Interview: Congress session will lead to changes – Sachin Pilot

January 16, 2014

After years in the shadows as a reluctant heir-apparent, Rahul Gandhi is set for his own tryst with destiny, to lead the ruling Congress party in elections due by May that it has only a slim chance of winning.

Reuters spoke to Sachin Pilot, the country’s corporate affairs minister, on the Congress party’s strategy for the 2014 election, Rahul Gandhi’s style of working and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

What is the Congress party doing wrong?
We have within ourselves perhaps far superior elements to take on conventional challenges today. But what we are not doing tremendously well is in the perception battle. Somehow, we have not been able to position ourselves as an alternative to most political forces operating today. What the Congress party needs to do now, I think what Rahul Gandhi wants to do, is to create an institutionalized mechanism for the party because this ad-hocism is not bearing fruit.

What does this institutionalized mechanism mean?
The idea is to empower the workers of the Congress party in ways that it doesn’t depend on individual dispensation. It becomes a structure, you are getting fresh ideas, fresh people and they are lured in not because of patronage from individuals but because the party offers that.

How would you be involved?
Every seat is different, every constituency is different. So yes, there will be some campaigning. Mr Modi feels that he can swing the eight states where the BJP has presence but don’t forget there are 14 states where BJP has no presence. So how many seats in parliament Mr Modi can get in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland Mizoram, Kashmir, I don’t know. The strike rate has to be 90 percent where they have presence.

The benefits of food security haven’t kicked in…
Now it’s part of the law, no matter who forms the government, everybody has to do it. If you look at what India was 10 years ago, the purchasing power capacity they had, the exposure they had … I mean the story is there to tell, but it has to be a credible voice to lead the campaign and which is what Mr (Rahul) Gandhi is going to do. He is the one who will lead us to polls, even Mrs Gandhi, of course.

Will Rahul be named as PM candidate?
I think you need to wait some more days to find out. I don’t have a sense, my sense is what the party president said — let the right time be here and we will name the party’s PM candidate.

Is there going to be a rejig before going into battle?
I don’t think it’s my job to second-guess what the party meant to. I don’t know what will happen but there are certain changes that Mr Gandhi has wanted to be made for a long time. They’ll come through.

Anything about Rahul that tells us about the man?
I think he lives with the larger picture. Do the job and judge by the accomplishments and that’s the way I think Mr Gandhi operates. I am not here to analyse all his moves, but whatever I have seen working with him, he is a hard, tough taskmaster, which is how it should be.

What about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)?
Hats off to our system. If the system was so bad as they claimed it was, what gave this success story that Mr Kejriwal has for all of us to see? Yes, there is a buzz they have created around about this new form of politics, and they are a political party like anybody else. We will fight them fair and square wherever they contest elections. But this whole thing of Congress party propping up Kejriwal to cut Modi and the counter matrix that people are playing up in the media, I think this is overanalysis.

Is there something for the Congress to learn from the AAP?
The Congress party is one of the most grounded parties. We’ve had leaders of tremendous rootedness. I don’t think we need lessons in humility, or in being more sober.

So will there be changes in your party?
Well, this is what (Rahul Gandhi) has said publicly. I think, the AICC session, prior or post, will lead to some changes in the government and the party and it’s no big deal, because people in the party have been in the government and vice versa for years together.

Will there be any big announcement?
I don’t think so.

(Editing by Aditya Kalra and Tony Tharakan; Follow Sanjeev on Twitter @sanjeevmiglani, Aditya @adityayk and Tony Tharakan @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)

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