New Delhi: Referring to Rahul Gandhi as a “wonderful and likeable human being”, Sanjay Jha, former national spokesperson of the Congress party, says the ex-party president has surrounded himself with favorites who end up having an “asphyxiating control over him”.
“As a person, Rahul is fabulous. Everyone who meets him will tell you he is a likeable, wonderful human being. But the other fact, that all leaders get sucked into, is that their favorites become a caucus and that caucus in turn ends up having an asphyxiating control over their leader,” Jha told ThePrint in an interview.
“Because all of them are so invested in their own career, they are willing to let the party go to the dogs as long as their interests are served,” he added.
Jha, whose new book titled ‘The Great Unravelling: India after 2014’ will be released next week, was sacked as the national spokesperson of the Congress in June. This was after he called for introspection in the party and accused it of having become “fossilised” and having a “laid-back approach.”
He was subsequently suspended from the party a month later, in July.
‘Rahul means well’
Jha said while the former Congress president meant well, the problem was that he never took his ideas to a logical conclusion.
“I think Rahul means so well. One of his best statements was when he was asked that Modi keeps calling for a Congress-mukt Bharat, but if you win tomorrow would you want an RSS-mukt Bharat, and he said no. He said all ideologies need to co-exist. That was the statement of a statesman,” Jha said.
However, he added that the problem lay in Rahul Gandhi’s execution.
“The problem with him is that he doesn’t take the big ideas to their logical conclusion. After the 2019 Lok Sabha defeat, he would say I fought this battle alone. I think he is wrong. For the leader of the party to say I fought this battle alone is absurd. We fought under his leadership, we adhered to what you said. For god sake, don’t say you did it alone,” Jha added.
‘BJP is always hungry, and never exhausted’
Jha further said he admires the work ethic of BJP leaders, and how they are always hungry to win.
“The one thing I have learnt in politics is that we must learn from our opponents. The BJP has an indefatigable spirit, they are never exhausted. They are hungry, ambitious, take no prisoners. How can I have anything against their work ethic? If they believe in winning every election, how can I sit here and complain about that?” Jha asked.
He said that the culture of a party is determined by the leader of the party.
“Look at Modi, he is aggressive, so BJP is aggressive. He is talking big ideas, and so, BJP is risk-taking,” he said.
“I do agree that today BJP is a two-person rule. But I have to give them concessions. They have a J.P. Nadda, they have had a Nitin Gadkari, a Rajnath Singh. It has allowed people to become presidents. Who had heard of Devendra Fadnavis? But they give people a chance,” Jha said.
‘Congress needs to get its hands dirty’
Jha said the Congress needs to put in a lot more effort to fight the “machine politics” of the BJP.
“They have the funds, they have the resources, they are in the government. They have done a media capture, it is an asymmetrical warfare, a lopsided fight. So to actually challenge them, we need to be hungry,” Jha said.
Jha added that BJP president J.P. Nadda is travelling across the country, when the Congress is working out of Delhi.
“The age where we could sit in Delhi and win any election is over, the Congress needs to get its hands dirty. Congress’ inability to fight back is, in my opinion, condemnable. You are an opposition party, you cannot be sulking in a corner because you lost. There is nothing wrong in putting up a great fight and losing. But going into retreat or withdrawing, that is unacceptable.”
‘Sad that Congress doesn’t do enough to fight for minorities’
Jha, however, dismissed the possibility of him ever joining the BJP.
“It is out of the question, I am a true believer in a secular, liberal, tolerant and inclusive India,” Jha said.
He said he feels disappointed that Congress doesn’t do enough to fight for the rights of minority communities.
“It is sad that just because the BJP mocks secularism, Congress doesn’t fight enough for minorities,” Jha said, adding that as the opposition, it was the Congress’ responsibility to lead the charge.
Jha said the Congress has to decide if it wants to walk on Mahatma Gandhi’s path, or play “opportunistic janeu-dhari politics”, in a reference to Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala’s 2017 assertion.
“You cannot fight the BJP under their rules of the game. If you want to do that, you have to stop pretending you are liberal or secular, then you join the Hindutva bandwagon and fight it out. And you are going to lose, by the way,” Jha said.
‘UPA’s political communication was pathetic’
Jha, in his book, has also written about Rahul Gandhi’s interview with Arnab Goswami in 2014, who was then the editor of Times Now news channel.
Jha said the decision to give that interview to Goswami, known to be a Congress-critic, was an “error in terrible judgment”.
”When Rahul went to Arnab’s show, many of us believed he should have been better prepared. I remember there was a PR firm that was hired, and that PR’s specialist flew in from the US and gave Rahul some SOPs to follow, but they were not adhered to,” Jha said.
Jha said the interview was a “monumental disaster” in retrospect.
“The truth is that it was an error in terrible judgment and someone in the Congress party should have had the courage to say we gave Rahul a wrong recommendation,” Jha said.
The former party spokesperson added that UPA always performed better than it was perceived to, but its “political communication was pathetic.”