Fresh from the Karnataka battle where he insists his party would get a “clear majority”, senior Congress leader and a core member of the party’s thinktank Jairam Ramesh says the Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan bypoll defeats have put the BJP on the defensive. In an interview to Sreeparna Chakrabarty, the Rajya Sabha MP says no matter what the situation is after 2019 general elections, the Congress will not repeat the mistake of providing outside support to any formation. He insists no government can be formed without the support of the Congress
How do you assess the current national political situation?
After the poor performance and subsequent defeat in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh bypolls, and by their own stated standards in Gujarat and the expected defeat in Karnataka, I think the BJP is certainly on the defensive. The economy too is not turning around, the ill effects of demonetisation and the hasty implementation of GST are there for everyone to see. Overall, I think there is a sense of disappointment and disenchantment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brand of governance. I think if the Opposition parties unite like they have started doing in Uttar Pradesh, the 2019 elections will see a repeat of 2004.
There is talk of a federal front being formed. What is your opinion on it?
No government can be formed at the Centre either without the BJP or the Congress. In 1996, there was a khichdi (government) as the Congress gave outside support. I don’t think the Congress is ever going to repeat that mistake. We lost on both occasions we did so, in 1996 and again in 2004. Had the CPI(M) been inside, it would have been better for us in 2004.
In reality, the country has only two options — a coalition either with the Congress or the BJP as the main party. These are the only two national parties. The Left, which was a national political force, has unfortunately withered away but I still consider it as a national force. I don’t consider Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party or Telangana Rashtra Samithi as national parties. They are strong regional parties.
What if they (regional parties) all come together?
They still will not be able to form the government. No front can form a government without the Congress as it will still be the single largest non-BJP party. The TMC cannot win seats outside West Bengal and TRS cannot win outside Telangana. The Congress has to be the single largest party in case a front is formed. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao can do a lot of positioning.
What about Mayawati?
It all depends on the numbers. But at the national level, the Congress will perform better than the Bahujan Samaj Party. In 2019, the fight for the single largest party will be between the BJP and the Congress. Neither of these two parties is likely to get 272 seats (the majority mark). So, it will be a question of who can get the support to reach the magical figure. Different regional parties have their own compulsions but they have to make up their mind.
In 1996, the unusual situation of H.D. Deve Gowda becoming the Prime Minister with 20 MPs came up as the Congress did not want to participate in the government. I don’t think that should happen now. If you want to support, then be a part (of the government). Outside support is not responsible way of functioning.
What about the Left parties?
In Karnataka, in one constituency, the CPI is supporting the Congress candidate. We may not even have a formal pre-poll alliance with some parties but we can have an understanding.
Will Karnataka poll results set the agenda for 2019?
Not necessarily. There is Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Karnataka is an important state where Mr Amit Shah and Mr Narendra Modi have invested a lot of their time and effort. But we will get a clear majority. A clear majority is a number which is convincingly more than 113.
In case, the Congress doesn’t get a majority, the JD(S) will play spoilsport. What if there is a hung Assembly and JD(S) insists on a government without Siddaramaiah?
We will come to it then but I don’t think that situation will arise. The JD(S) is a powerful regional formation. But on the strength of chief minister Siddaramaiah, we will get a clear majority. The JD(S) did support the BJP in 2004 but I don’t think it will happen again.
Will 2019 be more than a Rahul versus Modi fight? The BJP seems to be attacking him more now…
Rahul Gandhi is the Congress president. The BJP follows the politics of abuse — personalised abuse. This is just a dress rehearsal of what is going to happen. People are disappointed and disenchanted with the Prime Minister as also with the language he uses. He has demeaned himself by falsification of history.
How much will the dalit factor affect the polls?
It is an important factor. The way this issue is being handled in different BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, the controversy over the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/STs Act and the statement made by RSS on reservation has lead to a lot of disquiet among the dalit community. There is a sense of bitterness and anguish.