Congress must first understand aspirations of party workers, citizens to defeat BJP: Kapil Sibal


Senior Opposition leaders converged at 8, Teen Murti Lane in New Delhi on Monday night. The purpose of their visit – a dinner hosted by the present occupant of the government bungalow, Congress leader Kapil Sibal.

This private dinner was attended by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, among others. Members of the Congress party’s G-23 faction, of which Kapil Sibal is a part, were also in attendance.

A day after this congregation of senior Opposition leaders, India Today TV Consulting Editor Rajdeep Sardesai caught up with Congress MP Kapil Sibal on the roadmap for 2024 and whether the Congress can act as a fulcrum for Opposition unity.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Are you trying to bring the Opposition together, minus the Gandhis?

A: This has nothing to do with the Gandhis at all. The people of this country are asking the question to us – fine, we’re anti-BJP but what’s the alternative? I thought the time has come to start that process. Every political party was present there barring one [Bahujan Samaj Party]. I wanted to start a conversation, nothing more than that.

The time has come when we [Opposition parties] need to talk to each other. We are Congressmen, Congress is not excluded in this conversation. Rahul Gandhi is taking his initiatives [to unite the Opposition]. It [dinner invitation] is for the Gandhis, with the Gandhis.

Q: Representatives of more Opposition parties attended the dinner compared to the breakfast meeting hosted by Rahul Gandhi. Was it an attempt to build an even wider coalition?

A: Rahul Gandhi is rightly doing what he thinks is best and we support him in every possible way but we’re adding to his efforts. We’re saying we also have connections to other political parties and can also forge a coalition and that would be in support of the Congress party. It’s a larger Opposition with Congress at the fulcrum.

Omar Abdullah said, “It’s all very well to get the Opposition together, but unless the Congress gets 120 seats in Parliament, at least, we’ll not be able to form an alternative [to the BJP].”

On the one hand, we want the Congress to get stronger and, on the other, there’s the larger conversation about setting an agenda for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections and 2024 Parliamentary polls.

Q: Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral said the Congress party needs to free itself from the clutches of the Gandhi family.

A: That’s not our objective and it’s never been our objective. We want to strengthen the Congress. We must not attribute the comment by one person to the feelings among the so-called G-23 or the rest of the Opposition. That’s a point of view somebody has and he has expressed it.

The people of India don’t want BJP, they want an effective alternative and we want to give them that.

Q: There are contradictions within the Opposition. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like a ‘khichdi’

A: There are lots of contradictions in the system, but those are the contradictions we need to resolve to get to a common platform. In any negotiation where people are against each other, how do you resolve the contradictions? For example, you have Uttar Pradesh. Three-four parties have areas of interest. How do we resolve this? First, let’s delineate areas where there is no conflict among them. That’s how negotiations happen.

This present government has destroyed all that this Republic stands for. All that India stood for. All that the Mahatma stood for. All that we as a nation stand for. See the kind of slogans hurled against a particular community just yesterday at Jantar Mantar.

All institutions have been destroyed. That is what was discussed at the meeting.

Q: This seems like survival and the only way seems to be an ‘anti Modi-ism’. What is your common agenda?

A: Am I not entitled to oppose this government for the policies they follow? Am I not entitled to say where the prices of petrol, diesel, and milk have gone?

Q: Congress is fighting the TMC in Bengal, Akalis in Punjab, SP in UP. How will this figure in the conversation?

A: When we are starting a conversation, you look at tomorrow, not yesterday. All parties agreed on this and are looking at tomorrow, that’s the commonality of purpose. Contradictions like the ones between Yechury and Mamata will not arise once we decide that we have to work together to defeat a government that seeks to destroy the very fabric of India.

Q: UP is the next big election. Will all Opposition parties come together to support Akhilesh Yadav as the main contender?

A: That was discussed yesterday. All political parties said let us see who is the strongest in Uttar Pradesh to oppose the BJP and let’s then have a coalition with the strongest because we [Congress] can’t hope to get a majority in UP. These are things we have to sort out. This is just the beginning of a conversation.

