Rahul Gandhi sprang a surprise on the BJP-led government, saying his party will introduce a minimum income guarantee program if elected to power in the general elections due by May. Critics say this was a poll gimmick, potentially unachievable and demanded that the Congress party spell out details. But Congress Milind Deora says the promise was well thought and the party manifesto will spell out the target group. Besides weighing in on the poll promise, Deora, a former Union minister, spoke about the 2019 general elections, pre-poll alliances and Priyanka Gandhi's role in the Congress, among a raft of other topics in an exclusive interview with CNBC-TV18. Edited excerpts: Watch the video here: Edited Excerpts: Two independent members of the NSC have resigned citing disagreement with the government over its failure to publish a report on jobs, how do you respond to that?
I think it is a historic move. In this country, I have never heard that a person no less than the chairperson of the NSC has quit because of pressure from the government not to release post demonetisation data on unemployment. What that signifies is that there is a serious unemployment crisis in the country and what it makes abundantly clear is that a policy like demonetisation, though it may have had some wins and gains for the economy, its losses far outweigh the gains.
As a result of demonetisation, the government is scared of bringing this data out in public. This data should come out. The country still does not know the extent of damage caused by demonetisation neither does the country know why it happened.
Would you say the government is not serious about bringing out job data in public?
Absolutely, I think the government is fully aware that demonetisation has created a massive unemployment problem in the country. From a political perspective when I see the spin the government is presenting to the people ahead of elections, at one level you are talking about the Ram Temple and at another you are talking about why it is important to re-elect Narendra Modi and bring about economic stability again.
This is to distract people from the failures of this government, especially those with regard to the economy. We do boast about the country growing fast, but the fact is there is jobless growth, demonetisation has caused massive havoc in the economy and a series of policies which can be debated.
We were accused of tax terrorism and it is 5-10 times higher now. This has led to some serious fault lines in the economy and this has also led to a massive flight of capital.
Congress and Rahul Gandhi have been caught in an embarrassing situation as they have been accused of milking this courtesy call on Manohar Parrikar, former defence minister. Parrikar has gone on record to say that there was no mention of Rafale as mentioned by Rahul in the public meeting?
I know if Rahul Gandhi called on him and said it was a courtesy call, then it would be a courtesy call. Rahul Gandhi is someone who calls on many leaders including leaders of opposition when they are unwell. Gandhi wished Arun Jaitley well on Twitter in spite of whatever is going on between the government and opposition.
So a political motive should not be attributed to such a meeting and that’s not what Rahul Gandhi intended to do.
But Parrikar has written a letter to Rahul Gandhi stating that he feels let down that this meeting was used for political gains?
That’s not something I can comment on as I was not in the room and you will have to ask the two gentlemen. But if someone says that this was a courtesy call then that is what we should take it as.
We are less than 90 days away from the general election in the country and anything we say can be seen as pre-empting what the government is planning to do.
About the minimum income guarantee announcement, has this been thought through as it seems that the Congress wanted to pre-empt the government? The question you should be asking is why the government has not done this in the last five years. Clearly, it is an issue that has been talked about for the last 2-3 years and it is a promise we have made. When we spoke about Right to Information ahead of 2004 general elections, the NDA government called it a tall promise and they won’t do anything. But we implemented it.
So the report card we should be calling for is what this government promised and what it has delivered. They promised to scrap Aadhaar but today they are calling it a great scheme, similarly with GST and DBT’s. Congress has been consistent with what is deliverable
What will be the target group for this scheme?
I am not privy to these details. P Chidambaram has made it clear that once the manifesto comes out the details will be spelt out. I am glad that we as a country now should be analysing manifestos like its done in US elections. All of us, including journalists, should have the primary goal of holding the government accountable and not the opposition. I can assure you that this was far more thought through than demonetisation.
What will be Priyanka Gandhi’s role, will she be limiting herself to UP East or will she campaign across the country?
As far as I know, her role is very clear and that is she is the general secretary of the Congress Party in charge of Eastern UP. As far as I am aware that is what her role will be.
I think it would mean that she would limit her interactions, movement and campaigning to Eastern UP and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. But if it means that the party and cadre feel that her campaigning in other parts of the country can have a huge impact, then I don’t see why she will not do that. I do believe her primary responsibility would be to revive the party in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and to select good candidates. I think this is a very tough thing that she has accepted.
Would you want her to fight as well, there is a demand from within the Congress that she should fight?
I am not aware of whether she will fight the Lok Sabha elections and if she fights then which constituency she will fight from. But I can assure you that if she will fight, it will be from the area for which she has been given responsibility.
Is Congress ready for early polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand?
I attended the election meeting for candidate selection for Lok Sabha. In terms of the organisation being strengthened at the booth level that has already happened and in terms of stitching together the right kind of coalition with our partner NCP that has moved far ahead than what is going on between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. So in that sense, we are ready for any eventuality.
What about the NCP Congress alliance, have you arrived at a consensus and will it be an equal seat sharing formula?
More or less yes, very soon you will hear about the alliance announcement and details of the Lok Sabha seat sharing pact. It is a very harmonious relationship, both parties get along well and have a clear objective and believe that there are tailwinds for the Congress and NCP in Maharashtra and we want to take advantage of that.
These are small details being ironed out. As I said 90-95 percent of the work towards a seat sharing pact has been sorted out.
So it will be a 50:50 seat sharing agreement?