New Delhi: The Congress has dismissed reports that its election strategy is being centred around the challenge posed by Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP election campaign chief Narendra Modi. Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, the party's General Secretary Digvijaya Singh said that for the Congress, Modi was a non issue.
Here is the transcript of the Interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate and in a special interview with Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh.
Mr Digviajya Singh, let's start with the decision to create Telangana. On the 11th of December 2012, just eight months ago, the Minister of State for Home Affairs RPN Singh said to the Lok Sabha - the creation of any new state has wide ramifications and a direct bearing on the federal polity of our country. And then very importantly he added the Government of India moves in the matter only when there is a broad consensus in the parent state. That statement was made at least six times since 2009. Why then have you agreed to create Telangana when clearly when there is no broad consensus in the parent state?
Digvijaya Singh: Let me come on record Karan, in the issue of creation of the state of Telangana widest possible consultations have taken place with all sections of political parties and among the state leaders.
Karan Thapar: But the majority of the state Assembly, and you can't deny this, is vehemently oppose to it.
Digvijaya Singh: If you see the 2009 resolution of the Assembly and the one before that, the two instances where the Assembly has resolved in favour of Telangana.
Karan Thapar: You know, you are talking about resolutions. In November 2012, 20 months ago, the Central government received a resolution from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, wanting the state to be divided into four, you completely ignored it. Yet you are moving ahead with Telangana knowing that the majority of the Assembly is not just opposed, the majority of your own MLAs and MPs are threatening to resign.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, again I'll like to remind you that twice the Andhra Pradesh Assembly has passed resolution to the effect. Of course Mr YSR Rajasekhara Reddy had put in the concerns which were there among the people, and yet they said if you address to the concerns mentioned in the resolution, we will be happy to support Telangana.
Karan Thapar: You know what people say, they say the real reasons why the Congress is pushing Telangana, despite the strong opposition within the state and within the state Assembly, in particular, is because you believe this is the best way of salvaging your electoral prospects. Now after creating Telangana, you hope you can win a majority of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in that state. Earlier, polls had predicted that you would have lost 26 out of 33 seats, you would have won in Andhra and you would have left with just 7. And that is the reason why you are salvaging your electoral prospects.
Digvijaya Singh: You are absolutely wrong Karan, this decision does not depend on any political expediency. In fact, we have been talking about Telangana, not in the recent past but this issue has been there since 1950s.
Karan Thapar: But you haven't moved since 1950, in fact the truth is even in 2009 when Mr Chidambaram on that cold winters night in December said that steps were going to be taken, he backed off within two weeks. And I come back again; you say there is no political expediency, in fact political expediency is the only reason why you kept open the possibility of merging Ananatapur and Karnool with Telangana. You believe that if you do that it would weaken Jagan Mohan Reddy, it will weaken Chandra Babu Naidu and it might cement Mr Owaisi. So, once again it is Congress's interests that are paramount, not the region, not India.
Digvijaya Singh: Have you seen the Sri Krishna Commission report, what you mentioned is one of the recommendation made by Sri Krishna Commission.
Karan Thapar: Except that the Sri Krishna Commission did not recommend the creation of Telangana at all. They came up with six options and this by no means they preferred at all.
Digvijaya Singh: Which included a separate state of Telangana with Hyderabad as capital.
Karan Thapar: But their preferred option was greater autonomy for Telangana within a united Andhra, you haven't gone down that road.
Digvijaya Singh: When Sri Krishna Commission report came in, Karan, they have offered six options, and these six options were considered and looking to the historical I would say...
Karan Thapar: Can I interrupt? When you say these options were considered, at no stage you actually discuss the Sri Krishna Commission report with any of the political parties, they have been demanding discussions. Your Home Minister has been promising discussion but has never done it. And one other thing they hold against you is that you never sat and discuss. So, what wide consultations happened before you jumped into to take this decision?
Digvijaya Singh: Karan this Sri Krishna Commission report has been in the public domain for last two and half years.
Karan Thapar: That is different than discussing it.
Digvijaya Singh: And these recommendation were available with all political parties.
Karan Thapar: That is still different than discussing it.
Digvijaya Singh:No, let me now finish. Even about few months back Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde when he had an all-party meeting, Sri Krishna Commission report was in the public domain and it was discussed.
Karan Thapar: It wasn't discussed. It was in the public domain, I don't deny that but discussed was certainly...
Digvijaya Singh: But no one stopped any one from discussing it.
