Home Editor Picks Mallikarjun Kharge: ‘Nobody in this country imagined we would have a Prime Minister who lies so much’

Mallikarjun Kharge: ‘Nobody in this country imagined we would have a Prime Minister who lies so much’

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Mallikarjun Kharge: ‘Nobody in this country imagined we would have a Prime Minister who lies so much’

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Mallikarjun Kharge, as Congress president, is leading the party in the 2024 Lok Sabha election after back-to-back debacles in 2014 and 2019 in which it got 44 and 52 respectively. Kharge is also the chairperson of the INDIA bloc. He first became an MLA 52 years back in 1972, was a Lok Sabha MP for three consecutive terms from 2009, and entered the Rajya Sabha in 2020.

In this exclusive interview to Frontline, he spoke about the possibilities for his party in this election, about the INDIA bloc, and the criticisms about the Congress’ decline. Excerpts:


What does the 2024 election mean for the Congress and the country?


I definitely see a change in the government. The INDIA alliance will do well and we will get a majority to unseat the power-drunk BJP. We will get a mandate to safeguard the Constitution and democracy. This election is also about saving our independent institutions. You must have seen many BJP and RSS leaders talking about the need for 400 seats. Their MPs, MLAs, and candidates say that they want a 2/3rd majority to change the Constitution. Their leaders in the past have spoken about reviewing reservations provisioned by the Constitution to SCs, STs and OBCs. They want to take that away. That is why this election is important.


Why should people vote for the Congress? Do you have a road map for the growth of the Congress?


Our “Nyay Patra” [Congress manifesto] lays out the road map very clearly for the growth of the country. People have decided to vote for the Congress because the 2024 election is an issue-based election where people are openly expressing their disappointment against the 10 years of the Modi government. Unemployment, inflation, falling income are some of the most prominent issues they want resolved. Though they are speaking on the ground against the BJP and [its] allies, one cannot hear their voices because they don’t have a platform in our democracy anymore. With the majority of the media under the control of the ruling regime they can’t show their anger anywhere. The Congress has been giving voice to this public anger.

Nobody in this country imagined that we would have a Prime Minister who lies so much. But I am confident that politics of development will win over politics of communalism and divisiveness.

Also Read | ‘Nyay Patra’ vs ‘Modi ki Guarantee’: Free citizens or wards of the state?


Why is the Congress in disarray? Desertions have become a routine affair.


The Congress is not in disarray. If a candidate is being threatened or bribed to withdraw his nomination, it shows that democracy is being slowly crushed by the BJP. For example, in Surat all proposers of the Congress candidate gave false affidavits, all independent candidates withdrew and the BJP candidate was declared elected unanimously without even a single voter exercising his constitutional right. Prima facie, it looks like a case of electoral corruption. In Indore, on the last possible date, our candidate withdrew his nomination. Again, this should be investigated as an electoral malpractice.

Many people have also joined and many have come back. Having said that, the test is to spot early people who have low commitment to our ideology and not give them the ticket.


Why did Rahul Gandhi not contest from Amethi?


Both Rae Bareli and Amethi have the same emotional connection to the Congress party and to Soniaji and Rahulji. K.L. Sharma, our candidate in Amethi, has worked for more than 40 years in that region. He knows every lane, every village, and every voter. Priyanka Gandhi is campaigning for him personally. I have campaigned in Amethi. The Congress is going to win in Amethi.


Why did the majority of senior Congress leaders decline to contest? Are they worried about losing?


Digvijaya Singh, Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, Bhupesh Baghel, Anand Sharma…are these [leaders] junior or senior? It’s a mix of both young and old. Election strategy and ticket distribution happen after detailed discussions within the CEC. Many senior leaders are also needed to manage the election.


Sam Pitroda’s remarks on inheritance tax kicked up a political storm. Was it necessary? What prompted the Prime Minister to say that you want to snatch the mangalsutras of Hindu women?


