Expounding on the various political permutations and combinations going into the Lok Sabha polls, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, in an exclusive to The Quint’s Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia, said the Congress will manage to edge past the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), given its stronger alliances.
Chidambaram said that the Congress has a robust data collection system and that their assessments had shown clearly that, at the end of four phases of polling, Congress and its allies are ahead of the BJP plus its allies.
“I don’t know the results of the fifth round yet, but at the end of the fourth phase, the Congress and its allies are clearly in the lead,” he said.
Clarifying that the assessment was internal – based on party workers – and not an exit poll, the former finance minister said: “Booth workers’ assessment post the elections are accurate and the data clearly shows that Congress is ahead.”On PM’s Rajiv Gandhi Remarks
Speaking on EC’s clean chit to PM Modi over his Rajiv Gandhi remarks, Chidambaram expressed his displeasure, saying “why must he drag a martyred PM’s name, who was killed 28 years ago, into the current debate.”
“What does Rajiv Gandhi have to do with the issues today?” he quipped. “It shows the extent of PM Modi, the BJP’s desperation and their fear of defeat.”
On the perception that there is ‘no alternative’ to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his tendency to turn the contest into a quasi-presidential one, Chidambaram said: “Who are these people, that claim there is no alternative? Are people of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Odisha, West Bengal not people of India? Are we considering only the Hindi heartland as India?”
On the BJP’s prospects in Odisha, North East and West Bengal, Chidambaram quipped that the saffron party was going to suffer the “biggest shock in these states”.
On being asked if he concedes that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party post the 2019 election, Chidambaram said that it won’t be relevant to the outcome.
“That I cannot say at this stage... but that’s not relevant. What is relevant are pre-poll and post-poll alliances... but the pre-poll alliances are very relevant as that is the law of the country as declared by the SC,” he said.
He then went on to give a break down of the ‘declared’ allies of both the parties.
“Our pre-poll alliances and the BJP’s are known to everybody. Congress’ pre-poll alliances include DMK, UDF in Kerala, NCP in Maharashtra, RJD in Bihar, JMM in Jharkhand and other small parties. Whereas, the BJP’s declared allies are the SAD in Punjab, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, JD(U) in Bihar and AGP in Assam,” Chidambaram said.‘Congress’ Alliances Enough to Edge Past BJP’
“So, if we go by the declared alliances, our alliances will be ahead of the BJP’s,” he added.
Responding to the various equations that can emerge post the results, and the legality of calling the stronger pre-poll alliance to form the government over a stronger post-poll one, the former finance minister said that it is all just speculation at this point.
“As per the law, as we have seen in the Goa Assembly elections, even a post-poll alliance has to be taken into account,” he said.
On the perception of the BJP in the media, Chidambaram said that the English media is biased towards the ruling dispensation to some extent but its impact is very minimal.
“Take the case of the election manifestos. Is anybody discussing the BJP manifesto? Or the CPM’s manifesto? No, but the Congress’ manifesto has featured heavily in all publications, be it English or regional,” he said.
On BJP’s prospects in north India, the Congress leader said: “In Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab, the BJP is bound to lose seats as they cannot improve upon their tally there. Similarly, in the Hindi states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Haryana, they are also bound to lose given their high seat-tallies last time around. And in all these states, whatever they’ll lose, the Congress will gain.”
Realistic estimates point towards a loss of 60 seats in North Indian states other than UP and Bihar, Chidambaram said, “In these two states, the BJP could lose another 50 seats to the SP-BSP-RLD alliance.”
On being asked about the complex political equations in UP, and the limited impact of the Congress in the state, Chidambaram said that, “A state as big as UP, with 80 seats, cannot be ignored. Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that where we will direct all our efforts to seats where we can win in UP and help the Mahagathbandhan in the others.”Who Will be PM?
“We have made it very clear... all the non-BJP parties will sit together and decide who will lead the country,” he said.
On the possibility of seeing a non-BJP, non-Congress PM, he replied saying, “I don’t know... each party’s workers want that their leader becomes PM. But it’s for the leaders to decide.”
On the Opposition’s claims of EVM hacking and VVPAT manipulation, the senior Congress leader said that there are real issues.
“There is a lingering suspicion, among politicians and political workers cutting across party lines, that the EVMs are not fool-proof. But, more importantly, if the people of India fear that there is some manipulation, we must respond to that fear, even if it is irrational,” he added.