Speaking exclusively to NDTV, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, in his first TV interview this election season, said that his party's focus is on "jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs - and the economy." Speaking to NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain at a rally in Rajasthan, Mr Gandhi spoke about why he believes the Rafale fighter jet deal is corrupt, his controversial decision to field candidates all across those of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav's alliance all across Uttar Pradesh, and whether he really stands a shot at being the opposition's candidate for Prime Minister.
Here is the transcript of the Rahul Gandhi interview:
Sreenivasan Jain: At this point we are in the sort of final stage of elections, where do you see things poised?
Rahul Gandhi: Well here what is pretty clear is we are winning the elections. We are doing better, if you look at all the numbers coming from the first 4 phases, BJP is not winning the elections. That is pretty clear. It is clear as that. At least our data for 4 stages is showing that Mr Narendra Modi and the BJP are not coming.
Sreenivasan Jain: The reason why I asked you that is, some theory, some speculation, as to whether you are fighting this election to win or have you given up on 2019 and your planning for the long term.
Rahul Gandhi: We are planning nothing for the long-term, we are winning the elections hands down. You'll see we are winning the elections. Positive.
Sreenivasan Jain: This is not a long-term strategy of building the Congress party.
Rahul Gandhi: Narendra Modi is not going to be the Prime Minister. Guaranteed.
Sreenivasan Jain: Alright.
Rahul Gandhi: There is an upsurge in India against the type of government being run in last 5 years. There is a reason for it, okay. The reason is massive unemployment, there is double combination of GST and notebandi (demonetisation), which has crippled the Indian economy, massive farmers' disenchantment and massive farmer suicides, and the economic miracle India was has just stumbled. There is a feeling in India, that this is just not working, that is sort of compounding.
Sreenivasan Jain: One of the reasons why though Rahul the question comes up about your chances of winnability or whether you are playing to win is some of the decisions you have taken. One of the decision was to field Priyanka in UP as a campaigner and the worry there being that it is actually dividing the opposition vote. It may be good for the Congress but it is actually helping the BJP.
Rahul Gandhi: Where you are getting your analysis from? It is pretty clear that in UP a secular formation is going to win, there are no questions about it. Whether it is BSP, SP, or Congress, a secular formation is winning.
Sreenivasan Jain: So the Congress is not dividing the opposition vote?
Rahul Gandhi: No. Congress, where we do not have a strong candidate, we are giving help to the SP or BSP. We are saying okay, we are going to harm the BJP, where we have solid candidates, we are fighting our space. I have told my sister and I have told Jyotir (Jyotiraditya Scindia) that look our primary aim in UP is to defeat the BJP. In the places where we are not going to win the elections, let's help the gathbandhan. And the gathbandhan and Congress party are going to clean UP up.
Sreenivasan Jain: But where you have strong candidate, you think there the votes are going to split....?
Rahul Gandhi: Where we have strong candidate, we think we are going to win. Where we think we are going to win, we will fight for our space. Where we feel that our candidate is not in the run, then we say we have the...
Sreenivasan Jain: Why is it then Rahul that you and Mayawati, the BSP keep attacking each other again. Mayawati, yesterday at a rally at Barabanki spent 10 minutes attacking the Congress saying don't vote for the Congress...
Rahul Gandhi: Well obviously in the UP context, Congress is a threat to Mayawati and Mulayam Singh. But as far as I am concerned, I am extremely respectful of Mayawati ji and Akhilesh Yadav ji. And I understand that there is a secular formation that is operating in the UP and it is going to crush the BJP.
Sreenivasan Jain: but you have taken pot shots at her saying that she and Akhilesh don't attack Narendra Modi... They are being controlled by the BJP...
Rahul Gandhi: Of course, I mean I have to construct my own space, the Congress space over there. But we are sort of helping them along, where we can.
Sreenivasan Jain: But Rahul it is still important to clarify because this is the rare chance we are getting to speak to you, why did that alliance fail, but from you're...
Rahul Gandhi: You have to ask the SP- BSP, they chose for strategic reasons, and they felt they don't have to ally with the Congress. But our primary job is to defeat the BJP and that is what we are working upon. Now my long-term position in UP is very clear and I have told Jyotir and my sister that we have to build the party in UP and that is assembly elections. And in the short-term here in Lok Sabha we have to fight for our space, we have to make sure our space is defended. We have to defend our ideology in UP and wherever we feel that there is fight between the gathbandhan and BJP, we are going to support the gathbandhan.
Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, but not just in Uttar Pradesh, other alliances like Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal upset, says that you are helping the BJP...
Rahul Gandhi: Let's get this right. Tamil Nadu we have an alliance, Maharashtra we have an alliance, Jharkhand we have an alliance, Bihar we have an alliance, J&K we have an alliance. What is this drama that Congress does not have an alliance? We had clear commitment with Mr Kejriwal, we were ready to do an alliance. He agreed to that alliance upfront and suddenly he brought Haryana and Punjab into the game. So that is not workable for us.
Sreenivasan Jain: if you don't mind my asking why not? I mean if the bigger goal is to...
Rahul Gandhi: The strategic reason is we have a party in Haryana. I have to take my party views in Haryana. I can't just... you know I have gone against my party view in Delhi, and I can understand that there was a possibility of winning 7 seats in Delhi. Kejriwal ji frankly, AAP didn't add much to us to in Haryana.
Sreenivasan Jain: So even if it meant forsaking the alliance in Delhi you still felt....
Rahul Gandhi: I was in a second ready to do an alliance in Delhi. My party was against it, but I was like, listen guys, I am going to override you guys, I think these seven seats are important and I am ready to that.
Sreenivasan Jain: But Haryana and Punjab was the problem you are saying, that you did not want to concede that.
Rahul Gandhi: The problem was Mr Kejriwal was shifting the goalposts.
Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, you know on Narendra Modi, you said that he is going to lose, to start off with this "chowkidar chor" slogan
Rahul Gandhi: I just say 'chowkidar'.
Sreenivasan Jain: You say 'chowkidar' and the crowd responds. But do you think Rahul... it is turning out to be effective given that he is riding this high of nationalism, Balakot, the surgical strike, now this entire Masood Azhar business has happened - do you think targeting him...
Rahul Gandhi: We do it in numbers and we do our polling. When we started, less than 20 per cent thought that Rafale was an issue. That there is some hanky-panky that took place in Rafale. Our numbers are showing that 67 per cent of people in India Today believed that Rafale was a scam. So it is pretty clear that Narendra Modi's issue of being a honest politician, fighting corruption that has been shattered.
Sreenivasan Jain: 67%?
Rahul Gandhi: Yes, that are our numbers. It is pretty clear that the idea that Mr Modi is a crusader against corruption has been destroyed and the Congress party has actually been responsible for bringing to the front the idea that the gentleman Narendra Modi is actually corrupt helping the corrupts.
Sreenivasan Jain: But Rahul, while it is working in the form of an election slogan, the BJP argues, where is the concrete proof of corruption, where is there proof that money has actually changed hands?
Rahul Gandhi: Over a 100 million euros paid to Anil Ambani by the French government on the taxes, two days after the Rafale contract has been signed. Land over here in Maharashtra where Anil Ambani was a couple of 100 crores, number one. Number two, Hindu newspaper, the defence ministry officials saying that the PM is negotiating the Rafale contract. Why is the PM negotiating the Rafale contract, why is the defence ministry official saying that the PM is negotiating, the exact words were parallel negotiation. Why is the PM of India doing parallel negotiation?
Sreenivasan Jain: The Prime Minister's office.
Rahul Gandhi: PMO means PM no? Or does it mean something else?
Sreenivasan Jain: But even if all that were to be true, Rahul, the point is still how does that establish corruption or quid pro quo, let's say that he was getting involved in a negotiation...
Rahul Gandhi: Let's do a JPC no? Let's do a JPC. Corruption would be established, has any inquiry taken place? Let us take an inquiry. I am saying and the rest of the country is saying that Mr Narendra Modi has given Mr Anil Ambani a contract, Anil Ambani has no basis to deliver the contract. He is 45,000 crore in debt, he was about to go to the jail, he is being kept out of the jail by his brother. What condition is he into to deliver such a contract? On what basis you have given this contract to this man? Then there is HAL which has being doing this since 70 years, there have built aircrafts, then why have you snatched the aircrafts contract from HAL. Why is the French President of all, saying that the Narendra Modi said that the contract must go to Anil Ambani? I mean why?
Sreenivasan Jain: Okay. When you make these allegations, you might have to roll back like previously with the Supreme Court. What happened?
Rahul Gandhi: There is no rollback taking place anywhere. I attributed something to the Supreme Court and that is where I have applied an apology. There is absolutely no apology to Mr Modi or anybody else. 'Chowkidar chor hai'.
