Congress leader P Chidambaram during budget session of Parliament, in New Delhi, on Feb. 5, 2018. (Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI)

Elections ‘Can Throw Up Miracles’, Says P Chidambaram

The Congress and its allies should not be written off in the coming Lok Sabha elections, because “elections can throw up miracles in this country”, said former Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

To stay relevant, though, the Congress must become a fitter machine to fight the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, he told BloombergQuint’s Sanjay Pugalia in an interview. The party is working on cementing ties with its allies going into the next general election in 2019, Chidambaram said.

In Tamil Nadu, “the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Congress are on the same page, and [the Congress has] acknowledged that the DMK will be the leader of any pre-poll alliance”, the senior Congress leader said. In Maharashtra, which Chidambaram represents as a Member of the Rajya Sabha for the Congress, Sharad Pawar has promised that “the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress will be together.” Together, the two states send 87 members to the Lok Sabha.

Acknowledging that the Congress is not the primary rival to the BJP in a number of states, Chidambaram said the 133-year old party’s primary role is to coordinate among all the parties on national issues to face a parliamentary election. Voters are disenchanted with the BJP and will vote for the strongest alternative — be it the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, or the Congress in states where it is in a straight fight with the BJP, he added.

Watch the interview here:

Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

The government is saying that we are not giving any big new shock and the economy will go with its velocity..let’s focus on the election.

People are not accepting the story. People are seeing through the BJP. People are no longer accepting the story that you have the capacity to manage India’s economy. People are questioning the capacity of the BJP to manage the economy.

If they are only disappointed, then Modi and BJP are still safe...

I don’t agree. After the 20 percent swing in Rajasthan and the huge swing in West Bengal, and you watch Odisha and Madhya Pradesh which are coming. I don’t think it is disappointment. I think it has moved to a point where we can call disenchantment.

But not anger? Because if am disappointed with you, I still grudgingly will vote for you..

I don’t agree. The vote will go to the next strongest party in the state. I am not saying it will got to the Congress. In Tamil Nadu, it will not go to Congress. It will go to one of the Dravidian parties. In Kerala, it may not go to Congress but another party. In Bengal, it may go to Trinamool. If you are disenchanted with one political party, like in Gujarat, that vote went to the Congress.  If you are disenchanted in Rajasthan, that vote went to Congress.  If you are disenchanted in Orissa, that vote may go to Biju Janata Dal.

In Tamil Nadu, will Congress and DMK or AIDMK have a pre-poll alliance?

At the moment, DMK and Congress are on the same page. We are together in meetings, demonstrations, protests. We have acknowledged that the DMK will be the leader of any pre-poll alliance. Whether there will be a change I can’t say. But at the moment, it seems that there will be a pre-poll alliance with DMK as the leader and Congress as a member.

Everything hinges on only one alliance which Congress must facilitate, which is between Akhilesh and Mayawati.

I don’t know much about UP politics to make a prediction. If there can be a mahagathbandhan between SP and BSP, and Congress is able to bring that together, like we did in Bihar, between Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, it may be good for the opposition. But I am not fully aware of the dynamics of UP politics, so  I comment on it. But at the national level, coordinating all parties on national issues to face a parliamentary election, that responsibility falls on the Congress.

So should we consider NCP-Congress alliance as a done deal or is it not certain?

The last time I spoke to Sharad Pawar about 6-7 days ago, he said that NCP and Congress will be together. I said that he should make it public. He said I have made it public. And so I said there are 1-2 voices in the party which could have a different view and those voices need to be asked to be still. I accept Sharad Pawar’s statement. He clearly wants to be with the Congress. Ashok Chavan, who participated in that Save Democracy march has also made it clear that we will be with the NCP.

Congress has to convince itself that it has to trust Mr. Pawar.

Pawar is an old Congressman. We may have had differences in between. He may have done something which didn’t make us happy or vice-a-versa. But he is a Congressman.

When we talk about an alliance with regional parties, there is a thing called CBI.

I don’t think CBI is so clever to stall alliances.

Not CBI, but the political masters.

In 2003, they said that Mr. Vajpayee was unbeatable. He was indeed a tall leader, a great orator and had a great resonance with the people. Everybody trusted him as a good man with no personal agenda and interested in the welfare of the country. But an informal alliance did come up and the Congress became the number 1 party, and we were able to form the government.

Don’t come to a conclusions about an election before elections take place. Elections can throw up miracles in this country.