Interview: Mahesh Joshi

‘We will do better than the BJP’

Print edition : May 24, 2019

Mahesh Joshi Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Interview with Mahesh Joshi, Chief Whip of the Congress in the Rajasthan Assembly.

THE office of the pradesh Congress committee in Jaipur has acquired a new look. There are air-conditioned cabins, and cut-outs of Rahul Gandhi can be seen everywhere. Despite having a wafer-thin majority in the State Assembly and an organisational structure that is battling faction fights, the Congress is confident of bettering its performance in the ongoing Lok Sabha election. It does not expect to win all the 25 seats like the BJP did in 2014 but is hopeful of securing at least a dozen seats. The outcome of the election will be a referendum of sorts on the leadership of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Frontline spoke to Mahesh Joshi, the party Chief Whip, on the Congress’ prospects. Excerpts from the interview:

The BJP’s nationalistic hype seems to be striking a chord with the people. How has the Congress been able to deal with this?

First, we are going to do much better than the BJP. People have understood what the surgical strike was all about. The biggest surgical strike was after all by the Congress in 1971. Yet, Indira Gandhi did not use that for her election campaign. She used “Garibi Hatao”. The difference between the Congress and the BJP is that the Congress does not politicise the armed forces. The BJP is openly doing that. How are we different from Pakistan where the Army is a central figure in the polity? In India, the Army has always been kept independent and insulated from politics. We never used terms such as “Indira Gandhi ki sena or Manmohan ki sena”, whereas the BJP has used the term “Modiji ki sena”, which drew condemnation from its own rank and file. The BJP is subverting Indian democracy and wants India to be like Pakistan. This is the first election where the BJP is not talking about development.

Why do you think the electorate will favour your party? Farmers are angry that the Congress has not fulfilled the loan waiver promise.

Nowhere does our party manifesto for the State say that we will waive all kinds of farm loans. We said we will waive their debts and we have done that. We have implemented a pension scheme for those above 75 years of age and for people with disabilities. Under the Chief Minister’s Sambal scheme, we are already giving an unemployment allowance of Rs.3,000 a month for the youth and Rs.3,500 a month for eligible women and the disabled. We have also increased old-age pensions and our free medicine scheme has been extended to cover treatment of cancer and heart, lung and other diseases. We are also waiving the tariff for water consumed up to 15,000 litres a month in urban areas.

There is no pro-incumbency then?

Ours is a new government. We are just four months old. The code of conduct came in soon after we settled in government. I agree that our mandate in the Assembly elections was below expectations. But with the Congress president’s new avatar, we have been energised. The response to “NYAY” is encouraging. People are not fools. They understand that the BJP is asking for votes in the name of the surgical strike. We have much more to offer. Today, we are in power in the State. It was not the case in 2014. That is why we feel we will do better.

Livestock owners and farmers continue to be harassed by cattle vigilantes, and the restrictions on the sale of livestock, including camels, outside the State imposed by the previous regime continue. The Congress does not seem to have done much in that regard.

No one will be allowed to take the law into their own hands. We will deal with all such cases of harassment and mob lynching, whether in the name of cattle, caste or honour. Mob rule will not be tolerated.

A few months ago, the actor Naseeruddin Shah had to call off his programme at the Ajmer Literary festival after right-wing elements created a ruckus over his views on mob violence. Should the Congress government not have ensured protection for the actor and sent a strong message that mob rule would not be tolerated?

I agree, freedom of expression is being throttled by such elements. We believe that every person has the right to freedom of expression. It is a necessary component of every civilised society. We will do everything to protect such freedoms.

Is the Congress united? There is a lot of talk about faction feuds.

No one asks whether the BJP is a divided house. We at least raise our hands in unison. Their leaders do not even do that.

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