Rajmani Patel is a congressional veteran who has seen three generations of congressional leaders. He is a well-established OBC leader currently in charge of the OBC wing of Madhya Pradesh Congress. The dual minister has now been a member of the Rajya Sabha since 2018. He first became an MP in 1972 and has never looked back since.
Today, as Congress is at a crossroads and five of its leaders have left in five months, he spoke about how he feels about the current situation and what is being done to revive the big old party.
In an interview with Anjali Bhatia and Gyaneswar Dayal, Rajmani Patel spoke at length about Congress and where it stands now, where the politics of the day are heading and how the party could be revived. Excerpts:
Can you tell us how you got into politics and your background so far?
I come from a very humble background, from a farming family, and I have always struggled in life. In 1972, I was given a Rewa ticket because the then Congress CM DP Mishra wanted to give it to an OBC candidate. It was a long journey where I had various responsibilities and I tried to do them justice. At the moment I am a Rajya sabha member and head of OBC wing of Congress in Madhya Pradesh. I never forgot my roots and I never used my position for personal gain.
How did you strike a chord with people?
Well, some people change when they get a position or power, and some people don’t. For my part, I have never used my position for personal purposes. I remembered all along what it was like to be a poor peasant. At that time, to have a document attested, you had to beg the officers. Just to sign a document, the officers would ask you to come back again and again. When I had the right to sign it, I kept the seal with me in my pocket so I could attest to documents instantly. Over time things have changed but our core values remain the same, to serve people with humility never to make my position a source of my personal well-being, and to enjoy power.
You have seen the three generations of Congress. How has the party changed over the years? Why do you think members of Congress leave the party?
Well, as I said earlier, it was ideology, now it’s personal gains that are paramount. The policy has changed beyond recognition. Congress believed in the politics of sacrifice and service, today it’s all about personal gain, power and money, so people see their interests first and make decisions accordingly.
What led to the alienation of the people from the Congress party?
Times are changing, and with them people’s perceptions. They fall into propaganda and lies. We have always been a people-centered party and people have always supported us.
When the Congress fought for independence, the people who stood with it were ordinary peasants, workers, minorities, Dalits and tribals. They were not capitalists or maharajas. So it has always been a party of the people. Congress has always worked for the people who built it through their hard work. Our party has developed policies and plans to help them lead dignified lives. We have initiated dam projects to provide irrigation facilities. Our farmers have worked hard. Today we are able to feed other nations when at one time we had to import rejected wheat from the United States. We have worked to dignify people to ensure their rights are protected and they can earn and live their lives with respect and dignity. They are now subject to a sectarian agenda and misled.
Don’t you think your party has failed to reach out to the people and make them understand what Congress has done for them? Besides, whether it’s the use of social media or marketing techniques, Congress seems to be falling behind and still behaving the old way?
The changing realities of the times must indeed be taken into account. It’s not that Congress isn’t aware of it. However, it is always easier to convince people with lies and half-truths and it is what is done. The truth takes time to sink in. We don’t believe in misleading people. We stand for the truth, sooner or later people will understand the reality. Think of the national movement, it lasted over a hundred years, people sacrificed their lives for independence and got it. Why because there was the force of truth behind it. Sooner or later people can discern for themselves what is true and what is not.
Why do people leave Congress then?
As I said today, personal gain, power and petty interests rule the people, ideology and concern for the people and the country is the last thing on their minds. So they move on to greener pastures. But yes if someone leaves us then we must contemplate the reasons for his departure. After all, Congress is a family and it hurts when someone leaves.
What is the party doing to prevent party leaders and workers from crossing?
Well, we worked honestly for people and assumed it would be fine. We didn’t realize the consequences and now realize that we need to connect with people and workers. In Chintan Shivir, we have made a plan to get back on track and talk about what is happening in the country. And it is not the party worker who changes sides. He is still engaged. His heart and soul are still with Congress, all we have to do is galvanize him and give him the confidence to bring the party to the people.
Regarding religious matters, today there is a dispute over the Gyanvaapi Mosque and other mosques in different parts of the country. Has Congress dwelt on these issues to appease minorities?
This country belongs to the Adivasis, then came the Huns, Shaks, Muslims and Britons and all of them settled here. At India Gate, the maximum number of martyrs are from minorities. What is happening is not in the national interest and harms its unity and integrity. Don’t see it as the majority against the minority. They are all Indians and they have constitutionally guaranteed rights. Those who call themselves Hinduvadis, where were they when it was time to make sacrifices.
Lots of propaganda is making the rounds on social media, but there is no rebuttal from Congress. Congress is silent even on false stories about Nehru. Why?
No, it’s not like that. We object to it from time to time. Our leaders have talked about it time and time again. But they engage in propaganda which continues unabated. And it is practically impossible to counter all the lies. They spout lies after lies.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor met with your party leadership and gave a presentation that lasted for hours. But that didn’t work. What was the reason? Was it the issue of trust, or do you disagree with his analysis.
Prashant Kishor is an agency that works for profit. He has his team and his company has its own motivation behind it. They can make suggestions, but ultimately it is the congressional worker and the party who must implement party policies. The party listened to him patiently and soaked up what he had to say. We are working on the strategy and it would show soon.
For the first time, the Congress used Hindi at the party conference in Udaipur. Do you agree that this would go a long way to building a worker base?
Yes, indeed, we have always wanted the work of the party to be done in a language that the workers and the people understand. It is a good reflection. Well, it’s not that the party has never thought of it, but at different times there are different priorities. I think it’s the right time for this move. The Chinatan Shivir helped create a positive atmosphere.
Do you think if the BJP gets a majority in Rajya sabha that would push for constitutional reforms to change the basic structure of the constitution?
The BJP wants to capture all institutions, PSUs, etc. and would like to see a few capitalists controlling everything. Except agriculture, everything is given to them. Until now, they had just left the roti that they wanted to give to the capitalists through three agricultural laws. But that didn’t happen, so let’s hope they don’t.
Prices are skyrocketing. People are nervous with the hike in everything, but there is still no protest. The BJP gives you trouble on a platter but you don’t seem to take it. Why?
People have been conditioned by clever marketing. When the British wanted to sell tea, they gave it away for free. Likewise, now they take everything from the people be it gas, vegetables or edible oils and help their capitalist friends and just give them Rs. 3,000. People are happy for now, but the day where they wake up, it will be difficult to stop them. We take it up and little by little people also understand their game plan.
How do you intend to revive the Congress in MP? You’re a top OBC leader and Congress has a strong presence in the state?
Well, we started a “chai chaupal charcha” program where our workers go to the villages and engage with them. They chat, ask what the BJP is doing for them and then tell them the reality. He gets a very good response.