Karan Thapar: You didn't initiate and start a discussion. The prerogative to do so was yours, not everyone else's.
Digvijaya Singh: It was not a discussion in Parliament, it was discussion among the political parties concerned with Andhra Pradesh.
Karan Thapar: You didn't even have an all-party meeting on the matter they have been asking for one year, you have been promising one is to happen.
Digvijaya Singh: Then what was the agenda for the all-party meeting. Basically the issue of Telangana was on the agenda of the all-party meeting and they discussed it.
Karan Thapar: Let's then come back, I actually don't believe that an affective discussion happened, but let's not quarrel on that. Let's come back to politics that lies behind the creation of Telanagana, your hope for salvaging electoral process in Telangana lie critically in your belief that Telangana Rashtirya Samiti (TRS) will merge with the Congress after the creation of the state. K Kavitha, Mr Chandra Rao's daughter speaking to our own sister program, The Last Word on Tuesday categorically said that is a distant possibility and no more. You haven't got much hope even of that element of your strategy working out.
Digvijaya Singh: But that was not the reason for the decision taken by the Congress party.
Karan Thapar: Oh, that is the only reason. You are going to quarrel with that but that is the real reason. You are salvaging your electoral prospectus.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan please believe me when I tell you this, the political expediency was not a reason for the division of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Karan Thapar: Mr Digvijaya Singh, I hardly expected you to turn and say that political expediency was the reason. You will be very candid politician, if you actually admit it; you have done it for the personal and political gain of your party rather than the good of the nation.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, you know Mr Digvijaya Singh for some time, and you can't blame him for this, for not being candid.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. From the point of view of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, the critical issue is the future of Hyderabad. What assurance can you give them that at the end of ten years, when it stops being joint capital, Hyderabad will be of entirely Telangana, and it won't suffer the fate, Chandigarh, which is promised to Punjab but ended up as a Union Territory and permanently divided between Haryana and Punjab?
Digvijaya Singh: If you see the resolution, it categorically promises to the state of Telanagan.
Karan Thapar: So, was Chandigarh promised to Punjab in 60s
Digvijaya Singh: And one second, And also we have put in the resolution that every effort would be made to have a new capital for the new state of Seemaandhra.
Karan Thapar: Let me ask you one question, during the ten years, when Hyderabad is joint capital, would it be considered the part of the territory of Telangana or would it be considered a Union Territory.
Digvijaya Singh: It will be a part of Telangana state.
<Karan Thapar: So it would be a part of Telangana state, even though it is a joint capital.
Digvijaya Singh: Yes we are looking at provisions, like we have in Delhi. The law and order is being handled by the Home Ministry directly and the Police Commissioner is directly responsible to the Lieutenant Governor. Some kind of formulation we are looking at.
Karan Thapar: In other words, it will be part of Telangana state, but the law and order within Hyderabad will not be with the government of Telangana.
Digvijaya Singh: How can we have a law and order with one state when it is a capital for two states.
Karan Thapar: But the important thing you are saying is and I am underlining it, that it would be considered the part of Telangana state even when it is a joint capital, it will not be a Union Territory.
Digvijaya Singh: The resolution specifically mentions that Hyderabad will be the capital of the state Telangana.
Karan Thapar: But joint?
Digvijaya Singh: One second, and till the new capital comes into existence, it will remain as the joint capital.
Karan Thapar: But will it be a Union Territory or will it be a part of territory of Telangana.
Digvijaya Singh: Delhi is a state, it is not Union Territory.
Karan Thapar: So Hyderabad will be a state of its own.
Digvijaya Singh: No, what I am trying to say is that Telangana would be the state and Hyderabad would be the state capital and only within the physical boundaries of Hyderabad because of the law and order responsibilities, we may look at a possibility where the law and order will be responsibility of the Home Ministry, and the Governor.
Karan Thapar: Can I point out two quick things, first of all Delhi in fact is a Union Territory, it's not a state but leave that aside. The contortion you are going through to explain what will be the character of Hyderabad itself proves two things. One, the party hasn't properly and carefully thought it through and two, that you are aware that it is the tricky point not just for the people of Telangana, but in particular your relationship with the Telanagan Rashtriya Samiti. So I come back, will it be the part of territory of Telangana, even though it's a joint capital, or will it be a Union Territory. Because the thing is, if it's a part of territory of Telangana, but still the joint capital of Andhra, the Andhra's capital is in someone else's territory.
