The credit for Rahul Gandhi’s ‘makeover’ is being given to technocrat Sam Pitroda, who’s in Gujarat working on the Congress poll manifesto.
New Delhi: Sam Pitroda is the man credited with bringing the telecom revolution to India. A close aide of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Pitroda has been working for the Congress and is chairman of the party’s newly-formed NRI unit.
He was also the brain behind Rahul Gandhi’s recent US trip, in which the world got to see a ‘repackaged’ Congress vice president.
Pitroda is currently in Gujarat, meeting people to draft the Congress manifesto for next month’s assembly elections. In an exclusive telephone interview to ThePrint, he speaks about the elections, Rahul Gandhi as a leader, and his job in the party. Excerpts:
For the first time, you are at the forefront of a Congress campaign. Until now, you always worked behind the scenes. Is this a personal decision, or you have been asked to do this?
It’s completely a personal decision. My dear friend Rajiv Gandhi gave a new meaning to my life. The Congress gave me a platform to do a number of things for the country. How could I not stand up when the party was facing challenges? It’s my moral duty and obligation.
You have been consulting people on the ground for the Congress’s manifesto. What is the sense you are getting?
The people of Gujarat feel that the much-hyped Gujarat model has touched only top towns, and not reached the bottom of the pyramid. Higher education has become unaffordable for middle-class people. Graduates can’t get jobs; all jobs given are contractual ones. Farmers are not getting a fair price for their produce. There is a general feeling that people are being squeezed, while the big guys go away with all the benefits.
You have completed the first round of manifesto consultations. What’s next?
We have received around 2,000 suggestions to be included in the manifesto. First, these will be filtered and shortlisted under different heads. I will now meet party leaders to incorporate these suggestions into the manifesto. It is for the first time the process of listening to the people for formulating policies has started. Democracy is all about listening to people rather than giving them sermons.
You have received credit for Rahul Gandhi’s recent successful trip to the US. Was it planned that way – to present a repackaged Rahul Gandhi on the trip?
Yes, the trip was planned. But it was not about repackaging Rahul Gandhi. Public relations is needed for people who are fake. It was about presenting the real Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi was projected as ‘Pappu’ by the paid Indian media and social media. Therefore, we felt it is better to organise interactions abroad, and present him before people with no bias, and let them judge him. We started with UC Berkeley, and then he met a lot of people ranging from students, intellectuals, businessmen, politicians, Hollywood stars.
It was important for the world to know the real Rahul Gandhi. And I am telling you, whoever met him in the US, had only praise to offer about his persona, his clarity of thought, his viewpoints, his idea of India. You must have noticed that the media back home has started recognising his potential as a leader. He is a young man who wants to work for the country, and has a fair idea of what to do. He doesn’t need any promotion from anyone. He is an honest man, who just needed an honest audience. I am glad it worked.
A lot of people say that the interaction at UC Berkeley was a fixed game…
No! Never! I lift my right hand up in the sky and swear, nothing in that interaction was planned. After all, the university he was speaking at has some credibility, and so has the professor who was asking the questions. No one, including Rahul himself, knew what questions were going to be asked. That was exactly the idea – to present him to the people.
You have worked very closely with Rajiv Gandhi. Now you are working with his son. What is the difference between the two?
Rajiv lost his mother, after which, he was made to lead the country. Rahul was a young child when he lost his father. The circumstances may look similar, but are quite different. But I can say that Rahul is more analytical than Rajiv. He is well-read and hands-on with many things.
During the Gujarat campaign, Rahul has visited so many temples that the BJP is saying the Congress is trying to play the ‘soft Hindutva’ card…
They can say anything they want. On Monday, I had to interact with the Surat chamber of commerce. But the programme was cancelled because the traders were threatened by the government. You wear religion on your sleeve, and hate everyone else. It is dangerous. Rahul too has a religion, but he welcomes and loves every one.
You are also working on the Congress’s social media outreach…
We are trying to make optimum use of social media. We are increasing our presence on platforms like WhatsApp, where we weren’t doing much earlier. Apart from that, a team of youngsters is busy engaging with voters at booth level, through both social media and door-to-door campaigns.
Those who say the Congress doesn’t have the organisational strength on the ground should come to Gujarat and see. It is hard to predict the election result, but the writing on the wall is for everyone to see.
Do you see a bigger role for yourself going forward?
Look, I have no personal agenda, and neither am I looking to gain something out of it. I have so many things to do in life; I am 75 years old now. Whatever I am doing is because of the Congress, Rajiv ji, and Rahul. Besides we all need to work for the betterment of the country and take it forward. I am doing my bit.