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‘There is anti-incumbency against the BJP’: C.P. Joshi

The former Speaker of Rajasthan State Assembly says the performance of BJP MPs is an issue which is agitating the voters.

Published : Apr 23, 2024 19:01 IST - 7 MINS READ

C.P. Joshi says there was no anti-incumbency against the Congress government during the Assembly election.

C.P. Joshi says there was no anti-incumbency against the Congress government during the Assembly election. | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

C.P. Joshi stands out among Congress leaders. He has served as Union Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, as well as Railways, Road Transport and Highways, in the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government. A five-time MLA, Joshi was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bhilwara in 2009. A former State Congress president and State Cabinet Minister, Joshi was the Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly at a time when internal dissensions threatened to tear the party apart and he had the unenviable task of keeping it together. In the December 2023 Assembly election, he lost from Nathdwara to his BJP rival. But, unlike several senior leaders who shied away from contesting the Lok Sabha election, he complied with his party’s decision to field him from Bhilwara, making him the only Congress veteran to contest from Rajasthan this time. Amid his hectic campaigning schedule in Bhilwara, where voting is on April 26, he spoke to Frontline about why he was confident of the Congress making significant gains in the State.

Excerpts:

How do you think the Congress and its alliance partners will fare in these elections?

I am not the party president and so am not aware of the decision taken at the Pradesh Congress Committee level about alliances, but as a member of the Congress I agree that alliances will have an impact on Rajasthan politics as well as national politics.

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What are the prospects for the Congress considering that the party was voted out of power not long ago.

In the Assembly election recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned vigorously for the BJP. Yet, the vote share difference between the Congress and the BJP was only 1.5 per cent. There was no anti-incumbency against the Congress government. Our vote percentage only got enhanced. As for the current elections, much depends on how the campaign unfolds.

You are among the rare lot of Congress leaders who agreed to contest the Lok Sabha election. What made you decide?

The Congress has given me this opportunity. I was an ordinary worker. The Congress gave me the opportunity to serve as a Minister of State, PCC chief, Central Minister, general secretary of the party, and Speaker of the Assembly. It is my moral duty to face the challenge at this juncture.

What is it about the Congress campaign that is resonating among the electorate?

For the last decade or so, the BJP has been at the helm of affairs at the Centre. In Rajasthan, BJP candidates were elected from all 25 seats in both 2014 and 2019. So, the performance of the BJP MPs in the State is an issue, and we feel there is effective anti-incumbency against the BJP. Performance is one issue that is agitating the voter at this moment.

Is the Congress organisationally prepared to bring the voter to the booth?

We just fought the Assembly election. The Congress worker is very much there at the booth level. To what extent is a particular candidate able to motivate workers is a question. But the worker at the grassroots level is very much present.

Many Congress leaders have left the party. Not long back, Sitaram Agarwal, who contested against Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Diya Kumari in the Assembly election, joined the BJP with a large contingent. Will the exodus of party members make a big difference?

There’s nothing new in this. In every election, a number of people change sides. Because the Congress is contesting effectively and rigorously, the BJP has started this campaign to say that a large number of people are deserting the party. This is to demoralise the Congress worker. In every election, a few people desert their parties. I think that some individuals who feel they don’t have electoral prospects are the ones changing sides.

The INDIA bloc seems to have gained momentum in Sikar and Nagaur, with the Congress backing CPI(M) and Rashtriya Loktantrik Party candidates, respectively. But the alliance with the Bharat Adivasi Party did not take off in some seats as planned. Do you think this could have been worked out?

In a tribal area, it is very difficult to retain the presence of the party without the party symbol. I don’t know the context in which the decision was taken. The BAP is contesting the Lok Sabha election for the first time. I do not know whether it is contesting on its own strength or the aspirations of tribal people. Previously they were part of the Bharat Tribal Party.

The BJP is pushing the Viksit Bharat plank and accusing the opposition of insulting Sanatana Dharma. Will this affect the electoral outcome here?

We have seen the impact of these issues in the last two elections. But the intensity of this kind of campaign will depend on how the BJP’s campaign unfolds around religion in the next few weeks.

The BJP calls the opposition a corrupt and opportunistic alliance. Your comments.

The BJP and its allies have been in power since 2014. For ten years they didn’t do anything. How many convictions were there prior to these elections? If you consider the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, it labels one as guilty and then the accused has to prove his/her innocence. Even before the charge-sheet is filed, a person can be jailed. The issue of corruption has to be addressed, but the provision to abuse the PMLA should not be there. Why is there a delay in publishing the charge sheet? People are kept behind bars for years without bail. If the charge sheet is not filed, no court can intervene. Let the charge sheet be filed. These issues have to be addressed at the highest level.

Why are these elections considered critical? Everyone seems to think so.

We opted for a parliamentary democracy knowing fully well that political parties will have different ideologies and propagate them to resolve people’s issues like unemployment or inflation. Political parties have to offer policies to resolve these issues. If parties get weak, it will affect parliamentary democracy. The dominance of an individual over the party will seriously erode parliamentary democracy. The candidates put up by the BJP do not refer to themselves as BJP candidates but as ‘candidates of Modiji’. Where is the BJP? In a parliamentary democracy, one would expect the BJP and its candidates to provide policies to resolve the issues of the people. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The BJP has been talking about instituting an inquiry into the “paper leak” case in recruitments. It was an issue in the Assembly election as well. The Congress had also enacted a stringent law to penalise people involved in such leaks.

Who is stopping them from taking action against the culprits? The paper leak issue is not confined to Rajasthan. It also doesn’t pertain only to the Ashok Gehlot government. It has happened in the past also and in other States as well. It is a national issue and something has to be done about it. I feel very concerned for young people.

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How is your own campaign going on in Bhilwara?

We are making efforts and getting a good response. The entire outcome will depend on the last leg of the campaign. We have solved the problem of drinking water in the constituency. Earlier, drinking water used to be supplied by trains in the summer months. A large number of women were affected. Now tap water is available at their residence. The credibility of the Congress has gone up because of this.

Is the party totally united as it takes on the BJP and its allies?

The party is totally united. Every leader and every worker is campaigning. When we fight unitedly, it is bound to have an impact on the worker at the ground level.

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