Digvijaya Singh: Please believe me, your question points to a political decision.
Karan Thapar: Yes, which has been taken.
Digvijaya Singh: Now, every decision in a democratic system has to be political but at the same time it is decision not taken for political expediency to help Congress party.
Karan Thapar: Can you answer this for me; I accept it as political decision. Can you accept that this is a decision that still has to be taken? You still haven't worked out what will the character of Hyderabad.
Digvijaya Singh: There are two things, different things, one is a political decision based on history, on the facts available.
Karan Thapar: That is still to be taken.
Digvijaya Singh: No that has been taken. Now, at the same time, we have taken to help the Congress party for political gains is not correct.
Karan Thapar: Leave, whether this has been taken to help gain the Congress party or not because it is an earlier discussion. I'm being specific; the decision about future of Hyderabad specifically is the one that has to be taken, because you know it's tricky. You know it's awkward.
Digvijaya Singh: Decision has been taken already.
Karan Thapar: It is been taken, it is as join capital but as a joint capital, what is its character going to be. Will it be a Union Territory or it will be part of territory of Telangana.
Digvijaya Singh: It will be part of territory of Telangana.
Karan Thapar: So the capital of Seemaandhra will be in the territory of another state.
Digvijaya Singh: Yes for next ten years.
Karan Thapar: That is the audacity we have to leave it.
Digvijaya Singh: No, that is a reality which we have to leave with and suitable amendments either to the Constitution or to the legal frame work will have to be worked out to ensure that.
Karan Thapar: A second problem, almost as difficult and awkward as the character of Hyderabad, is that decision to create Telangana has created and opened a pandora's box, maybe 12 on all of different demands for separate statehood. Now that the 'ginis' are out of the bottle, will you allow it to foster and create violence, or will you accept a need for another state through organisation, commission to sought this out. Both thoughtfully and comprehensively.
Digvijaya Singh: This has been in the consideration list of the Government of India since 2002, when Congress Working Committee had raised this issue with the then Home Minister of NDA government.
Karan Thapar: You are saying to me that the government had been considering for almost eleven years calling another State Reorganisation Committee.
Digvijaya Singh: Yes, this has been under consideration and I think, I don't know whether the Government of India would accept that or not.
Karan Thapar: Does your party believe it's a central, the Congress party.
Digvijaya Singh: The Congress party has passed a resolution in the working committee in 2002.
Karan Thapar: In favour of SRC.
Digvijaya Singh: Yes, which it has not withdrawn.
Karan Thapar: Which has not been withdrawn, so that remains the party's position.
Digvijaya Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: I must point out to you that in 'The Hindu' on the front page on Friday Home Minister Shinde has categorically said that there will be no second SRC. So his position and presumably it's the position of the government, is different to that of the Congress party.
Digvijaya Singh: See the Congress party has passed the resolution, now it is for the Government of India to decide one way or the other.
Karan Thapar: One last question before I change subjects, another problem you have created for yourself is that the vast majority of all your MPs and MLAs from coastal Andhra as well from Rayalseema are not just bitterly upset, they are deeply anguished and you know they are threatening to resign. By creating Telangana have you ended up a) undermining your own government in Hyderabad and b) critically weakening your government in Delhi.
Digvijaya Singh: We were fully aware of the consequences, yet we took a decision, and yet still you call it political expediency.
Karan Thapar: So, you were aware that you put at risk your government both in Hyderabad and in Delhi.
Digvijaya Singh: And still you blame us of political expediency.
Karan Thapar: In other words you literally put your face and neck willingly into the tiger's mouth. Knowing it can be snapped off.
Digvijaya Singh: Because historically, we had made commitments which were to be honoured. And we honoured the commitments.
Karan Thapar: So, it was the commitments you have made and honouring them was more important than the survival of your government.
Digvijaya Singh: See, that is political expediency which you always talk about. Which I have said it is not political expediency and which proves my point.
Karan Thapar: Alright it proves your point; one actually expects the arguments you have made. That you willingly and knowingly put you head into the tiger's mouth, knowing it could be snapped off. Mr Digvijaya Singh let's talk about the Congress elections strategy. At least two major polls published at the end of last month showed that the Congress would come in perhaps not more than 135 seats, which is not only 70 less than 2009, but it puts you second position behind the BJP. Do you any electoral strategy to tackle this problem?
Digvijaya Singh: Karan I don't accept these surveys, because the sample surveys are so small in the country of 1.2 billion people.
