own loudspeakers, they ultimately only hear themselves. And nobody else hears them.
Do you think that Rahul Gandhi will be the next prime minister?
That’s not for me to decide. The Congress party will take those decisions.
Would you personally like to see Rahul Gandhi …
These are party decisions. I do not make any personal comments on what the vice-president of the party will do or will not do. He is an exceptionally capable young man. He and the party will decide what is gonna happen.
What are your own ambitions? Would you like to see yourself in a more senior role after the next elections?
Again, I have no ambitions. I came into politics by accident. I may go out of politics by accident. I have no personal ambitions. I consider it a great privilege to have been given an opportunity to serve, through the Congress party, the people of India. I think that itself is a great reward. I have no personal ambitions in that regard.
So if the Congress party leads the next government, you would like to remain in …
See, there are so many imponderables here. Number one, I get a ticket. Number two, I fight an election. Number three, I win that election. Number four, the Congress party wins the next election. Number five, it then heads the government. And then number six, what that cabinet will be. I can’t predicate those six steps and start thinking about myself. I have to think about the Congress party and that’s what I am thinking about.
The Delhi elections are coming up. Obviously, you are a Delhi member of parliament yourself and so have something of a stake in this. What do you think of the Aam Aadmi Party and what the prospect is for them?
See, you must understand that any party that comes into the fray cannot be disregarded. Right? No matter what we think about any political party. There are independents who win an election. Do we give them credence at the time of election? But they do win an election. There are several factors that come into play when people win elections. So, it’s not as if we should brush aside the Aam Aadmi Party. But it is also not as if the Aam Aadmi Party is the future of Delhi. I mean, I do believe that the Congress party will form government. I do believe that Sheila Dikshit will be the chief minister for the fourth time. I do believe that BJP has no place in Delhi because what Sheila Dikshit has done and what the government of India has done, as far as Delhi is concerned, people can see the enormous change that has taken place. Delhi is truly becoming or moving towards a real modern city, a cosmopolitan city. And enormous changes in infrastructure and providing services have taken place in Delhi. And I think Sheila Dikshit will get the benefit of that.
Just to go back to Narendra Modi and your comments on him. Your main criticism is one, this is mostly hype, and the other one is that the Gujarat model doesn’t really exist. Are you also concerned about his past and what happened in 2002?
Deeply concerned. We are deeply concerned. That’s part I think of the Gujarat model. I am deeply concerned about what happened in 2002.
But he was in no way implicated in that.
Well, that’s not the issue. I mean the point is that in any reasonable jurisdiction all the matters that happened in 2002, all the incidents that took place — and they are horrific — would have been investigated and finished off in a couple of years. Those people who were targets in 2002 have waited for 11 years. And in many cases, even FIRs have not been lodged. In many cases, even trials have not started. I think that the system has been manipulated in Gujarat by the chief minister. And the fact that he has not allowed a Lokpal to be appointed for 11 years, maybe not 11, maybe a little less, is indicative of the mindset of the person who has aspirations to be something in India. And that worries me. That worries me not as a minister, not as government but it worries me as a citizen of this country. A citizen who believes that no matter how high you may be, accountability is at the heart of the system of justice. That system of justice has not moved forward with the speed with which we would have liked it to move. And there are several reasons for that, for which I will not like to make a public statement on.
In the next elections, what are the chances of the Congress party?
Yes, the Congress party will. There will be UPA III. I said so in 2004. Nobody believed me. I said there’ll be a UPA I. And I got it right. We said there’ll be a UPA II, we got it right. There will be a UPA III and we’ll get it right.
Are you open to taking on new allies such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD)?
It’s too early to start talking about these things. Let’s see what the nature of the outcome of the result of this election is and then we’ll decide what to do, what not to do. And take all the other decisions that are needed to be taken.
Will it be only after the elections that the Congress party will decide who the prime minister might be?
Well, the normal decision-making process in this regard is that the parliamentary party decides who the leader of the house is going to be and I think that parliamentary party will decide after the election.
So are you looking to contest from Delhi again?
Yes, definitely. Delhi, Chandni Chowk. Absolutely.
What do you have to say about India’s victory against Phailin?
This is a matter of great pride for me personally and I’ll tell you why. When I took over the ministry for science and technology, our weather systems were in shambles. Nobody believed in the IMD. Nothing was in digital mode. I changed all that. We got automatic rain gauges, automatic weather stations, Doppler radars. We set up an early warning system which is about the best in the world. And I committed that we would transform the technology in the IMD department. We collaborated with the French in that regard. Our high- computing devices with software programmes started empowering the IMD itself. And the result of all those decisions and the modernization of the IMD is the fact that we were able through the buoys in the Indian Ocean, actually give the first signals of what was likely to come with the onslaught of Cyclone Phailin. So I think that the modernization programme that I set in place with the enormous help of the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi actually has delivered for India. And I think this is the kind of decision-making that is required. Because we must think of the future and take decisions today in the light of what might happen day after tomorrow. We did that in the Met department …
(Click here to read Sibal’s comments on telecoms consolidation)