Sreenivasan Jain: It is the attribution for which...
Rahul Gandhi: I made a mistake in a conversation like this in the heat of the moment. I made a mistake. Genuine mistake. Where I said the Supreme Court has said this... and that is not part of the Supreme Court process yet. So I put words in the mouth of the Supreme Court and frankly that... I was wrong so I apologised... but I am not apologising in the least for the slogan 'chowkidar chor hai'. And for saying that the prime minister has stolen money and given it to Anil Ambani. No way....
Sreenivasan Jain: Okay...but coming back to my original question.....that you are accusing somebody of corruption in a defence deal who at the moment as I said is projecting himself and his government who have actually been tough with Pakistan, terrorism...saying that Congress is wimping out. No surgical strikes happened...
Rahul Gandhi: I am talking to someone who came to power saying I will deliver you two crore jobs a year, I will give farmers right prices, I will give them karza maafi. I will give 15 lakh rupees in every bank account. He made promises. The prime minister cannot stand on a stage today and say any of those things. We have basically dismantled the Prime Minister of India. The PM cannot say I am not corrupt. I mean imagine the PM is calling himself and his whole cabinet chowkidars and the cabinet is saying to him sorry we cannot be a part of it. On their Twitter accounts, they are hesitating to put that thing. He is the thief why should we...
Sreenivasan Jain: They have all put it but...
Rahul Gandhi: Of course, he has forced them to put it, right? Initially it was like wait a minute, we are not thieves here. Mr (Manohar) Parrikar clearly said that I know nothing about this deal. The defence minister saying that he doesn't know anything about the biggest defence deal....he was sending a signal.
Sreenivasan Jain: Rahul you are saying Prime Minister is no longer able to talk about jobs and so on fair enough... But don't you believe that the narrative he is going to the people with is also working for him...? Whether it is to do with Pakistan, Balakot, surgical strikes...
Rahul Gandhi: No....we work off numbers. The primary issues in the Indian elections....jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, that is the issue...economy and jobs are the issues and that is what the elections are being fought on... It is a pity that the PM cannot talk about these issues. We have been efficient. I understand that he cannot talk about jobs, farmers, 15 lakhs... because we have been talking about giving 36,000 every year to crores of families. He is completely trapped. But the PM should have at least the capacity to tell the people what his vision for the country is. He should be able to stand on that stage and say listen here is how I will get you the millions of jobs that we need, how I will work on resolving the farmers' issues. On those things he is bankrupt. So as far as I can see there is not much coming back from the prime minister... He is in a mode of distraction and this election is not going to be based on distraction. India is not going to get distracted.
Sreenivasan Jain: Two more questions I wanted to ask you: One question was on Priyanka pulling out of Varanasi, why was that?
Rahul Gandhi: It was... it was a decision that we had made...I told you the decision has been made already and that was a decision made long before... Priyanka was not going to fight from Varanasi.
Sreenivasan Jain: That was always clear...
Rahul Gandhi: That was clear to me....
Sreenivasan Jain: Giving that impression...
Rahul Gandhi: I did not give any impression. I said I will hold you in suspense and that is what we did.
Sreenivasan Jain: And on being prime minister, you know some coalition leaders have endorsed you. Tejashwi has endorsed you, Stalin has endorsed you...
Rahul Gandhi: Look, listen it is like this....it is not my place to be making comments about what other wishes of the people of India... It is not my place, okay? The people of India will decide these things... When the people of India make these decisions, I would listen to whatever their decision is...
Sreenivasan Jain: Would you like to be?
Rahul Gandhi: It is up to the people of this country. No, no it is not my place to you know to say... I want to be a Prime Minister or I do not want to be the prime minister. It is a decision of the people of India and I respect the people of India. My philosophy is very different. I don't stand on a stage and say mere aane se pehle haathi so raha tha. I have 100 per cent faith in the wisdom of the people of this country. I believe in the wisdom of this country. Whatever the people choose I am subservient to that.
Sreenivasan Jain: If you had to identify one strong point and one weakness of Congress...?
Rahul Gandhi: We listen to people...when we built our manifesto we spoke to lakhs and lakhs of people...we have an open mind and we respect all different opinions....
Sreenivasan Jain: And weakness...?
Rahul Gandhi: Weakness is we can be very disorganised. Thank you.
Sreenivasan Jain: Rahul Gandhi... thank you very much.
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