Karan Thapar: The CNN-IBN survey was over 19,000, the Times Now survey was over 13,000. Scientifically, those sizes of surveys are more than sufficient to give accurate results.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan I don't even look at them.
Karan Thapar: One of the issues raised by the polls was the question put to voters that what do you consider more importance - good governance or secularism. And the voters went for good governance, 53 per cent to 35 per cent. Now given that in terms of public perception, good governance is considered as the achilles heel of the UPA government. This is very bad news for you.
Digvijaya Singh: In a federal governance, it is the responsibility of the state governments to govern, to address the issues. Ninety per cent of the issues, which are in the state domain, is related to governance. As far as Government of India is concerned, you know, we make overall, overarched policy.
Tell me one policy made by the UPA government which is anti-people.
Karan Thapar: No, I'm not saying your policy is anti-people, good governance means efficient functioning, it means delivery on time, it means convincing people that you are able to carry out the mandates effectively. And that issue, the perception and this is why it's worrying, is that the UPA is a failure. So, when people say that good governance is more important than secularism. It is another way of saying we prefer Modi over the promise of Congress's secularism that is the reason why asked you.
Digvijaya Singh: See this is very simple, you have simplified to an extent which is totally of the mark. Governance in Gujarat, do you call it good governance?
Karan Thapar: Just a moment, it is not what I call that matters, it's what people perceive it.
Digvijaya Singh: Exactly, Karan that is what I'm saying. Let's have one Devils' Advocate on the issue of governance in Gujarat.
Karan Thapar: Let me pursue that, like this. The second critical question that is a problem for you, is that in both polls, the Times Now and CNN-IBN, whom do you considered your potential prime ministerial candidate, and in both polls, Modi was runaway favourite,
Digvijaya Singh: Exactly.
Karan Thapar: The only way you can counter his popularity is if Rahul Gandhi comes and becomes your Prime Minister. But is he prepared to bite the bullet?
Digvijaya Singh: We are not concerned with these polls, we are not concerned with Modi, we are not concerned with, we are not looking at...
Karan Thapar: That's a bit ostrich like, you don't want to see reality, you want to stick head into the ground.
Digvijaya Singh: That is not the reality. That may be a reality to Mr Karan Thapar, that may be a reality to CNN-IBN, that may be a reality to whatever channels you want to. But the fact remains, as far as the Congress party is concerned Modi is not an issue, it may be an issue to the BJP but we are not at all concerned with Modi.
Karan Thapar: But the fact that, and I quote, 19 per cent of people polled by CNN-IBN said that they preferred Modi as a Prime Minister and 38 per cent in the case of Times Now. And both of those were top figures in respective polls. That doesn't concern you? That doesn't worry you?
Digvijaya Singh: Not at all.
Karan Thapar: At all?
Digvijaya Singh: At all.
Karan Thapar: You have dismissed Modi out of hand
Digvijaya Singh: Modi is not an issue.
Karan Thapar: He is not an issue in the forthcoming challenge of the election?
Digvijaya Singh: Exactly!
Karan Thapar: Is that confidence, is that bravado or is that complacency
Digvijaya Singh: Confidence.
Karan Thapar: You really mean it?
Digvijaya Singh: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: In other words Modi plays no part in the Congress party electoral strategy for the next elections.
Digvijaya Singh: Not at all, zilch.
Karan Thapar: You literally mean zilch?
Digvijaya Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Mr Digvijaya Singh, people listening to this will turn and say I think Congress is supremely confidence or they have been supremely silly.
Digvijaya Singh: We have been going to the people on the strength of our ideology. We will be going to the people on the strength of our promises that we have made and which we have fulfilled. Why we have not been fulfilled is because the Opposition doesn't allow Parliament to function.
Karan Thapar: My last question and it is the same question I have put may times in part two, Modi is not a factor at all, zilch?
Digvijaya Singh: Absolutely yes.
Karan Thapar: And you stand by that
Digvijaya Singh: Absolutely yes.
Karan Thapar: You won't withdraw that?
Digvijaya Singh: Absolutely, have I ever withdrawn my statement.
Karan Thapar: You won't say you were misunderstood?
Digvijaya Singh: Have I ever said that Karan, give me that credit.
Karan Thapar: I do indeed totally and 100 per cent. Which is why on that note of confidence I end by saying Modi is a zilch factor for you.
Digvijaya Singh: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Thank you very much indeed.
Digvijaya Singh: Thank you Karan.