‘50% Chintan Shivir delegates are below 40, it shows Sonia Gandhi’s mind on youth leadership’

On the eve of the Congress’s crucial three-day “Chintan Shivir”, which is getting underway in Rajasthan’s Udaipur Friday, the 44-year-old ex-deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, the former Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president, spoke to The Indian Express on a range of issues related to the party conclave and its roadmap for turnaround. Excerpts:

Despite the election debacles over the last few years, the Congress seems to be shackled in complacency. To what extent do you think the Chintan Shivir will undo that?

The fundamental reason why the Congress president has called a Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir is to make sure that the party can emerge as a viable political alternative in the minds of the country’s people based on our strategy, blueprint and messaging – all of that will be discussed thoroughly in the next three days.

And 400-plus delegates have been called from across the country to get feedback from ground on what is the requirement today, what is the way forward. I think a lot of people in India are expecting Chintan Shivir to give results in many ways. I do know that the objective behind doing all of this is that we are able to hear the views and go into Chintan Shivir with an open mind to discuss threadbare the political realities of the country…We want to give an alternative governance model so that the people know where the Congress stands on the issues that affect the common man.

The Prashant Kishor fiasco occurred recently, which led to Congress drawing claims that it is resisting changes. Your comments?

Every Congressperson wants the party to succeed electorally and I think 2024 is not too far away. So the next two years, whatever state elections we are facing, we want to make sure that we put our best foot forward. And wherever there’s a catch or there are things that need to be done, I think the leadership of the Congress is quite open-minded about discussing, debating, deliberating about what needs to be done. And internally also, whatever changes we require structurally, there’s a separate committee for it. So I think overall, when it concludes on Sunday, we will move forward with a new energy and new vigour to take on the political forces that challenge us.

And it is not just about the Congress. It is not just about us and what Congress needs to do. The reality and the (political) landscape of India is facing today, the Opposition parties have to come together. In 2019 too, two thirds of the voters voted against the NDA. So we have to come together and obviously there will be some give and take. I feel that the Shivir will be outcome-oriented.

What are the major changes that a party worker or supporter can expect from the Shivir?

We will have to wait for the deliberations to take shape and then, ultimately, on 15th the party will declare exactly what transpired and what we agreed upon. But the behind calling the Shivir and having six deliberate committees – for example, I am in the economics committee headed by P Chidambaram – is to have several rounds of discussion on various things that needs to be done and not only on what ails the country …this (Narendra Modi-led BJP) government promised Rs 20 lakh crore package during the lockdown. We don’t know where the money has gone. And they are now selling the family silver, whether it’s airlines, railways, etc.

So, these committees are formed basically to not only underline what’s going wrong but also what will be our alternative governance structure, how we will take things forward, what we propose. So, I think Congress is rightly positioned, it is the right time for us to be very clear about our communication, our messaging and what we stand for and how we want to take the country forward.

A section of party workers has been seeking more representation of youth in the party. So will this be addressed too?

If you look at the delegates invited for the Shivir, I think 430-odd people are coming, of which 50 per cent delegates are below the age of 40. Now that tells you what sort of a composition has been called, so there are senior leaders and young people from across the states.

So 50 per cent being under 40 tells you something…I think it shows the mindset behind the working of Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi (towards youth leadership). And young people have of course worked hard but there needs to be a balance with seniors. And India is a young country and the leadership roles will go into the hands of young people and I think it will be good for the party and country.

One of the Congress’s short-term goals is to retain its government in Rajasthan. Some within the state party wanted you to become the CM about two years ago, but that hasn’t happened.

It is not about an individual. We have worked as a team before. And there was a time in 2013 when the party was reduced to just 21 MLAs out of 200 in Rajasthan. But then we formed the government. And there is a tradition here for the last 30 years – five years for BJP and five for Congress. So we have to break that cycle and I think we are well-positioned to do that. And all of us have to work together to win second term in 2023. And I’m going to make sure the party wins everywhere. But, personally, Rajasthan is an area I am going to focus on, and we will do whatever needs to be done. And I am confident we will form a government in 2023.

Rajasthan has been witnessing a spate of communal incidents in recent days. Why?

These sort of violent incidents have been happening in various parts of the country, be it Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh or even my home state. It makes me very sad. What is more important for us? Is it more important to change names of roads, monuments, towns and railway stations, or is it more important to curb skyrocketing prices. Is it more important for us to have an acrimonious and vicious atmosphere or is it more important for us to have more jobs?

In every parameter, by the (central) government’s own acceptance, we have fallen behind, be it poverty, malnutrition, economic growth, job losses, wages – so these are the issues that are important for the common man. And the narrative in the media is this religion, that monument, this place of worship, which is not healthy for the society or the country. And whoever are the powers that are propagating such forces, I think they need to be put in check.

But people continue to vote for the BJP?

Just because BJP wins a few elections, it doesn’t mean all their sins are washed away. Farmers protested for a one-and-a-half years and died by suicide. Have they apologised to the farmers? The BJP is crushing farmers and young people and all sorts of curbs are being put…I think winning elections don’t give them a license to do whatever they want. I don’t subscribe to that theory.


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