'Congress(I)'s stand has Regained Acceptance'

Interview with Salman Khurshid.

Salman Khurshid was appointed president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress(I) a year and a half ago specifically to rejuvenate the party which had been virtually wiped out in the State. As the State Congress(I) faces its first election unde r his leadership, the impression within the party and outside is that he has achieved a fair amount of success in his mission. Indications from the campaign theatre are that the Congress(I)'s position has improved vastly in recent times: it is no longer the defunct and lustreless organisation it was during the previous elections. In fact, some observers rate the Congress(I) as the most active and dynamic party in the State today, and for this, Salman Khurshid deserves credit. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan< /B> caught up with Khurshid first at his hometown of Farukhabad and later at Moradabad in the midst of his hectic campaigning. Excerpts from the interview:

It is widely acknowledged that the Congress(I) has revived itself in Uttar Pradesh in the past one year, but then there is also the view that the revival needs to be quantified. It is not difficult to revive an organisation that won no seat at all in the previous elections. How do you respond to these views?

I agree that the revival of the party needs to be quantified. But seats in Parliament and the Assembly are not the only criteria for this. The growth in party units, cadre and membership has all gone into it. That is what has made the party very active o n the campaign field. For me, however, the most important thing is that the party's viewpoint, the anti- communal, anti-casteist, secular and development-oriented agenda of the party, has once again found acceptance with the people of the State. More and more people are realising that true stability and good governance can be provided only by the Congress(I). This in itself is an achievement, for, in the two previous elections, this truly national agenda had got completely subsumed by communal and caste politics.

What has caused this change?

Obviously, the failure of caste and communal politics as represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party. Both the parties drew sustenance from each other and in the process vitiated the social atmosphere in the State. These parties use d the minorities and the backward classes as mere vote banks. All this is changing.

But even during the current campaign, the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party have accused the Congress(I) of having been the first to practise communal and caste politics. According to them it was the Congress(I) that first treated the minorities and t he backward classes as vote banks.

These arguments have no value in the present context as we see more and more people, including Dalits and minorities, freeing themselves from the clutches of these parties which have narrow political considerations. Even the upper castes have realised th at the kind of Hindutva politics practised by the BJP is detrimental to the larger interests of the country. I am not saying that the Congress(I) has committed no mistake in the past. But in spite of everything, it is clear that only the Congress(I) can tread a truly secular, centrist path and provide stable governance. These parties' arguments have also to be seen in the background of their activities. Look at the S.P. It is no secret that the S.P. leadership has a tacit understanding with the BJP in t his election. How else do you account for the fact that the BJP has fielded weak candidates in seats which are crucial for the S.P., such as Kannauj, Sambhal and Mainpuri, and the S.P's reciprocal action in some seats that are crucial for the BJP? As for the BSP, its record is not creditworthy: it has time and again joined hands with the BJP. Only the Congress(I) has steadfastly kept away from the communal forces.

Yet you tried to forge alliances with these parties...

SANDEEP SAXENA

We never wanted an alliance with the S.P. But we did try for an alliance with the BSP because we believe that this party, despite all its mistakes, can still play an important social role.

According to BJP leaders, all talk of the Congress(I)'s revival is baseless, and the most important issue that has influenced voters this time is whether to have a swadeshi or a videshi Prime Minister...

The BJP has been trying to rake up this issue for the last two years without much success. The elections will show what the people think of this frivolous piece of sloganeering.

Finally, what will the Congress(I)'s revival in U.P. mean in terms of the number of seats it will win?

I would not like to hazard a guess on this. Suffice it to say that the State Congress(I) will make a significant contribution to the formation of a national government.

A national government of the Congress(I) or that of a coalition? Wait and see.



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