Modi started weaving lies about our manifesto the moment he realised the voters are against him after Phase 1. I had written to him saying I will give him a copy of our manifesto and we could have a debate about it. The Congress “Nyay Patra” does not talk about inheritance tax at all. We believe in the right to property. We brought the right to property. In the 1970s, the BJP-RSS, in their Janasanghaavatar, had done this fearmongering that the Congress will snatch your property. We have served for 55 years. We have had governments for decades together in many States. Modi should tell, have we ever snatched anyone’s property?


In Karnataka, a sexual assault case is making news. How is it electorally important? How will it affect the voting pattern?


We are all shocked at the revelations. I am surprised that the BJP leadership was appraised of the misdemeanour but still went ahead with the alliance. Even today, the Government of India will know from his passport number which country this person (Hassan MP Prajwal Revanna) entered and where he is hiding. How did he, a white passport holder, run away from India, should be answered by the Modi government.


Don’t you think that a BJP-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka could pose a strong challenge?


Sometimes in politics, what is math on paper, doesn’t translate into votes. You will see it in the election results. We should remember that both times, the BJP formed governments in Karnataka, they did it using money power to poach MLAs. They never got a majority on their own.


BJP leaders are attacking the Congress for declining the Ram Mandir invitation. Was it a tactical mistake?


Religion is a very personal matter. Many Congress people also attended the pran pratishtha, no one in the party stopped them or questioned them.


A number of Congress leaders in Delhi have resigned protesting against the party’s alliance with the AAP.


While every party worker would want to contest the election, there are only a limited number of seats. Getting into any alliance further reduces the chances of contesting. When the Congress took the lead in forming the INDIA alliance, we knew that it is in the larger interest of the country, and that is why we made some sacrifices.


What is your primary charge against the Modi government?


The Modi government has imposed unprecedented unemployment, unparalleled price rise, and widened income inequality in the last 10 years. Exercising brute majority, it has repeatedly undermined institutions and bulldozed them. It has misused institutions that were earlier autonomous as a weapon to target the opposition. It has used the ED, CBI, IT [income tax department], and so on as extortion tools to fill its coffers through the unconstitutional Electoral Bonds scheme. The Prime Minister is indulging in hate speech. He is misrepresenting facts about our manifesto and spreading lies. All these are major issues in this election.


Why was there so much delay in seat sharing within the INDIA bloc? There is no INDIA bloc in West Bengal, Kerala, or Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh also Mayawati is out of it.


We as a party take decision on the advice of the local leadership. We don’t like to impose our views on them. Consultations take some time. But it works better because everyone becomes a stakeholder and, therefore, responsible for both success and failure. But even those parties with whom we could not work out seat-sharing arrangements, have declared that they are still a part of the INDIA alliance. The alliance is working as we expected.


How do you see Mayawati’s role in the 2024 elections?


Mayawati ji is a senior politician. I am not an election analyst, but whatever reports we are getting from Uttar Pradesh, we feel that she may have been under some kind of pressure.


The Congress was vocal against electoral bonds but you also received donations through it..


I don’t understand your argument considering that the BJP alone got more than 50% of donations. Our opposition to it was on a matter of principle. The government had full access to the information about donors thus making them vulnerable to manipulation. We could see clear links to believe that the government also used ED, CBI, IT to extort money. The better system is that the voters should know who is donating how much to which party.


Who will be the leader from the INDIA bloc if you think it can win the election?


We will cross the bridge when we come to it. Yes, all parties will sit together and decide. It is not the first time that this country is witnessing a coalition government. We have had very successful coalition governments in the past.


What is the Congress’ agenda in this election?


The Congress’ agenda is ensuring justice, nyay, to everyone. We have a 5 NYAY-25 guarantee agenda for the country. This includes welfare for farmers, jobs for youth, economic empowerment for women, social security for crores of deprived workers and social justice for the marginalised. And doubling the free food grains being provided to the poor from 5 kg to 10 kg.