Q: What about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s attempts to revive the Congress in UP?

A: There’s nothing wrong with the revival of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Didn’t we also align with the stronger partner [SP] in the last UP election?

Q: Sharad Pawar proposed the Maharashtra model where Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena have come together despite their contradictions. Do you want to build that nationwide – 523 constituencies in 2024 should have one-on-one contests with the strongest party getting the benefit among the Opposition?

A: One of my colleagues said exactly that – 523 is going to be impossible, but even if we get 400 candidates one-on-one, BJP will not come back to power. We need to work together on that. Can it fall apart? Maybe. But it is because of effort that one may ultimately succeed, because we have to save India from someone who is destroying India.

Q: G-23 had called for a revamp of the Congress party. That has not happened.

A: That is something I feel extremely sad about, and this is my personal opinion. This party has a legacy of about 125 years and, for the last two years, we haven’t had a president of the party. I don’t know how a political party can move forward without a president and it saddens me. It is not against A, B or C. A political party should have a president.

We don’t even have a part-time president. Sonia Gandhi is interim president. Which political party with this kind of legacy will move forward in politics without a president? We are batting for the Congress party and will continue to do so.

The problem again is, while we’re having a conversation with the Opposition, since 2019, I’ve not had a conversation with the [Congress] leadership.

Q: Unless the Gandhi family buys into your common agenda of uniting Opposition parties, nothing will take off

A: There should be a formal president and you cannot achieve anything without a conversation, which is why Parliament is not happening, because there are no conversations in Parliament anymore. The BJP, which has a brute majority, does not want to discuss anything. That conversation is over. There is no conversation with the media. Our only hope is the courts in this country.

Q: Many people say G-23 leaders are dependent on the Gandhi family.

A: Let me destroy this myth. We’re all dependent on the Congress worker. We must first understand the aspirations of the Congress worker and citizens of the country – what is it that they want for tomorrow. That conversation must also be started with the Opposition.

We need to discuss the demands of people in poll-bound states and how we can help achieve those aspirations and expose the BJP for what it is doing in those states.

Q: With G-23 and Rahul Gandhi making separate attempts to unite the Opposition, why can’t Congress come together?

A: This is a mistake. A conversation can only take place where everybody is together, it doesn’t happen like that. When you need to cross from one mountain to the other, you need a bridge. We’re going to build that bridge and Rahul Gandhi is also trying to build that bridge in his way. Our efforts are not antithetical to his.

I hope Congress energises itself, has a full-time president and understands the aspirations of the people.

Q: Elections in India require a face. Out of Opposition leaders who attended the dinner meet, who is that face?

A: We won the elections in 2004 and then again in 2009 without a face. 2024 is three years away, yesterday was the beginning of a conversation. It’s like a scientist starting an experiment; he doesn’t know whether he will ultimately be able to say Eureka.

Incidentally, the so-called G-23 is intact. They all came for the dinner yesterday.

Take Jayprakash Narayan for example, you don’t know which leader will be born and emerge as a face ahead of 2024. Ultimately, we’re up against a government that is uncaring and is concerned only about aggrandizing power, destroying all institutions and using investigative agencies, and buying people with money power.

Q: What is the roadmap for Opposition unity?

A: No conversation starts without a roadmap. The roadmap is – get people’s views, find out the commonality of interest, move forward and if try and resolve any contradictions [between Opposition parties].

At the end of it, the roadmap is to come up with an Opposition agenda and defeat the BJP in 2024.

Q: Many people will say Kapil Sibal is a dreamer. Are you tilting at windmills?

A: When I was a little kid, I had a dream and I’ve achieved that dream. Unless you dream, you can’t achieve anything. My dream is to stop the BJP which is seeking to destroy everything that I lived for. That’s my dream and I will realise it and I’m sure there are others who dream like me because ultimately, India must live for the future. India must be the country recognised in the world as an example of the most vigorous, transparent, strong democracy where people matter and governments don’t.

Q: Can Congress act as a fulcrum for the Opposition?

A: Yes. The Congress will revive itself and provide the fulcrum and I’m sure that all like-minded people will stand with us.





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