‘If BJP wins in 2019, there would be no more elections, no more democracy’

Former chief minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan is known for speaking his mind. From taking potshot at the BJP party on dwindling economy and petrol price; Rahul Gandhi as potential leader to talks on pre-poll alliance to defeat Narendra Modi in 2019 polls, the Congress leader talked in length in a conversation with Manmohan Singh Naula

They say country is reeling through strange socio-political crisis… Your take on this

The country is going through a serious crisis. The economy is in doldrums, There is a grave agricultural crisis, no new jobs are being created, the thoughtless demonetisation and unplanned implementation of the GST, has caused a serious injury to the small traders and the daily wage earners. The high taxes on petrol and diesel and the resulting inflation has broken the backs of the middle classes. The rupee is depreciating, exports are falling and the trade gap is widening. The banking sector has been crushed by a huge rise in the NPAs and unprecedented scams.

The social tension between different religions is mounting. Dalits and minorities are beaten up and are even being lynched. Overall, there is a serious economic and the socio-political crisis in the country. The Government is clueless about how to get back to high economic growth, how to resolve the farm crisis, how to attract investment and how to create manufacturing jobs.

The finance minister is unwell and the inadequacy of talent in the government has now become clearly obvious. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised a corruption-free government and he had promised to get back the black money stashed in the tax havens abroad, but instead this has turned out to be the most corrupt government, — there is no transparency in the Rafale aircraft deal, the Bullet Train deal, the GSPC scam and HPCL disinvestment, and not a rupee of black money has been brought back. Crony capitalism is the guiding principle of this government. People have seen through the empty slogans and broken promises. They are not impressed by glamorous events and ad blitz any more. They are disillusioned. And that is reflected in the poor performance of the BJP in the recent by-elections to Gujarat and the Karnataka Assemblies, and also in the series of defeats in the Lok Sabha by-elections.

BJP dented Northeast which was once considered fiefdom of the Congress as well as the regional political outfits, reason?

BJP has won in the North Eastern states only using brute money power and misusing the office of the Governor. These are all very small states with very small assemblies. They generally like to be with the Central Government so that they can get large grants. This is not very surprising.

You have recently said that if the BJP once again acquired a majority in 2019, it would be the last election in India. Explain

I have often said that if BJP wins the 2019 Lok Sabha election that would be the last election in the country. BJP has now emerged as the largest party in the Rajya Sabha — they will get a full majority by 2020. So, they will be in a position to amend the Constitution in any way they like. BJP has always wanted to alter the Constitution. This will be their opportunity. If you see the style of functioning of the Prime Minister, he is autocratic. He has little respect for the institutions. There is no consultation with his ministerial colleagues or senior party leaders. Winning elections at any cost is the only objective. The Supreme Court has been marginalised, Election Commission has become a toothless body, Parliament is not allowed to function. There is a scant respect for Parliamentary conventions and democratic institutions. The Hindutva hardliners are not being checked. There is a serious danger to the democracy and the Constitution. If BJP wins in 2019, there would be no more elections, no more democracy.

You said that there would be no opposition without Congress. How many parties Congress could bring together to fight against the BJP? Is Congress powerful enough to quench their thirst for power?

Congress party has always been an important pole in the Indian politics. The only way to defeat the BJP would be for a broad alliance of all secular parties, led by the Congress Party. Because Congress Party is present in the large number of states. Without the Congress Party, other parties would not be able to create a momentum to give an effective fight to the BJP across the country. The choice of Prime Minister could be left to the outcome of the election.

According to your detractors, third front seems to be a distant reality. Your take…

Yes, the third front would be a non-starter. BJP government has to be opposed by a single alliance of all the secular, pro-constitution, pro-democracy parties. The real challenge would be in fielding a single candidate against the BJP in every single constituency. The Karnataka outcome and the subsequent events, particularly the role of the Governor showed how low the BJP can stoop. Kumaraswamy’s election as the Chief Minister and the subsequent opposition unity seen during his swearing-in ceremony has laid a solid foundation.

Ironically, wherever the presence of the third front is significant, Congress either remain at the periphery or non-existent as clearly witnessed in UP, Bihar, WB, Orissa, etc.

Again, I would reiterate that not a third front, but it has to be an opposition of all the secular democratic parties which will have to oppose the BJP. It is true that in many states, Congress is not a significant player, but Congress Party has a substantial presence in more states than any other single opposition party and in many states, there is no third Party.

Rahul is speaking of’ ‘resurgent Congress’, what would be your role in such ‘pro-active’ Congress?

Rahul Gandhi has now taken over as the Congress President. There is a renewed confidence in the Party, particularly after the Gujarat and the Karnataka elections and the series of defeats of the BJP in the series of Lok Sabha by-elections in all the seats held by BJP. People’s anger against the BJP is palpable. We will see that the BJP does not win the 2019 election. We are determined to see that BJP is defeated in Maharashtra. Whatever use the Party wants to make of people like us, we are prepared to serve the Party with the sole objective of taking the Congress ideology to preeminence.

How do you see the love-hate relationship between the BJP and Shiv Sena?

The BJP and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra have really ill-treated its principal ally, Shiv Sena, just as the Prime Minister has ill-treated the TDP, the Akali Dal and the Biju Janata Dal. Shiv Sena is really cutup with the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister. Shiv Sena continues to be in the government, however, it has clearly indicated that it will not fight the Lok Sabha election with the BJP. They will fight independently. Of course, the BJP has now become desperate to get back all the allies — Shiv Sena and the TDP and even smaller parties like Raju Shetty’s party. Also, the BJP will use all means at its disposal to make sure that the opposition parties do not come together. Let us not forget that in May 2014 Lok Sabha election, BJP polled only 31 per cent votes and its allies with 8 per cent votes making it a total of 39 per cent votes. That means 61 per cent voters voted to defeat Narendra Modi, but their votes were divided. After four years of ineffective rule and broken promises, Modi and the BJP are no longer as popular as they were in the last election. As the opposition unity now appears to be a reality, BJP’s defeat is a foregone conclusion.

Is the same applied to the NCP and the Congress?

NCP pulled down my government in Maharashtra, just before the 2014 Assembly election. And we paid a price. If we had continued our alliance, together we could certainly have won the election. It can be seen from the vote percentages. NCP and Congress together had a vote share of 35.2 per cent as against the BJP vote share of 27.8 per cent. We have learnt our lesson. We will surely form a prepoll alliance and defeat the BJP in Maharashtra.

Is the Congress President wily enough to outmanoeuvre BJP’s Amit Shah?

After taking over as the Congress President, Rahul Gandhi has demonstrated his leadership skills. The latest example is being the deft handling of the Karnataka situation. The Modi and Shah duo have used up all their tricks. They cannot fool all the people all the time.