Also Read | ‘The BJP has not learnt its lesson’: Priyank Kharge


The Election Commission reprimanded you over your remarks about voter turnout data. Did you make a hasty comment in your letter to INDIA allies about the discrepancy in that?


I had written to the leaders of the INDIA parties about certain discrepancies in the voter percentage data and its delay by the Election Commission of India, to which the ECI replied out of turn. We have written so many complaints to the ECI earlier, but strangely they chose to reply to my letter to the INDIA parties. After their reply came in, I again sent a letter underlining the same, because they never clarified on the delay in the release of voting percentages or subsequent increase.

But, I would also like to point out that the ECI in their letter to me seem to have falsely claimed that the Supreme Court had endorsed their methodology. One of the key points I made to them was to put out the absolute voting numbers in the public domain. Now, the Supreme Court has made some comments on it and asked why they cannot provide final voting percentages in 48 hours.

I only want to state that the credibility of the ECI, and autonomous institutions in general, is at an all-time low. The ECI needs to strengthen itself so that people continue to have faith in them.


The Congress was initially dismissive of the labarthi (beneficiary) but now you have promised to double free food grain to the poor. Why this turn around?


We were never dismissive about any welfare scheme. It was Modi who termed welfare measures as “revdi”. Even a few days back, he mocked the free travel being given to poor women, saying it hurts big industries. It is under Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, that the Congress-UPA government brought in the National Food Security Act in 2013. Only one Chief Minister, Modi ji, opposed it then. Even the BJP grudgingly supported it in Parliament and food security became a right. It is the Congress that rolled out the free rice scheme and ushered in reforms in the public distribution system. When COVID stuck, Modiji rebranded the scheme into Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, as if it was some temporary measure. We have even given 35 kg in Chhattisgarh to the extremely poor people. So we can easily provide 10 kg to the people now. 


Do you feel it is tough for you to lead Congress at a time when the party seems to be in the ICU?


A party in ICU has scared the Prime Minister! Every day, he has to resort to lies and propaganda. The fact is that we are fighting well with our limited resources, and our workers are on the ground. We will improve our tally in many States. INDIA parties will get more than 272 comfortably and provide a government whose focus will be social justice, progressive policies, and India’s growth.


The Prime Minister says that the Congress’ manifesto is inspired by the Muslim League.


I do not know which manifesto Modi ji is reading. Our manifesto does not mention any Hindu-Muslim narrative. Our manifesto is for the 140 crore people of India. Is filling 30 lakh government job vacancies only for one community? Is giving Rs.1 lakh to poor women only for one community? Is providing Right to Apprenticeship, and Rs.1 lakh support for a year to fresh degree/diploma holders for one community? I challenge Modi ji to read the Congress manifesto with me, word by word and line by line, and ask us any question, we will puncture his party’s propaganda.

Modi ji does not speak about his own manifesto or even his achievements. Is there a particular reason why the BJP manifesto was forgotten by Modi and Shah?


The Prime Minister recently said he never believed in dividing society on religious lines, and that the day he does that he would not remain fit for public life. How do you see this?


Modi ji is trapped in his own contradictions. One day he calls Muslims “ghuspaithiya” and makes hate speeches, the other day he says he would not be suited for public life if he indulged in Hindu-Muslim, and the other day he again flip-flops and repeats the same Hindu-Muslim rhetoric which divides society. His entire politics has been based on division. He has lost the narrative.


The BJP is saying that Congress wants to give away the reservation available for OBCs to Muslims?


We are talking about protecting the reservation given according to the Constitution and not handing it over to this or that. INDIA is getting massive support in the election. They [BJP] are disturbed. That is why they are making such wild statements.


Is Rahul Gandhi’s pitch for a caste census having any resonance on the ground?


We are not doing it for votes. There are many things that we should do in the interest of the nation, in the interest of people.

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