‘It is true that regional parties are strong in some states, but Congress is the only other pan-India party’.


New Delhi: Since the Monsoon session of Parliament, the Opposition has been very active. Recently, a meeting of 17 Opposition parties was held to chalk out a strategy against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), keeping in view the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Sunday Guardian talked with senior Indian National Congress (INC) leader, former Minister of State (Agriculture) and presently a Rajya Sabha member, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, to get an idea of the Opposition’s plans. Excerpts:

Q: Recently, Sonia Gandhi chaired a meeting of 17 Opposition parties to discuss the strategy against the ruling dispensation. Can you tell us what the Opposition parties are really thinking?

A: There are only two national parties in the country, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even now, the Congress has more than 100 members in parliament. We are the alternative to the BJP, it is also true that regional parties are strong in some states, but Congress is the only other pan-Indian party. Therefore, other Opposition parties sat together with the leading party to discuss the prevailing situation of the country and chalk out a joint strategy. We all agree that we need to be united against the BJP and fight collectively.

Q: We saw “confrontatinal politics” during the recently concluded Monsoon session of parliament with most of its time getting washed out due to disruptions. You are a member of Rajya Sabha, is it right for democracy?

A: When I was a minister during the regime of United Progressive Alliance (UPA-1), I had seen what type of confrontational politics the BJP used to do. Anywhere in the world, the responsibility to run the House rests with the government. During the monsoon session, everyday, under rule 267, at least 13-14 parties used to give notices for a discussion on the Pegasus issue, and farm bills which was necessary, but the government avoided it. We requested the government to discuss these issues as they were very pertinent, but the government refused. Therefore, it is not right to say we were doing confrontation.

Q: It has been reported that in recent meetings of Opposition leaders like Kapil Sibal’s dinner party, many prominent political leaders have coined the idea to put up a joint Opposition candidate against the BJP in 350 Lok Sabha seats, as it’s the only way left to defeat the ruling government. You were present in many such meetings. Is it going to be the strategy of the Opposition?

A: It is right that we are trying to unite the Opposition; this type of experiment is happening in many states. We have seen that to keep the BJP out of power, we joined hands with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra; in Tamil Nadu, Opposition parties got united. The need for unity has been felt by all Opposition parties. The Congress is also making a strategy in this direction. So, wait for some time, then only things would be clearer.

Q: Now, let’s come to Bihar, you were instrumental in organizing the rally of Rahul Gandhi in Patna in the run-up to the 2019 Parliamentary elections. Many people believe that Akhilesh Prasad Singh should get the leadership of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) as you also act as a bridge between the RJD and the Congress. Do you want the Congress leadership to give you this responsibility?

A: I can tell you clearly, the Congress leadership has fixed my responsibility in the Rajya Sabha. I am not at all interested in becoming the state chief. Whosoever would be given the responsibility of the Bihar Congress, I am ready to work with him and strengthen the Congress in the state. I am a worker of the party only. I have no ambitions.

Q: An all-party delegation from Bihar under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met the Prime Minister on the issue of caste census. Many believe that the parties emerged during the Mandal movement of the1990s, like the JDU are trying to bring this into the forefront. How do you see all this?

A: Time and again, Narendra Modi says in rallies that he is the son of a pichra (backward); the President talks about his caste affiliation. What Nitish Kumar is doing just for a photo session. In Karnataka, the state government run by the BJP has been conducting Caste census; therefore, who is stopping Nitish Kumar from conducting the caste census in the state.