An upbeat Rahul Gandhi today rejected the view that the Congress party was an "underdog" or that it faced an "uphill" task in the Lok Sabha polls, affirming that there would be a Congress-led UPA III.
Acknowledging that after 10 years in power "there is a certain amount of anti-incumbency against us", the Congress campaign chief, nevertheless, disagreed with senior party leader and Finance Minister P Chidambaram's view that the party was an underdog and faced an uphill task.
"Congress is fighting a challenging election and we will win the election," he said while refusing to hazard a guess about the number of seats the party would get. "I am not a soothsayer but we will do well," he told PTI in an exclusive interview here.
Debunking opinion polls, which he had described as a joke, Gandhi said the party would do better than the 2009 elections when it had won 206 seats. Predictions before 2004 and 2009 elections also were that the Congress was going to lose and get thrashed, he recalled.
Answering a question on the failure of the government and the party to communicate with the people, he admitted, "I think certainly we could have been more aggressive in conveying our achievements. As I said, we have done transformatory work. We could always be better in communication."
Rubbishing the perception that Congress was losing allies, the party vice president said that it had alliances with NCP, RJD, JMM, RLD and the National Conference but had lost the DMK and the Trinamool Congress.
Asked if the Congress could "do business" with TMC and DMK again, Gandhi replied, "We are always willing to work with people who share our ideology and political philosophy, who are determined to fight sectarian and communal forces that seek to divide India for narrow political gains."
Contending that his power was being "overestimated", Gandhi disclosed that he had differed with the government on a number of issues but "I have been overruled." Asked to cite examples, he said that "one very large public place where I was overruled" was on the question of making Lokpal a Constitutional body. "I had a different view from the senior members of the party and I was overruled." Another instance cited by him pertained to the Ordinance to nullify a Supreme Court order disqualifying convicted lawmakers in which he had a view different from senior members of the party but was initially overruled.
"Then I took the step of making my views public," he said in an obvious reference to a press conference at which he had declared that the Ordinance should be torn away. He was articulating the public opinion and the party had listened to that.
In a reference to the controversy triggered by his going public aggressively on the issue while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in the US, the Gandhi scion acknowledged that "in hindsight that it could have been done in a better way".
Gandhi was asked about his comments that the "system" needed to move away from concentration of power and that he was going to "take on" the system.
"You yourself are a product of the system--you are very much an insider--and you want to play the role of an outsider.
Your critics would say that you want to have the best of both the worlds," the questioner remarked.
Gandhi responded by saying what was important was "not where I come from but what I work for. Does being an insider-- as you define me--take away from me the right to disagree or fight for a change?
"Those who want to reform the system are often people who revolt against the very system they are part of. We opened up the youth Congress and NSUI to elections and are holding primaries in 15 Lok Sabha constituencies.
"I would like to ask my critics from the opposition parties if they would demonstrate their willingness to open up their parties to such empowering initiatives. These insider/outsider are unimportant labels.
To a question about people's disappointment with the lacklustre performance of the UPA government, Gandhi replied that in the last 10 years the UPA government had delivered the highest-ever growth rate and had pulled 150 million out of poverty. It had brought a new kind of transformational politics through RTI, right to education, right to food and employment.
When reminded that the party's highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee, was a nominated one and no elections had been held to it for long despite his crusade for inner-party democracy, Gandhi agreed "100 per cent" that the CWC should be an elected body and that he was working towards that.
"The entire Congress party is nominated today. Every structure is nominated. To reach the point where the main institutional structure is elected, you have to have a structure below that is elected," he said.
The Congress campaign leader was also asked about his "lack of interest in Parliament" where his attendance was the lowest among Congress MPs. "You have asked no questions, brought no private member bill and participated in just two debates in the current Lok Sabha," he was reminded.
He responded by saying that he did not look at participation in Parliament in these terms. Firstly, as an organisational general secretary he had spent a lot of time travelling across the country. Moreover, he saw himself as a part of the large team of UPA MPs driving forward a collective legislative agenda.
As a member of this team he had actively participated in formulating his party's legislative agenda and publicly fought for legislations like the new Land Acquisition Bill, the Lokpal Bill, the bill for protection of livelihood of street vendors, RTI, MNREGA and the food security law, he said.
To him the bigger question was why did the 15th Lok Sabha become the worst-performing in the history and why did the opposition stall Parliament session after session. "It is a sorry fact that the opposition parties had let down their electorate and done Parliament and people a great disservice." Asked if he was ready to be the Leader of the Opposition and for the long haul if Congress ends up on the opposition benches, Gandhi replied, "I entered active politics in 2004 when the Congress was written off. I did not join when the party was in power.
"I entered politics because of the infinite love and affection I have shared with this nation. There is no possible outcome of this, or any future election, that can make any difference to these sentiments. I am here for good.
"I must also say that the media seems to have a need to score card me at every turn. I view my own success and failure on a different scale and time horizon. Down the road I will measure myself on how much voice we have been able to give the people of India through devolved structures of the Congress party.
"But the elections are far from over. We are geared for a tough battle. I am confident that there is going to be a Congress-led UPA III."