‘Winds of change favour Congress’

Indian Overseas Congress chairman Sam Pitroda has been instrumental in managing the grand old party’s affairs outside India.

‘Winds of change favour Congress’

Indian Overseas Congress chief Sam Pitroda (Photo: IANS/File)

Indian Overseas Congress chairman Sam Pitroda has been instrumental in managing the grand old party’s affairs outside India. During the previous Congress-led UPA regime at the Centre, he served as Advisor to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on public information infrastructure and innovation, with the rank of a Cabinet Minister. He had also served as Advisor to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In an interview with Santu Das of The Statesman, Pitroda talks about Congress’ prospects in the Lok Sabha election, political situation in the country and his latest book “The Idea of Democracy”, among other issues. Excerpts:

Q: Since the announcement of the Lok Sabha election, key leaders of the Congress have been reiterating that the fight this time is to save democracy and the Constitution.


A: Today, the country is divided based on the idea of India. It is not a question of who is right and who is wrong, but of what you believe in. So the positions are very hard on both sides. One side believes that we need a ‘Hindu nation’, that side to me is represented by a group of people who killed Mahatma Gandhi. They have a position based on their leader called Savarkar. The idea was that India belongs to Hindus and there is very little space for others, especially Muslims, and in the process, there is stress in the society. You cannot ignore Muslims. If there is stress in the society, there will be violence, lack of peace and this will ultimately affect our economy, employment, future, safety and security. There is another group which says our founding fathers fought the ‘British Raj’ not for ‘Hindu Rashtra’ but for a secular nation. Pakistan decided to create a nation based on religion, see what happened to them. We are a shining example of democracy in the world. We respect all languages, religions and customs. So, the fight is that if you want an India where everybody can live in peace, be prosperous and treated equally with respect and dignity, that’s the India we want. The BJP promised 2 lakh jobs a year, but did not create any because they are busy with other agendas.

Q: The BJP manifesto offers a slew of promises to woo voters. The party is confident of retaining power for the third time. Slogans of ‘400 paar’ are echoing in BJP rallies. What do you think?

A: They have access to media, they can say 400 or 500 paar. Why stop at 400? Just look at the promises they made last time. Do not worry about the promises being made today. First check the promises made in the past. Did you create jobs? No. Did you bring back black money? No. Did you mess up with demonetization and GST? Yes. If you feel that they will deliver on their promises, it is your vote, you have to decide. I do not think you can underestimate the intelligence of the Indian voters. They are smart and at the end of the day, they will ask the right questions.

Q: BJP and its allies have often accused the Congress of indulging in appeasement politics. Your take?

A: Just look at the track record. Who created IITs, IIMs, space programmes, agriculture research, white revolution, green revolution, telecom, and IT revolution? Is that appeasement politics? These people can say anything to anybody. The Prime Minister of a nation in public meetings accusing people is not decency.

Q: How do you see the performance of the current dispensation compared with that of the previous UPA government?

A: I worked for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Manmohan Singh. I worked with him for 10 years. I was very impressed with his way of doing things. He is very humble, simple, not “authoritarian’’, listens to everybody, low key. I would not prefer a leader who takes credit for everything and says it is happening only because of me. It is not a good leader, that is an “insecure” leader. I want a leader who gives credit to people and does not take away credit from them. I want a leader who carries everybody with him and not a small group of people. The UPA government did very well in its tenure except its last two years. Right to Information, MGNREGA, e-governance, AADHAR are all good examples.

Q: Rahul Gandhi carried out the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. Do you think the yatra will have an impact on the election?

A: Absolutely. We must first recognize that nobody in the long history of India has ever walked the way he walked, from south to north and, part bus yatra from east to west. Along with him, millions of people walked, he listened to them. I think this has transformed him. People realized that he is not what the media has been projecting. He is a decent human being, a leader and deserves a lot more. I think it has transformed him and his image, not only in India but all over. I think it will have an impact.

Q: The BJP often accuses Rahul Gandhi of maligning the country’s image whenever he visits abroad. Your comments?

A: I am always with him when he goes abroad. First thing is that nobody can hurt the image of India. India is too big. But, you can talk about the government. You can criticize the government. As an opposition leader, it is your job to criticize the government. If you criticize the government, do not take it as criticizing India. Who told you the Government of India is India ? You are just a government. It is the job of the opposition leader to point that out. Why are you so insecure? Do you have a guilt feeling? Why can’t you take it as fair criticism?

Q: The INDIA bloc is yet to declare its prime ministerial candidate. Do you think Rahul Gandhi would be a perfect pick?

A: First of all, we are going into a parliamentary election. We are not a presidential system. We should not announce Modi versus who, that is what they want. If the INDIA alliance has the majority, they will come together and collectively decide who should be the leader.

Q: What is the roadmap of the INDIA bloc to oust the BJP? How confident are you of it coming to power in 2024?

A: They are all working together. You have seen the manifesto of the Congress which clearly outlines the fact that if we come back to power, we will put democracy back on track. We will make sure that institutions are independent, autonomous, free and fair, including the Election Commission and judiciary. We will not misuse the ED, income tax and others. We will make sure that the media is free and fair and independent, and we will focus on employment. We will focus on improving the life of farmers. I think things have changed in the last few months. The “hawa” (wind) is changing very fast. Four months ago, it was very different, but today it is going to be very tough for the BJP. Not going to be a cakewalk. The more they tell about ‘400 paar’ that means they are insecure. People of India are waking up and realizing that the government has not delivered. People of India are realizing that the prime minister is not telling the truth. People are realizing that jobs have not been created. Q: How many seats do you expect for the INDIA alliance? A: I have no idea.

Q: Can you talk about your book ‘The Idea of Democracy’?

A: This year, there will be elections in 64 different countries which is unique. Most of these countries are having difficulty in democracy and have an “authoritarian” mindset. Worldwide, there is a crisis of democracy. The book is divided into two parts. Part one is about the history of democracy. Where did it come from and what does it mean to be a democratic nation? There is a chapter of democracy in India and elections are going on. It is the largest democracy in the world. There is also a chapter of democracy in the US.

Watch the full interview on YouTube