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Rajmani Patel is a veteran Congressman who has seen three generations of Congress leadership. He is a well-established OBC leader currently in charge of the OBC wing of Congress in Madhya Pradesh. The two-time minister is now a Rajya Sabha member since 2018. He became MLA for the first time in 1972 and ever since never looked back.
Today, when the Congress is at crossroads and five of its leaders have left it in five months, he talked about what he feels about the present situation and what is being done to revive the grand old party.
In an interview with Anjali Bhatia and Gyaneshwar Dayal, Rajmani Patel talked at length about Congress and its current predicament, where the politics of the day is headed, and how the party could be revived. Excerpts:
Could you tell us how did you get into politics and your journey so far?
I come from a very humble background, a farmer’s family, and have always had a struggle in life. In 1972, I was given a ticket from Rewa because the then Congress CM DP Mishra wanted to give it to an OBC candidate. It has been a long journey where I got various responsibilities and tried to do justice to them. Right now I am a member Rajya sabha and Congress OBC wing in charge in Madhya Pradesh. I never forgot my roots and never used my post for personal gains.
How did you strike a chord with the people?
Well, some people change when they get a post or power, and some don’t. I, for one, never used my position for personal gains. I remembered all along what it is like to be a poor peasant. In those days, to get a document attested, we had to beg the officers. Just to sign a document, the officers would ask you to come again and again. When I was entitled to sign it, I would keep the seal with me in my pocket so that I could attest documents instantly. With time things have changed but our basic values remain the same, to serve people with humility never to make my post a source of my personal well-being, and to enjoy power.
You have seen the three generations of Congress. How has the party changed over the years? Why do you think the Congressmen are leaving the party?
Well, as I said earlier, it was ideology, now, it is personal gains that are paramount. Politics has changed beyond recognition. Congress believed in the politics of sacrifice and service, today it is all about personal gains, power, and money, so people see their interests first and take decisions accordingly.
What led to the alienation of the people from the Congress party?
Times change, and with it the perception of the people. They fall for propaganda and lies. We have always been a people-centric party and people have supported us all along.
When Congress was fighting for independence, the people who stood with it were ordinary peasants, workers, minorities, Dalits, and tribals. They were not capitalists or maharajas. So, it has always been a party of the people. Congress has always worked for the people who have built it through their sheer hard work. Our party made policies and plans to help them live a dignified life. We initiated dam projects to provide irrigation facilities. Our farmers worked hard. Today we are in a position to feed other nations while at one point in time we had to import the rejected wheat from the US. We have worked to give dignity to the people to ensure their rights are protected and they can earn and live their livelihood with respect and dignity. They are now being dished out sectarian agenda and led astray.
Don’t you think your party failed to reach out to the people and make them understand what Congress did for them? Besides, be it the use of social media or marketing techniques, the Congress seems to be lagging and is still conducting itself in an old fashion way?
One indeed has to take into account the changing realities of the time. It is not that Congress is not aware of it. However, it is always easier to convince people with lies and half-truths and that is what is being done. Truth takes time to sink in. We don’t believe in misleading people. We uphold the truth, sooner or later people are bound to understand the reality. Think of the national movement, it lasted for over a hundred years, people sacrificed their lives for independence and got it. Why because there was the strength of truth behind it. Sooner or later people by themselves can make out what is truth and what is not.
Why are then people leaving Congress?
As I said today, personal gains, power, and petty interests rule the people, the ideology and concern for the people and the country is the last thing on their mind. So, they move to the greener pastures. But yes if someone leaves us then we must contemplate the reasons for his departure. After all, Congress is a family and it hurts when someone leaves.
What is the party doing to stop party leaders and workers from crossing over?
Well, we worked with all honesty for the people and assumed that everything would be fine. We didn’t realise the consequences and are now realising that we need to connect with people and workers. In the Chintan Shivir, we have devised a plan to put ourselves back on track and speak up about what is going on in the country. And it is not the party worker who is switching the sides. He is still committed. His heart and soul is still with Congress, all we have to do is to galvanise him and give him the confidence to take the party to the people.
Coming to the religious issues, today there is a dispute about Gyanvaapi Mosque and other mosques in different parts of the country. Has Congress lingered on with these issues to appease the minorities?
This country belongs to Adivasis, then came in Huns, Shaks, Muslims, and British and all settled here. In the India Gate, maximum martyrs are from minorities. What is going on is not in the national interest and is detrimental to its unity and integrity. Don’t see it as the majority vs minority. They are all Indian and they have rights guaranteed by the constitution. Those who say they are Hinduvadis, where were they when it was time to give sacrifices.
A lot of propaganda is doing rounds on social media, but there is no rebuttal from Congress. Congress is silent even about false stories about Nehru. Why?
No, it is not like that. We do speak up against it from time to time. Our leaders have spoken about it on many occasions. But they indulge in the propaganda which goes on unabated. And it is practically impossible to counter every lie. They churn lies after lies.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor met your party leadership and gave a presentation running in hours. But nothing came of it. What was the reason? Was it the trust issue, or you don’t agree with his analysis.
Prashant Kishor is an agency that works for profits. He has his team and his company has its own profit motive behind it. They can give suggestions, but at the end of the day, it is the Congress worker and the party which has to implement the party policies. The party gave him a patient hearing and imbibed what he had to say. We are working on strategy and it would be evident soon.
For the first time, Congress used Hindi at the party conference in Udaipur. Do you agree that it would go a long way in building a worker base?
Yes indeed, we always wanted that the party work should be done in a language that workers and people understand. This is good thinking. Well, it is not that the party never thought about it, but at different times there are different priorities. I think it is the right time for this move. The Chinatan Shivir did help in creating a positive atmosphere.
Do you think if the BJP gets a majority in Rajya sabha, it would push for constitutional reforms to change the basic structure of the constitution?
The BJP wants to capture all institutions, PSUs, etc. and would like to see a few capitalists controlling everything. Barring agriculture, everything is given to them. So far, they had just left roti which they wanted to give to the capitalists through three farm laws. But it didn’t happen, so let’s hope they don’t succeed in doing it.
The prices are going over the roof. The people are jittery with hike in everything but still, there is no protest. The BJP is giving you issues on a platter but you don’t seem to take it. Why?
The people have been conditioned by deft marketing. When British wanted to sell tea, they gave it free. Similarly, now they are taking everything from the people, be it gas, vegetables, or edible oils, and helping their capitalist friends and just giving them Rs. 3,000. The people are happy for now, but the day they wake up it would be hard to stop them. We are taking it up and gradually people are also understanding their game plan.
How do you plan to revive Congress in MP? You are a senior OBC leader and the Congress has a good presence in the state?
Well, we have started a programme ‘chai chaupal charcha’ where our workers go to villages and engage with them. They discuss, ask what the BJP is doing for them then tell them the reality. It is getting a very good response.