India’s endeavour to bolster its military might unfolds as a complex and nuanced narrative. The recent strides made by the Narendra Modi government in remaking India’s military apparatus reflect not only a response to the rising spectre of Chinese power but also an intricate weeding out of ghosts of the past.
Ajay Rai, a five-time MLA who challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi, is working to revive the Congress in Uttar Pradesh after taking over as the state party chief a few weeks ago.
Starting his political career with the BJP, Rai won in the Assembly polls twice on the lotus symbol. Later, he joined the Samajwadi Party and then moved to the Congress. In an interview with Manoj Bhadra, Rai explains how he is crisscrossing the state ahead of the Lok Sabha elections to strengthen the Congress and what the prospects of the grand old party are in the electoral battle.
Q. What is your priority as the state Congress president?
A: We are strengthening the party base at the ground level and the first and foremost thing is to set up booth committees in time for the Lok Sabha polls. We are expecting to announce the much-awaited state committee and revamp the cells for providing more teeth to the party in the elections. Preparations for the Lok Sabha elections have started in earnest.
Q. UP Congress has started a campaign to connect with Dalits and backwards. The Dalit campaign was launched earlier this month on the death anniversary of BSP founder Kanshi Ram. Will this campaign boost the prospects of Congress in the Lok Sabha polls?
A: In the past, the Dalits were always with the Congress. The party had always cared for the Dalits and even launched several schemes for their uplift. Now as the people of every community are facing problems due to the misrule of the BJP, we have launched this campaign to draw their attention to the fact that Congress is the only party which can give them their rights. The Dalit connect campaign will end on 22 November, Constitution Day.
Q. What kind of people are needed in the Congress set-up at a time when it has become weak on the organisational front after the exodus of several senior leaders?
A: People of every class will be seen in the organisational set-up. We will seek the cooperation of former officebearers, senior leaders and activate the youth in a big way. We will give preference to those who are continuously active in the political field. While giving a post to an individual, we will keep in mind whether the concerned person will be able to discharge the responsibility being entrusted to him. Those leaders who can fight for the interests of the people will be continuously pushed forward. Besides now a lot of old Congress leaders like Imran Masood and others are rejoining the party. Several senior leaders of other parties too would be joining the party in the coming days. You must have realised that the body language of the Congress workers and leaders has changed drastically in just one month of my leadership. This will continue and before the Lok Sabha polls, the entire party machinery will be in the action mode.
Q. How well-prepared is the Congress for the Lok Sabha elections?
A: The Congress is in a strong position in one-third of the seats though we are preparing for all the 80 Lok Sabha seats. The organisation is ready for most of the seats in Purvanchal. Wherever there are weaknesses, they are being resolved. As part of the preparations for the Lok Sabha polls, priority seats will be decided and a report sent to the leadership very soon. It is the job of the top leadership to decide on the seats and about the alliance under the INDIA platform. Our responsibility is to make the party ready to fight the elections and win the seats. We are working on it rigorously .
Q. SP President Akhilesh Yadav, who joined the INDIA alliance, said his party will have to have a big heart. How do you see it?
A: The heart of Congress is very big. This is the reason why regional parties are uniting under Congress all over the country. If we did not have a big heart, why would we run this campaign? As far as UP is concerned, SP will also have to show big heart here. Hearts meet only when there is love on both sides. We are showing love with a big heart. SP will also have to cooperate in making harmony so that there is no problem in uniting other parties.
Q. Earlier also, there was an alliance between Congress and SP, but the result was not healthy
A: Earlier, it was something else. Now the situation is different. I am sure that this time the campaign by INDIA will pay off and a government will be formed in Delhi under the leadership of the Congress. The alliance will get maximum seats in Uttar Pradesh too.
Q. Who all from the Gandhi family will contest the Lok Sabha elections?
A: The people of Uttar Pradesh have love for every member of the Gandhi family. The people of the state are ready to send Rahul Gandhi to the Lok Sabha from Amethi and Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli. The organisation too is completely ready. If they want to contest from another seat also, the organisation will work to send them to the Lok Sabha from the concerned seat. But the call has to be taken by them and not the state leadership.
Q. Will Priyanka Gandhi Vadra contest the election?
A: We want Priyanka to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Uttar Pradesh. But she will have to decide whether to contest or not and from where.
Q. You have contested twice against PM Modi from Varanasi. Will you do it for the third time in 2024?
A: I am a disciplined soldier of the Congress and will do whatever the party high command directs me to do.